The Mystery of the Five Empty Peanut Shells

To celebrate the completion of “Sherlock Holmes Edwardian Parodies and Pastiches II: 1905-1909,” I’ve been running stories that for one reason or another–mostly because the book reached 125,000 words–didn’t make it in.

There are several stories from various schools in the 223B Casebook series, including three from Groton, the elite boarding school. This story came from the files of The Troubadour, the student newspaper of The Portland Academy, a private high school in Portland, Ore. Before it closed in 1916, the school’s most illustrious alumni was John Reed, the Communist writer whose book on the Russian Revolution, Ten Days that Shook the World, earned him a crypt in the Kremlin.

Sherlock Holmes at Portland Academy: The Mystery of the Five Empty Peanut Shells

“Not by A. Conan Doyle”

sherlock holmes portland parodyIt was in the winter Sherlock Holmes spent in Portland that the case of the five empty peanut shells occurred. In looking over my papers I find it followed shortly after the mystery of the lost class pin, the peculiar circumstances surrounding the incident of the duplicate topic papers, the disastrous results following the research into the numerals on the roof, and several other interesting episodes connected with the same school.

But this case presents several unique points such that it may be of some interest to the public.

One rainy Wednesday, as we were passing by Portland Academy, we decided to take refuge there from the coming storm. It chanced to be the day of the Rhetoricals, so we went up to the chapel and took a seat near the back. Just as the exercises were about to begin, a small girl with red hair announced that two of her rings had been stolen and that she could not speak without them. As she was the first one on the program, this, of course, put a stop to the exercises.

One of the principals turned to us and said: “Perhaps you will help to solve this mystery, Mr. Holmes.”

Holmes said he would do all in his power, and required an interview with the girl, in order to ask her some questions.

“When did you first miss these rings?” asked my friend.

“Just before chapel,” said the girl nervously.

“Are you sure you put them on this morning?”

“Oh yes, I am sure I had them when school began.”

Then she gave a description of the rings, and told us where she had been each hour that morning, saying, however, that she had no idea where she was robbed.

Holmes paced up and down the room in deep thought for a short time, then asked suddenly, “Do you like peanuts?”

“No,” said the girl, deeply startled. “I can’t bear them. They make me sick.”

“That will do. You may go.”

It was evident that Holmes was somewhat puzzled, but I had no doubt that he was on the track. He wore that alert look, always his, when he is deeply interested.

He turned to me and said: “You see, no doubt, the importance of that last remark in the case? No? I may be mistaken, of course, but it seems to me to throw a great deal of light on the case. Come, Watson, let us take a walk down the hall.”

He led the way slowly, looking about him keenly in the now-deserted hall.

“Ah, what is this?” he said, suddenly, stooping down and picking half the inside of a peanut off the floor. Not one only, but as many as four or five did he find nearby. Then he searched the floor narrowly for footprints, rising soon with a smile of satisfaction.

“We are beginning to see the light, hey Watson?”

“I confess I do not see the bearing these nuts have upon the case,” I answered.

“Oh, Watson, you are hopeless. But, no doubt all will be revealed shortly.”

Holmes would say nothing more. Then, his curiosity seemed to be aroused by the sight of a small black box, similar to a mailbox fastened to the wall. A boy passing that way informed us that it was a box for contributions to the school paper.

“Oh, I see, and who has the key, may I ask?”

“I have,” and smiling at our surprise the boy explained he was editor of the paper.

“But no one ever opens it any more. There is never anything in it but old transfers and stamp-pictures and chalk. Certainly I will open it if you wish.”

He drew a much-rusted key from his pocket and applied it to the dusty lock. After some difficulty, the door swung suddenly open. As was foretold, there were no contributions in the box, but numerous other things. Holmes gathered them all carefully in his handkerchief, much to the boy’s amazement, and my own as well, he then left us, and I saw no more of him for an hour.

At two we went into the office, and requested that the girl be summoned.

Soon she came eagerly in and asked, “Have you discovered who has my rings, Mr. Holmes?”
“I have.”

“Who? Who?” we all asked, much surprised that the mystery was solved.

“You, yourself, my young lady,” was the grave answer.

“I? Absurd!” she said turning white.

“Say no more. I know all. This morning, fearing to speak in chapel, you conceived the idea of hiding your rings and having the exercises stopped on account of a supposed robbery. While considering a hiding place for them, you thought of the Troubadour Box as the last place one would look, so hid them there.”

“It is true! I confess,” cried the now-hysterical girl, eyeing Holmes with looks of fear.

We returned the rings to the unfortunate owner, and slipped quietly out, leaving the repentant girl to the mercies of the kind-hearted principals.

“A very simple case, Watson, but with some points of interest,” Holmes said on the way down to the car. “It all hinged upon the peanuts. When the girl first came into the room with me, I noticed morsels of peanuts on her dress, and as I knew that girls with that particular shade of red hair rarely ate peanuts, I was puzzled, I admit. When I found out by asking her that she never ate peanuts, the only thing to do was to trace the peanuts.

“As you remember, I saw the insides of several peanuts in the hall. Then I understood that her object was the shell. By examining the floor with a magnifying glass, I discovered the print of a pointed-toe shoe like the one she wore. What more simple piece of reasoning than that she wished the peanut shells to conceal something in, and that something was the lost rings? The most conspicuous place is the best hiding place, and the Troubadour box was seldom disturbed. As I expected, among the buttons, advertisements, scrap paper, transfers, and other similar articles, I found five peanut shells, in two of which were the lost rings in place of kernels.

“A little observation, Watson, is all that is necessary to solve the most bewildering of mysteries.”