The Man Who "Bested" Sherlock Holmes

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Burnley Express (10 december 1892, p. 4)

The Man Who "Bested" Sherlock Holmes is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche written by Joseph Baron first published in the Burnley Express on 17 december 1892.

On 10 and 14 december 1892, the Burnley Express advertised the pastiche stating that « Dr. Conan Doyle has gone through the manuscript of this story and emphatically pronounced it "good". »


The Man Who "Bested" Sherlock Holmes

Burnley Express (17 december 1892, p. 3)

I don't care what you say," I exclaimed enthusiastically; my opinion is that Sherlock Holmes will be as great a favourite with posterity as Pickwick will be, or Tom Jones, or Count Fosco, or anybody else you can name in fiction."

"Bosh! Rot!" replied my friend. "Don't libel posterity in that reckless manner; it never did you any harm, and the poor body cannot speak for itself. And why should you imagine it will be so easily imposed upon?"

"But look at his unique individuality — his wonderful reasoning powers," I retorted.

"Unique and wonderful fiddle de-dee! Did you ever read Poe's tales of mystery and imagination?" he asked.

"Can't say I have," I replied.

"Then invest eighteen pence in the volume, and read first of all The Murder in the Rue Morgue and The Mystery of Marie Roget. In M. Dupin, therein described you will find a marvellous analyst — a genius head and shoulders above your Sherlock Holmes, of whom he was doubtless — directly or indirectly — the prototype."

My friend Anderson was a particularly smart private defective, specially retained by a Burglary Insurance Company, and I gave him credit for speaking with a touch of professional jealousy; still, he had brought off some clever captures, and had exposed a few people who had attempted to defraud his Company, so I was compelled to regard him as an authority. But for all that, I thought he might not know everything, and that was a mistake I had often made in the past; either people had shown more confidence in him, and were never disappointed. If the school cricket team had a "demon" batsman opposed to them it was always Anderson who opposed him; and how coolly he went to work to find the pitch that bothered him, and how cautiously he varied the pace and bothered him worse than ever, and how cunningly he signalled for point and slip to come in a little, then a little more break on, and - exit the demon! It was good to see Anderson on the job. And the football eleven found him equally valuable, for what he lacked in speed and accurate kicking at half back were more than atoned for by his judgment; he knew when to kick, when to head, when to wait, and when to project his eleven stone of bone and muscle upon his antagonists. As a chess player he was fine; at billiards he was finer; as a hand at whist — well, the late Mrs. Battle would have adored him.

"Well," I growled, "you haven't a man at Scotland Yard or elsewhere, with so remarkable a record as Holmes has."

"How do you, know what we have at Scotland Yard, — and elsewhere?" he snapped.

"We should have heard of them and their performance." I replied. "Trust you fellows to hide your lights under bushels, especially if you pulled off such astonishing things."

"What astonishing things do you refer to?" he inquired.

"Why," said I, "his taking up a watch, for example, and after studying it for a few seconds telling the character of its late owner, down to his most trivial habits."

"My dear boy, I can do such common-place things as easy as reading my newspaper; and so can any other man worthy the name of detective," Anderson replied, "You shall try me with anything you like, however difficult it may seem to you; such deductions are merely the A.B.C. stays of detective work. Test me to the utmost of your ingenuity, and I'll tell to afterwards of an unchronicled failure in the career of Sherlock Holmes — an episode in which I took a part, and scored pretty well."

His conceit amused, yet irritated me; but after a few puffs at my pipe an idea struck me, and going into another room I brought out a dirty collar and threw it to him.

"There! Diagnose that," I said.

"Has it been worn recently?" he asked, as he took his microscope from his vest pocket.

"Only taken off last night," I answered.

"H'm! Well, the late wearer takes snuff to begin with, and plenty of it; he has the remains of a boil within two inches of his left ear; he has a wife who is both negligent in her household duties and is ignorant of laundry work, and he is a clerk. Is that enough, or shall I tell you if he has been vaccinated or no, and what his politics are?"

"Quite sufficient," I said, rather staggered, "and pretty correct. The owner is the husband of my cook's sister. Your microscope would show you the snuff mark and the ink stain, but how do you get at the remainder? Why not say that he is single? And how about the boil?"

He smiled. "You are right about what the microscope revealed to me. Good old microscope! It is the detective's vade mecum. It also showed me on the linen the mixed markings of blood and matter, which could only have come from a boil on the neck where the collar rubbed. Without the aid of the glass I could see from the button-hole of the collar that the wearer had no button on the back of his shirt neck, and experience teaches us that only wives can be guilty of such neglect. A mother would not need asking to attend to it, and a man would demand the service of a sister, or of a landlady. To the fact of the linen having been badly got up I debit her with ignorance, and the ink stain was, of course, due to the action of the unfortunate wearer, who was continually pushing the collar down every time it worked itself up."

"And now for your story," I said eagerly: for after my friend's exhibition I could no longer doubt that it would be an interesting recital.

"Well," he began, "the event I am about to tell you of happened almost immediately after Holmes was instrumental in clearing up the mystery surrounding the man with the twisted lip — a clever and artistic piece of work, I must confess — though that solution may have been suggested to him by something similar in The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, or by an incident in, I think. Madame Midas by Fergus Hume. (We are indebted to the novelists more than we care to own). I was just putting the finishing touches to my breakfast one lovely morning — it was the beginning of July — when I heard the sound of wheels in the street, and looking through the window I saw a neat little dog-cart pull up at my own door; the driver got down and rang the bell, and a minute later my servant brought in a letter which I opened. It was brief, and ran as follows:—

Luton-square. B———,
5th July, 1889.
Dear Sir, — I shall be glad to see you as early as possible. A burglary was committed
at my house late last night, or early this morning, and very valuable property stolen.
If you can make it convenient to accompany the bearer so much the better.
Yours faithfully,

"'The driver is to wait for an answer, sir,' my servant reminded as I stared at the letter.

"'Say I will be with him in less than five minutes,' I replied. So I finished my breakfast, and after referring to the directory for information respecting McDonald — who was, it appeared, a retired army captain - I went downstairs and entered the dog cart. A glance at the turnout told me that my destination was some miles away, for the horse was wet with sweat and the trap very dusty. The driver had been in the army also, for there was a soldier's training evident in the respectful touch of the hat, and a story revealed to me in the salute itself, in the form of a peculiar scar on his right hand.

"'You haven't done much fighting during the last thirty-two years, my friend,' I remarked as we drove off.

"'No, sir,' he replied, rather surprised 'it'll be thirty-two years next Tuesday week since last I used a bayonet.'

"'Was the captain in the Mutiny too?' I asked.

"'Went all through it, sir,'

"' You did your duty out, there. I hope?'

"'Yes, sir." Seven of the devils went down before me at Aeng, and but for receiving this slash' — holding up his hand — 'about two hours march from Cawnpore' — his face paled, and a terrible light leapt to his eyes at the recollection of that fiendish massacre. After a pause of a few seconds he continued: 'But the Captain, sir, did my share of the work in addition to his own; he bore a charmed life and to the pibroch of the 78th Highlanders he added that day at least a score to the population of hell.' And for the next twenty minutes of the journey which took us to Captain McDonald's residence the brave, simple follow spoke in loving and reverent terms of his master's prowess and goodness, and he had cause, for the Captain had once saved his life at the risk of losing his own.

"On arriving at Luton-square I was shown into the drawing-room, and the Captain joined me almost before I was seated. I noticed that his agitation was very great.

"'Good morning, Mr. Anderson,' he said, giving me a hand: 'I am exceedingly obliged' by your prompt compliance with my wishes, and I trust—— But before going any further may I ask if you have any objection to working — if necessary — with a fellow expert in matters of this kind?'

"'None whatever,' I answered. 'Who is he?'

"A Mr. Sherlock Holmes," he answered. "I understand he is a specialist?"

"He is a remarkably clever man," I replied.

"I don't know if it is usual." he began, "to call in two detectives; but really my loss is of such a nature that I got desperate, and I knew that in desperate cases two or more doctors were often called in, and I suppose two heads are better than one."

"If they are only———" I suggested.

"Well, well; never mind the rest of the saying. But come with me to the dining-room and I will show you over the ground, and give you all the particulars. Mr. Holmes may not be in town, so there can be no objection."

The Captain led the way, and on reaching the dining-room be pulled a key from his pocket and proceeded to unlock the door.

"You see," he explained, "I thought I'd better lock the room up so that nothing could be disturbed until your arrival———'

"'Morning. Kitty, darling,' interrupted a voice the exact counterpart of the Captain's, finishing with the unmistakable sound of a kiss; then, 'How are you papa,' in a feminine voice. A moment's reflection convinced me that it was a parrot speaking, and looking up I found my surmise to be correct.

"'Ah, Poll, old woman,' returned the Captain; then turning to me he enquired if I had breakfasted, and on my telling him I had, he poured a glass of wine from a decanter on the sideboard, pushed the cigars towards me, motioned me to be seated, and began: —

"'First of all, Mr. Anderson, my small household consists of six persons — myself, my wife, my daughter Kate, a cook, a general servant, and the driver who brought you here. The three servants have been in my employ for years, and I would trust them with untold gold. Now, then, yesterday afternoon I received from Messrs. H——— and C———, jewellers, of Bond-street, a brooch set with a particularly precious stone — precious to me, and of priceless value by reason of old associations and circumstances connected with it; but I need not trouble you with them. The intrinsic value of the gem may not be more than five hundred pounds, and that of its setting perhaps another thirty———'

"'Keep your hair on, old chap,' said the parrot.

"'S — sh. Poll! Well,' continued the captain. 'I showed the brooch to my daughter only, for it was to be a surprise gift to my dear wife on her birthday, and such a gift as she would prefer, to anything the world contains, simply on account of the associations I hinted at just now. After hearing Kitty's rapturous expressions as to its beauty, and her assurance that for a similar present on her twenty-first birthday she would be as agreeably surprised as I could desire, I locked up the trinket in a private drawer of that cabinet in the corner. On coming downstairs this morning the first thing I did was to go to the cabinet to feast my eyes with a sight of the brooch, for I had been strangely anxious about it up to going to sleep, and had driven myself to dreaming of it I suppose by my anxiety; and ugly dreams they wore, too, and you would fully appreciate my anxiety if you were acquainted with the history of the gem and how it has been endeared to us for a quarter of a century. Mr. Anderson' — and his voice quivered — 'imagine my dismay — my agony — when on opening the drawer I found, it was empty. The brooch was gone!'

"'The brooch, the brooch." muttered the parrot.

"'I cannot describe my feelings at my loss, and, Mr. Anderson, though I am not a rich man, I will willingly pay five hundred pounds for the recovery of the brooch.'

"'I will examine the cabinet, with your permission,' I said, and as I rose for the purpose of crossing the room the bird broke forth with:—

"Keep your hair on, old boy,' this in the voice of the driver. 'Cook, how are we for butter? Pretty Poll!' the last two remarks in the sweet feminine tones imitated previously; then in a delicious drawl, ' For what, we are about to receive the Lord make us truly thankful.' I had great difficulty in restraining my laughter, even in the presence of the Captain's grief.

"'A very clever bird that,' I remarked casually.

"'She is a wonderful talker and mimic," he replied, and was instantly absorbed in my examination of the lock of the secret drawer.

"Here the servant entered with a visiting card.

"'Tell the gentleman I will be with him, immediately,' and as the servant left the room the Captain said:—

"'It's Holmes, so perhaps you'll excuse me for a short time. I'll explain things to him, and bring him in to you; in the meantime make whatever examination you like.'

"He had no sooner gone than I went to the window, which I found securely fastened; then I got my microscope out, opened the window, and carefully scanned every inch of the outside ledge with no success. There was not a scratch anywhere, nor a sign of the fine coating of dust having been disturbed. I again examined the lock of the private drawer, and that of the larger drawer of which it formed so cunning a portion, but nowhere was there evidence of either having been forced or picked.

"'Keep your hair on, old boy! Ain't it 'ot? Woa! Keep your hair on, d——— you!'

"All this was in the driver's voice, rendered with phonographic accuracy, — even to the slight Cockney accent; and as I looked up at the bird, and saw its head on one side and its eye fixed upon me so comically, it flashed across me all at once that it might possibly know something of the brooch. I remembered what I read in 'The Basket of Flowers' when a boy, and later of 'The Jackdaw of Rheims,' but I dismissed the thought at once, for however clever a parrot might be it could not pick two locks, even if it could get out of the cage to do so.

"'Now then, stupid, who are you staring at?' it asked rudely, then laughed irritatingly, and shook its feathers.

"'Keep your tongue between your teeth, and let's have less of your cheek,' was my unuttered rebuke, and I was lost in admiration of the parrot's cleverness when Captain McDonald came into the room with Holmes, whom he introduced to me.

Holmes was dressed in boating flannels, and looked more like a middle-aged tradesman out for the day than one of the smartest detectives in London.

"'How do you do, Anderson?' he said. 'Is it any use getting to work, or have you already solved the mystery?'

"'Well, no, not quite,' I replied, 'have a look round.'

"'I have given Mr. Holmes the particulars I have given you,' explained the Captain, as Holmes went to the cabinet and repeated my performance. 'Is there anything you would like to know before I leave the room?'

"'Nothing — just yet,' said my colleague.

"Just two questions,' I put in; 'first, was the parrot in the cage when you were putting the brooch away?'

"'Oh. yes,' answered the Captain.

"Holmes smiled.

"'Did you leave the room for a single moment?' I asked.

"'No; I simply opened the two drawers, deposited the brooch in the secret one, locked them up, and went straight to bed.'

"'Thank you,' I said, 'that is all I require;' and as he left the room I turned to see what Holmes was doing. He had done with the looks of the drawers and was engaged at the window — and looking mightily puzzled, I can tell you, when the parrot yelled:—

"'What're you staring at?'

"'Ah. Mademoiselle Pittacus Erithacus,' said Holmes, 'you are very inquisitive this morning.'

"'And very insulting, too' I remarked. 'She called me stupid just now.'

"'She is a very intelligent bird,' he returned sarcastically.

"'All right, my friend,' I thought; "we shall soon see who is the stupid party. If you can come to any different conclusion to the one I have arrived at you are cleverer than I give you credit for being.

"Holmes was on the floor, looking, for footmarks on the velvet pile carpet; but his microscope showed none. Then he took a good look at every inch of the apartment; he walked to the fireplace, then to the door, and finished by re-examining the two locks of the drawers. After this he took a pinch of snuff, rubbed his temples with menthol, opened his pocketknife and began trimming his nails; and came over to me.

"'Settled it yet?' I enquired.

"'No and don't see any chance of doing so,' he replied. 'Do you. Shut up!' (the latter to the parrot.)

"'Not for certain but I must think things over again.'

"'There is what Rudyard Kipling would call a gorgeous simplicity about this affair,' remarked Holmes, 'and what the captain tells me makes that simplicity colossal in its gorgeousness. Here we are told that a valuable nicknack has been stolen; we both know, I think, that the thief must be on the premises, and yet we are told distinctly that we are not to suspect anyone in it. The gentleman who guarantees all this is a brave man — a man of spotless character, and is not insured with your clients or any other insurers against burglary — else I would waste no time in telling him he was a fraud.'

"'Keep your hair on,' screamed the parrot; ' keep it on, keep it on, d——— it, keep it on!'

"'Confound your noise!' cried Holmes, angrily.

"'Of course,' I insinuated, we can't suggest that his wife got the key out of his pocket when he was asleep and abstracted the brooch, because she didn't know of it being in the house; and even if she had known, she was not likely to go to the trouble of stealing her own property.'

"' Look here, my young friend.' said Holmes '—you know he is my senior by less than six months — 'you have an ace up your sleeve, so get it played.'

"'I don't think it's trumps,' I replied.

"'At 'em, ma braw laddies! Doon wi' the devils' roared the parrot in the voice the Captain must have used in his excitement when urging on the men of the gallant 78th Pandoo Nuddea; and then the bird indulged in what appeared to me to be disconnected reminiscences of his life on-board ship, with imitations of a few of his profane compagnons du voyage.

"'Oh, who can think with that thing screeching! .... You must remember one thing,' Holmes startled me by saying, 'and that is that his daughter was, on his own telling, very much taken up with the bauble, and expressed a wish to possess one like it. There is only one thing for it, Anderson, and Miss Kate McDonald is the thief!' And Holmes closed the knife with which he bad been trimming his nails.

"I gasped! I had already decided that the Captain's daughter had purloined the brooch, but merely out of pure mischief and not with any criminal intent. I was forced to this conclusion by the Captain's assurance that his servants knew nothing of the jewel being in the house, and that it would have been the same had they known — he would stake his life on the honesty of each, and I felt he was right.'

"'And do you intend to communicate your suspicions to him?' I asked.

"'That, entirely depends upon his answer to a question I shall put to him first,' replied Holmes ; 'and, by George! I don't quite know how to set about asking it.'

"'It's certainly a delicate matter, I assented.

"'I only had a similar task once, said Holmes, 'and that was a widow's son broke into her safe and stole over two hundred pounds. It broke the poor woman's heart!'

"'Ha, ha, ha,' broke in the parrot in the Captain's voice, 'how we mowed the black fiends down, eh, John? Slash, slash, with the sword, — lunge, lunge, with the bayonet; and down went a devil every time.'

"' Well, here goes,' said Holmes. 'There he is pacing the terrace like a caged lion. I'll be back in a jiffy.' And he went.

"'How the blood flow, John! Splash, splash, splash; oh, the black vermin!' continued the parrot.

"I never felt so puzzled in all my life, I could not believe things would turn out as Holmes supposed they would. I took my head in my hands to have a good square think before he returned; I went over the simple facts of the case again, but all to no purpose. Nothing suggested itself; I was completely beaten. I tell you, old chap, I was just about ready to run my head against a stone wall, and no wonder I savagely muttered: —


"'The next things I remembered were hearing the parrot talking in its cage above me, and Holmes and the Captain talking as they came along the hall. The words the parrot said are as indelibly photographed on the taplets of my memory as if it had taken them down in shorthand with an acid which bit in every syllable; and by the side of them is the scrap I caught of the conversation between the two men as they rapidly neared the room. The whole of the words rushed upon me simultaneously, - in fact I might almost say I heard the parrot with one ear and Holmes and the Captain with the other; the two streams of conversation seemed to meet in my brain as two ocean currents meet, and like them they mingled and whirled together madly for a moment, but by some unaccountable mental process they were immediately separated and tranquilized.

The parrot said in the voices of the Captain:—

"'Brooch ... precious broooch ... Safer .. wouldn't look there ... safe ... billiard table pocket ... ha, ha, safe .. Brooch, brooch ... Brooch.'

"'My coachman!' the Captain was saying indignantly; 'why the fellow would lay down his life for me.'

"'Then there is only one other person for it,' said Holmes, decisively, as they reached the dining-room door.

"'And that one?' demanded the Captain, turning upon Holmes as they entered.

"The latter was slightly pale, but cool. He looked the fine old soldier squarely in the face; his mouth quivered as in pain, but only for a second. Bracing himself for the effort be laid his hand on the Captain's arm, and said deliberately:—

"'Captain, the purloiner of the lost brooch is you r———'

"He got no further. Up to this point I had listened as in a dream; I heard, but was unable to speak. I was stunned by the lightning flash which laid bare the whole mystery, and the after-clap was still ringing in my ears. But, thank goodness, I roused myself in time to save Holmes' reputation!'

"Allow me, Captain.' I hurriedly interrupted, and cast an imploring took at my colleague; I have made an important discovery since Mr. Holmes left she room to speak with you. Will you please conduct us to the billiard room?'

"'The billiard room! Did you say the billiard room?" the Captain enquired in great surprise.

"'The billiard room?' echoed Holmes, puzzled to know what clue he had missed that suggested such a solution.

"'Yes, the billiard room,' I returned, though I was not sure of finding the brooch there; and yet I instinctively felt that the mystery would be cleared up there. The parrot could not have uttered these words without hearing them from some persons, nor could it have repeated another person's words in the Captain's voice, or vice versa. It was evident to me that McDonald's uneasiness had caused him to got up in his sleep, and————. Well, I was prepared to go 'Nap' on the rest. On reaching the billiard room I said:—

"'Mr. McDonald will you oblige me by feeling in the pockets on that side of the table. '

"'Certainly.' he replied, and felt in each, 'though I cannot for the life of me see what you are driving at.'

"Had the parrot told me? I felt like perspiring!

"'Feel in the top pocket on this side.' I said.

"'What the devil, sir,' — he began after doing so.

"'Now in the middle one, if you please, captain.'

"Holmes was now excited. My heart almost I stood still as the captain inserted his hand; oh, how I watched his face! If it were not there only one other pocket remained, and -- but I was relieved of all anxiety by the wondrous change in the captain's face as his hand touched the brooch. Such a look of astonishment, joy, and gratitude combined! I tell you, old fellow, it did me good to witness his rejuvenescence.

"'Thank God!' he cried, in a voice of great emotion; and seizing my hand he wrung it warmly and long. Then he broke down altogether – fairly collapsed.

"'Mr. Anderson,' he said, after a short interval, and pulled out his cheque book. 'I never in the whole of my life paid money more willingly than I pay this five hundred pounds.'

"'Excuse me, Captain,' I replied, ' but there is no five hundred pounds due, as there has been no burglary committed.'

"'Sir,' he returned, 'I offered that sum to the man who restored the brooch, and you have returned it between you.'

"'You obtained our services by false representations,' I said, in pretended anger; 'you got us here by saying there had been a burglary committed, and instead of that it isn't even a case of housebreaking, nor of kleptomania, nor of petty larceny. Your servant would have found the brooch when dusting the table. For my own part I am not usually disturbed during breakfast by such simple cases as this, — and I gave Holmes a look — and I daresay my partner has missed a pleasant day on the river. Not a farthing. Mr. McDonald!'

"To say that both he and Holmes were I astonished would but faintly describe their condition; they were, in the phraseology of our Yankee cousins, 'flabbergasted.'

"'But how did you find it. Mr. Anderson? It is so — so — bless my soul!! I can't understand it. How did you do it?' enquired the Captain.

"'Pardon me, sir, but we never disclose our modus operandi, do we, Mr. Holmes?' And I beamed a meaning smile upon the latter, which went home. 'You see, Mr. McDonald, if we detectives and conjurors were to show the public how we did our tricks we should have the profession crowded in no time, and then-?'

"'But this discovery was made by no trick.'

"'Well, well, we have all sorts of little birds telling us things — oh, Mr. Holmes?' But Holmes did not take me for a wonder. 'Just I one question, Captain, before we go. Did you ever road 'Sylvester Sound, the Somnambulist," by Honey Cocktou?' A light broke upon them both.

"'I have read the book, Mr. Anderson,' replied the Captain, with a smile of anticipation.

"'Well, the next time-you think of going in for a little sleep-walking I would advise you to take the same precaution Silvester did by attaching himself to his bedfellow,' and we all laughed heartily at the recollection of the somnambulist's ruse and its result.

"And," concluded Anderson, "that charming landscape by David Cox, hung in my den at home, was a present from the Captain .... What did Holmes say? I'll tell you. Ah it was rich the way I rubbed it in."

"'Anderson,' said he, I'm obliged by your kindness; the way you did it was fine. But how the devil did you find out about the old fellow walking in his sleep?'

"'Perhaps Mr. Sherlock Holmes,' said I, you noticed there was a parrot in the room we were in, or possibly so small a thing escaped your attention.'

"'Go on, old sword of Damocles,' said he.

"'Holmes old chap,' said I, 'that parrot was, as you remarked, an intelligent bird, a very intelligent bird.' And I roared at sight of his perplexity as he made for a passing tramcar."

I joined my friend in the boisterous laugh he was seized with at the memory of it all. But while subsequently acknowledging his smartness in taking such ready advantage of so rare an accident, I would not alter my previously expressed estimate of the reception posterity would accord the chronicled exploits of Sherlock Holmes.