The Case of the Pipeclay Department!
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
The Case of the Pipeclay Department! is a Sherlock Holmes parody of the series The Adventures of Herlock Sholmes, written by Charles Hamilton (under pen name Peter Todd), published on 5 february 1916 in The Greyfriars Herald, starring Herlock Sholmes as the detective and Dr. Jotson as his sidekick.
The Case of the Pipeclay Department!
Another Grand Story dealing with the Amazing Adventures of Herlock Sholmes, Detective.
Even Herlock Sholmes looked a little impressed when the Duke of Hookeywalker was shown into our apartment at Shaker Street. His Grace, Percy Augustus, second Duke of Hookeywalker, Earl of Bassbeer, Viscount Fourhalf, Knight of the Shoebuckle, Grand Chamberlain of the Backstairs, Lord Warden of the Royal Gluepot, A.S.S., P.O.T.T.Y., etc., had been one of the greatest figures in politics before the war. His rare gifts of debate, his telling speeches in which the keenest of reporters could discover no meaning, had naturally marked him out for a great place when war broke out. He had become the head of the Pipeclay Department, a position he filled with brilliance.
That this great and famous personage should require the services of Herlock Sholmes was a flattering tribute to my amazing friend. Sholmes placed a chair for the distinguished visitor, and pushed a decanter of cocaine across the table. His Grace declined it, however, with a wave of his hand.
"Mr. Sholmes, I trust you will be able to help us. I may say that the result of the war with" — his Grace referred to a notebook — "with Germany may depend upon the result of your efforts."
"I am entirely at your Grace's service. Pray give me a few details. You may speak quite freely before my friend, Dr. Jotson."
"It is a curious affair, Mr. Sholmes. You are aware that I am the Secretary for the Pipeclay Department — the most important of Government Departments in time of war. Under my influence, a re form has been instituted in this Department. Usually the scene of peaceful slumber, it has changed its character entirely — until lately. You are, perhaps, aware of the regulations in the Pipeclay Department?"
Sholmes shook his head.
"I will be more explicit. The usual routine was this. The officials arrived at eleven in the morning, and dozed gently in well-padded armchairs till lunch-time. Three hours were taken for lunch, but the whole body of officials were expected to return to their bureaux by four o'clock. They slumbered peacefully until five, when they left for their homes. This arrangement, excellent in peace time, was not, I felt, wholly adequate at a time when the British Empire was at grips with her mortal foe. Loath as I was to interfere with the honourable traditions of the Department, I felt that a change was necessary, at least during the period of the war with" — the Duke glanced at his notebook again — "with Germany. You are aware, Mr. Sholmes, that this country is at war with Germany?"
"I have seen it in the papers," assented Sholmes.
"Ah, I never read the papers! I was, however, officially informed of the fact, and there was no mistake about it. Having decided upon drastic reforms in the Pipeclay Department, I adopted the use of a very ingenious invention. Regarding it as imperative that the officials of my Department should remain awake at least one hour daily. I had this invention installed. It is an electrical apparatus, by means of which every official, on falling asleep in his chair, receives a slight shock, which awakens him in a few minutes. There is also a gramophone attachment to the apparatus, which repeats in a loud voice every half hour the sentence: 'WE ARE AT WAR!' This is a very useful reminder to the Department, the fact constantly escaping their memory."
"Excellent!" said Sholmes. "I no longer wonder at the distinction your Department has achieved during the war. This invention might be utilised with advantage in other Departments."
The Duke bowed.
"Unfortunately, Mr. Sholmes, some unscrupulous hand has been at work, and the apparatus has ceased to act. That is why I require your assistance. Every morning for the past week the apparatus has been deliberately disconnected, and has not worked. The result has been deplorable. The days have passed in peaceful slumber, as in pre-war times. Despatches have accumulated on the tables. Telegrams have remained unanswered. Armies despatched to distant corners of the earth have been forgotten, and have been cut up by the enemy. I felt that this could not be allowed to continue, Mr. Sholmes, and, as my social engagements have, fortunately, left me one half-hour free to-day, I determined to call upon you."
"I thank your Grace," said Herlock Sholmes. "I shall be glad to be of assistance. Evidently an emissary of Germany has been at work."
"I fear so, Mr. Sholmes. Spies have informed the plotters in Berlin of the existence of the electric awakener, and they have determined to cripple the efforts of this country by putting it out of action."
"Are any Germans employed in the Pipeclay Department?"
The Duke smiled slightly.
"Naturally!" he replied.
"You do not suspect——"
"My dear Mr. Sholmes, it is a maxim in the Pipeclay Department that Germans are above suspicion. We leave that kind of thing to the halfpenny papers."
"Is it possible for a stranger to penetrate into the Department?"
"Quite. The doorkeeper has received strict injunctions to remain awake at his post, but it is possible, or course, that these injunctions are neglected, owing to the general soporific atmosphere of the place."
Herlock Sholmes looked thoughtful.
"I had better make my investigations upon the spot," he said, rising. "Come, Jotson."
In a few minutes, the Duke's car was bearing us to Whitehall, where we were shown at once into the Pipeclay Office.
The palatial department was buried in silent slumber.
From the various bureaux came only the soft sound of peaceful breathing.
Outside the newspapers were crying the latest news: "Magnificent Retreat!" "Heroic Retirement!" But their raucous voices did not penetrate into the peaceful depths of the Pipeclay Department.
There all was peace.
The Duke glanced at Herlock Sholmes.
"You see, Mr. Sholmes," he remarked, "the apparatus is out of action at this moment. Otherwise, instead of the sound of peaceful breathing, the whole building would throb with yawns."
"I must see it," he observed.
We were led into the Duke's private cabinet. It was there that the apparatus was installed. By the simple device of a switch in the wall, the electric awakener would be set in motion.
"Every morning," said the Duke, "I turn on the switch at eleven o'clock. Then I leave the Department, my daily labours ended. Observe!"
He pressed down the switch.
Immediately, from the adjoining apartments, came a sound of loud yawning. The awakener was at work. From the gramophone attachment a deep voice came, repeating the sentence: 'WE ARE AT WAR!' Thus reminded of the fact that had escaped their memory, the whole body of officials rubbed their eyes and set to work. I could scarcely repress an exclamation of admiration for this great invention, the installation of which in the Pipeclay Office proved that we are very little, if at all, behind the Germans in real efficiency.
The Duke turned off the switch again. The yawning died away, and once more the peaceful sound of deep breathing was heard. The Pipeclay Office had sunk one more into somnolence.
"You see," said the Duke, "how terribly we are handicapped in this war by the apparatus being tampered with. I look to you, Mr. Sholmes, to discover the villain who tampers with it!"
"I will do my best," said Herlock Sholmes. "Pray turn on the switch again! Exactly! Now retire behind this screen!"
We stepped behind the screen, and waited. Loud yawning was heard from various directions, showing that the awakener was in full action, and that the labours of the Department were proceeding. Important letters, neatly tied with red tape, were carefully stacked into pigeon-holes. Busy pens traced out "Observations upon the Remarks of the Forty-fourth Report of the Seventh Committee of Inquiry into the Alleged Lack of Waistcoat-buttons in the Patagonian Expeditionary Force." The Pipeclay Department was in full swing!
We waited in silence. Herlock Sholmes' face was inscrutable.
The Duke had sunk into an easy-chair, and his eyes had closed. But, in spite of the slumberous influence around, I did not think of sleep. I watched the inscrutable face of Herlock Sholmes.
There was a soft step upon the rich, thick carpet. We peered from behind the screen.
A fat and florid man, with a blonde spiked moustache, had entered the cabinet, and with a grin of fiendish cunning upon his face, was creeping towards the switch of the electric awakener.
His fat and podgy finger pressed the switch.
The inevitable result followed.
In a few moments the Pipeclay Office was buried in slumber. The awakener had ceased to act!
With a crash, the screen toppled over, and Herlock Sholmes sprang upon the traitor. There was a startled cry from the discovered villain, and he turned to flee. His feet, however, were entangled in Sholmes' dressing-gown, and he fell heavily to the floor. Before he could rise the handcuffs were on his wrists.
The Duke, awakened by the crash of the screen, started to his feet. Startled suddenly from slumber, he did not realise where he was.
"My Lords," he said, "I beg to assure your lordships that the prosecution of the war is proceeding as well as can be expected. The general average of wakefulness in my Department exceeds——"
His Grace evidently fancied for the moment that he had awakened from a nap in an "Exalted Place."
"Bless my soul!" he exclaimed. "What has happened, Mr. Sholmes?"
Herlock Sholmes smiled.
"There is the villain who turned off the switch, your Grace!"
The Duke stared at the handcuffed traitor in amazement.
"But — but he is a German!" he exclaimed. "One of my most faithful employees! Is it possible that I have been deceived in him? Call the police! Villain, imprisonment for a week awaits you for this treachery, and I shall consider very seriously whether to employ you again in the Pipeclay Department!"
"Success again, Sholmes!" I remarked, as we walked homeward to Shaker Street. "But how did you know that the traitor would come——"
"I reasoned it out, Jotson. The rascal had turned off the electric awakener, and fancied that the Pipeclay Department was put of action for the day. But turning it on again, I drew him into the snare. Finding the officials awake at their desks, he would guess that someone had entered the Duke's private cabinet, and turned on the apparatus. He came at once to stop it, and plunge the Department into its usual slumber. Then we had him! I am glad, Jotson, that the Duke called me. With the electrical awakener in full action, it appears probably that the Patagonian Expeditionary Force will, in due time, receive the full supply of waistcoat-buttons— and, perhaps, even ammunition. Who knows? I think I have fairly earned the Duke's handsome cheque; and we will have kippers for tea, Jotson!"