The Footprints on the Ceiling

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

The Footprints on the Ceiling is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche written by Jules Castier collected in Rather Like... Some Endeavours to Assume the Mantles of the Great published by Herbert Jenkins Ltd. in 1920.

In the book, Jules Castier parodied 34 of the most famous British writers of the day [1] including Arthur Conan Doyle of course. He wrote these parodies in english while he was prisoner in Germany, and the publisher, Herbert Jenkins, declared that not so much as a comma has been altered since the manuscript left the author's hands.

Jenkins sent each parody to the author parodied and asked them to wrote a foreword. 18 of 34 answered and were reproduced in the book preface. Unfortunately, Conan Doyle didn't answer.

The Footprints on the Ceiling

The Footprints on the Ceiling (Herbert Jenkins Ltd., 1920, p. 91)
The Footprints on the Ceiling (Herbert Jenkins Ltd., 1920, p. 92)
The Footprints on the Ceiling (Herbert Jenkins Ltd., 1920, p. 93)
The Footprints on the Ceiling (Herbert Jenkins Ltd., 1920, p. 94)
The Footprints on the Ceiling (Herbert Jenkins Ltd., 1920, p. 95)
The Footprints on the Ceiling (Herbert Jenkins Ltd., 1920, p. 96)
The Footprints on the Ceiling (Herbert Jenkins Ltd., 1920, p. 97)
The Footprints on the Ceiling (Herbert Jenkins Ltd., 1920, p. 98)
The Footprints on the Ceiling (Herbert Jenkins Ltd., 1920, p. 99)
The Footprints on the Ceiling (Herbert Jenkins Ltd., 1920, p. 100)
The Footprints on the Ceiling (Herbert Jenkins Ltd., 1920, p. 101)
The Footprints on the Ceiling (Herbert Jenkins Ltd., 1920, p. 102)
The Footprints on the Ceiling (Herbert Jenkins Ltd., 1920, p. 103)
The Footprints on the Ceiling (Herbert Jenkins Ltd., 1920, p. 104)

Rather Like... A. Conan Doyle

Being an account of an adventure of Professor George E. Challenger, Lord John Roxton, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, M.D., and Mr. E. D. Malone.

When, some years ago, I attempted to chronicle the stupendous adventure of our little group in the "Lost world" of South America, and, some time later, its still more amazing episode while the earth was passing through the "Poison Belt" of ether, I little thought it might be my lot to relate another marvellous occurrence some of us were to go through; and I feel it my duty to set it down at once, while most of the details are still fresh in my memory.

It was a warm day in June — the fourteenth, as I make out by an entry in my note-book — that the adventure may be said to begin. I had just come out of Mr. MacArdle's office; the kind-hearted old Scot was about to retire from the post he had occupied so long, that of news-editor to the Daily Gazette, to which (I say it in flll modesty) the proprietors had decided to promote me. Old MacArdle had given me a few parting words of sound advice, and I was still meditating his well-meant remarks while I sat down in my own little office, which I was to leave so soon. My brain was full of lingering thoughts of the past, mingling with vague plans for the future, when the office-boy came thundering in, bearing a visiting-card between his none too clean fingers.

"A gentleman to see you, Mr. Malone," he cried, banging the door.

"Sure it's me he wants to see, and not Mr. MacArdle? " I cautiously demanded, not wishing to be disturbed uselessly.

"He said Mr. Malone, sir," the boy assured me.

"Well, show him in," I said, looking at the card, which bore the printed inscription: Dr. Watson, below which I read, in a barely legible handwriting: requests the favour of a few minutes' interview with Mr. Malone. Here were the tables turned, indeed! I was all the more puzzled, as I knew nothing of this Dr. Watson. I was revolving in my mind the several doctors, and the many Watsons, with whom I was more or less acquainted, when the door opened again, and a plain-faced man — evidently a physician — was ushered in by the irrepressible office-boy.

"How do you do, Mr. Malone?" he said in a singularly oppressed-sounding voice, anxiety seeming to pierce through his open lips and sallow cheeks.

"Good afternoon, Dr. Watson," I rejoined. "What may I do for you? I am afraid you must have made a mistake, as..."

"I think not," he hastily interrupted. "I must ask you to excuse me, but you are the Mr. Malone, Professor Challenger's friend?"

"Indeed, I have the honour of his acquaintance," said I, "although friendship is, I fear, too presumptuous a word, on my part at least."

"Well, Mr. Malone," he continued, in gulping torrents of words, "I must intrude upon your time to the extent of asking you for an introduction to Professor Challenger's. It is a matter of life and death. I know the eminent scientist and his wife do not care to be interviewed by strangers, and that is the reason why I appeal to you."

"Indeed, Dr. Watson," I replied, "I doubt whether Professor Challenger would consent to see you at all, even if I were to introduce you to him."

"He is your friend — and what I ask is on behalf of a friend of mine, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, of whom you have doubtless heard."

"I must apologise for my ignorance," I replied. "However, I am quite willing to answer your urgent appeal to friendship — although I have very little confidence in my power to help. The best I can do would be, I suppose, to accompany you myself to Professor Challenger's: you might explain the matter to me on the way."

"Mr. Malone," he answered, heaving a deep sigh of relief, "I shall indeed be greatly indebted to you, if yon can spare the time."

"Let me see," I mused, "there is a train from Victoria at..."

But he interrupted me at once.

"I have a 40-horse-power Humber waiting outside, which will take us to Rotherfield before we could get there by train."

"Very well," I replied. "Pray excuse me a moment while I see my assistant, and I shall be quite ready for you."

I found Harper, my assistant, smoking his pipe in the passage, and hurriedly told him of my unexpected mission. After which, putting on my cap and coat, and throwing a couple of rugs over my arm, I rejoined Dr. Watson and was conducted to his car, which a smart chauffeur set in motion at once, without even waiting for any direction from his master.

We had hardly set off, however, when I heard my name shouted by a voice I could not fail to recognise instantly, while I turned to gaze at a tall, thin figure, clad in a grey tweed shooting suit, that emerged from a motor-car just a few yards behind ours.

"Hullo, young fellah!" cried Lord John Roxton. Beside him was sitting another tall man, though he had nothing in common with his companion: silent and absorbed, he looked more like a human mummy than a living being, and the slow beating of the temples was the only sign of life he seemed to give. I was waving my hand in reply to Lord John when my companion suddenly sprang up in his turn, and, pointing towards the second car, cried out excitedly:

"What, Holmes! You don't mean to say you..."

"My dear Watson," calmly replied my friend's fellow-passenger, "since we are obviously bound for the same destination, I think we could no better than use the same car. Lord John," he continued, turning to his companion, "shall we join our friends? I am sure Dr. Watson's car will be more comfortable, and faster than our taxi."

"Right you are," said Lord John, "besides, the more, the merrier."

Accordingly both vehicles were stopped, Lord John paid his chauffeur, and the little party of four were soon seated in the capacious 40-H.-P., smoothly running southwards.

After a few exuberant remarks in Lord John Roxton's most characteristic manner, his companion, looking keenly at me, began speaking in a marvellously even and passionless voice.

"Good day, Mr. Malone."

"Indeed, Holmes," interrupted his friend, "I am afraid I should have introduced you: pray excuse my carelessness... Though how you immediately hit on Mr. Malone's name — seeing you don't know him, and absolutely ignored what I was about to do — I really fail to see."

"Marvellous!" exclaimed Lord John, "most astonishin', I call it."

"It is the simplest thing imaginable," Holmes calmly proceeded, turning to me. "It is obvious you are a journalist: your pockets are crammed with note-books, and I see a Waterman peeping out of your waistcoat pocket; the second finger of your right hand is somewhat horny on the left side — an evident sign of active use of pen and pencil; there are a few inkstains on your coat sleeves — where, occasionally you dab your pen to rid it of any small encumbrance it may have caught; you are somewhat short-sighted — a sign of much reading or writing. Moreover, I see copies of the Daily Gazette protruding not only from your coat, but also between the rugs over your arm — which makes it quite evident that you are on the staff of that paper. Now I see you with my friend Watson, who is greatly concerned with the fate of Professor Challenger... Challenger has very few journalist friends; in fact, the only one is Mr. Malone: a child would deduce your identity."

"Absolutely rippin'!" exclaimed Lord John; while I was too much amazed for words.

"By the way," continued this remarkable man, turning to my companion, "let me congratulate you on your movements, my dear Watson. It was indeed most thoughtful of you to enlist the services of Mr. Malone, who is one of the two only men now in England with the power of securing an introduction to Professor Challenger's. I was about to look him up myself at his office, when, by a lucky chance, I met Lord John Roxton, whom, of course, I instantly recognised from the description given in Mr. Malone's narratives."

"Yes," put in my friend, "extraordinary it was, too, seein' you had never even set eyes on me before."

"A simple instance of deduction, aided by memory," explained Sherlock Holmes.

Now, however, I turned to him and his friend, with questioning eyes.

"Perhaps," said I, "you could now explain the object of your mission; for I cannot conceal my astonishment."

"Right you are, young fellah," echoed Lord John. "Come now, gentlemen, will you kindly explain?"

"You have a perfect right to know everything," answered Dr. Watson, "and as we have some time before us, I think there is no reason whatever for withholding the explanation any longer. You must know, then, that Professor Challenger has disappeared."

The effect of this revelation was startling on both of us.

"What!" exclaimed Lord John, "a man of his size, disappearin' in the middle of a civilised country!"

"It is indeed incredible," I cried out.

"I received the news from his old chauffeur," Holmes said quietly, "and immediately started on my investigation. At the present moment I happen to know a few data concerning the case: for instance, the person whom I suspect of having absconded with the professor is a small man, with blonde hair and long finger nails; he must be in some great distress, and was formerly a creature of higher standard, now evidently fallen somewhat in the social and moral scale. I hope to lay my hands on him at no very future date, but in order to do so, I must examine Professor Challenger's abode with some care. That is why I set out to find you, Mr. Malone, little dreaming that I should first meet Lord John Roxton, and still less that my friend Dr. Watson would be simultaneously — and successfully — engaged on the same quest."

"Holmes," excitedly exclaimed Dr. Watson, "accustomed to your deductive methods as I am, I am quite overwhelmed by all this infonnation about the unknown blackguard on whose track we all of us are now set! How on earth has it been possible for you to get at it? Have you discovered some new clue since I left you?"

"None whatever," calmly rejoined this remarkable man. "I know nothing more than you — we were together when the chauffeur rushed into my rooms in Baker Street, and related his master's strange disappearance."

"Why, dash it all," Lord Jolm cried out, "it's clean marvellous!"

"Indeed," I hatstily added, "you might do us the favour of explaining something of your process, Mr. Holmes."

"It is the simplest thing imaginable," he answered. "All the data were inferred from Austin's visit. You may recollect the man: of middle height, none too strong, though indubitably tough, and eminently impassive. From these characters, it is evident that the kidnapper is a small man..."

"My dear Holmes!" ejaculated the doctor.

"Of course, my dear fellow," continued his friend. "If he had been tall and strong, or only of medium height and strength, he would certainly have seen to it that Austin be removed, and put out of the possibility of telling tales. Austin was left free : ergo the kidnapper is physically his inferior. The colour of his hair, and the abnormal length of his finger-nails, were immediately deduced by a casual glance at the cap Austin wore — it was not his own, as I at once remarked; you may recollect he said, in reply to one of my questions, it was one of his master's; well, the cap was strewn with long, fair, reddish hairs, and bore marks of tearing, which could only have been accomplished by finger-nails: I have studied the question in some detail; the technicalities may, of course, be found in my pamphlet on the subject — and I am perfectly sure of my conclusion."

"Rippin'!" exclaimed Lord John Roxton.

"But how could you deduce the moral and social part of your inference?" I asked, admiration for this deductive genious not yet quenching my thirst for his secrets.

"Equally simple, Mr. Malone," he answered, smiling. "First of all, it is quite clear no one would dream of absconding with a man like Professor Challenger if he could possibly do otherwise; hence the great distress. Moreover, the fact of kidnapping a man of such acknowledged genius points to a certain intellectual and moral standard: the common criminal would kidnap a millionaire, and hold him to ransom — but not a scientist: and last of all, our man has certainly fallen rather low in the moral and social scale, else he would visibly not have reverted to such extreme measures... You see, it is all perfectly simple."

"You beat Euclid hollow," roared Lord John, "Don't you think so, young fellah?"

"As far as I can remember," I answered, smiling ruefully, "Euclid only deduces things that everybody knew already, or ought to know whereas Mr. Holmes makes the whole invisible effect appear under the full limelight of the cause."

"Very neatly put, I'm sure," added Dr. Watson. "But here, unless I am mistaken, we are at our journey's end."

At some distance behind us, peering over a clipped hedge, was Professor Challenger's so unhospitable notice-board. We were passing between the posts of a gate, and at the end of a drive hedged in with rhododendron bushes, the familiar brick house peered smilingly at us — that is, at least at two of us.

Entering the house, we were met by little Mrs. Challenger, as dainty as ever, though her eyes were red with recent crying, and her whole face bore the marks of the anxiety and sorrow she had undergone. She came up to Lord John and myself, while a look of gratitude and hope passed, for an instant, across her careworn features.

"Oh, Lord John, and you, Mr. Malone!" she exclaimed in a voice bordering between tears and joy, "how kind of you to come to me in my distress! I would not have dared to trouble you myself, but I cannot express my relief at seeing you here."

"It's all right, my dear Mrs. Challenger," cheerfully replied Lord John Roxton. "Although Malone and I are little good, I'm afraid, we've brought you a rippin' friend in need, who'll find the Professor in half the time it'd take me to stalk a buffalo... May I introduce you to Mr. Sherlock Holmes, and to Dr. Watson, his friend?... Gentlemen, Mrs. Challenger."

She shook hands gratefully with both of them, and was speaking some words of welcome to the latter, when I noticed that Holmes had disappeared. Dr. Watson immediately excused his friend's apparent impropriety, on the plea that he was already following some clue to the mystery. All three of us then followed her into the cosy boudoir where we had passed such memorable hours while the world was passing through the Poison Belt.

She had begun to relate her husband's strange disappearance, which had occurred on the preceding day. The professor had retired to his study after breakfast, as usual, and when Austin, as was his habit, knocked at the door to announce lunch, he had received no answer; the faithful chauffeur had finally entered the study, only to find himself in an empty room. His master had said nothing of leaving, or even of going out; indeed, nobody had left the house, through the door, at any rate. Having reached this point of her narrative, Mrs. Challenger broke dovm, and it was only by our combined efforts that she finally managed to recover her composure, though her eyes filled with tears.

Suddenly the door was thrown open, and Sherlock Holmes, keen and alert, burst into the room, walking straight up to Dr. Watson.

"Watson," he said in that calm and passionless voice of his, though it was easy to see he was tingling with excitement, "would you be so kind as to give me some information concerning Zeemann's phenomenon? I have, myself, dabbled somewhat in science, but I am afraid I have no recollection of this apparently recently — discovered notion, and I apply to you as to the scientist of our party."

"My dear Holmes," replied Watson, visibly disappointed, "I'm sure I utterly fail to see what Zeemann's phenomenon has to do with your case. Indeed, I am afraid it is somewhat outside the range of a mere physician. Nevertheless, I may tell you broadly what it is. Zeemann was the first to discover that all the colours and lines revealed by spectral analysis are actually deviated by some influences — amongst others, by a strong magnetic field."

"Then I have it!" exclaimed Holmes, himself moved to some display of excitement his voice no longer suppressed.

"What?" Mrs. Challenger cried out, "you mean you have found..."

"Professor Challenger will be amongst us within a few minutes," he resumed, in tones once more void of any emotion. "Gentlemen, I request you to follow me into the scientist's study. Pray excuse us, Madam."

The four of us found ourselves in the familiar study, a look of amazement on the faces of all save Sherlock Holmes; who began in an even voice: "I must first of all confess that I was completely wrong about the results I told you of on the way here; I was completely misled by appearances, which only proves that one should never work on pre-conceived ideas. However, I am happy to say I discovered my mistake as soon as I entered this room."

"How on earth could the simple aspect of this room account for such a change?" muttered Dr. Watson, turning his puzzled face towards his friend.

"Look," replied Holmes, pointing first to the ceiling, and then to a mass of papers strewn about the scientist's desk. "The ceiling unquestionably bears footprints... And these papers all contain diagrams and rough jottings, where the words, "Zeemann's phenomenon" ever recur. Here" — he pointed towards a little case attached to the wall, "is an electric switch commanding an electro-magnet in the laboratory (as the inscription says): you may notice the current is now on. On further investigation, I ascertained that the current consumed since the Company's last visit (which happens to have been yesterday) is no less than 2,000 Kwh... The missing link in this remarkable chain of evidence was given me just now by Watson's explanation of Zeemann's phenomenon — and now Professor Challenger will instantly return."

All three of us were too dumfounded to understand; what Sherlock Holmes called a chain of evidence was an inextricable labyrinth to me, and I was just about to set a question, when I saw him jump forward, and calmly switch off the electric current. Immediately the silence seemed intensified ; we gazed spellbound at one another, and suddenly a massive form was visible, apparently dropping out of nowhere, in the region of the ceiling.

Holmes was the first to act. He sprang forth, and clutched at the apparition, from which a bellowing yell issued at the same time. I came nearer in my tum, and was able to make out a black beard, a huge head, with a broad forehead and a dark plaster of black hair, then two clear grey eyes, with their insolent eyelids — and suddenly I recognised the missing man. Holmes, lithe as a panther, caught him in his arms, and instantly set him on his feet.

"Hullo! What the devil do you mean? Now my young friend, what is all this?"

How inexpressibly glad I was to hear the familiar voice!

"Why, Herr Professor!" cried out Lord John.

"Yes, himself," came Challenger's sonorous bass — and suddenly perceiving the two others, he went on: "And may I ask who these intruders are?"

"Dear Professor Challenger," I tried to calm him, "these gentlemen came here with Lord John and myself, and have just solved the mystery of your disappearance..."

"My disappearance?" he vigorously interrupted. "How can I have disappeared, when I was simply trying a little experiment on Zeemann's phenomenon? Pray answer that, sir — yes, you, I mean!" And he turned savagely towards Sherlock Holmes.

Our remarkable friend calmly met his gaze; "May I ask you what day you make it out to be, Professor Challenger?" he enquired.

"What day?" bellowed the irate scientist. "Tell you what day it is? Yes, sir, I can: it is the 13th of June, and it also happens to be" — here he looked at his watch — " 3.35 p.m."

"As a matter of fact," replied Holmes, "you happen to be wrong — which is only natural after your adventure: it is not the 13th, however, but the 14th; you have been absent from our planet for something over twenty-seven hours."

"Extraordinary!" muttered Lord John Roxton.

"Incredible!" I could not help exclaiming.

"Would you mind explaining your meaning, which appears somewhat blurred to my feeble intellect?" asked Challenger, taking up his thundering irony.

"Nothing is easier," said Sherlock Holmes. "Yesterday morning, you came into your study, and started experimenting about Zeemann's phenomenon. You switched the current into a hyper-powerful electro-magnet, evidently not thinking of the enormous amount of iron a human body of your dimensions must contain — or of the tremendous effect the magnetic field might have upon the spectrum such a body would absorb. In short, Zeemann's phenomenon deviated that spectrum further than could have been expected — and you followed it, quite unconsciously, into space — or into ether. Those are the traces of your passage," he added, pointing to the footmarks on the ceiling. "It is quite simple, as you see, my dear Watson... And now, gentlemen, let us return to Mrs. Challenger."

  1. Authors parodied are : F. Anstey, Arnold Bennett, Hall Caine, G. K. Chesterton, Joseph Conrad, Marie Corelli, Arthur Conan Doyle, John Galsworthy, Charles Garvice, Sir H. Rider Haggard, Henry Harland, Maurice Hewlett, Robert Hichens, E. W. Hornung, W. W. Jacobs, Henry James, Jerome K. Jerome, Rudyard Kipling, William Le Queux, W. J. Locke, Jack London, Leonard Merrick, Henry Seton Merriman, Henry Newbolt, Eden Philpotts, R. W. Service, George Bernard Shaw, Robert Louis Stevenson, Elizabeth von Arnim, E. Temple Thurston, Horace A. Vachell, H. G. Wells, Oscar Wilde and C. N. & A. M. Williamson.