Sherlock Holmes Outwitted: The Adventure of the ‘Hot Feet’

armistead m. dobie

Armistead M. Dobie, in uniform during World War I. Source: Armistead M. Dobie Collection name, University of Virginia Law Library,University of Virginia

This story found in the 1904 Corks and Curls yearbook of the University of Virginia must have charmed the students with its references to clubs and personalities that have faded from memory. The “Hot Feet” of the title was a secret society, ruled by a “King,” that delighted in pulling pranks. They were disbanded by the university in 1912 after members stole from a university building stuffed animals, including a Bengal tiger, a moose, a polar bear and a kangaroo, and placed them at the front door of several professors’ homes. The next year, the group reconstituted itself as the IMP Society and is still active today.

Armistead M. Dobie (1881-1962), who published this the same year he received his law degree, returned to the school in 1909 to teach. He remained a law professor there for 30 years, rising to become dean, then spent the rest of his life as a federal judge.

sherlock holmes parody

This photo of the Hot Feet (later known as the IMPs), shows the coronation of Hot Feet King McV-ski, the Two Times, on Oct. 27, 1906. Courtesy: UVA Magazine.

Sherlock Holmes Outwitted: The Adventure of the ‘Hot Feet’

Armistead M. Dobie

It was a wild night in April as I sat in Sherlock Holmes’ study in Baker Street in the midst of a violent thunder storm. We had just solved the great mystery of the “Pikers,” and, with no important cases on hand, were anticipating a little holiday.

“At last,” I cried, joyfully, “we shall have that much need-ed rest.” I was interrupted by an unusually brilliant flash of lightning, and, looking at Holmes’ face, I saw a twinkle in his eye which I knew only too well foretold that something of interest was forthcoming from him.

“On the contrary, my dear Watson,” he said, blandly, “in less than a minute, a person will present himself here requiring my services.”

Hardly had he finished speaking when a knock was heard at the door, and a young man of perhaps twenty-three entered. He was a blonde of medium height and quite handsome.

“Pardon my intrusion,” he said, addressing himself to Holmes; “but I need you badly. But first, let me tell you something about myself, since you, of course, can know absolutely nothing about me.”

“On the contrary,” mildly interposed the great detective, “several facts about yourself are perfectly apparent to me. You are a student of the University of Virginia, a Senior Law, and your home is in Lynchburg. Besides, you are wealthy, are quite a baseball player, and a man of great personal courage. I like your general appearance and will tell you before you say a word, that I will grant the request that you are about to make, and, accompanied by Dr. Watson here, will sail to-morrow afternoon on the Etruria, and will go with you to Charlottesville.”

The young man started as if struck. “Are you a wizard?” he cried. “Or do you, like the Faculty, know it all? Tell me how you could possibly know all that.”

“Perfectly simple,” said the sleuthhound of the law, “when you know my methods. In the first place, those muscles in your legs could only have come from climbing the hills of Lynchburg. As you came across the street, a flash of lightning revealed to me a small piece of ribbon pinned to your vest. These are worn only at the University of Virginia. Then, the fearless way you stepped through the mud showed long acquaintance with the streets of Charlottesville. Your general air of intelligence and your scholarly face tell me that you are a Senior Law. Unless you were wealthy, you could never have afforded to pay Conlon the price I know he charged you for that cut-in rain coat. A mere glance at the fingers of your right hand shows that you are a baseball player. As I see a Southern Railway schedule in your pocket, you must have come to New York by that railroad — only a brave man would do that. The cinder I see in your right eye proclaims great haste, since you came from Waterloo Station right here without washing your face. Your whole appearance and uneasy air tells me that you wish me to return with you and you fear that I will refuse. Lastly, we must be in Charlottesville on Saturday, for everything of interest at the University happens on Saturday night. In order to be there then, we must leave Liverpool to-morrow, and the Etruria is the only steamer leaving that day.”

“Marvellous!” I could not help crying, overwhelmed at this chain of reasoning, accustomed though I was to the wonderful play of Holmes’ deductive faculties.

“In every instance,” said the young man, “you are right. Now, listen to my story. My name is Jack Mason, and I am, as you say, a Senior Law at the University of Virginia, but it is not of myself but of my younger brother Dick that I wish to speak. When he came to the University, he was an exemplary lad in every way. He never cut either lectures or a deck of cards; subscribed liberally to the new Y.M.C.A. building; was present at all of John R. Mott’s experience meetings, and was even a friend of McIlhany’s. Finally, in spite of continued invitations from Tippy Jordan, he would not leave his work to gladden the hearts of the Easter maidens, or to go on the card of Billy Fleet’s girl. Now, alas, all that is changed and he will, I fear, unless you help him, go rapidly to the bad.

“It all came about this way. In an election in the Washington Literary Society for the office of business manager of the magazine, I defeated a certain student by running in twenty new men on the night of the election, while he could run in only seventeen. He swore revenge, and has struck at me through my brother Dick. Now, this fellow was King of the ‘Hot Feet,’ and without my knowledge he persuaded my brother to become a member of that organization.”

(At the mention of the “Hot Feet” Sherlock Holmes paled visibly; evidently their name and fame had crossed the ocean.)

“My brother will tell me nothing, yet I know that by means of some weird oath or some secret power, this King is luring him into temptations in the hope of wrecking his young life, and thus revenging himself on me. Clever villain! He could not have chosen a weaker spot to strike me than through Dick. I love my brother dearer than either life or a Carr’s Hill beefsteak, and I want you, Mr. Holmes, to come with me to Charlottesville, discover the secret of this strange power over Dick, break it up and restore him to me just as he was before he joined the “Hot Feet.” Only do this, and you will make me a friend for life, and you can command your own price.” It was plain to see that the young man was laboring under some strong emotion which, strive as he would, he could not conceal.

“The case presents some very interesting aspects,” said Holmes when young Mason had finished. “Now, let me ask you some questions. Does your brother have much leisure time on his hands?”

“Yes, he is a third year Med.”

“You say that a great change has come over your brother?”

Sherlock Holmes parody

House D, University of Virginia (not in the book)

“Indeed it has. He used to attend the Y.M.C.A. meetings regularly; now he spends most of his time in House “D.”

“Please tell me, Mr. Mason, some of his bad habits or actions.”

“Certainly; he has been associated with Walter Scott in several political schemes; he has taken recently several trips with ‘Butterfly’ Boogher; ‘Cat’ Miller was one of his chums, and one afternoon, I caught him red-handed in the act of buying a railroad ticket to Petersburg.”

It was astonishing to note the effect produced on Sher-lock Holmes by these words.

“Mr. Mason,” he said, gravely, “I perceive the case war-rants immediate action. My dear Watson, we must make our preparations to start to-morrow for the University of Virginia.”

*     *     *     *     *

It was Friday of the following week when we arrived in Charlottesville. Holmes had impressed upon Mason the importance of keeping both his presence in Virginia and his connection with the case absolutely secret. The great detective glanced furtively around as we left the train. The station was deserted, save for Tom Preston, Charlie Hopkins, and a young fellow with a note book, evidently a student.

“He must not see me,” said Holmes, indicating the student.

“Oh, you need fear nothing from him,” said Mason; “he is a reporter on College Topics, and they never either know or find out anything.”

The same night saw Sherlock Holmes, effectually disguised as a C.N.C., prowling around college seeking for chews, It was after midnight when he returned to the Carter house, where he had engaged board in order to keep up his disguise. It took but a casual glance to tell me that he was laboring under great excitement. His brows were knitted; huge beads of sweat plowed their way down his furrowed cheeks; while ever and anon he stroked his nose with his left thumb — something which, experience had taught me, he never did except in cases of great mental anguish, and when he was concentrating all his brain power in the supreme effort to solve some inscrutable mystery.

On these occasions, I did not dare interrupt him. Evidently to aid his mental operations, he first injected into his arm some cocaine, purchased at an advance of 50 per cent. on the regular price, from Sam Chancellor. Then, taking down his violin, he began to play a few Glee-Club-Barber-Shop Minors from “Dear Old Girl.”

This last proceeding made further thought impossible; he paced up and down the room like a caged lion; then suddenly stopped, grasped me by the shoulders and exclaimed, “Watson, put on your rough clothes, the suit made by Smith & Mountcastle, and come with me. There is work ahead to-night for both of us. Not a moment is to be lost; the train due here at midnight has just arrived, so it cannot be earlier than three o’clock.”

Ten minutes later, we were crouched down behind a beer keg back of East Range, with the great detective’s faculties keenly alive to catch the slightest sign or sound.

“The ‘Hot Feet’ are having a preliminary soiree to-night,” Holmes explained to me in a whisper. “We must see them, follow them and learn something of their methods. To-morrow night, by hook or by crook, we must be present at the coronation. In that way, and in that way only, can we find out their mysteries; discover the reason of young Mason’s fall from virtue and learn the strange power this King exercises over him, which, if not checked, must bring him eventually to ruin and shame.”

Hardly had his whisper died away, when a blood-curdling sound was echoed along the Arcade. “’Tis some woman in distress,” I cried.

“Be still,” said Holmes, peevishly; “it is only Jack Miller singing tenor. Make no sound or you may wake up Letcher.”

Then, far away and feeble at first, but swelling louder and louder in strange cadences, I heard an eerie chant:

“We’re off on a bum.”

It was the national hymn of the “Hot Feet.”

From our position, we saw the strange procession enter a room. Then came sounds of hammering as if something was being broken open, after which we heard the King’s voice cry, “It’s open.” This announcement was greeted by loud cheers. For a few moments all was quiet. Then two men left the room and passed close to our coal box.

Sherlock Holmes whispered, “It is ‘Junk’ Osborne and ‘Bug’ James. Now is our opportunity; we must follow them. When I give the word, club James over the head with the butt of your revolver, while I do the same for Osborne. We will then change clothes with them, bind them hand and foot, and place them in some out of the way place where the students and, especially, the ‘Hot Feet,’ never come. Ha! The Chapel will be the very place. Then, to-morrow night, we will present ourselves at the coronation, I disguised as ‘Junk’ Osborne, you as ‘Bug’ James.”

Jefferson Levy

Jefferson Levy

Only the mind of Sherlock Holmes could have conceived such a plan. We carried it out to the letter, Osborne clutching instinctively at his pocket-book as he fell. When the first rays of the morning sun were reflected by Jeff Levy’s massive silver plate at Monticello, Osborne and James were bound hand and foot in the Chapel, clad in our clothes, while Holmes and I slept peacefully in the Carter House, having in our possession the much-coveted disguises. Well might a smile play over the features of the great detective, for victory seemed in our grasp. Virginia thought the same thing at the end of the first half in the Georgetown football game of 1901.

About noon of the coronation day, Sherlock Holmes, made up to resemble “Bug” James so closely that even Alfred was deceived, ventured up to the University.

“My dear Watson,” he cried, exultingly, just before starting, “since I am to impersonate ‘Junk’ Osborne to-night, I shall be ‘Bug’ James this morning. Thus will I demonstrate my versatility. Besides, no one would ever suspect even Sherlock Holmes of impersonating ‘Bug’ by daylight.”

On East Range he boldly met the King himself and from him learned every detail of the Coronation.

“By the way, ‘Bug,’” remarked the King, “you left early last night.” Holmes merely laughed, and humming an old Johns Hopkins air, went merrily on his way.

But once he narrowly escaped detection. Only his intuitive quick wit and instinctive presence of mind saved him. A sub-editor of Topics rushed up to him and said, “‘Bug,’ we haven’t quite enough to fill up with, you will have to get some more.”

“Ha!” muttered the great sleuth hound sotto voce. “The booze is shy, so here’s where I will curl.” Then he said aloud: “All right, I’ll order both whiskey and beer.”

The sub-editor recoiled. How could the Editor-in-Chief of Topics confuse matter necessary to fill up Topics and booze necessary to fill up “Hot Feet”; especially since the columns of Topics had been unusually dry all that week. Holmes was keenly alive to all of this.

“Ha, ha,” he laughed, “I must have my little joke.”

The wily ruse succeeded, but the great detective resolved to take no more chances and returned to the Carter House. He well knew that no student would see him there.

*     *     *     *     *

At the hour appointed for the Coronation, completely disguised, we presented ourselves at the throne room and were instantly admitted.

“Behold ‘Junk’ and ‘Bug!’” cried the herald, and we saluted his Majesty with all the ceremony due to a monarch of such high estate.

For a time all went well; Holmes had secured practically all the information necessary, and but for an unlucky ac-cident we should have gone undetected.

The Baron of the Exchequer was just presenting his Majesty with a purse from one of the Ambassadors, when he dropped a cent upon the floor. In the scramble that ensued for it, Holmes (who, it will be remembered, impersonated Osborne) took no part.

Instantly, suspicious murmurs ran around the room and strange glances were directed at the great detective. Still all might have gone well, had I not walked into a cunningly planned trap. The Lord Chancellor, after a whispered conference with the King, placed his hand on my shoulder and familiarly accosted me. “It is strange, ‘Bug,’” he said, “that you don’t care for lacrosse.”

“Here,” thought I, “is a chance for me to make good Holmes’ blunder.” So I said aloud to the Chancellor, “I hate the game and never would play it.”

A cunning leer played over the wicked face of the King as he commanded in a savage tone, “Seize the impostors!” Violent hands were laid upon us, and we were brought before the throne.

“Before you are finally condemned,” thundered the potentate, “there is one final and convincing test. Minions, bring in the last issue of Topics and Hector.”

His commands were promptly obeyed, and no sooner had Hector entered the room, than, with brute instinct, recognizing that I was not his master, he sprang savagely at my throat. Holmes was then presented with a copy of Topics and was sternly bidden to explain the jokes in the “Here and There” column. But the master of nineteen languages and fifty-seven dialects was powerless, and could not utter a word. My sweater, with its “H.A.A.” was rudely torn from me, and Holmes’ disguise was instantly snatched off. We were not only discovered, but found.

“Sherlock Holmes!” exclaimed the “Hot Feet” in unison.

The great detective saw that there was no escape.

“Sherlock Holmes,” roared the King, “you have profaned our sacred rites, and the eyes of a barbarian have beheld sights intended only for the initiated! But as I rather like Conan Doyle and subscribe for all the Household Numbers of ‘Collier’s Weekly,’ I shall be merciful. If you will swear never to reveal what you have beheld; will profit by the example of the Faculty and never try to interfere with the ‘Hot Feet’ again, leaving for England and Baker Street to-morrow, you shall go free and unharmed. Otherwise, you will be compelled to drink four cups of Charlottesville keg beer and die a lingering death.”

Brave man that he was, Sherlock Holmes shuddered, but assuming an air of bravado, he said, “When I first endeavored to out-wit you, O King, I thought that I was an ace. Permit me to acknowledge my mistake and to leave for the ‘foggy, foggy dew’ of London to-morrow.”

*     *     *     *     *

“My dear Watson,” said Sherlock Holmes, explaining the case to me afterwards, “it was an occurrence that belongs (as Noah K. would say) to the realm of pure accident. It may be, we shall see; maybe so, I don’t know, and it all goes to prove that you never can tell.”

This story appears in “Sherlock Holmes Edwardian Parodies and Pastiches I: 1900-1904” from Peschel press.

Footnotes

[Return]Conlon: Advertisements and census records from 1930 show that T.C. Conlon (b. 1864), a native of Ireland, worked as a tailor on East Main Street in Charlottesville.

[Return]Jordan: Fletcher “Tippy” Jordan (1879-1950) become a doctor and moved to Greenville, S.C., where he lived with his wife and three children.

[Return]Washington Literary Society: A literary and debating group that was founded in 1831. Student activities were suspended during the Civil War, but the group reformed in 1865 and carried on until it was disbanded in the 1920s. A group reformed twice more, and the current incarnation has been active since 1979.

[Return]House “D”: An eight-room plain brick house on Dawson’s Row that was occupied by Chi Phi fraternity members.

[Return]College Topics: A student literary magazine that also published news and sports items.

[Return]East Range:A long row of rooms designed to fulfill Jefferson’s vision of an “academical village” where students and teachers co-existed. There is an East Range and a West Range, separated by the Lawn.

[Return]Jeff Levy’s: Jefferson Monroe Levy (1852-1924) was a real estate investor, stock speculator and congressman. Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, had been bought by Levy’s uncle in 1834, and at the age of 27, Jefferson Levy bought it from him in 1879. He spent several hundred thousand dollars expanding the property and restoring Monticello before selling it to a private foundation in 1923.

[Return]Georgetown football game: On Nov. 16, the 6-1 Virginia Cavaliers met the 1-2-2 Hoyas at Georgetown Field in Washington, D.C. At the end of the first half, Virginia led 11-0. But in the last eight minutes of play, with the score 16-6, the Hoyas managed to score twice, including on the last play, to win 17-16.

[Return]Collier’s Weekly: The American magazine also published a Household Number every month that contained a new Holmes story.

[Return]Foggy, Foggy Dew:An English folk song about a weaver who woos a maiden into his bed, supposedly to protect her from the “foggy, foggy dew.” The story ends with the maid gone for untold reasons, and the weaver working alongside his son that reminds him of “the many, many times I held her in my arms / to keep her from the foggy, foggy dew.” Folk musicians such as Burl Ives revived the song in the 1950s.