The Stolen March

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
<< No. 6 : The Umbrosa Burglary The Adventures of Picklock Holes No. 8 : Picklock's Disappearance >>

The Stolen March is the 7th 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 in two parts on 23 & 30 december 1893 in Punch magazine. Illustration by E. J. Wheeler.

The Stolen March

Part I

The Stolen March (Punch, 23 december 1893)
Illustration by E. J. Wheeler

I think I have already mentioned in the course of the articles which I have consecrated to the life and exploits of Picklock Holes that this extraordinary man was unmarried. There was some mystery about certain love-making episodes in the early stages of his career which nothing could induce him to talk about. If I ever chanced to mention the subject of matrimony in his presence, a hard, metallic look came over his features, and his lips closed with the tightness and vehemence of a pair of handcuffs. Naturally, I was not encouraged by these symptoms to pursue the matter. However, from what I have since been able to glean from other sources, I think I am justified in saying that Holes was at one time, while quite a young man, engaged to the daughter of an eminent church dignitary, a charming girl who united good looks to a comfortable balance at her bankers. One morning, however, Holes, whose mind was constantly occupied in the solution of deep and complex psychological problems, suddenly startled Miss Bellasys by informing her that from certain indications he had concluded that she had two large moles on the upper portion of her left shoulder-blade. It was in vain that the unfortunate girl protested with tears in her eyes that she was ignorant of this disfigurement; that, as a matter of fact, she had the best reason for believing that no such moles existed, and that, if they did, it was not her fault, but must be due to a momentary oversight on the part of her nurse, a woman of excellent character and sound church principles. Holes was, as usual, inexorable.

"My dearest Annabella," he observed, "I am never mistaken. Within the last ten minutes while I have been discussing with you my new theory of clues I have noticed your left eye — the right I cannot see — slowly close twice, while at the same moment your head drooped on to your left shoulder. Thus you were twice blind on the left side. Moles, as we learn, not merely from books on natural history, but from our own observation, are blind. You have, therefore, two moles on your left shoulder. The fact is indisputable."

Terrified by this convincing demonstration, poor Miss Bellasys released the great detective from his engagement, and retired shortly afterwards from the world to enrol herself in the ranks of a nursing sisterhood.

These, I believe, are the facts connected with my friend's only engagement, and I merely state them here in order that the deeply-interesting story of his life may be as complete as laborious and accurate research on my part can make it. It is perhaps not to be wondered at that the man should have been to some extent soured by the tragic termination of a love affair which seemed full of the promise of happiness for all concerned.

But it must not be supposed that the life of Picklock Holes was entirely destitute of the domestic joys. He would often tell me when we met again after an interval during which he had disappeared from my ken that he had been giving the old folks at home a turn, and that he felt himself in a measure reinvigorated by the simple and trusting affection lavished upon him by his family circle. I gathered that this consisted of his father and mother, Sir Aminadab and Lady Holes, his two younger brothers, curiously named Hayloft and Skairkrow Holes, his widowed sister, Mrs. Gumpshon, with various children of all ages left as pledges of affection by the late Colonel Gumpshon of the Saltshire Bays, as gallant an officer as ever cleft the head of an Afghan or lopped an Egyptian in two. Often had I felt, though I had been far too discreet to express it openly, an ardent desire to become acquainted with a family which, if I might judge by my friend Picklock, must be one of the most remarkable in the world for brain power and keen intelligence. My wish was to be gratified sooner than I looked for.

One evening, as Holes and I were sitting in my bachelor rooms in Belgrave Square, there came a sudden knock at the door. We were smoking, and I remember that Holes had just been explaining to me that it was customary to infer an assassin from the odour of Trichinopoly, whilst a Cabana denoted a man of luxurious habits and unbridled passions. From Bird's-eye tobacco a direct line of induction, he said, brought one to a Cabinet Minister, whilst Cavendish in its uncut stage led to a mixture of a smuggler, a Methodist minister, and a club-proprietor in reduced circumstances. I was marvelling at the singular acumen of the man when, as I say, there came a tap at the door, which interrupted our discussions. The door then slowly opened, and a small female child, of a preternaturally sharp expression, slid, as it were, inductively into the room. It was the youthful Isabel Gumpshon, one of Holes's nieces. "All right, Isabel," said the great detective, "we will come with you;" and in another moment a swift four-wheeler was conveying us to Fitzjohn's Avenue, where Sir Aminadab and his lady had their dwelling-place.

No sooner had we arrived than I felt that we were indeed in a home of mystery, to which the Egyptian Hall of Messrs. Maskelyne and Cooke was a mere baby. There was in the air a heavy odour of detection, a sort of clinging mist of inductive argument, a vaporous emanation of crimes logically discovered and inferentially revealed, a pervading miasma of obtuse police-inspectors relieved by complimentary magistrates and eulogistic judges. The description may seem highly-coloured, but it represents with literal accuracy the impression made upon my mind by my entrance into the ancestral mansion of the Holes family. Nor was this impression removed as we ascended the stairs. On the first landing we found Mrs. Gumpshon engaged in teaching her youngest boy, Augustus O'Brien Gumpshon, a correct system of guess-work. The boy, a bright little fellow of five, was at that moment in disgrace. He had courageously attempted to guess his mother's age, and having in an excess of rashness fixed the figure at forty-two, he had been severely punished, and was at that moment languishing in a corner of the landing. In the drawing-room we found the rest of the family. Sir Aminadab, it appeared, had murdered the footman some ten minutes before our arrival, and had contrived by the aid of a pair of blood-stained braces, which were one of his most cherished possessions, to fix the guilt upon Lady Holes, in whose basket-trunk, moreover, the dismembered body of the unfortunate menial had been discovered by the cook. The ingenuity of this diabolical plot had for some nine minutes baffled the whole family.

Lady Holes was just about to resign herself to the inevitable arrest, when Hayloft Holes, with an appearance of calm nonchalance, eminently suited to his impassive features, had produced from his father's waistcoat pocket two of the unfortunate footman's silver buttons, and had thus convicted Sir Aminadab of the crime. As we entered the drawing-room we were almost overwhelmed with the shouts of joy that welcomed this wonderful exhibition of the family talent. Skairkrow Holes, who was of a more reflective turn of mind, had, it seemed, been looking out of the window at the passers-by, and had just proved triumphantly to his youngest niece, Jemima, that a man whom she had taken for a vendor of cat's meat was in reality a director of a building society who had defrauded the miserable investors of fifty-two thousand pounds, eighteen shillings, and ninepence halfpenny. It was into this happy family party that Holes and I, led by Isabel Gumpshon, intruded on the memorable evening of which I speak.

Note.—There are, it seems, rumours about to the effect that my marvellous friend, Picklock Holes, is dead. Some even go so far as to assert that he never existed. I leave these two factions to fight the matter out. If he is dead he must have existed; if he never existed he cannot have died. This shows the folly of relying on rumour. — Samuel Potson.

Part II

The Stolen March (Punch, 30 december 1893)

As soon as we entered the drawing-room all the little Gumpshons clapped their hands with delight, and surrounded their Uncle Picklock, each of them attempting to infer from the expression on the great detective's countenance what it was that he carried in his left coat-tail pocket. "I know what it is," said Edgar Allan Poe Gumpshon, a boy of fifteen; "it's plum-cake. I know it must be, because I never seed it, so it ain't seed-cake." Gaboriau Gumpshon, aged thirteen, opined it was a packet of bull's-eyes, "'cos that's what detectives always carry on dark nights," whilst Ann Radcliffe Gumpshon declared with certainty that it must be nuts, for she had just heard a cracker explode in the street. "Children," said Picklock Holes, "you are nearly right. Your powers have much improved. I am delighted to see that you are kept up to the mark;" and, speaking thus, he produced from his pocket an apple, which he presented to Edgar, a pocket-knife which he handed to the jubilant Gaboriau, and a pincushion, which was immediately clasped and carried off in the chubby hand of little Ann Radcliffe. "A year ago," said Picklock, turning to me, "these children could not have reasoned inductively with one half of their present approximate accuracy; but my dear sister, Heaven bless her! is a wonderful teacher, the best and cleverest of us all. Indeed, indeed you are, Philippa," he continued, warmly embracing Mrs. Gumpshon. "I am a mere bungler compared to you. But come, let us to business." At a signal from Lady Holes the happy children trooped off to bed, and we elders were left alone.

Sir Aminadab opened the conversation. "I sent for you, my dear boy," he said, "because I have just received from one of my agents in the North information of an important case which demands immediate investigation. Neither Hayloft nor Skairkrow can go, having business that keeps them in London. I look, therefore, to you to cover the family name with new lustre by solving this extraordinary mystery." Here the old man paused, as though overcome by emotion. Picklock encouraged him with an expressive look, and he continued:—

"This morning," he said, "I received from my agent this letter." He drew a sheet of paper from his breast-pocket, and read, in tremulous tones, as follows:—

"Tochtachie Castle, Daffshire.

"Sir, — Lord Tochtachie has been robbed. I overheard him last night conversing with the Hon. Ian Strunachar, his eldest son, who used the following words: "Not a doubt of it. They have stolen a march—" More I could not hear at the moment. The case is of immense importance, and I trust you will lose no time in sending a competent investigator. I have, of course, concealed both my presence here and my knowledge of the theft from his lordship.

"Yours faithfully, David McPhizzle."

"There, my boy, is the case. Will you go and help a Scotch representative peer to recover his own? Think how terrible it must be to lose the march or boundary that separates your ancestral domain from that of a neighbour whose whole course of life may be antipathetic to you. Will you go?"

A wave of emotion passed over my friend's face. I could see that a struggle of no ordinary kind was raging in his breast. Finally, however, he looked at me, and his mind, I knew, was made up. In another ten minutes we had bidden adieu to his family, and were speeding northwards in the Scotch express.

Over the details of the journey it is not necessary to linger. Suffice it to say that on the following morning we arrived at Tochtachie, and took up our quarters in a deserted barn situated in the very centre of the estate. From this point we pursued our investigations. Our first proceeding was to interview the local constabulary, but we found them as obtuse and as foolishly incredulous as policemen are all the world over. One of them, indeed, went so far as to hint that Holes was "havering," which I understand to be an ancient Gaelic word signifying metaphysical talk, but a look from the great detective chilled him into silence. Day by day we worked, and not even the night gave us a rest from our self-sacrificing labours. We mapped out the whole district into square yards; we gathered the life-history of every single inhabitant on the estate; we left no clue untracked, no loophole unblocked, no single piece of evidence unexamined, no footstep unmeasured. We collected every scrap of torn letter, every crumpled telegram-form. The very heather of the moor, and the trees growing in the policies of the Castle were compelled by Holes' marvellous inductive powers to yield to us their secrets, until after weeks of patient toil we at last judged ourselves to be in possession not only of the stolen march, but also of evidence that would bring conviction home to the guilty party. We had paused, I remember, by a heap of granite at the roadside. Holes seemed strangely excited. "A march," I heard him muttering, "is performed by footsteps; steps are often made of stone. Can this be it? It must be! It is!" Then, with a shout of triumph, he gave orders to have the heap loaded on to a country cart, which was to follow us to the Castle.

We arrived in the great courtyard at about seven o'clock in the evening. Holes slipped from my side, entered the house, and after a few moments returned to my side. We then clanged the bell, and demanded to see his lordship. In a few moments Lord Tochtachie appeared, surrounded by kilted retainers, bearing torches, and intoning in unison the mournful sporan of the clan. It was a weird and awful sight. But Holes, unemotional as ever, advanced at once to the haughty Scotchman, before whose eye half a county was accustomed to tremble, and, without any ado, addressed him thus: "My Lord, your march has been stolen. Nay, do not interrupt me. Your guards are careless, but not criminal—of that I can assure you. Here is the stolen property; I restore it to you without cost." At this moment the cart rumbled up, and ere the peer had time to utter a word, it had discharged its contents into the middle of the yard. Holes went on, but in a lower voice, so as to be heard only by Lord Tochtachie: "The guilty party, my Lord, is your honoured father-in-law. He dare not, he cannot, deny it. He is, I know, blind and deaf and dumb. These qualities do not, however, exclude the possibility of crime. I have just found these pieces of granite in his morning-room. The proof is complete."

At this moment a shot was heard in the Castle, and directly afterwards a frightened butler rushed up to his lordship and whispered to him. "Ha! say you so?" almost screamed Lord Tochtachie. "That amounts to a confession. Mr. Holes," he continued, "you have indeed rendered me a service. My unfortunate, but guilty father-in-law has shot and missed himself through the head. But in any ease the honour of the house is, I know, safe in your hands."

I need hardly say that Holes has never violated his lordship's confidence, and the Daffshire peasants still speculate amongst themselves upon the tortuous mystery of the march which was stolen and restored.

Note. — There is no proof positive given by any eye-witness whose veracity is unimpeachable of the death of the great amateur detective as it has been described in the Strand Magazine for this month. Where is the merry Swiss boy who delivered the note and disappeared? What was the symbolic meaning of the alpenstock with the hook at the end, left on the rock? Why, that he had not "taken his hook." Picklock Holes has disappeared, but so have a great many other people. That he will turn up again no student of detective history and of the annals of crime can possibly doubt. Is it not probable that he has only dropped out of the Strand Magazine? And is it not equally probable that under some alias he will re-appear elsewhere?

Verb. sap. — Ed.