John Kendricks Bangs
Today’s parody is from the prolific pen of John Kendricks Bangs (1862-1922). Bangs had a varied career as an editor and writer for American magazines, including the humor magazine Life, Harper’s Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, Munsey’s and Puck. He also was a success on the lecture circuit, which he wrote about in “From Pillar to Post.” He also ran for mayor of New York City, which he wrote about in “Three Weeks in Politics.”
Bangs was the most imaginative of the writers who appropriated Holmes. In addition to the work below, he sent the detective to Hades twice, where he organized the chase of a house-boat swiped by Captain Kidd (“A House-Boat on the Styx”) and again to open another detective agency in a series of syndicated stories. He also created Raffles Holmes (son of Sherlock, grandson of Raffles) for a series of stories collected in “R. Holmes & Co.” (1906). What did Conan Doyle feel about all this? When Bangs dedicated “A House-Boat on the Styx” to him, Conan Doyle responded with a note thanking the author for inscribing “your most amusing and original book to me! I begin to have hopes of immortality now that I have got onto your fly-leaf.”
The complete list of stories from the 223B casebook — parodies and pastiches published during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lifetime (plus later ones I liked) — can be found here.
“It is the little things that tell in detective work, my dear Watson,” said Sherlock Holmes as we sat over our walnuts and coffee one bitter winter night shortly before his unfortunate departure to Switzerland, whence he never returned.
“I suppose that is so,” said I, pulling away upon the very excellent stogie which mine host had provided — one made in Pittsburgh in 1885, and purchased by Holmes, whose fine taste in tobacco had induced him to lay a thousand of these down in his cigar-cellar for three years, and then keep them in a refrigerator, overlaid with a cloth soaked in Chateau Yquem wine for ten. The result may be better imagined than described. Suffice it to say that my head did not recover for three days, and the ash had to be cut off the stogie with a knife. “I suppose so, my dear Holmes,” I repeated, taking my knife and cutting three inches of the stogie off and casting it aside, furtively, lest he should think I did not appreciate the excellence of the tobacco, “but it is not given to all of us to see the little things. Is it, now?”
“Yes,” he said, rising and picking up the rejected portion of the stogie. “We all see everything that goes on, but we don’t all know it. We all hear everything that goes on, but we are not conscious of the fact. For instance, at this present moment there is somewhere in this world a man being set upon by assassins and yelling lustily for help. Now his yells create a certain atmospheric disturbance. Sound is merely vibration, and, once set going, these vibrations will ran on and on and on in ripples into the infinite — that is, they will never stop, and sooner or later these vibrations must reach our ears. We may not know it when they do, but they will do so none the less. If the man is in the next room, we will hear the yells almost simultaneously — not quite, but almost — with their utterance. If the man is in Timbuctoo, the vibrations may not reach us for a little time, according to the speed with which they travel. So with sight. Sight seems limited, but in reality it is not. Vox populi, vox Dei. If vox, why not oculus? It is a simple proposition, then, that the eye of the people being the eye of God, the eye of God being all-seeing, therefore the eye of the people is all-seeing — Q. E. D.”
I gasped, and Holmes, cracking a walnut, gazed into the fire for a moment.
“It all comes down, then,” I said, “to the question, who are the people?”
Holmes smiled grimly. “All men,” he replied, shortly; “and when I say all men, I mean all creatures who can reason.”
“Does that include women?” I asked.
“Certainly,” he said. “Indubitably. The fact that women don’t reason does not prove that they can’t. I can go up in a balloon if I wish to, but I don’t. I can read an American newspaper comic supplement, but I don’t. So it is with women. Women can reason, and therefore they have a right to be included in the classification whether they do or don’t.”
“Quite so,” was all I could think of to say at the moment. The extraordinary logic of the man staggered me, and I again began to believe that the famous mathematician who said that if Sherlock Holmes attempted to prove that five apples plus three peaches made four pears, he would not venture to dispute his conclusions, was wise. (This was the famous Professor Zoggenhoffer, of the Leipsic School of Moral Philosophy and Stenography. — Ed.)
“Now you agree, my dear Watson,” he said, “that I have proved that we see everything?”
“Well—” I began.
“Whether we are conscious of it or not?” he added, lighting the gas-log, for the cold was becoming intense.
“From that point of view, I suppose so — yes,” I replied, desperately.
“Well, then, this being granted, consciousness is all that is needed to make us fully informed on any point.”
“No,” I said, with some positiveness. “The American people are very conscious, but I can’t say that generally they are well-informed.”
I had an idea this would knock him out, as the Bostonians say, but counted without my host. He merely laughed.
“The American is only self-conscious. Therefore he is well-informed only as to self,” he said.
“You’ve proved your point, Sherlock,” I said. “Go on. What else have you proved?”
“That it is the little things that tell,” he replied. “Which all men would realize in a moment if they could see the little things — and when I say ‘if they could see,’ I of course mean if they could be conscious of them.”
“Very true,” said I.
“And I have the gift of consciousness,” he added.
I thought he had, and I said so. “But,” I added, “give me a concrete example.” It had been some weeks since I had listened to any of his detective stories, and I was athirst for another.
He rose up and walked over to his pigeon-holes, each labelled with a letter, in alphabetical sequence.
“I have only to refer to any of these to do so,” he said. “Choose your letter.”
“Really, Holmes,” said I, “I don’t need to do that. I’ll believe all you say. In fact, I’ll write it up and sign my name to any statement you choose to make.”
“Choose your letter, Watson,” he retorted. “You and I are on terms that make flattery impossible. Is it F, J, P, Q, or Z?”
He fixed his eye penetratingly upon me. It seemed for the moment as if I were hypnotized, and as his gaze fairly stabbed me with its intensity, through my mind there ran the suggestion “Choose J, choose J, choose J.” To choose J became an obsession. To relieve my mind, I turned my eye from his and looked at the fire. Each flame took on the form of the letter J. I left my chair and walked to the window and looked out. The lamp-posts were twisted into the shape of the letter J. I returned, sat down, gulped down my brandy-and-soda, and looked up at the portraits of Holmes’s ancestors on the wall. They were all J’s. But I was resolved never to yield, and I gasped out, desperately,
“Thanks,” he said, calmly. “Z be it. I thought you would. Reflex hypnotism, my dear Watson, is my forte. If I wish a man to choose Q, B takes hold upon him, If I wish him to choose K, A fills his mind. Have you ever observed how the mind of man repels a suggestion and flees to something else, merely that it may demonstrate its independence of another mind? Now I have been suggesting J to you, and you have chosen Z—”
“You misunderstood me,” I cried, desperately. “I did not say Z; I said P.”
“Quite so,” said he, with an inward chuckle. “P was the letter I wished you to choose. If you had insisted upon Z, I should really have been embarrassed. See!” he added. He removed the green-ended box that rested in the pigeon-hole marked Z, and, opening it, disclosed an emptiness.
“I’ve never had a Z case. But P,” he observed, quietly, “is another thing altogether.”
Here he took out the box marked P from the pigeon-hole, and, opening it, removed the contents — a single paper which was carefully endorsed, in his own handwriting, “The Mystery of Pinkham’s Diamond Stud.”
“You could not have selected a better case, Watson,” he said, as he unfolded the paper and scanned it closely. “One would almost think you had some prevision of the fact.”
“I am not aware,” said I, “that you ever told the story of Pinkham’s diamond stud. Who was Pinkham, and what kind of a diamond stud was it — first-water or Rhine?”
“Pinkham,” Holmes rejoined, “was an American millionaire, living during business hours at Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, where he had to wear a brilliant stud to light him on his way through the streets, which are so dark and sooty that an ordinary search-light would not suffice. In his leisure hours, however, he lived at the Hotel Walledup-Hysteria, in New York, where he likewise had to wear the same diamond stud to keep him from being a marked man. Have you ever visited New York, Watson?”
“No,” said I.
“Well, when you do, spend a little of your time at the Walledup-Hysteria. It is a hotel with a population larger than that of most cities, with streets running to and from all points of the compass; where men and women eat under conditions that Lucullus knew nothing of; where there is a carpeted boulevard on which walk all sorts and conditions of men; where one pays one’s bill to the dulcet strains of a string orchestra that woo him into a blissful forgetfulness of its size; and where, by pressing a button in the wall, you may summon a grand opera, or a porter who on request will lend you enough money to enable you and your family to live the balance of your days in comfort. In America men have been known to toil for years to amass a fortune for the one cherished object of spending a week in this Olympian spot, and then to be content to return to their toil and begin life anew, rich only in the memory of its luxuries. It was here that I spent my time when, some years ago, I went to the United States to solve the now famous Piano Case. You will remember how sneak thieves stole a grand piano from the residence of one of New York’s first families, while the family was dining in the adjoining room. While in the city, and indeed at the very hotel in which I stopped, and which I have described, Pinkham’s diamond stud disappeared, and, hearing that I was a guest at the WalledupHysteria, the owner appealed to me to recover it for him. I immediately took the case in hand. Drastic questioning of Pinkham showed that beyond all question he had lost the stud in his own apartment. He had gone down to dinner, leaving it on the centre-table, following the usual course of most millionaires, to whom diamonds are of no particular importance. Pinkham wanted this one only because of its associations. Its value, $80,000, was a mere bagatelle in his eyes.
“Now of course, if he positively left it on the table, it must have been taken by some one who had entered the room. Investigation proved that the maid, a valet, a fellow-millionaire from Chicago, and Pinkham’s children had been the only ones to do this. The maid and the valet were above suspicion. Their fees from guests were large enough to place them beyond the reach of temptation. I questioned them closely, and they convinced me at once of their innocence by conducting me through the apartments of other guests wherein tiaras of diamonds and necklaces of pearls — ropes in very truth — rubies, turquoise, and emerald ornaments of priceless value, were scattered about in reckless profusion.
“‘ D’ yez t’ink oi’d waste me toime on an eighty-t’ousand-dollar shtood, wid all dhis in soight and moine for the thrubble uv swipin’ ut?’ said the French maid.
“I acquitted her at once, and the valet similarly proved his innocence, only with less of an accent, for he was supposed to be English, and not French, as was the maid, although they both came from Dublin. This narrowed the suspects down to Mr. Jedediah Wattles, of Chicago, and the children. Naturally I turned my attention to Wattles. A six-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl could hardly be suspected of stealing a diamond stud. So drawing on Pinkham for five thousand dollars to pay expenses, I hired a room in a tenement-house in Rivington Street — a squalid place it was — disguised myself with an oily, black, burglarious mustache, and dressed like a comic-paper gambler. Then I wrote a note to Wattles, asking him to call, saying that I could tell him something to his advantage. He came, and I greeted him like a pal. ‘Wattles,’ said I, ‘you’ve been working this game for a long time, and I know all about you. You are an ornament to the profession, but we diamond-thieves have got to combine. Understand?’ ‘No, I don’t,’ said he. ‘Well, I’ll tell you,’ said I. ‘You’re a man of good appearance, and I ain’t, but I know where the diamonds are. If we work together, there’s millions in it. I’ll spot the diamonds, and you lift ’em, eh? You can do it,’ I added, as he began to get mad. ‘The ease with which you got away with old Pinky’s stud, that I’ve been trying to pull for myself for years, shows me that.’
“I was not allowed to go further. Wattles’s indignation was great enough to prove that it was not he who had done the deed, and after he had thrashed me out of my disguise, I pulled myself together and said, ‘Mr. Wattles, I am convinced that you are innocent.’ As soon as he recognized me and realized my object in sending for him, he forgave me, and, I must say, treated me with great consideration.
“But my last clew was gone. The maid, the valet, and Wattles were proved innocent. The children alone remained, but I could not suspect them. Nevertheless, on my way back to the hotel I bought some rock-candy, and, after reporting to Pinkham, I asked casually after the children.
“‘They’re pretty well,’ said Pinkham. ‘Billie’s complaining a little, and the doctor fears appendicitis, but Polly’s all right. I guess Billie’s all right too. The seventeen-course dinners they serve in the children’s dining-room here aren’t calculated to agree with Billie’s digestion, I reckon.’
“‘I’d like to see ’em,’ said I. ‘I’m very fond of children.’
“Pinkham immediately called the youngsters in from the nursery. ‘Guess what I’ve got,’ I said, opening the package of rock-candy. ‘Gee!’ cried Billie, as it caught his eye. ‘Gimmie some!’ ‘Who gets first piece?’ said I. ‘Me!’ cried both. ‘Anybody ever had any before?’ I asked. ‘He has,’ said Polly, pointing to Billie. The boy immediately flushed up. ‘Ain’t, neither!’ he retorted. ‘Yes you did, too,’ said Polly. ‘You swallered that piece pop left on the centre-table the other night!’ ‘Well, anyhow, it was only a little piece,’ said Billie. ‘An’ it tasted like glass,’ he added. Handing the candy to Polly, I picked Billie up and carried him to his father.
“‘Mr. Pinkham,’ said I, handing the boy over, ‘here is your diamond. It has not been stolen; it has merely been swallowed.’ ‘What?’ he cried. And I explained. The stud mystery was explained. Mr. Pinkham’s boy had eaten it.”
“Well, I don’t see how that proves your point,” said I. “You said that it was the little things that told—”
“So it was,” said Holmes. “If Polly hadn’t told—”
“Enough,” I cried; “it’s on me, old man. We will go down to Willis’s and have some Russian caviar and a bottle of Burgundy.”
Holmes put on his hat and we went out together. It is to get the money to pay Willis’s bill that I have written this story of “The Mystery of Pinkham’s Diamond Stud.”