Sherlock Holmes, Witness

Today we’re pulling another story from “Sherlock Holmes Edwardian Parodies and Pastiches II: 1905-1909.” This one was published in 1907 when one of the architects of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal was 26. More parodies can be found on this page.

sherlock holmes legal system

Donald R. Richberg

Can Holmes the irresistible force overcome the immovable object of the law? We find out in this story by attorney Donald R. Richberg (1881-1960) from the July issue of The Green Bag, a Chicago publication “covering the higher and the lighter literature of the law.” Richberg played a critical role in President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, drafting major pieces of New Deal legislation and running the National Recovery Administration.

Sherlock Holmes, Witness

Donald R. Richberg

From "Sherlock Holmes Edwardian Parodies and Pastiches II: 1905-1909&quot. Click on the cover to learn more.

From “Sherlock Holmes Edwardian Parodies and Pastiches II: 1905-1909” coming in late December 2015.

“Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” called the lawyer. A long, lean gentleman, with remarkably keen, penetrating eyes, walked slowly to the witness stand, followed by an inoffensive-appearing man, whose air of quiet assertiveness stamped him as a practising physician.

“We will call you shortly, Dr. Watson,” said the lawyer, whereat that gentleman bowed with professional gravity and resumed his seat.

“Raise your right hand,” droned the clerk, following the command with a hopeless rush of words, ending explosively with “selp ye God!”

“I do,” replied Sherlock Holmes.

On being asked to state his name, residence and occupation, the witness replied.

“Sherlock Holmes, Baker street, London, England, criminal investigator, analyzer and deducer.”

The detective was then qualified through a long series of questions, most of them being sufficiently ungrammatical to serve as professional models. Then came the real examination.

“What do you know about this case?” asked Mr. Sharp, attorney for the defendant.

“Everything,” replied the witness.

“I move to strike out that answer, incompetent, irrelevant, absurd,” shouted Mr. Quick, for the plaintiff.

“Motion sustained,” said the court.

“Are you familiar with the house and grounds known as Gridsly Manor?” was the next question.

“I am.”

“Describe the conditions you found there on the evening of June 16th, of this year.”

“As I entered my compartment in the 4:12 express at Charing Cross, I noted that the guard was laboring under great stress of emotion. While he was gazing fixedly at the small coin which I had just given him, it was evident his emotion was not gratitude. In fact he hastily removed the ‘reserved’ sign from the window of my compartment and ran down the platform. I had observed, however, that he had reddish hair and a slight droop of the right shoulder.”

“I move to strike all this out,” interrupted Mr. Quick. “If your honor please, this court is seeking light as to whether John Gridsly of Gridsly Manor, England, was murdered or committed suicide. This witness has been imported into this country by the defense to cast some alleged illumination on that question. I do not believe your honor cares to waste your time or that of counsel listening to old lady’s tales of a train journey.”

“Strike it out,” said the court.

“If your honor please,” remonstrated Mr. Sharp, “if Mr. Holmes can be allowed to tell his story his own way, I’m sure—”

“We’ll be here all night,” said the court. “Get off the train, Mr. Holmes, take a cab, get to Gridsly Manor somehow, then tell us what you saw.”

Holmes was evidently much displeased at the court’s abruptness, but he only exhibited his feelings by slightly raising his eyebrows at Dr. Watson, who smiled back sympathetically. With an accent of toleration the great detective continued:

“To give only the barest details I may say that when I entered the room wherein John Gridsly had passed away I saw at once that he had not been alone when he died.”

“I object,” howled Quick. “Witness could not possibly see such a thing twenty-four hours after death.”

“Objection sustained. State facts,” admonished the court.

“What did you see Mr. Holmes?” asked Sharp.

“I saw plain evidences that John Gridsly had not been alone.”

“Object,” said Quick.

“Sustained,” said the judge.

“Was the room in the same condition when you saw it as when Mr. Gridsly died?” asked Sharp.

“Object,” said Quick.

“Of course he can’t tell but let him answer,” replied the court.

“It was not. I telegraphed for it to be left exactly as when the tragedy had been discovered, but my order was not followed. I saw at once that two men, a young girl and a cripple had been in the room before I arrived.”
“How did you discover that?” queried the court.

“Very easily, your honor, from the dust in front of the door.”

“Strike out that answer,” snapped the judge.

“If your honor please,” implored Sharp, “kindly let the witness explain. He is a man gifted with more than ordinary sight.”

“This court has never held mind-reading, prophesy, or table-rapping as competent testimony, Mr. Sharp, and doesn’t intend to begin now.”

“But your honor, dust will show footprints.”

“Perhaps it may, but I do not consider it competent evidence of either health or sex. The witness may try to explain, but I shall rule the testimony out just the same. Have you brought the dust with you, Mr. Holmes?”

“No, your honor, but I may state that I found in the dust the plain traces of the shoes of two different men, also the mark of a woman’s heel and a cripple’s crutch.”

“Huh!” said the court.

“Further,” continued the detective, “I told the housemaid I would not betray her if she would give me the names of the two men and the cripple. She broke down and admitted that they were—”

“Object, object,” shouted Quick.

“Sustained,” said the court. “Strike out the testimony of the dust, Mr. Reporter, that’s hearsay too.”

“Mr. Holmes,” began Sharp, patiently, “describe the condition of the body as you observed it.”

“The late John Gridsly was lying stretched at full length on a low couch on the west side of the room, his left arm lay across his chest, his right hanging down by his side. Six inches and a quarter away from this hand a Parkhurst hammerless revolver, one chamber empty, lay where the tall man had placed it.”

“Tall man?” shouted Quick.

“Tall man?” echoed the court.

“The one who was with him just before he died,” explained Holmes, imperturbably.

“Strike it out,” ordered the court wearily. “Remove all that tall man from the record. Go on with what you saw, Mr. Holmes, leave imagination to the lawyers.”

“I saw also,” continued Holmes, biting his lips, “a round bullet hole behind the right ear. I examined closely the chair at the foot of the couch on which the satchel was placed during the quarrel.”

“What quarrel?” asked the court.

“Between Gridsly and the tall man.”

“Did the satchel belong to the tall man also?” asked the court.

“No, your honor, I think it was his uncle’s.”

“Mr. Reporter,” said the court, solemnly, “keep that tall man and all his relations out of the record of this case.”

“Mr. Holmes,” said Sharp, “kindly describe just what you physically saw in the room at Gridsly Manor the evening of June 16th.”

The witness nodded gravely and drew from an inside pocket a small silver-mounted hypodermic. Dr. Watson half-rose in his chair, but Holmes waved him back to his seat.

“Nothing,” said the detective, “could be more valueless and unreliable as testimony in the present case than statements as to what I saw.”

Holmes placed the syringe against his left wrist and passed the plunger home, all in view shuddered and even the judge turned his face away.

“There,” continued the witness, “what you gentlemen physically saw was that I injected something into my arm. As a matter of fact, there was not a drop of liquid in this instrument. Yet every one of you would have sworn falsely on the stand as to what you saw.”

Seeing that both court and counsel were about to indignantly deny his assertions, the witness hurriedly added:
“As to the present case, let me forget intelligence and be a good witness. I saw three finger prints above the mantel shelf; about an ounce of red soil in front of the long window on the east, and a box of Rio cigars on a table, the ashes of cigars in an ash tray, a little spilt ashes and red soil on the chair at the foot of the couch, some dust on the floor, and a long scratch at one place on the polished surface. There was no towel on a towel rack in a curtained alcove. May I also state what I saw through a microscope, your honor?”

“Object,” said Sharp, “not qualified to testify as to microscopic examinations.”

After another series of ungrammatical questions the witness was declared qualified and proceeded.

“Through the microscope, I saw that the finger prints above the mantel shelf were oily and recent.”

“Object to conclusions,” snarled Quick.

“‘Oily’ is a fact,” said the court, “‘recent,’ the witness may testify to as an expert.”

“Does your honor overrule the objection?” inquired Sharp, breathlessly.

“I do,” said the court. Under stress of joyful surprise Sharp collapsed into the arms of his chief clerk, but soon recovered his poise.

“The red soil was not red soil,” continued the witness, “but rotted leather, the cigar ashes showed a large quantity of the domestic Rio cigar ashes with a small quantity of an imported clear Havana, the dust on the floor showed heel prints of one pair of shoes with whole heels and one pair with one heel torn off, so that the nails scratched the floor. May I state conclusions from these facts, your honor?”

“You may state any opinion as an expert detective based on the facts before the court.”

“As a very expert detective I would say that a tall, courageous, blond man, with blue eyes—”

“Shall I take that down?” asked the reporter.

“Take it all down,” said the court, “let counsel object after I hear this through.”

“That a tall, blond man,” repeated Holmes, “carrying a small, worn-out satchel entered Mr. Gridsly’s room at 9:25 P.M. June 16th, by the low window to the east. He talked amiably for about half an hour, smoking a cigar he brought with him. Then he and Gridsly quarreled, and Gridsly was shot as he lay on the couch, the sound of the discharge being muffled in a towel, which the tall man took away in a satchel. He left the house at 10:20 and—”

“That’s enough,” interrupted the court, “I enjoy this little romance immensely, but I can’t really listen to it in my official capacity. Strike it all out.”

“Can you give out any more facts, Mr. Holmes, which will shed light on this subject?” asked Sharp, despairingly.

“Yes,” said Holmes, smiling quizzically, “there is one more fact—the revolver at Gridsly’s side was a 32 caliber, the bullet which passed out through the mouth I found imbedded in the wall. It was a 36.”

“That is all,” said Sharp triumphantly.

Mr. Quick refused to cross-examine.

“I suppose,” said Holmes to Watson a few weeks later, “if I had attempted to state that that 36 bullet was from the tall man’s gun, but that Gridsly shot himself with it, our vociferous friend, Mr. Quick, would have objected and the court sustained the objection. It was plain, however, that that was just what had happened. Of course his tall friend couldn’t risk leaving his gun, so he laid poor Gridsly’s on the floor beside him. At all events I found the tall man dead in a cheap London hotel, so both their souls are at rest now, and I’ve done my duty as an expert witness. An expert, Watson, is a man who can’t be trusted to state his honest conclusions, because of course he hasn’t any, but whose opinion on facts (which like statistics cannot tell a lie!) is good as gold—or at any rate as good as gold can buy.”