The Sign of Forty-Four!
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
The Sign of Forty-Four! is a Sherlock Holmes parody of the series The Adventures of Herlock Sholmes, written by Charles Hamilton (under pen name Peter Todd), published on 18 december 1915 in The Greyfriars Herald, starring Herlock Sholmes as the detective and Dr. Jotson as his sidekick.
The Sign of Forty-Four!
Another Grand Story dealing with the Amazing Adventures of Herlock Sholmes, Detective.
The mysterious murders of forty-four retired Indian colonels, on forty-four successive nights, had naturally attracted a good deal of public attention. Even in the record of crime of the great metropolis this was a little out of the common. The police, as usual, were helpless. The case, indeed, presented many difficulties. With the exception of footprints, finger-prints, and a number of Oriental daggers of curious design, the assassin had not left a single clue behind him. I wondered whether my friend Sholmes would take up the case, though he had not yet been approached officially on the subject. On this occasion the police seemed to have forgotten their well-known custom of appealing for aid to private detectives in cases of exceptional difficulty.
I was reading the latest reports of the strange mystery one morning in our rooms at Shaker Street, when I observed Sholmes regarding me with a quizzical smile.
"You are reading the Daily Mail!" he remarked.
"Sholmes!" I exclaimed.
Accustomed as I was to my friend's amazing gifts, I could not repress that exclamation of surprise.
"Is it not a fact?" he asked, with a smile.
"It is," I replied. "But how——"
He made a bored gesture.
"A mere nothing, my dear Jotson. From the side of the table I observe the paper in your hand. An untrained eye would not observe that the title of a daily paper is printed in large letters along the top of the page; yet, if you make the observation for yourself, you will see that what I state is the fact."
"You are right, Sholmes," I replied, "as, indeed you always are. And, truly, by this time I should cease to be surprised at anything on your part. Now, Sholmes, I am going to speak to you frankly. Why have you not taken up the case of the forty-four murdered colonels?"
Sholmes shrugged his shoulders.
"The police have not cared to avail themselves of my humble services, Jotson. I do not wish to intrude."
"I am sure that you have formed a theory, Sholmes."
"Theories, my dear Jotson, I leave to the police. My business is with facts. Perhaps if our friend, Inspector Pinkeye, chose to consult me, I could point out a few facts that have escaped his attention, but he has not chosen to do so."
"After the priceless aid you rendered in the case of the biscuit tin——"
"I am afraid, Jotson, that our friend Pinkeye is a little jealous. Even police-inspectors are only human. But I do not deny, Jotson, that the case presents certain aspects of interest. There is a wholesale characteristic about it which pleases me — in a professional sense, of course." He rose, and paced the room restlessly. "Jotson, as I have said, I do not care to offer my services unasked, yet it is now the forty-third day since the crimes were committed."
I looked at Sholmes in astonishment. His remark puzzled me.
"You mean that the assassin has had ample time to make his escape?" I asked.
"I mean nothing of the sort." He changed the subject abruptly. "Have you ever studied the science of numbers, Jotson?"
"Numbers," he replied. "You are aware, of course, that there are certain numbers that are regarded as sacred or of mysterious import in different countries. For instance, take the number two. In this country, for example, every man, and, indeed, every woman, has two hands and two eyes. There are two editions to a morning paper, there are two shillings to a florin, and two half-sovereigns to a pound; there were two Kings of Brentford. The number two constantly recurs."
"I had never observed it, Sholmes; but now that you point it out——"
"Exactly!" he interrupted. "Now that I point it out, even the police could see it. Take the number seven. There were seven Sleepers of Ephesus, seven ages of man, seven hills in Rome, and seven times seven in the number forty-nine!"
"And now," said Sholmes, his look growing more serious, "take the number forty-four. Do you not see the connection between that mysterious number and the mysterious murders that have shocked the whole community? Forty-four Indian colonels were the victims of the unknown assassin on forty-four successive nights. Since then nothing has been heard of the ruthless assassin, and the remainder of the retired colonels in England have slept in peace. "But, — Herlock Sholmes spoke slowly and distinctly — "to-morrow, Jotson, it will be forty-four days since the last of the murders."
A strange thrill of apprehension came over me. In my mind's eye, I seemed to see a perspective of forty-four new crimes that threatened an equal number of as yet unsuspecting victims.
"That has not occurred to the police." Sholmes smiled. "Are you ready for an adventure to-day, Jotson?"
"I am entirely at your service, Sholmes."
"Most of my patients died while we were busy on the case of the biscuit-tin. For the remainder I care little in comparison with my interest in your work!"
"Faithful Jotson!" said Sholmes, with one of his rare pokes in the ribs. "Let us go!"
"Where are we going?" I asked, as the taxicab whizzed through the busy streets.
"Hounslow Heath!" said Sholmes briefly.
"A fair is being held there."
"A fair?" I exclaimed.
"A fair, Jotson — with the merry roundabout, the exhilarating swing-boat, and the cheery circus. We are going to see the Indian juggler, Bhang Bhung Wallop, and his troupe of performing elephants."
"A little relaxation will do us no harm, Jotson. By the way," — he changed the subject abruptly — "you read the account of the crimes? On each occasion the victim was attacked in his bed-room, which was entered by the window."
"How did the assassin reach the window, Jotson?"
I shook my head.
"He must have had some visible means of support," remarked Sholmes.
"A ladder?" I suggested.
"A man carrying a ladder at night would excite remark, Jotson. The aim of this amazing assassin has been to shroud his movements in mystery. He did not use a ladder."
"You know what he did use, Sholmes?"
I could not extract another word from Sholmes until the taxi drew up at the heath. The entertainments were not yet in progress at that early hour, and the place was almost deserted. Outside the circus-tent a lithe, dark-skinned man was feeding a troupe of elephants. Sholmes approached him.
"Good-morning, Bhang Bhung Whallop!" he said genially.
The Hindu gave him a surly look.
"No speaky English," he said.
I think I have already mentioned in these memoirs that Sholmes was a master of every language, ancient and modern. I was not surprised to hear him address the Hindu in his own tongue.
"Hookey wookey dummy bang woop!" he said, with a smile.
The Hindu sprang to his feet.
The meaning of those strange-sounding words I could not fathom; the tongue was unknown to me. But their effect upon the Hindu was electrical. His dusky eyes rolled, and his dark face became livid.
"Shakey-cakey," said Sholmes. "Wallop hookey snookey whoosh!"
Before he could say more, a dagger glittered in the hand of the Hindu. But Sholmes was never taken by surprise. In an instant the handcuffs were upon the wrists of Bhang Bhung Whallop, and he was a prisoner!
"Sholmes!" I exclaimed, when we had returned to Shaker Street, after handing over the sullen prisoner to the police. I am on tenterhooks——"
"As usual, Jotson," he said, with a smile.
"As usual, Sholmes. You will make your explanation as usual?"
"Is there anything to explain?" yawned Sholmes, as he lighted the eternal cigarette. "To me, the thing was obvious from the first. It all centred, Jotson, upon the sign of forty-four. As you doubtless know, in the deep and mysterious East, a magic import is attached to certain sacred numbers. It was not by chance, Jotson, that forty-four retired colonels were slain upon forty-four successive nights. It was evidently a dark plot of Oriental vengeance, and the clue was in the number forty-four. I have questioned our dark friend, Bhang Bhung Whallop, and he confessed that, long ago, in his native land, he was fined forty-four rupees. Something of the sort, Jotson, I had divined. The sign of forty-four gave me my clue."
"My dear fellow, I had to find the man to whom the number forty-four was a deep and mysterious symbol. I was aware that at the time of the murders Bhang Bhung Whallop was in London, giving performances with a troupe of forty-four elephants."
"Forty-four!" I ejaculated.
"Exactly. The sign of forty-four!" smiled Sholmes. "Had the police cared to avail themselves of my assistance, I could have pointed out our friend Bhang Bhung Whallop to them at once. But when forty-three days had elapsed since the crimes, Jotson I could hesitate no longer. On the forty-fourth day of the series of crimes would have recommenced, and forty-four fresh victims would have fallen. I acted in time. That mysterious number gave me my clue; but that was not all. How, my dear Jotson, had the assassin reached the windows? He could not have carried a ladder, and a steam crane was out of the question. Yet he must have mounted upon something to reach the windows. I deduced an elephant."
"One more question, Sholmes," I said. "You have observed that the carrying of a ladder to the scene of the crimes would have excited remark. Was not the presence of an elephant likely to be equally remarked?"
But Herlock Sholmes was already under the influence of cocaine, and he did not reply.