The Story of the Lamplighter

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
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The Story of the Lamplighter is the 6th story of the second series of Sherlock Holmes parodies: Picky Back written by R. C. Lehmann starring Picklock Holes as the detective and Potson as his sidekick. First published on 3 february 1904 in Punch magazine.

The Story of the Lamplighter

The Story of the Lamplighter (Punch, 3 february 1904, p. 81)

(Being the Sixth Passage from the re-inconanation of Picklock Holes.)

It was evening, a Sunday evening, in Baker Street. The lamps were nearly all lit, and the intellectual features of the domestic architecture for which that thoroughfare is celebrated were thrown into high relief by the rays emitted from the tops of the somewhat inartistic lamp-posts that had lately flashed into sudden life as the swift foot of the lamp-lighter approached, stopped far a moment, and then rapidly passed on in his path of duty, looking neither to the right nor to the left, but, like a true Imperial Briton, ever upward to higher things. Usually, the man went forward alone: none cared to follow him in a process so frequently interrupted by the pauses required by the modern torch-bearer's employment. But on this particular Sunday evening those who kept their eyes open might have observed that, as he passed the house before which stood the twenty-seventh lamp-post, the front-door swiftly but quietly opened, and two figures, heavily hatted and cloaked, emerged into the half-light of Baker Street, and promptly fell into line behind the unconscious but dutiful employé of the Gas Company. One of these figures was tall and thin; its muscles seemed made of steel; it had a pale, thoughtful and ascetic face; its forehead was high, its sentences were short, and its fingers were lean, meditative and impressive. At a casual glance it might have been mistaken for a prosperous undertaker retired from the active pursuit of business, but still taking an interest, in the mortuary arrangements of his former rivals in the pall and coffin trade. A second and more careful look might have convinced the observer that he saw before him an exiled Emperor, and it would have required a third and a piercing scrutiny to prove that this was none other than Picklock Holes. With regard to the second figure it is only necessary to mention that it was addressed by Picklock Holes occasionally as "friend Potson," but more frequently as "Tush! nonsense," or "Pooh, absurd." In fact, not to put too fine a point upon it, it was me.

You may ask what brought us into Baker Street on the track of a lamp-lighter on a Sunday evening in mid-February. The fact is, the town had lately been thrown into a fever of excitement by a series of extraordinary and hitherto inexplicable disappearances. All the victims — for we could not doubt that in some sense they were victims of somebody — were of the male sex, and what was even more remarkable they were all grandfathers of an advanced age. Matters had been brought to a crisis this very morning by the disappearance of Mr. Picklock Holes's own grandfather on the mother's side, almost before the eyes of his grandson.

"This," said Holes, when he realised that his grandsire was unquestionably gone, "is too much," and he had at once thrown himself into the detection of the crime with all a sleuth-hound's ardour. As a first step he had called upon me in my Baker Street lodgings, and had spent some hours in planning out the process by which he intended to convict the guilty. This was how his argument ran:—

"A grandfather," he began, "is not exactly like an ordinary citizen. It may be assumed, I think, that he is no longer in the first flush of his youth and beauty, and it is therefore unlikely that a barmaid, for instance, or even a chorus girl, will have run away with him. By a further process of elimination we arrive at the conclusion that only an Italian marchioness (I spare you the steps by which I reach this point) can have had anything to do with it. But mark my words — there are at this moment no Italian marchionesses in London. What then? Remove the marchioness and you leave a void or vacuum. To fill this in accordance with the preferences of nature you must select a — hush! I hear him passing."

It was at this moment precisely that, dragging me with him, he dashed out of the front-door and flung himself into the chase of the lamp-lighter.

Before the next post was reached Holes had closed upon his prey. In a moment the man was bound and gagged and hurled into a passing four-wheeler, which immediately set off on its way to the family mansion lately inhabited by Mr Thomas Baltimore Jubley, Holes's maternal grandparent. I followed as fast as I could on foot. When I arrived I witnessed a touching family scene. Old Mr. Jubley himself was standing in the drawing-room warmly embracing Picklock Holes, who was shaken with an emotion to which he rarely gave way.

"My boy, my lion-hearted boy," said Mr. Jubley, you have found me." How shall I thank you?" Then turning to me he continued, "I was in bed; I overslept myself, and had but lately descended when Picklock arrived."

After warmly congratulating both gentlemen, I withdrew, fearing that even so intimate a friend as I was might be de trop at such a moment.

I ought, perhaps, to mention that we never heard anything more of the lamp-lighter. Holes had left him by mistake in the cab, which had driven off before any of us noticed it. We applied, of course, at the lost property office at Scotland Yard, but all in vain. The cabman, with a lack of honesty unusual in his calling, had failed to deposit our lost captive, and all further trace of him disappeared.