Cherchez la Femme (Carolyn Wells Sherlock Parody)

sherlock holmes parodies

Click on the cover to learn more about the book!

Wells wrote a number of stories featuring her Society of Infallible Detectives, two of which appear in “Sherlock Holmes Great War Parodies and Pastiches II: 1914-1919“. This appeared in the February 1917 issue of The Green Book magazine, with art by Rea Irvin (1881-1972), a graphic artist best known for establishing the art direction of The New Yorker, including drawing its mascot, Eustace Tilley.

Sherlock Holmes Great War Parodies and Pastiches II: 1914-1919” is available at all fine online book and ebook sellers, plus New York City’s Mysterious Bookshop and Harrisburg’s Midtown Scholar. Want to read more parodies and pastiches? The complete list can be found here.

Cherchez la Femme

Carolyn Wells

Illustrated by Rea Irvin

The Society of Infallible Detectives was waiting for something to fall for. They hadn’t had a case they could really celebrate for a long time, and their intellects were rusting with disuse.

carolyn wells

Carolyn Wells

“Do look out of the window, Holmes,” Watson said petulantly, to the saturnine resident of the Society. “When you look out, you ’most always see somebody approaching who turns out to be a case.”

Throwing aside his hypodermic needle, with a slight shrug Holmes strode to the window and gazed moodily and tensely down into the street.

“There is some one turning in,” he said slowly, “who may turn out to be a case. If I mistake not, I hear his footprint on the stair.”

Even as he spoke, there was a tap at the door, and a florid-faced young man of twenty-six summers and a half the following fall plumped himself into the room and fell dejectedly into the very chair that Holmes waved him toward.

“As you got on the Ninth Avenue Elevated at Ninety-third Street and got off at Twenty-eighth and Sixth Avenue, you couldn’t very well leave it to be fixed, could you?” observed Holmes sympathetically.

“No,” returned the young man dejectedly. “And the confounded thing—”

“Yes, I know, those cylinder-watches don’t. But what’s the trouble that brings you here?”

The young man stared with the dawning air of amazement that always sooner or later came to Holmes’ clients. “I say,” he began, “how did you know where I got on and off? How did you know my watch had gone back on me? How—”

“I know more than that, Mr. Elmer Ensign. But why do you look for her in people’s kitchens?”

The visitor’s jaw dropped. It was a square, young, well-shaven jaw, but it dropped, while intense surprise was registered by its owner.

“Elementary, my dear sir, elementary. But time is flying. Hadn’t you better state your case? Here we have gathered the whole of our little band of Infallible Detectives, and we can solve your mystery if anybody can.”

“Well, then, gentlemen, it’s a case of kidnaping.”

Quite a number of ah’s escaped from the sphinx-like countenances of the detectives. Dupin and Lupin rubbed their hands in true French fashion, and Lecoq and Vidocq shrugged their shoulders also after the manner of their home town.

The Thinking Machine blinked his old, pale-blue eyes, and Mr. Gryce concentrated his gaze on a conch-shell on the whatnot.

“Yes,” went on Mr. Ensign, “my aunt—”

“Gracie Golightly,” observed Holmes in his swift, suave way.

“Yes,” said Ensign shortly. “If you know this story so well, why don’t you tell it yourself?”

“Go on,” said the Thinking Machine irritably. “Two and two make four, not now, but all the time. Go on, do!”

“Well, you see, gentlemen, it’s this way: Though she’s my aunt, I haven’t seen her for years until last evening. She came to the house at nine o’clock, and said she’d determined to change her will. She had willed her fortune, you know, to—”

“Is she Golightly the dancer?” asked Lupin with fresh interest.

“She was. She’s left the stage; she’s—ah, you see, she’s—”

“Younger than she once was,” said Holmes saturninely.

“Exactly, yes. That’s a good way to put it.” And Mr. Ensign laughed nervously. “Well, she has a pet philanthropy, and she had willed all her money to that, and then she changes her mind and comes to tell us about it. We sit talking things over. Bedtime—all retire. This morning, Aunt out for early walk—roses of youth back to cheeks—brisk trot in the sunshine—all that sort of thing. But no returns. Hustle search—hunt all day till noon. Get mysterious message—typewritten—see!”

The paper he exhibited read:

We have gracy Golitely. Will hold her for ransome however she acts. Send fifty thousand dollers as we dirrect, or nevver look uppon your Aunt again!!!

KID KNAPP.

“What was her pet philanthropy?” asked Craig Kennedy, his brows meeting above his nose as he scowled out the words.

“Oh, it was a worthy cause enough,” said young Ensign. “It was providing butlers for butlerless butler’s pantries. You know how every little one-horse house has its butler’s pantry. And they never even dream of getting a butler to put in it. Well, Aunt Gracie thought it a shame for good pantries to go to waste, and so she devoted her life to installing butlers in ’em, and willed her fortune to the cause. But all of a sudden she soured on it, and decided to leave her kale to me and Minna. Minna’s my wife. So Auntie came last night to settle up matters, and now she—she’s kidnaped. Of course, the Butlers’ Association is behind it. They employed Kid Knapp to do the deed, but they’re financing the scheme. Will you find her?”

“Will we!” chorused the English-speaking detectives. But the French ones piped up: “Cherchez la femme!”

“All right, chasses and cherchez,” said Holmes, which is harder to say than it looks.

“Aren’t there any clues?” asked Rouletabille, shaking his round head around in a circle.

“Here’s Aunt’s picture.” And Mr. Ensign drew a photograph from his pocket.

It looked—well, you know what a photograph of a professional dancer looks like. It was a study in emotional motion. They all studied it for a long moment.

“Your Aunt?” said Holmes doubtingly.

“Well, my great-aunt,” corrected young Ensign. “She—”

But nobody heeded him. They were photographing the finger-prints on the cardboard. Then Craig Kennedy said, abstractedly: “I suppose you haven’t a drop of her blood with you—no?—too bad. I’d like to try my seismospygamajig on it. That would—”

Some pearls!” commented Arsene Lupin, nodding at the jewelry-counter effect of Grace Golightly’s swan-like throat.

“They were,” sighed the nephew, “but she sold them for the benefit of those boob butlers! I’d like to recover her before she sloughs off the rest of her dinky doodaddles. You know what theatrical people are!”

“Any further clues?” saturnined Holmes.

“Yes, here’s the broken cuff-link and the shreds of dark woolen material, picked up where the body wasn’t found. Oh, sirs, do you think you can restore to me my darling aunt?”

The young man’s grief was pitiable, and Holmes said instantly: “Yes, of course. Those clues clear up the situation amazingly! I now see the abductor is a man of five-feet-nine, wears ten-and-a-half socks, parts his hair on one side, and had the measles when a child. Your aunt’s dress is a bit old-fashioned,” he observed coldly to his client.

“Yes,” agreed Ensign, “but it’s better than nothing.”

“Perhaps so,” said Lecoq. “Do we start now, Chief?”

“Yes,” said Holmes with a slight shade of saturninity. “Go ahead, and cherchez that femme.”

“Has the light snow fallen?” Dupin looked anxious.

“Yes, of course; the footprints wait without. Go!”

They went.

Holmes trailed his white finger-tips from his left temple to his right one, and reaching for his violin, began to play “When We Were Twenty-one.”

“Gracie Golightly!” he said reminiscently. “Was it in ‘The Black Crook,’ or—”

“I say,” broke in Ensign, who hadn’t quite gone, “how did you know my watch had stopped?”

“When you came in, you looked at your wristwatch and then at my clock. As your timepiece was ten hours behind, I deduced it had stopped; those cylinder toys don’t—”

“Yes, I know. Now, about the getting on at Ninety-third Street and off at Twenty-eighth—”

“Elementary—positively primary. They have just painted a fire-hydrant red at Ninety-third, and a mail-box green at Twenty-eighth. You absorbed a daub of each on your coat as you hustled by.”

“Bah! You take all the fun out of it! Now, how did you know I had been hunting for my Aunt Gracie in kitchens?”

“It’s Monday morning, and I smelled suds on you. I suppose you were hunting in still-butlerless pantries, and the ladies were doing their own washing.”

“Exactly! Now I must get to the office. When can you present Aunt Gracie?”

“Soon. I think. Don’t worry. I’ll telephone you when we catch Kid Knapp with the goods on. Au revoir, sir, and tell your wife not to wear her shoes too small for her.”

“Bless my soul! How do you know she does that?”

“Women always do. Good-day.”

Ensign departed, and the young man who was understudying Watson said, “Marvelous, Holmes, marvelous,” but he did it so unenthusiastically that he had to practice it over two or three times.

Skip we now over to where the detectives came home from their quest.

One and all, they announced utter failure.

Sherlock Holmes was disgusted. “You’re a nice lot of Infallible Detectives,” he saturnined at them. “I’ve a mind to resign as president of this society.”

The others looked hopeful, but Holmes was a man of many minds, and they didn’t bank on his suggestion.

“I went and camped out in a butler’s pantry in a small flat,” said Vidocq. “I thought, of course, she’d turn up there sooner or later.”

“She can’t if she’s kidnaped,” protested Dupin. “Now, I went straight to the Butlers’ Association to ask ’em how about it, but they were that haughty and stuck-up, I couldn’t get an audience with them.”

“Oh, I don’t care to hear your excuses,” President Holmes looked distrait and distraught. “If I’d thought you’d muff such a simple case, I’d have gone myself.”

“I found a woman who was probably Miss Golightly,” said Dupin. “She said she wasn’t, but you know women can’t tell the truth if they try, so I dare say she was.”

“Why didn’t you bring her?”

“She wouldn’t come. You know what women are; if you want ’em to do anything, you just can’t make ’em do it.”

“You can’t catch a woman,” declared Arsene Lupin positively. “You simply can’t do it.”

“Then what becomes of the Detective’s motto, Cherchez la Femme, I’d like to know?” fairly screamed Lecoq. “I’ve worked along those lines for years—”

“Never mind, Daddy Lecoq,” said Rouletabille, who was the youngest member of the Society. “Those lines are worn out. I say, ‘Set a femme to catch a femme.’ How’s that?”

“Not bad,” said Vidocq. “But who? Kitty Ketcham?”

“No! She’s no good at cherching. But I know a girl”—and Rouletabille looked wise—“who can turn this little trick for us. Her name is Fluffy Raffles.”

“Name’s enough,” said Holmes shortly. “Telephone for her—now.”

Rouletabille did so, and in the shortest possible time a vision beamed in the doorway.

She was pretty, oh, Fluffy Raffles was pretty! Eyes the color of light blue merino, cheeks like pink satin pincushions, and hair a gold brick. Now you know just what she looked like.

She was dressed in a filmy shimmering sheen of shuffy fliffon, and wore a garden hat, two sizes too big for her, with oodles of tiny pink rosebuds clinging clusteringly around it. This was her business suit. You ought to have seen her when she was dressed up!

She took one of the seventeen chairs the men offered her—some were so distracted, they offered two at a time—and crossing her little white shoes (and even at that, they were big enough for her!), she said demurely (her little emery-cushion of a mouth was the kind that always spoke demurely): “Well?”

carolyn wells sherlock parody

She was dressed in a filmy shimmering sheen of shuffy fliffon, and wore a garden hat, two sizes too big for her, with oodles of tiny pink rosebuds clinging clusteringly around it. This was her business suit. You ought to have seen her when she was dressed up!

As fast as they could get themselves undazed from the effects of her strawberry-sundae voice, they laid the case before her.

“Lemme see the photograph,” she said sweetly.

They all flew for it, and she put the pieces together quickly, like a picture-puzzle.

“Is that Gracie Golightly?” she exclaimed. “Why, I saw her once, when I was a kiddy in a middy—but she looked nicer’n that.”

“She has gone off a little,” said Holmes, studying the portrait.

“She’s gone off like hot cakes,” said Fluffy Raffles decidedly. “No matter. What do you want me to do?”

carolyn wells sherlock parody

“Is that Gracie Golightly?” she exclaimed. “Why, I saw her once, when I was a kiddy in a middy—but she looked nicer’n that.”

“Cherchez la femme,” exclaimed Lecoq, glad to get back to his old formula.

“All right!” And Fluffy flashed a smileful of pearls. “Lemme see—it’s—” She crooked her dimpled elbow and craned her pretty neck and twisted her mobile face and performed all the maneuvers necessary to see her wristwatch right side up, and then announced in triumph the time, twenty-seven minutes slow. But nobody corrected her; instead, each surreptitiously moved his watch-hands twenty-seven minutes backward.

“Can you find her?” The Thinking Machine twined his fidgety digits in and out of each other.

“Corsican,” said Fluffy, who talked in run-on lines, “but I don’t hafto go out by the day to do it. I’ll take it in.”

Throwing off her ring-around-a-rosy hat, she settled herself comfortably at the telephone and asked to have tea sent in.

While all the detectives flew to chercher the tea, Fluffy took the big, clumsy, heavy, telephone-book and called up number after number, as fast as she could keep the girl going. And they were all numbers of clockmakers or watch-menders or just plain jewelers.

She stopped for tea between L and M, and asked for a glass of water between V and W, but after a while or so, she had called all there were.

“Fiddle-de-fudge!” she exclaimed in a cunning little tantrum, “if I’d only begun the book at thuther end!” For it was at Zykowski that she struck the place she was after!

Still, she had struck it, and with a demure smile she glanced up at Holmes and said: “Your Gracie girl is at Number 487 North Thirty-fourth Street.”

“The eternal feminine,” said Holmes sententiously, “is simply an infinite capacity for finding things out.”

“Marvelous, Holmes, marvelous!” exclaimed Watson’s understudy—with such unction that he had a raise at the end of the week.

Holmes detailed all of the other detectives to go and secure the now-cherchered femme, but they wouldn’t budge.

“Get her by telephone,” “Advise her nephew, and let him get her,” “Send an A.D.T.” “Go yourself,” and similar unsatisfactory returns came to Holmes’ mandate.

Fluffy Raffles laughed and said:

“Wellile go.” And then they all said they’d go too.

So they went and got Gracie Golightly, and restored her to her watchfully waiting relatives, and then they all went to supper in a hall of dazzling light.

“Tell us how you did it,” said Holmes, saturbenignly.

“Well,” — and Fluffy added a half inch of scarlet to her smile — “you see, I noticed Gracie’s lack of really fatal beauty. That’s all right, uno—for her feet are her fortune, not her face. But while she’s terribly good to her mother, anner relatives anner butlers, she’s homely enough to stop a clock. So I just telephoned to see who had sent a hurry call to a clock-person to come and fix a lot of stopped clocks. And I found that Zykowski had been sent for for that very purpose. So I asked him who turned in the call—and there you are!”

“Marvelous, Holmes, marvelous!” exclaimed Watson, who was back in his role.

“And that’s what stopped young Ensign’s watch,” mused Rouletabille. “He saw his aunt for the first time in years, the night before, and his watch stopped then and there.”

“Yes,” — Fluffy dimpled in her left cheek, — “and just the photograph of Gracie put my wrist-watch back twenty-seven minutes. I wish I’d worn my ankle-watch!”

Footnotes

[Return] Cylinder-watches: A mechanism in a watch called an escapement that regulates the back-and-forth movement of the escape wheel that creates its characteristic ticking. There are many ways for a watch to count out the seconds; this design uses a thin cylinder that has been cut away, resulting in a thinner watch. However, because the escape wheel’s teeth knocks against the cylinder, the friction creates more wear requiring frequent cleanings.

[Return] Our little band: The members consist of Holmes and Watson, plus these detectives:

* Dupin: C. Auguste Dupin was the hero of three classic short stories by Edgar Allan Poe. Dupin shares many characteristics with Holmes, such as his deductive skills and his sidekick-narrator. Despite Holmes’ sneer at Dupin in A Study in Scarlet, Conan Doyle admitted freely borrowing from Poe.

* Lupin: Arsene Lupin is the master thief created by Maurice Leblanc (1864-1941). Leblanc wrote several stories pitting Lupin against Holmes; one excerpt, “Holmlock Shears Opens Hostilities,” appears in the 1905-1909 edition.

* Lecoq: Émile Gaboriau (1832-1873) created amateur detective Monsieur Lecoq, a character based on the thief-turned-detective Eugène Francois Vidocq (1775-1857). Conan Doyle admitted using bits of Lecoq in creating Holmes.

* The Thinking Machine: Professor Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen, a.k.a. “The Thinking Machine” was an attempt to create an American Holmes by newspaper reporter Jacques Futrelle (1875-1912). A Futrelle-penned pastiche appears in the 1905-1909 edition.

* Mr. Gryce: Detective Ebenezer Gryce of the New York Metropolitan Police Force was the hero in several novels by Anna Katharine Green (1846-1935). Her best-selling The Leavenworth Case (1878) was admired by Wilkie Collins and was a particular influence on Agatha Christie.

* Craig Kennedy: The scientist-detective created by Arthur B. Reeve (1880-1936). “Holmes” reviews a Craig Kennedy book in “Sherlock Holmes Solves a Problem in Publishing” in the 1915 chapter.

[Return] Whatnot: A piece of furniture seen in a drawing room, consisting of a series of shelves supported by pillars or uprights, and used for displaying knick-knacks or “what nots.”

[Return] Cherchez la femme: “Look for the woman,” meaning that when a man acts out of character or in an unusual fashion, a woman is the cause. First published in The Mohicans of Paris, by the elder Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870) .

[Return] When We Were Twenty-One: A song by Frank Leo written in 1901.

[Return] The Black Crook: A musical from 1866 that is considered to be the first in which the songs and dance help advance the story.

[Return] I smelled suds on you: Monday was traditionally laundry day.

[Return] A.D.T.: American District Telegraph.