The Mystery of the Lady's Missing Arm

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

The Mystery of the Lady's Missing Arm is a Sherlock Holmes parody of the series Memoirs of Curlock Combs, written by Newton Newkirk, published on 27 july 1902 in The Boston Post, starring Curlock Combs as the detective and Dr. Spotson as his sidekick.

The Mystery of the Lady's Missing Arm

The Boston Post (27 july 1902, p. 26)

The Mystery of the Lady's Missing Arm, or the Great Detective and Dr. Spotson Untangling a Case Which Has No Parrallel in Criminal Annals.

As I sat under study one evening rending from my medical journal an expert treatise on neurasthenia the telephone bell rang suddenly and violently. Rising hastily I strode across the room and placed the receiver to my ear and called "Hello!" The person at the other end of the line evidently did not hear me, because he continued to shout as follows: "Hello! Hello! Hello! Hell! O Hell!" At length I was successful in making myself heard.

"That you, Spotson?" inquired the voice.


"This is Combs. Come to my quarters in Shaker street at once; I have a most interesting case."

Then friend Curlock Combs, the great detective, rang off before I could affirm that I would come. He probably presumed rightly that no matter of however great import would dissuade me from accepting such an invitation. I glanced hastily at the clock as I buckled on my six-shooter and threw my great coat over my shoulders. The hour was 9 p.m. At that instant my wife entered the room and I explained as quickly as possible where I was going and that I might remain away anywhere from a few hours to 30 days. As I passed out the door I kissed at her hastily, but missed her. I never was a very good wing shot as a kisser. After 10 minutes' brisk walk I knocked at Combs's quarters.

"Come in, Spotson." commanded a voice, and entering I stood before the great detective, who arose a and extended his hand in friendly greeting.

"You did well, Spotson, to bring your revolver." were his first words.

"You astonish me, Combs; how do you know that I have a firearm on my person?"

"Easy, Spotson; when I shook your hand I detected grease or paraffine on your fingers — the sort used in coating cartridges. I judged that you placed cartridges in your pocket before leaving and I knew you would have no need for cartridges unless you also carried your revolver. Sit down."

I did as I was bidden. Combs sank into a massive arm chair. Producing his pipe, he abstractedly stuffed the fringed ends of the table cover into it and settled back for a comfortable smoke. When Combs has an intricate case on hand he is singularly absent-minded concerning other things, and is quite as likely to smoke the ends of his coat-tails in his pipe as anything else. He lighted the pipe, and when the fire was going well he leaned back in a luxurious attitude and filled the air with wreaths of smoke which had the odor of a glue factory.

"Spotson," he began at last, "the case I telephoned you about has a few points sufficient to challenge my most subtle powers of deduction. I will state it to you briefly: Just before twilight today, as i was promenading for exercise back and forth in front of my residence, my eyes fell upon a curious object lying in the street close to the curb. Picking it up, I was horrified to find it to be a woman's arm, freshly severed above the elbow. I carried it hastily into my house, cleansed it thoroughly and placed it on ice. My mission, Spotson, is to return this arm to its rightful owner and bring to justice the criminal who cut it off, probably when the lady was not looking."

Combs arose and, going to the ice chest, took therefrom the ghastly memento of the atrocious crime and placed it on the table before me. The fingers of the woman's hand were white and taper. None of them were adorned by a ring; the nails were a seashell pink, and were beautifully manicured; the area was plump and round and the skin soft as velvet.

"She was a lady of gentle birth," I observed in an awed voice. but Combs did not answer. Glancing across I observed that he had lapsed into a deep, brown study, and I perceived that his marvellous powers of deduction were at work unravelling the mystery of the amputated arm. Suddenly Combs removed his pipe from his mouth and placed it sadly on the table.

"That's about the rankest tobacco I ever smoke," he observed. Turning away his hat and great coat and faced me. "Ready, Spotson?" he queried.

"For what?"

"To find the remainder of the woman; we must start in before the trails cool off?"

"I'm with you." I replied.

"Very well; bring the arm." said Combs, as he passed through the door.

I hastily wrapped the ghastly thing in a newspaper and followed, carrying it under my arm.

"It was here I found it," said Combs, dropping on his knees and examining the spot by means of a magnifying glass while I held a match. "Ah, ha!" he ejaculated. "Here are the prints of foot-feet!"

"What sort of foot-feet?" I asked, eagerlY.

"The hoof-feet of a wagon and two horses," said Combs, rising and pursuing the tracks relentlessly forward. Presently the trail ended where the cobblestones began, and for a moment Combs paused as if baffled. Then he sped forward again. Combs is the only detective I have ever met who can track a wagon and two horses over a cobblestone street. He told me he did it by scent. I got down on my knees and sniffed the cobblestones, but they told me nothing; all cobblestones look alike to me. After proceeding about three-quarters of a mile Combs sat himself wearily down on a doorstep to rest.

"Are you still on the trail?" I asked, taking my place beside him.

"Possibly," he replied. "But if so I am not aware of it. There is only one thing to do. Spotson," he went on, "and that is to wait until tomorrow morning's newspapers are on the street." Saying this he crawled back farther into the residence entry and stretched out for the night. I followed suit and made myself as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. As I was drifting into slumber a grave question suggested itself to me:

"Combs," I said, "I am afraid to go to sleep with this arm on my person?"

"Humph!" replied Combs, sleepily; "you needn't be; not everyone can boast of having three arms on his person."

I did not relish this grewsome jest and told Combs so. Then he suggested that I take the lady by the arm and conduct it to the nearest hotel and request the clerk to lock it among the valuables of the safe until morning. I was about to do this when Combs thought better of it, and said that such a procedure would throw us open to suspicion. He instructed me to keep the arm in my possession. He told me, in the event of anyone attacking us, I was to beat the intruder violently over the head with the lady's arm. Then Combs went to sleep. I lay there in the shadows for long watching the twinkling stars. Then slumber came to to me and I knew no more.

I was awakened by the strident bawl of a newsboy crying his wares. Dawn was just breaking. Combs was already up and was scanning the "Lost" column of the morning paper.

"Ah, ha!" he exclaimed, as I sat up. "It is as I suspected!" Thereupon he read me the following notice:

"LOST — A lady's arm somewhere on Shaker street last evening. Finder will be liberally rewarded upon returning same to Solomon Rosenthal, No. 522 B street, west."

Combs stuffed the newspaper into his pocket and started off at a brisk gait with me at the heels.

"The sun will rise in about 10 minutes, Spotson," he said. Sure enough ere the 10 minutes elapsed the sun rose as he said it would. How Combs knew the sun would do this is more than I can say. I will not describe our journey to No. 522 B street, west. Suffice to say the address proved to be a small dry goods store, and that we waited three hours for the proprietor to put in an appearance. Ha was a rotund person, bald of top head, but with a curly, black fringe of hair above his ears and where his forehead ended at the back of his neck. He also wore an aquiline nose on his face. He did not look like a Frenchman to me, in spite of his name.

"Did a lady friend of yours lose one of her arms last evening? began Combs, plunging at once into teh purpose of our visit.

"Yes, mine frent," replied Rosenthal; "haf you font id?"

Combs replied that he thought possibly we had, and, undoing the arm from its wrapping, I held it up for inspection.

"Eef id don't fit," said Rosenthal, "you get no enny rewart."

Thereupon he conducted us into the presence of the lady with the missing arm. She stood on a pedestal at one side of the store. She was a beautiful creature, and Combs and I both removed our hats and bowed low to her as we approached. She acknowledged our salutation with a winning smile and seemed not to mind the loss of he arm in the least. Combs took the uncanny limb from my hands and fitted it into place on the upper portion of her severed arm. The junction was perfect, and Rosenthal cried out in delight.

"I am so rejoiced!" he exclaimed. "I bought her at a second hant store yesterday for two tollars, ant her arm was lost by the expressman who hauled her here. She was the only wax model I ever hat. here is your rewart!"

Taking from his pocket three 10-cent pieces, Rosenthal handed them to Combs, and with gracious thnaks we departed. After we were outside Combs gave me 10 cents as my share of the reward, and we walked homeward in silence. Combs, the great detective, said not one word as we moved along. It is nos his custom to boast and brag about his famous exploits.