The Rontgen Ray-der (223B Casebook)

One element that set Sherlock Holmes apart from his fellow detectives was his bleeding-edge interest in science. It started as early as “A Study in Scarlet,” when he raved about discovering a test for bloodstains during his first meeting with Watson. Although his discovery didn’t become reality for another two decades, it demonstrates Conan Doyle’s ability to extrapolate future advances from current discoveries. This notion carries over into this Sherlock Holmes pastiche, which involves photography and X-rays, which Wilhelm Röntgen had discovered the year before “The Rontgen Ray-der.”

Phil May Sherlock Holmes pastichesToday’s Sherlock Holmes pastiche by the pseudonymous “Mr. M” comes from the 1896 winter edition of “Phil May’s Illustrated Annual.” May (1864-1903) was a talented caricaturist whose ill health cut short a brilliant career. He worked for a number of publications, including Punch and The Sketch, and published several one-off magazines under his own name.

Sherlock Holmes parodies and pastiches published during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lifetime (plus later ones I liked) — are published here every Monday and Friday. The up-to-date list can be found here.

The Rontgen Ray-der

Cloncroskey smiled. Like all really great men, while famous for the impenetrable secrecy with which his coups were prepared, he was in familiar life communicative, to the point of boasting, confiding to the point of rashness: the need of flattery and sympathy invariably associated with genius. Shylock Bones had just been caught in his grounds photographing the defences of the house, and had been brought into the sanctum sanctorum of the redoubtable Five — not without demur on the part of one of them. “My dear Creeman,” Cloncroskey had replied, laughing, “the brain is a limited organ: crowd it with too much precaution and you stultify its use. That is the mark of the beast in you — the taint of Scotland Yard; you don’t know when you have conquered. Our defences, whether impregnable or no, represent the highest development of human ingenuity; genius can go no farther. Only savages depend on secrecy: a good general prefers to trust to his strategic position, going on the presumption that the enemy has already obtained plans through his spies. Show Shylock up by all means; if he learns half what I give him credit for already knowing he is not a detective.”

Shylock Bones, then, the celebrated professional amateur, was introduced into the den of the most famous gang of high-art cracksmen in London. Shylock was perhaps the one man in the world (apart from Smith) that Cloncroskey regarded with a genuine admiration and sympathy: a flattering esteem for which the detective was perhaps indebted to his natural rather than his acquired gifts. For if Cloncroskey could not help looking the debonair, but noble and poetic prince, Bones, the most painfully conscientious and moral man among the champions of society, was born with the hang-dog air of a hereditary criminal.

“My dear Shylock!” said Cloncroskey, coming forward with his charming affectionate manner; “what a pleasure! Let me introduce you — no names — ex-inspector Creeman, whom I daresay you have met in former years at that melancholy barrack, the Yard!”

Ex-inspector Creeman, greeting the visitor with his left hand, lightly and rapidly, but with professional completeness, passed the other over his former colleague’s clothes. “Surely, rather rash, Bones? Not even a derinfer?” he said.

“Oh — to suspect me of anything so out of date!” murmured Bones, with a melancholy and reproachful glance. “You are out of the swim, Cree-boy,” he said tearfully, producing a miniature Kodak from his arm-pit; “look here,” and he showed them a negative of the group taken as he entered. Creeman examined it doubtfully and passed it to Cloncroskey, who after a mere glance of indifferent admiration handed it back to the photographer, saying, “Keep it, my dear Bones, if it is of any use to you; but you will find duplicates of all of us, cabinet size, at the Bereoscopic Company. Any of your men outside — think they would like a drink?”

“I have half a dozen of Q Division over the way in case you gave me a chance; but I suppose it is no good raiding you?”

“Mere waste of labour — mere waste of labour,” replied the cracksman affectionately. “Private house, my dear Bones — nothing on the premises; got the Bond Street swag reset and placed in our Paris window by seven this morning. By the bye, anything worth seeing in that bag?”

“Ha — you can’t see through it?” said Bones anxiously.

Cloncroskey burst out laughing. “My dear Bones! — here, pour him out a fizz.”

Bones took the glass, held it to the light, and then smelt it. “Really, that is scarcely courteous of you,” said Cloncroskey, with dignity. “Pray remember, Mr. Bones, that you are among gentlemen.” Bones drank it with a sigh. Then, with a melancholy gingerness, he opened the bag and drew out a large camera and folded tripod.

“Knowing how you keep abreast of the times, Mr. Croskey,” he said, as he discontentedly rummaged in his bag, “I thought perhaps your eyeglass might be charged with the Röntgen rays. — Excuse my delay: I dropped an important negative in here when your fellow gagged me.”


Bones looked up; he saw a revolver levelled at his head. “Not this sort of negative?” said Cloncroskey, with that gravity which is all the suspicion a gentleman can, with any politeness, show.

“No no, no no,” replied the celebrated amateur, with the nearest approach to a smile of which his melancholy visage was capable; “I have stuck up three men on one occasion, but never five.”

Cloncroskey put up his shooter. — “You referred to this new spectroscope invention, I suppose,” he remarked politely, passing over his rather undignified demonstration with a handsome blush; “anything in it, do you think, Bones?”

*’A great deal, a great deal,” replied the photographer with enthusiasm — Bones was in reality even more proficient as a scientist than as a detective. “But it is the old story of armoured plates and projectiles; I am not sure which of us will turn it to the best account by the end of the year. For instance, I have here a few little experiments through earth and brick walls respectively which I shall be glad of your permission to examine; but if I can perfect my efforts to distinguish the harder precious stones through a steel safe I shall probably approach you, rather than the Yard, for a partnership.

“Now let us see.” He held up some negatives to the light.

“Why, your walls are — are not of brick, Mr. Croskey?” (Cloncroskey. or the Count Amadeo Klonkroskikoff, denoted merely the extension of the cracksman’s business.)

“Steel-lined,” replied Cloncroskey, with the slightest trace of annoyance. “We men of wealth have to protect ourselves from burglars.”

“Exactly,” replied the melancholy photographer, holding up another plate. “That accounts for this jemmy and skeleton key buried in the garden?”

“My dear Bones — surely your camera must be at fault? To suspect me of anything so very — amateurish!”

“That is all right,” put in Creeman.” That is one of Jonathan’s dodges to secure a conviction. He put them in two nights ago; I let him, as I was on duty, and had them up yesterday just to engrave his initials on them and replace them.”

“Ah — no pranks, I think, Creeman; always be on the safe side. Give him till to-morrow, and if he comes drop him into the lime-pit, but if not have the things up and plant them somewhere else — in Benjamin’s yard, say. But this invention really interests me, Bones; d’you feel inclined to make another experiment? I have about me a little hereditary locket which I declare I will hand over to you if your camera detects it.”

“Very good,” said the photographer, with miserable alacrity. “It will take some minutes of exposure: There must be no movement. Will you sit down there; if you other gentlemen will kindly sit behind me? No movement, please; the fluorescent film is so sensitive that even a disturbance of air might spoil it.”

Cloncroskey sat opposite the lens; the other four sat behind the operator. Shylock threw a black cloth over his head and the camera, as for an ordinary photograph.

“Look at the lens,” said the muffled professor of science and detectivism; “your arms hanging down by your side, please, so as not to conceal the body.”

The king of art-cracksmen obeyed; he looked at the lens. A thin flap fell down and disclosed the muzzle of a pistol and the words in large print, “DON’T MOVE.”

Cloncroskey knew the astonishing recklessness of the detective very well; the reason he was so respected by the anti-force was on account of his melancholy and oft -proved boast that no capture was worth the making that did not require the risk of his life. Cloncroskey then smiled with sincere admiration — and did not move.

The machine clicked and the printed card slid away and was replaced by another. This one said —

“‘Keep your arms down — send your men out of the house; three.’” A little bell struck one; struck two.

“I hear something,” said Cloncroskey sharply. “Out into the grounds all of you: take your posts and wait the word.”

His four companions, accustomed to implicit obedience, filed out with glances of amused intelligence; and the door was shut. Shylock Bones was quite certain that any door in this house was soundproof.

“I seem to have got you, Croskey,” he said mournfully.

“Yes, — very neat indeed,” replied the burglar without moving; “if it didn’t seem that I have got you too. I’ll wait five minutes while you think it over, and then I’ll take my chance. What ball have you got in it — a .38?”

“No; a .45 explosive.”

“Ah! Makes a nasty hole in one,” said Cloncroskey, with disgust. “Where have you sighted me? Looks about the collar bone.”

“To allow for the kick: it will just lift your roof from the eyes.”

“Oh! Common, Bones, common. You don’t think of my nice walls. Just look at that priceless Vandyke behind my head — a connoisseur like you, Bones!”

The photographer, his hand still in the camera, took his head out of the cloth and looked up. The picture in question was a mounted general, pointing a telescope towards the foreground in his outstretched hand. At the end of the telescope protruded from the canvas an inch of nickeled barrel.

“Is it all right?” said Cloncroskey, without moving his head.

“It’s there, sure enough,” replied the photographer with melancholy surprise. Then addressing the picture, “Mine is a hairspring, Vandyke: don’t move.”

“Five minutes up,” said Cloncroskey pleasantly. “Give you three, old man, to pack up that camera.” A little bell from the direction of the picture struck one: struck two.

“I pass,” sighed the detective dejectedly, drawing his pistol from the camera and uncocking it.

“Really, a splendid invention those Röntgen rays,” Mr. Cloncroskey said later, as he shook his visitor’s hand on the noble doorstep of Cloncroskey Mansion. “When you have perfected that safe-piercing spectroscope, let me know, Bones. I might be able to make you an offer.”