The Sherlock-Boer War

sherlock holmes political parody edwardian

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From 1899 to 1902, Britain was involved in another one of its “little wars” that characterized the empire during Victoria’s reign. In South Africa, British troops were fighting the Dutch Boers in the South African Republic and the Orange Free State.

Naturally, Sherlock Holmes had to come along, and in 1900, Scraps magazine published eight adventures of Sherlock Gnomes and Dr. Totson in South Africa. “The Adventure of the Pink Pearl” appeared in “Sherlock Holmes Edwardian Parodies and Pastiches I,” so we decided to add another from the series that has not seen print since its original publication. (Thanks to Charles Press, who published his own collection of vintage parodies, for supplying this copy.)

Note the hint of paranoia that comes when an invading army has to rely on the local population for basic services.

Sherlock Holmes Edwardian Parodies and Pastiches I: 1900-1904” is available at all fine online book and ebook sellers, plus New York City’s Mysterious Bookshop (and soon at Midtown Scholar in Harrisburg).

Want to read more parodies and pastiches? The complete list can be found here.

The Adventure of the White Spot

gnomes sherlock boera!” said Sherlock Gnomes, one morning, as we strolled through Modder Camp, “here is Captain Rollockson; he is evidently in search of something.”

“Do you deduce that he is looking for Sherlock Gnomes?” said I, a little ironically.

“Not altogether. There appears to be a transit of another interest running across his actions. There is not much data to go upon at present; we shall no doubt hear more shortly, Totson.”

We had arrived early in the morning of that day after a highly interesting journey from Cape Town, stopping en route at Wynberg, in order that I might be enabled to obtain necessary instructions from the hospital authorities there. Gnomes, with his usual placid exterior, had been giving vent to his observant instincts, his methods at times evidently not altogether in accord with military red-tapeism. However, taking all things into consideration, we had a very smooth and instructive trip up country.

“Well, Captain Rollockson,” said my friend, as that dashing officer approached and shook hands, “I am glad to see you all well. This is” — turning to me — “Dr. Totson, of whom, no doubt, you have heard. He has very kindly taken the trouble to record a few of the cases upon which I have been able to throw a little enlightenment—”

“I wish you could throw some light upon my present misfortune,” broke in the captain. “I have been looking for you after hearing of your arrival.”

“So I observe,” said Gnomes. “I also see that you have lost a ring.”

“How do you guess that?”

“I perceive that you are constantly looking at the third finger of your left hand, where there is an obvious mark of a ring which has lately been removed. It fitted a shade too tightly.”

“Right,” said the captain. “It was a very valuable ring, and one that I would not lose — a family heirloom, in fact. It has, I fear, been stolen. But come into my tent, and I will explain all.”

We followed, and were soon seated upon a camp bedstead, within the grateful shadow of the canvas.

“In order to make this unfortunate affair plain to you,” commenced Captain Rollockson, “I must first say that I have during the last few weeks shared my tent with a young lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards named Hobkirk. Yesterday he was down with enteric fever, and during the night he was delirious and talked very wildly at intervals. It was, I think, just before sunrise that I got up to get him some medicine, and finding that the ring I spoke of was galling me — due, no doubt, to the heat and rough work, which caused some slight swelling of the minds — I took it off, placing it upon that ammunition box which you observe is still in the same place, and serves me for a table.

“Shortly afterwards I lay down again until daybreak. No doubt you are aware that it is the custom of the surrounding Dutch farmers and their wives — loyal or disloyal, which you please — to come into camp, with carts of vegetables and other produce, which they sell to us at famine prices. They arrive early in the morning.

“On this occasion I got outside my tent in time to arrest a passing cart, driven by a Dutch vrow, and purchased a bundle of carrots. I may here add that I had forgotten all about the ring, and, returning to the tent, dropped the carrots upon the ammunition box. Glancing at Lieutenant Hobkirk, and thinking he appeared worse, I immediately went in search of the regimental surgeon and brought him across. As we entered the tent poor Hobkirk raised himself on his bed and pointed in a semi-unconscious way to the ammunition box, and wildly exclaimed, “The white spot! The white spot!” and then suddenly relapsed into complete oblivion.

“Looking in the direction he had indicated, I saw the carrots were gone; then the incident of the ring flashed across me, and I rushed to the box, to find it had disappeared.”

“Do you suspect any one?” said my friend, in his dreamy, introspective manner, his eyes fixed meanwhile upon the small portion of ground which lay between the entrance and the box.

“Yes,” replied Captain Rollockson; “the old Dutch vrow that sold me the carrots had deep black hair, with a most extraordinary white spot upon it, over the left temple; no doubt she entered my tent, on seeing that I had left, to regain the vegetables, and added the ring to her capture.”

“Hum!” said Gnomes, “perhaps!”

“How, then, do you account for the exclamation of ‘the white spot’?”

“We shall see,” replied my friend. “In the meantime, have you had her arrested?”

“Yes.”

“Where is Lieutenant Hobkirk. Is he still unconscious?”

“He is, and in a bad state. I had him removed to the hospital shortly before meeting you!”

Gnomes remained a few minutes in deep contemplation, then suddenly changing his manner, all his alertness appeared once more. Going down upon his hands and knees, he examined the turf, both within and without the tent; inside, where the ground had, unfortunately for his purposes, been trampled a great deal, his powerful lens came into requisition, and from his emphatic grunts of satisfaction I concluded he was on a hot scent.

“Will you see the old vrow and examine her?” said the captain.

“No; I don’t think it is necessary,” replied Gnomes. “I am just going for a walk. Will you accompany me, Totson?”

I agreed, and we started, Gnomes with head down and the characteristics of the Red Indian written upon every line of his gaunt figure.

“One shoe missing on the near hind foot,” I heard him mutter to himself, as we plodded along slowly through the lines of white canvas, unnoticed by the moving bodies of troops.

We had arrived at the western border of the camp, and I had just made up my mind to interrogate Gnomes as to his meaning, when bang! crash! thud! and a scream proclaimed the approach of a Boer shell near at hand.

“That was close, Totson.”

It certainly was. At that moment we were standing outside of a small compound, and little but an old wall had saved us from the flying fragments. Within, a few mules were tethered, and we could see that sad havoc had been wrought amongst them by the explosion.

As we gazed over the wall the eager look of anticipation upon the face of my friend broadened into a smile of intense satisfaction.

“Found!” he murmured. “I knew it.”

“What do you mean now?” said I. “What have you found?”

“The ring,” he replied.

“This is ridiculous, Gnomes,” I continued.

“Not at all. Come and see. I hope you have got your surgical instruments with you?”

Replying in the affirmative, I followed him over the wall to the side of one of the dead mules.

Gnomes was intently examining the foot of the near hind leg, at the same time pointing to a large white spot upon the chest of the animal, which appeared very prominently upon the otherwise dark colour of the body.

Gnomes was in the right, as I found upon the conclusion of my post-mortem examination.

“You see, Totson,” said he, as we started back with our prize, “it is unwise to be too precipitate in arresting people, even if they are disloyal. The footprints, if examined carefully, should have at once suggested to the captain the personality of the thief, and that the ring was swallowed when the mule breakfasted off the carrots.”

gnomes