The Missing Mother-In-Law!
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
The Missing Mother-In-Law! is a Sherlock Holmes parody of the series The Adventures of Herlock Sholmes, written by Charles Hamilton (under pen name Peter Todd), published on 8 january 1916 in The Greyfriars Herald, starring Herlock Sholmes as the detective and Dr. Jotson as his sidekick.
The Missing Mother-In-Law!
Another Grand Story dealing with the Amazing Adventures of Herlock Sholmes, Detective.
Herlock Sholmes has frequently been the recipient of striking testimonials of gratitude from clients whom his wonderful abilities have served.
Clients of all classes have generally shown the same desire to testify their gratitude. I need only refer to the splendid elephant, with howdah complete, presented the Rajah of Bunkumpore after Sholmes' amazing discovery of his fifteen missing wives; the magnificent set of artificial teeth, jewelled in every hole, which came as a reward for the solution of the mystery of the Duke's Dentist; and the humbler, but not less highly-prized, gift of kippered herrings from William Sikes, Esq., after Sholmes had elucidated the problem of the Missing Moke. That last gift, indeed, was long remembered by us, for its fragrance long haunted our rooms in Shaker Street.
But there have been occasions when Sholmes has been repaid with the blackest ingratitude. Such occasions have been rare, but they have occurred.
It is such a case that I find next upon my list. Even now, in speaking of the adventure of the Missing Mother-in-Law, Sholmes will pass his hand tenderly over his nose and his left eye. It is one of his least happy recollections, yet in no case in my long records did his amazing abilities shine forth so marvellously.
On referring to my notes at the time, I find that it was upon Monday, January 32nd, that the matter came under our notice.
Sholmes had been looking inexpressibly bored at breakfast. During the meal I had been entertaining him with some account of my former experiences in India.
The case of the Pawned Pickle-Jar had been wound up, and Sholmes was idle. Idleness did not agree with his active, energetic nature. That there were several cases at Scotland Yard requiring his amazing insight was very probably, but the police preferred to go on in their own blundering way.
The case of Mrs. Knagg came, therefore, as a relief. I had read the report in the paper, and I saw Sholmes glancing at it.
"After all, I must work, my dear Jotson," he remarked. "This is a very pretty little problem."
"You have not been approached upon the subject, Sholmes?"
He shook his head.
"No. Crouch, the son-in-law, appears content to leave it in the hands of the police." Sholmes shrugged his shoulders. "You know what that means. The bereaved man will probably never see his mother-in-law again."
He reflected a little.
"I am idle for the moment, Jotson. I can afford to take up the case; the instalments are paid on the furniture, and I can afford a little relaxation. Why should I not take up this case for nothing, and bring joy to a humble household?"
"My dear Sholmes," I said warmly. "that is like you! Any assistance I can render——"
"After all, the thanks of a good and worthy man are a sufficient reward to one who cares little for mere lucre," said Sholmes thoughtfully. "Besides, the case is interesting in itself. Mrs. Knagg, a widow lady, took up her residence with her married daughter six weeks ago. On Thursday morning she left the house in Larkhall Rise, taking with her a bag and an umbrella. From that moment she disappears from human ken. A very pretty problem!"
"You have already formed a theory, Sholmes?"
He frowned a little.
"I have already made deductions from the obvious facts," he replied. "Theories I leave to the police. The case centres round the umbrella."
"The umbrella, Sholmes!" I could not help exclaiming.
"From the reports in the newspapers, the police appear to attach no importance to the umbrella."
"Ah, the police!" smiled Sholmes. "Fortunately for Mrs. Knagg and her grief-stricken son-in-law, we follow other methods. Mark, my dear Jotson, this good lady had no possible motive for disappearing of her own accord. She had been heard to declare that she intended to reside permanently with her son-in-law. It was her intention to wean him from such bad habits as smoking and consuming whisky-and-soda. Why, then, did she disappear so completely?"
"Foul play?" I suggested.
"Or accident?" said Sholmes.
"But, in the case of an accident, surely something would have been heard——"
"That depends upon the nature of the accident." Herlock Sholmes rose to his feet, and stretched himself "Are you prepared for a little run to-day, Jotson?"
"I am entirely at your service, Sholmes."
"Then I will call a taxi."
I could not dissemble my astonishment as we stepped into the taxi, and I was still further amazed to hear Sholmes give the driver instructions to drive us to Winkle Bay.
"My dear Sholmes, are we going to the seaside?" I exclaimed.
"Why not, Jotson?"
"But Winkle Bay is on the South-Eastern line."
"Then why not take a train?"
He smiled in his inscrutable way.
"Undoubtedly we could take a train, Jotson. I have no doubt that, if we did so, we should ultimately arrive at our destination. But what length of time might elapse before we could return to London?"
"No, Jotson; as I have only days, and not weeks, to spare we will not travel by the South-Eastern railway. A taxi will serve our turn."
"But what do you expect to find at Winkle Bay, Sholmes?" I exclaimed.
His answer astounded me.
"The missing mother-in-law!" he said calmly.
Sholmes declined to speak another word as the taxi bore us to our distant destination. I sat in puzzled silence. What unknown clue had presented itself to the amazing brain of my gifted friend, while I remained completely in the dark? I had endeavoured to study Sholmes' methods. But I had to confess that I could not see a gleam of light. What was the mysterious connection between Winkle Bay, on the South Coast, and the disappearance of Mrs. Knagg from Larkhall Rise? Time alone could tell.
Winkle Bay came is sight at last. To my surprise, Sholmes directed the chauffeur to drive to the railway-station.
We soon reached a dreary, deserted building, with few signs of life about it. A train stood upon the metals with great masses of cobwebs festooned over the carriages. A thrush had built its nest in the tender.
Bidding the driver wait, Sholmes entered the station, and I followed him, greatly amazed. What were we to find there? The dust, seldom disturbed by human feet, rose in clouds as we advanced.
On the platform a gaunt woman, with a bag and an umbrella paced to and fro.
It was evidently a passenger waiting for a train.
Her thin face showed signs of exhaustion, and of a deadly, dull, persistent patience, of the hope deferred that maketh the heart sick.
Sholmes raised his hat.
"Mrs. Knagg?" he said.
The gaunt woman started.
"That is my name;" she said.
"Sholmes!" I murmured.
"Madam, I am returning to London in my taxi," said Sholmes. "May I have the honour of offering you a lift?"
The gaunt face brightened up.
"For three days," said Mrs. Knagg hoarsely, "I have waited here for a train. Hope had almost died in my breast. And what may be happening in my absence, goodness alone knows. That George Crouch has resumed smoking in the drawing-room I have not the slightest doubt." Her hand tightened upon her umbrella. "I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Let us go."
A minute more, and we were whirling London-wards.
I sat in amazement.
The taxi stopped at last in Shaker Street, and we alighted. Mrs. Knagg wrung my friend's hand, and the taxi bore her onwards to Larkhall Rise, to the bosom of her bereaved family.
It was not till Herlock Sholmes had consumed his usual quart of cocaine and gross of cigarettes, that I ventured to ask him for the usual explanation.
He smiled in a slightly bored fashion.
"My dear Jotson, it was very simple — elementary, in fact. I told you that the clue lay in the umbrella."
"Last Thursday, Jotson, was a fine day—the finest day we have had this year. For what reason, then, did Mrs. Knagg take with her an umbrella? It was not likely to rain in London. Evidently, my dear Jotson, because she was about to make a journey to some place where rain might be expected."
"If you read the weather reports in last Thursday's paper, Jotson, you will see that, while fine weather reigned in London, there was a heavy rainfall at Winkle Bay. The conclusion was irresistible."
"Most true. But, having established that Mrs. Knagg left her home to spend a day at Winkle Bay, why did she not return? In the name of all that is wonderful, Sholmes, how did you trace her to the railway-station at Winkle Bay?"
"That was the simplest part of the problem, Jotson. The good lady intended to return — we knew that. To one who has travelled on the South-Eastern line, Jotson, the reason of her non-return was not difficult to guess. She was waiting for a train."
"You see, my dear Jotson, it is no longer wonderful when it is explained. I had established that Mrs. Knagg paid a visit to Winkle Bay. I knew that Winkle Bay was on the South-Eastern. I looked for her, therefore, at the Winkle Bay station on that line. I found her, as I expected, waiting for a train. But for our intervention, the unfortunate lady might be waiting there still, perhaps for weeks, and her son-in-law would still be in doubt of her fate. I have no doubt that he will call to thank me. The thanks of a good and worthy man——"
Heavy footsteps on the stairs interrupted Sholmes.
The door was thrown open, and a little man, with a pale and harassed face, rushed into the room.
"Mr. Herlock Sholmes?" he exclaimed.
"I am he!" said Sholmes, rising. "You are Mr. Crouch?"
"I am. You found my mother-in-law, who was missing?"
"I am happy to say I did."
"But for you she might still be waiting for a train on the South-Eastern — for weeks, perhaps for years?"
"Then take that?"
To our amazement, the man hurled himself violently upon Herlock Sholmes, hitting out with indescribable fury. I was spellbound, and Sholmes, for once, was taken utterly by surprise. One terrible drive caught him on the nose, another in the left eye. He fell to the floor, and the visitor, whose rage was still unabated, danced upon his fallen form.
Then, shaking his fist at my amazing friend, Mr. Crouch quitted the room. Herlock Sholmes sat up, gasping.
"My dear Jotson — grooogh — oh, my eye! Oh, my nose — ow-ow-ow!"
His eye was already becoming black; his nose was streaming red. His famous dressing-gown was torn and rumpled, and both his pipes were broken. I helped my unfortunate friend into a chair.
"Jotson!" he gasped. "My dear Jotson — yow-ow-ow! — if ever I help a man to discover his missing mother-in-law again — groogh! — you may use my head for a football — wow-wow-wow!"