The Munition Mystery!
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
The Munition Mystery! is a Sherlock Holmes parody of the series The Adventures of Herlock Sholmes, written by Charles Hamilton (under pen name Peter Todd), published on 19 february 1916 in The Greyfriars Herald, starring Herlock Sholmes as the detective and Dr. Jotson as his sidekick.
The Munition Mystery!
Another Grand Story dealing with the Amazing Adventures of Herlock Sholmes, Detective.
Herlock Sholmes was poring over a letter when I came into our sitting-room at Shaker Street. His feet rested upon the mantelpiece, and his famous dressing-gown hung in graceful folds about his waist. That he was deep in thought I could see at a glance, for he was smoking three pipes instead of the usual two—a habit of his when he had to deal with some problem that required intense concentration of mind.
He laid down the letter, however, and glanced at me with a smile.
"You are late down this morning, my dear Jotson," he remarked.
"Sholmes!" I exclaimed.
"It is a fact, is it not?"
"I admit it, Sholmes, but——"
"Your amazement is amusing, Jotson. Yet have you not told me that you have studied my methods?"
"To the best of my poor ability, Sholmes," I replied, somewhat nettled. "But in this instance I confess that I do not follow your reasoning. I should be glad to know how you made that deduction."
"I have no objection to explaining, my dear fellow. To you, at least, I do not desire to make a mystery. That you are down late this morning I deduced from a casual examination of the clock."
"The clock!" I could not help exclaiming.
"The clock, Jotson. Look at it yourself, and tell me what conclusion you draw."
"I confess that it tells me nothing."
Herlock Sholmes yawned.
"My dear Jotson, it is perfectly simple. The hour hand indicates nine, the minute hand rests at three. Taken in conjunction, these two facts indicate — as it is not an American clock — that it is now a quarter past nine."
"Your usual breakfast hour is half-past eight; you are, therefore, three-quarters of an hour past your usual time. From such simple facts, Jotson, I deduced that you were later than usual this morning."
I regarded my amazing friend with speechless admiration.
"But to come to more serious matters," said Sholmes, "I have received this letter — a most peculiar case, Jotson. I should be glad of your opinion."
"You flatter me, Sholmes."
"Not at all, my dear fellow. 'Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings,' you know! A very interesting case, Jotson. You are aware that a large number of munition factories have been established in the country. Our far-seeing statesmen, having consulted the very best expert military opinion, have now decided that cannons are more formidable to the enemy when supplied with shells. Naturally, there was some hesitation at first, but this opinion is now pretty generally adopted, and the result is that munition factories have sprung up all over the country. Gentlemen of all trades and professions—even engineers, as I hear—have been appointed as inspectors of munition works. The work is going on famously, but there appears to be trouble at this particular place" — he referred to the letter — "at Slowcome."
"What has happened, Sholmes?" I asked, keenly interested.
"The details are curious enough. It appears that the factory at Slowcome is turning out big shells. But of late a considerable number of these shells have been found to be filled with water."
"Water!" he replied. "I know little of engineering, Dotson, I admit — scarcely more, than a munition inspector—but it appears that a shell filled with water is useless for military purposes. The inspector in this especial factory is a very honest and reliable gentleman — a dairyman by profession. He passed the shells as satisfactory, unfortunately having had no training in the business. Now, my dear Jotson, what is your opinion?"
"German treachery!" I replied at once. 'Undoubtedly the Germans have discovered that our artillery is, at last, to be supplied with ammunition, and they have taken measures accordingly."
"Ah, Jotson, have I not warned you against obvious theories?" he said.
"True! But in this case——"
"You may be right, Jotson. Nous verrons!" said Sholmes, rising. "If you would care to come down to Slowcome with me to-day, we shall see. I must investigate on the spot."
Ten minutes later, the 7:63 from Euston was bearing us rapidly towards Slowcome.
Herlock Sholmes was very thoughtful during the journey.
I could hardly extract a word from him.
As a matter of fact, I felt decidedly taken with my own theory, and I fancied, for once., that even Sholmes, in his contempt for the most obvious solution of a problem, had.overlooked the explanation which had occurred to me. The filling of the shells with water rendered them useless for military purposes, and to whom could such an act be attributed save a German spy?
We alighted at Slowcome, and walked to the gigantic factory. Sholmes was still very thoughtful.
"You are satisfied with your theory, Jotson?" he asked me, with a smile.
"Quite!" I replied, with conviction.
"But the inspector!" he said.
"Perhaps a German, or in the pay of the enemy," I replied. "How can he be trustworthy, Sholmes, when he has passed as satisfactory, shells filled with water?"
"My dear Jotson, the inspector concerned is a milkman well known in Slowcome, and of the highest character."
"You have formed a theory, Sholmes?"
"I do not deal in theories, Jotson. I have, I believe, deduced the correct conclusion from the known facts. But we shall see."
We entered the factory. We were greeted cordially by the manager, who bore the old British name of Von Gollop. Machinery was at work on all sides turning out the shells that were to crush the Huns to the very dust — at some date at present unfixed. Sholmes looked round him with his usual inscrutable smile.
"I should be glad to see the inspector," he remarked.
"He is here," said Mr. Von Gollop. "I vill send for heem."
Sholmes shook hands with Mr. Milcoe, the munition inspector. I noted that he regarded Mr. Milcoe very keenly, and nodded as if satisfied.
"Kindly wait for me in the office, Jotson," he said.
Somewhat puzzled, I entered the manager's office and waited. Sholmes' whole interest seemed to be centred in Mr. Milcoe, the inspector, though he had himself told me that the gentleman was of the highest character. Indeed, as I learned later. Mr. Milcoe had a very wide connection in Slowcome as a family dairyman, and served the best families with milk.
Mr. Milcoe was making his tour of inspection, and, to my amazement, Herlock Sholmes was shadowing him through the munition factory. Did he, after all, suspect Milcoe of treachery? I was puzzled and impatient. I settled down at last to read the newspaper, perusing with great satisfaction the three hundred and seventy-fifth epoch-making speech of the great and revered Mr. Hashquick.
I had scarcely read more than the first ten thousand words, however, when Sholmes entered, smiling.
"We have time to catch our train, Jotson," he said.
"Sholmes, you are not finished?"
"I am finished."
"You have discovered——"
"And it was not a German spy?"
"Nothing of the kind, my dear Jotson. Come!"
As we left the munition works Mr. Milcoe stopped us, and shook hands with my amazing friend, with a look of the deepest gratitude.
"I shall never forget this, Mr. Sholmes," he said brokenly. "It was, as you so wonderfully deduced, merely absent-mindedness."
"Exactly!" said Sholmes.
"In future every care shall be exercised," said Mr. Milcoe, wringing my friend's hand. "Mr. Sholmes, you have perhaps saved the Empire — not to mention the Alhambra and the Coliseum. For if the war should last more than seventy-nine years, the result may easily depend upon the supply of shells from Slowcome. Bless you, Mr. Sholmes."
I could scarcely contain my impatience till we were seated in the London express. Sholmes was elated, as I could see by the way he tossed off a swig of cocaine from his flask.
"Sholmes," I exclaimed, "in the name of wonder——"
"You are mystified, Jotson?"
"Unutterably! You have discovered who placed the water in the shells?"
"By whose hand, then, was the foul work done?"
"By Mr. Milcoe's."
"Sholmes! Then he is a traitor?"
"Nothing of the sort, my dear Jotson," smiled Sholmes. "He is a milkman."
"In forming your theory, my dear Jotson, you left out of consideration the cardinal fact that the munition inspector was a milkman by profession. It did not escape me, however. I shadowed Mr. Milcoe in the factory. He is a dairyman of the highest character — but slightly absent-minded. Old habits are strong, Jotson. Mr. Milcoe was a slave to habit. Taken suddenly from his business as a milkman, placed in a position of a munition inspector, his habits could not change so suddenly as his occupation. He had been accustomed to filling his milk-pails with water. Milk-pails were no longer at hand. But the shells were there. From force of habit, he filled the shells with water. Knowing nothing of the nature or manufacture of shells, he was naturally unaware that such an operation rendered them useless. Now that I have put him on his guard, however, he is not likely to make this error again."
"Wonderful!" I exclaimed. "But why, my dear Sholmes, should a milkman be appointed inspector of munition factory?"
"That is easily explained, my dear Jotson. It is probable that there were no butchers or bakers or candlestick-makers available!"