“The Early Punch Parodies of Sherlock Holmes” started life was a way of bringing back the 17 “Picklock Holes” stories written by R.C. “Rudie” Lehmann. So it’s appropriate to begin this series of excerpts with him. Note that the introduction, story, illustration and footnotes can all be found in the book.Later on, I’ll print the biographical essay about Lehmann, who, to borrow from Gilbert & Sullivan, the very major model of a modern Victorian gentleman.
In June 1891, the first Holmes short story, “A Scandal in Bohemia,” appeared in The Strand Magazine. Three months later, the first parody, “My Evening With Sherlock Holmes,” by J.M. Barrie, no less, appeared in The Speaker. A trickle of stories followed, but it was Punch’s R.C. “Rudie” Lehmann who first saw the possibility of creating a series of parodies modeled after the first book. Lehmann wrote eight stories in this cycle, eight more in 1903 and ’04, and added the capstone in 1918, just as ACD did.
The Bishop’s Crime
By R.C. Lehmann
I was sitting alone in my room at 10.29 on the night of the 14th of last November. I had been doing a good deal of work lately, and I was tired. Moreover, I had had more than one touch of that old Afghan fever, which always seemed to be much more inclined to touch than to go. However, we can’t have everything here to please us; and as I had only the other day attended two bankers and a Lord Mayor for measles, I had no real cause to complain of my prospects. I had drawn the old armchair in which I was sitting close to the fire, and, not having any bread handy, I was occupied in toasting my feet at the blaze when suddenly the clock on the mantelpiece struck the half hour, and Picklock Holes stood by my side. I was too much accustomed to his proceedings to express any surprise at seeing him thus, but I own that I was itching to ask him how he had managed to get into my house without ringing the bell. However, I refrained, and motioned him to a chair.“My friend,” said this extraordinary man, without the least preface, “you’ve been smoking again. You know you have; it’s not the least use denying it.” I absolutely gasped with astonishment, and gazed at him almost in terror. How had he guessed my secret? He read my thoughts and smiled.
“Oh, simply enough. That spot on your shirt-cuff is black. But it might have been yellow, or green, or blue, or brown, or rainbow-coloured. But I know you smoke Rainbow mixture, and as your canary there in the corner has just gone blind, I know further that bird’s-eye is one of the component parts of the mixture.”
“Holes,” I cried, dropping my old meerschaum out of my mouth in my amazement; “I don’t believe you’re a man at all — you’re a devil.”
“Thank you for the compliment,” he replied, without moving a muscle of his marble face. “You ought not to sup—” He was going to have added “pose,” but the first syllable seemed to suggest a new train of thought (in which, I may add, there was no second class whatever) to my inexplicable friend.
“No,” he said; “the devilled bones were not good. Don’t interrupt me; you had devilled bones for supper, or rather you would have had them, only you didn’t like them. Do you see that match? A small piece is broken off the bottom, but enough is left to show it was once a lucifer — in other words, a devil. It is lying at the feet of the skeleton which you use for your anatomical investigations, and therefore I naturally conclude that you had devilled bones for supper. You didn’t eat them, for not a single bone of the skeleton is missing. Do I make myself clear?”
“You do,” I said, marvelling more than ever at the extraordinary perspicacity of the man. As a matter of fact, my supper had consisted of bread and cheese; but I felt it would be in extremely bad taste for a struggling medical practitioner like myself to contradict a detective whose fame had extended to the ends of the earth. I picked up my pipe, and relit it, and, for a few moments, we sat in silence. At last I ventured to address him.
“Anything new?” I said.
“No, not exactly new,” he said, wearily, passing his sinewy hand over his expressionless brow. “Have you a special Evening Standard? I conclude you have, as I see no other evening papers here. Do you mind handing it to me?”
There was no deceiving this weird creature. I took the paper he mentioned from my study table, and handed it to him.
“Now listen,” said Holes, and then read in a voice devoid of any sign of emotion, the following paragraph:— “This morning, as Mrs. Drabley, a lady of independent means, was walking in Piccadilly, she inadvertently stepped on a piece of orange-peel, and fell heavily on the pavement. She was carried into the shop of Messrs. Salver and Tankard, the well-known silversmiths, and it was at first thought she had broken her right leg. However, on being examined by a medical man who happened to be passing, she was pronounced to be suffering from nothing worse than a severe bruise, and, in the course of half-an-hour, she recovered sufficiently to be able to proceed on her business. This is the fifth accident caused by orange-peel at the same place within the last week.”
“It is scandalous!” I broke in. “This mania for dropping orange-peel is decimating London. Curiously enough I hap-pen to be the medical man who—”
“Yes, I know; you are the medical man who was passing.”
“Holes,” I ejaculated, “you are a magician.”
“No, not a magician; only a humble seeker after truth, who uses as a basis of his deduction some slight point that others are too blind to grasp. Now you think the matter ends there. I don’t. I mean to discover who dropped that orange-peel. Will you help me?”
“Of course I will, but how do you mean to proceed? There must be thousands of people who eat oranges every day in London.”
“Be accurate, my dear fellow, whatever you do. There are 78,965, not counting girls. But this piece was not dropped by a girl.”
“How do you know?”
“Never mind; it is sufficient that I do know it. Read this,” he continued, pointing to another column of the paper. This is what I read:—
“MISSIONARY ENTERPRISE. — A great conference of American and Colonial bishops was held in Exeter Hall this after-noon. The proceedings opened with an impassioned speech from the Bishop of FLORIDA—”
“Never mind the rest,” said Holes, “that’s quite enough. Now read this”:—
“The magnificent silver bowl to be presented to the Bishop of Florida by some of his English friends is now on view at Messrs. Salver and Tankard’s in Piccadilly. It is a noble specimen of the British silversmith’s art.” An elaborate description followed.
“These paragraphs,” continued Holes in his usual impassive manner, “give me the clue I want. Florida is an orange-growing country. Let us call on the Bishop.”
In a moment we had put on our hats, and in another moment we were in a Hansom on our way to the Bishop’s lodgings in Church Street, Soho. Holes gained admittance by means of his skeleton key. We passed noiselessly up the stairs, and, without knocking, entered the Bishop’s bedroom. He was in his nightgown, and the sight of two strangers visibly alarmed him.
“I am a detective,” began Holes.
“Oh,” said the Bishop, turning pale.
“Then I presume you have called about that curate who disappeared in the alligator swamp close to my Episcopal palace in Florida. It is not true that I killed him. He—”
“Tush,” said Holes, “we are come about weightier matters. This morning at half-past eleven your lordship was standing outside the shop of Salver and Tankard looking at your presentation bowl. You were eating an orange. You stowed the greater part of the peel in your coat-tail pocket, but you dropped, maliciously dropped, one piece on the pavement. Shortly afterwards a stout lady passing by trod on it and fell. Have you anything to say?”
The Bishop made a movement, but Holes was before-hand with him. He dashed to a long black coat that hung behind the door, inserted his hand deftly in the pocket, and pulled out the fragmentary remains of a large Florida orange.
“As I supposed,” he said, “a piece is missing.”
But the miserable prelate had fallen senseless on the floor, where we left him.
“Holes,” I said, “this is one of your very best. How on earth did you know you would find that orange-peel in his coat?”
“I didn’t find it there,” replied my friend; “I brought it with me, and had it in my hand when I put it in his pocket. I knew I should have to use strong measures with so desperate a character. My dear fellow, all these matters require tact and imagination.”
And that was how we brought home the orange-peel to the Bishop.
[back] Tobacco made from the whole leaf, including the stem. When the tobacco is cut, the stem pieces look like a bird’s eye.
[back] British passenger trains provided accommodations in three classes. The amenities varied; a first-class ticket could also come with access to the smoking-carriage, meals in the first-class dining car (with a better menu and more comfortable seating than in the other classes) and free newspapers.
[back] A match that can be set alight by striking it on any rough surface. A lucifer is a clever nod to the word’s Latin origins. The word is derived from luc- for “light” and –fer for “bearing.” The word appears in Isaiah 14:12 as a sarcastic reference to the king of Babylon and his downfall: “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!” It was only when Jesus quoted this passage in Luke 10:18 that Lucifer became identified with Satan.
[back] Capable of great insight and understanding. From the Latin perspicere for “discern.”
[back] An evening newspaper founded in 1827 and still in existence. The Standard was noted for its detailed foreign news, and the evening edition focused on giving copious details of the morning’s news. Newspapers went to press several times during the day, so Holes’ request for a “special” meant he wanted an off-cycle edition that contained the latest breaking news. In 2009, it was bought by a Russian businessman and former KGB agent, renamed the London Evening Standard and converted into a free tabloid.
[back] Weird in a supernatural or unearthly sense. From the Old English wyrd for “destiny.” Popularized after Shakespeare characterized the witches in “Macbeth” as weird sisters