The Story of the Princess

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
<< No. 4 : Picky Back No. IV Picky Back No. 6 : The Story of the Lamplighter >>

The Story of the Princess is the 5th 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 13 january 1904 in Punch magazine.

The Story of the Princess

The Story of the Princess (Punch, 13 january 1904, p. 25)
The Story of the Princess (Punch, 13 january 1904, p. 26)

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

I ought to have mentioned before that in my lodgings in Baker Street, of which, as I said, the price is £2 a week (lights not included), I possess a heavy accumulation of note-books dealing with the marvellous exploits and super-human career of the most phenomenal detective known to this or any other age. These I propose to publish in various forms from time to time for the benefit of the public which has been good enough to interest itself in my beloved but austere friend's immortal achievements. There will be in the first place a series of ten volumes on "Holes as a Man." These will be followed after a short interval by twenty of a similar size on the subject of "Holes in Relation to the Creation of the World," and the matter will be, temporarily at least, concluded by the issue of twelve quarto volumes entitled "Radium: is it Holes?" When I shall have completed these I shall be able to contemplate with satisfaction my humble share in the epoch-making events which it is my duty to chronicle. I can promise the public that in absorbing interest no less than in the virile graces of a breezy literary style not one of these entrancing volumes will fall short in any degree of the high standard which, out of a regard for the imperishable memory of Holes, I have consistently set for myself.

We were sitting one morning in the aforesaid lodgings, little recking of the prodigious occurrences which were even then impending over our heads. There had been a lull in the criminality of the United Kingdom. In fact, the steadily decreasing average of murders and the almost complete cessation of industry in matters of burglaries and arsons had been causing serious disquiet to the statesmen then at the head of the government of the country. Frauds, embezzlements and mysterious disappearances, to be sure, had maintained themselves more or less at the accustomed level, but even in this department, if you applied the test of volume rather than of value, there were suspicious signs which could not fail to produce uneasiness in the minds of those who refused any longer to be hide-bound by the musty shibboleths of the discredited Scotland Yard school of investigators. Holes, whose courage even in the midst of these depressing circumstances had never flagged for a moment and whose serenity of temper and marvellous resourcefulness had endeared him more than ever to the select circle of his intimate friends did not, of course, conceal from me the extreme gravity of the outlook so far as the criminal production of the country was concerned.

"Potson," he used to say to me, "something will have to be done. We cannot afford to rely for ever on our past. What is the use of talking about Greenacre, Dick Turpin, the Mannings, Palmer, Sweeney Tod and Three-Fingered Jack! They're dead, friend Potson, dead and gone, and they've left no successors. France is creeping up to us — the decennial averages prove it — Germany is now ahead of us, and America is dumping many of her best and most highly finished criminals upon our markets. I ask you, are we to take it lying down?"

To such a question, I admit, I had no answer ready at the moment, nor, had I possessed one, should I have ventured to offer it, for Picklock Holes was a man not easily diverted from any course on which he had set his heart, and I always judge it better not to affront him needlessly when once I saw that he had made up his mind.

Well, as I say, we were sitting in my rooms in Baker Street. Holes had his steely eyes intently fixed on a coffee stain made by me on the table-cloth that morning, and from certain curt interjectional remarks which had been falling from his thin tightly-closed lips I gathered that he was deducing from it by his own unsurpassable methods a widely ramified and diabolical plot on the part of Russian emissaries to assassinate the Mikado of Japan. Before, however, he had time to complete the steps of his process and to bring the infamous crime home to the chief of the Russian police, the door of our sitting-room was softly opened and a young girl, tastefully dressed in a short skirt and an ordinary shirt waist with hat to match, stepped, or, I should rather say, sidled into the room. Casting a look full of meaning at Holes, she subsided into a chair and remained silent, while Holes, upon whom her arrival had already made a marked impression, half rose from his chair and then resumed his former sitting posture.

"Mr. Holes," she said at length in a voice of peculiar sweetness. "do you know me?"

"You should not ask such a question, Miss," I interrupted; "Picklock Holes knows everybody."

"Tush, Potson," muttered Holes with some severity. Then, turning to our visitor, he continued, "Proceed, Miss, your melancholy story is not unknown to me."

"In that case I need only tell you, since you know that they are all deeply in love with me, that he" — there was a world of meaning in her utterance of the word — "has followed me hither and is at this moment in Baker Street."

"Potson," said Holes, drawing his chair closer to that of the girl, who still kept her eyes riveted on his, "go outside and deal with this man as I would have him dealt with."

I obeyed, and having passed out through the front door I found a thickly-built and ill-favoured ruffian whistling an operatic air on our door-step. To accost him, to see that he was a more powerful man than myself, to take him to the nearest public-house, and to stand him a cold whisky — all this was the work of a moment. When I returned to the sitting room Holes seemed visibly annoyed at my entrance, and even more so at the account I gave of my doings.

"Oh, Potson, Potson," he exclaimed, "will you never learn? Forgive me, Miss, I must leave you for a moment. Come, Potson, and see how the thing ought to be done." Then, having bowed politely to the young lady, he took me with him out of the room.

The burly ruffian was no longer on the doorstep, but a rapid deductive calculation and a look up the street revealed him to us about a hundred yards away. Holes was after him in a moment. In the brisk fight that ensued the girl's persecutor was severely mauled, while the only damage inflicted on Holes was that a random blow of his opponent's managed to entirely and without redemption split one of my austere friend's best infinitives. We then returned to our home. Alas, the young lady was gone, gone like a beautiful dream — and so were all my best silver spoons, the tea-pot presented to me by the Imaum of Kashmir, and a massive silver gilt epergne once the property of Galen, and much valued by me on that account.

I turned to Holes for an explanation. His face was quite calm.

"The poor Princess," he said, "is now in safety, Heaven help her. Hers has been a terrible story. Forgive me, Potson, but it had to be."

"Holes," I murmured reverentially, "you were never greater and more generous than you are at this moment."