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Picky Back No. III

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

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Picky Back No. III is the 3rd 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 2 december 1903 in Punch magazine.

As this story has no original title, later publishers titled it either: Scotland Yard [1] or The Story of the Russian Anarchist [2].


Picky Back No. III

Picky Back No. III (Punch, 2 december 1903, p. 379)
Picky Back No. III (Punch, 2 december 1903, p. 380)

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

I have, I think, mentioned once or twice before that Picklock Holes had a very mean opinion of the general intelligence as well as of the special ability of the detective police. He did not limit this depreciation to England; wherever he might happen to meet a detective, whether amid the teeming thousands of Nijni Novgorod (where he executed one of his most celebrated feats in the destruction of the Czar's renegade great-aunt), or on the sandy wastes of the great desert of Sahar (where single-handed he captured the entire tribe of Beni Bashas), he never failed to allow a smile of sardonic contempt to pass like a cloud over the stern and otherwise habitually impassive features of his intellectual face. No doubt there was some reason for this. A man so eminent, so able and so generally sought after as Holes would not have allowed a mere baseless prejudice or professional jealousy to warp his judgment. Still, I am free to confess that the manner in which he habitually spoke of or addressed the minions of Scotland Yard grated somewhat harshly on my ears. Yet who was I that I should criticise such a man as Holes?

He was a great inferentialist, a mighty deducter who had given his proofs a thousand times over; I was but a humble medical man, retired from such practice as I had once enjoyed, and now gaining a reflected glory from the wonderful being whose extraordinary condescension enabled me to participate in the matchless exploits which had brought conviction home to the most hardened and successful assassins, forgers, embezzlers, false pretenders, burglars, will-destroyers, pickpockets and coiners of the age, and had on not a few memorable occasions confirmed the sway of sovereigns over their discontented and frequently rebellious subjects. The sentence I have just written is a long one, but my readers will agree that the greatness of Holes would have justified me in protracting it still further.

One day, while Holes and I were sitting at meat-tea,a meal which in my bereaved condition I had recently substituted for dinner, I noticed that my friend's face wore a more than usually keen and alert look. His mouth was twitching and his fingers were spread out with their tips meditatively laid together, as was his habit when his brain was particularly active. Some fried eggs and bacon lay before him on one plate; on another was a piece of bread thickly spread with strawberry jam; on a third reposed a square of dry toast, over which had been imposed a thick layer of potted shrimps; at his side steamed a cup of tea, but he had taken neither bite nor sup. At last the silence grew oppressive and I ventured to break it.

"Holes," I said pleadingly, "what are you thinking about?"

He did not answer me.

"Holes," I began again, "three cruel murders and two mysterious disappearances are reported in this very evening's papers."

Even that did not rouse him.

"Holes," I continued, making my words as impressive as possible, "the police are said to have clues, and Scotland Yard is confident that—"

With a sudden and terrific vehemence the unparalleled investigator sprang to his feet: never have I seen him so angry.

"Scotland Yard!" he shouted in tones of contempt, so withering that the very cups and saucers seemed to cower under it. "Who dares to speak to me of Scotland Yard — to me but for whom the fumblers who inhabit that idiots' asylum would long since have been dismissed? Look here, Potson," he went on eagerly, "I'll wager that if a crime were committed practically under their very noses they would never see it. By George, we'll try it. Go to the telephone, Potson, and ring up Lumpkin, the Scotland Yard Inspector."

I did so.

"Tell him to come here at once on important business connected with an attempted murder."

Again I obeyed his instructions.

"Now, Potson, take that carving-knife and endeavour to commit suicide — nay, you must avoid the jugular — that's right — a little deeper — that will do nicely. Tie a napkin round your throat, put the knife in my hands and open the window so that I may be half out of it when Lumpkin comes in, as though I were attempting to escape. Capital! Now we're ready for him."

Here I ought to say that, being accustomed to obey Holes blindly, I had made a fairly large gash in my throat, and was suffering a certain amount of inconvenience. But who in my place would not have done as I did? It was enough for me to know that Holes wanted a thing done.

A minute afterwards Inspector Lumpkin entered with a rush and stood aghast at the scene. It was certainly a dramatic one. I was lying on the floor, blood-stained and all but lifeless; the black cat was on the top of the bookshelf, mewing piteously, and Holes, disguised as a Russian anarchist, had one leg out of the window, and was glaring at Lumpkin while he waved the carving-knife above his head.

Lumpkin's mind was made up in a moment. He whistled and four burly constables sprang into the room:—

Arrest that man," said Lumpkin, pointing to Holes.

There was a sharp struggle, but numbers in the end were too many for my friend, and he had to yield after disabling three of his captors.

"Did I not tell you so?" said Holes, as he was taken out.

"The fools do not know a case of suicide when they see it."

I was too far gone to answer, but it was even as Holes said. Fortunately I recovered some months afterwards — too late, however, to save Holes from the sentence of penal servitude which was passed upon him. Of course he escaped from prison immediately, but the incident proved, as Holes said it would, that the police of this metropolis are incorrigible bunglers. Lumpkin, I am sorry to say, took the whole thing very badly. He has never been able to forgive Holes for having so manifestly got the better of him.






  1. The Return of Picklock Holes, compiled and introduced by Brian R. MacDonald, Magico Magazine (1980).
  2. The Early Punch Parodies of Sherlock Holmes, compiled by Bill Peschel, Peschel Press (2014).

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