The Escape of the Bull-Dog

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
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The Escape of the Bull-Dog is the 4th 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 2 september 1893 in Punch magazine. Illustration by E. J. Wheeler.

The Escape of the Bull-Dog

The Escape of the Bull-Dog (Punch, 2 september 1893)
"How now, Sirrah?" he replied; "how dare you insinuate that——"
Illustration by E. J. Wheeler

I think I have mentioned that the vast intellect of my friend Holes took as great a delight in unravelling the petty complexities of some slight secret as in tracing back to its source the turbid torrent of a crime that had set all Europe ablaze. Nothing, in fact, was too small for this great man; he lived only to unravel; his days and nights were spent in deciphering criminal cryptograms. Many and many a time have I said to him, "Holes, you ought to marry, and train up an offspring of detective marvels. It is a sin to allow such a genius as yours to remain unreproduced." But he only smiled at me in his calm, impassive, unmuscular, and unemotional manner, and put me off with some such phrase as, "I am wedded to my art," or, "Detection is my wife; she loves, honours, and obeys me — qualities I could never find in a mate of flesh and blood." I merely mention these trifles in order to give my readers some further insight into the character of a remarkable man with whom it was my privilege to be associated on more than one occasion during those investigations of which the mere account has astonished innumerable Continents.

During the early Summer of the year before last a matter of scientific research took me to Cambridge. It will be remembered that at that time an obscure disease had appeared in London, and had claimed many victims. Careful study had convinced me that this illness, the symptoms of which were sudden fear, followed by an inclination to run away, and ending in complete prostration, were due to the presence in the blood of what is now known as the Proctor Bacillus, so called on account of two white patches on its chest, which had all the appearance of the bands worn by the Proctor during the discharge of his unpleasant constabulary functions in the streets and purlieus of University towns. In order to carry on my investigations at the very fountainhead, as it were, I had accepted a long-standing invitation from my old friend Colonel the Reverend Henry Bagnet, who not only commanded the Cambridge University Volunteers, but was, in addition, one of the most distinguished scholarly ornaments of the great College of St. Baldred's.

On the evening to which my story relates we had dined together in the gorgeous mess-room which custom and the liberality of the University authorities have consecrated to the use of the gallant corps whose motto of "Quis jaculatur scarabæum?" has been borne triumphantly in the van of many a review on the Downs of Brighton and elsewhere. The countless delicacies appropriate to the season, the brilliant array of grey uniforms, the heavy gold plate which loaded the oak side-board, the choice vintages of France and Germany, all these had combined with the clank of swords, the jingle of spurs, the emphatic military words of command uttered by light-hearted undergraduates, and the delightful semi-military, semi-clerical anecdotes of that old war-dog, Colonel Bagnet, to make up a memorable evening in the experience of a careworn medical practitioner who had left the best part of his health and his regulation overalls on the bloody battle-field of Tantia-Tee, in the Afghan jungle.

Colonel Bagnet had just ordered the head mess-waiter to produce six more bottles of the famous "die-hard" port, laid down by his predecessor in the command during the great town and gown riots of 1870. In these terrible civic disturbances the University Volunteers, as most men of middle age will remember, specially distinguished themselves by the capture and immediate execution of the truculent Mayor of Cambridge, who was the prime mover in the commotion. The wine was circulating freely, and conversation was flowing with all the verve and abandon that mark the intercourse of undergraduates with dons. Just as I was congratulating the Colonel on the excellence of his port the door opened, and a man of forbidding aspect, clothed in the heavy garments of a mathematical moderator, entered the mess-room.

"I beg your pardon, Colonel," said the new arrival, bringing his hand to his college cap with an awkward imitation of the military salute. "I am sorry to disturb the harmony of the evening, but I have the Vice-Chancellor's orders to inform you that the largest and fiercest of our pack of bull-dogs has escaped from his kennel. I am to request you to send a detachment after him immediately. He was last heard barking on the Newmarket Road."

In a moment all was confusion. Colonel Bagnet brandished an empty champagne bottle, and in a voice broken with emotion ordered the regiment to form in half-sections, an intricate manœuvre, which was fortunately carried out without bloodshed. What might have happened next I know not. Everybody was dangerously excited, and it needed but a spark to kindle an explosion. Suddenly I heard a well-known voice behind me.

"One moment, Colonel," said Picklock Holes, for it was none other, though how he had obtained an entrance I have never discovered; "you desire to find your lost canine assistant? I can help you, but first tell me why a soldier of your age and experience should insist on wearing a lamb's-wool undervest."

The guests were speechless. Colonel Bagnet was blue with suppressed rage.

"How now, Sirrah?" he replied; "how dare you insinuate that—"

"Tush, Colonel Bagnet," said my wonderful friend, pointing to the furious warrior's mess-waistcoat; "it is impossible to deceive me. That stain of mint-sauce extending across your chest can be explained only on the hypothesis that you wear underclothing manufactured from lamb. That," he continued, smiling coldly at me, "must be obvious to the meanest capacity." For once in his life the Colonel had no retort handy.

"I am at your orders," he said, shortly. "The man who can prove that I wear lamb's-wool when I am actually wearing silk is the man for my money." In another moment Holes had organised the pursuit.

"It would be as well," he remarked, "to have an accurate description of the animal we are in search of. He was—"

Here the impatient Colonel interrupted. "A brindled bull, very deep in the chest, with two kinks in his tail; has lost one of his front teeth, and snores violently."

"Quite right," said Holes; "the description tallies."

"But, Holes," I ventured to say, "this is most extraordinary. You, who have never been in Cambridge before, know all the details of the dog. It is wonderful."

Holes waved me off with as near an approach to impatience as I have ever seen him exhibit. Having done this, he once more addressed the Colonel.

"Your best plan," he said, "will be to scour the King's Parade. You will not find him there. Next you must visit the Esquire Bedell, and thoroughly search his palace from basement to attic. The dog will not be there, but the search will give you several valuable clues. You will then proceed to the University Library, and in the fifth gallery, devoted to Chinese manuscripts, you will find—"

As Holes uttered these words the mathematical moderator again entered. "Sir," he said to the Colonel, "it was all a mistake. The dog is quite safe. He has never been out of his kennel."

"That," said Holes, "is exactly what I was coming to. In the fifth gallery, devoted to Chinese manuscripts, you will find no readers. Hurrying on thence, and guiding your steps by the all-pervasive odour of meat-fibrine biscuits, you will eventually arrive at the kennel, and find the dog."

"Zounds! Mr. Holes," said the admiring Colonel, in the midst of the laugh that followed on Holes's last words, "you are an astounding fellow." And that is why, at the last Cambridge Commencement, the degree of LL. D. honoris causa was conferred on Picklock Holes, together with a Fellowship at St. Baldred's, worth £800 a year. But my friend is modesty itself. "It is not," he said, "the honorary degree that I value half so much as the consciousness that I did my duty, and helped a Colonel in the hour of his need." And with these simple words Dr. Picklock Holes dismissed one of his finest achievements.