Friday, 13 August 2010

The Adventure of the Conk-Singleton Papers

In which book of Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories does the phrase "Elementary, my dear Watson" occur? Many people will state that the answer to that question is that it never occured. But they will be wrong! Although not everything is as it seems.

This Friday, I'm posting a short playlet by John Dickson Carr (1906-1977). He was an American author of detective stories, who spent a good many years in England, writing both detective stories, and scripts for "Appointment With Fear", in which Valentine Dyall played the "Man in Black" with his booming, sepulcral voice.

Carr was a master of the locked room mystery, in which a detective solves apparently impossible crimes, but he was also a devotee of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. He co-authored with Adrian Conan Doyle (Arthur Conan Doyle's son) a series of short stories entitled "The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes". It is in these stories by Carr and Conan Doyle that Holmes utters the line "Elementary, my dear Watson". Of course, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never had Holmes say the immortal words, but read my opening question carefully! I never specified which Conan Doyle wrote the story.

For light reading this Friday, then, and in the absense of the wonderful "Sherlock" from BBC1, here is the playlet by Carr. It is a wonderful Holmes parody:

The Adventure of the Conk-Singleton Papers
By John Dickson-Carr

NARRATOR: Crime marches on! ... A long, thin silhouette emerges against the gaslight. Here is an unpublished record: "In turning over my notes of some twenty years I cannot find any startling event on New Year's Eve except that which is forever associated with the Conk-Singleton Papers. On New Year's Eve of 1887, it is perhaps unnecessary to state, Mr. Sherlock Holmes did not wear a paper hat and blow squeakers at the Hotel Metropole. Far into the night, while the wind howled round our sitting room in 221B Baker Street, Holmes sat bending over a microscope... ."

(SHERLOCK HOLMES at microscope, WATSON immersed in a copy of H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines)

HOLMES (after a moment looks up and stares glassily out at audience): It is spinach, Watson. Unquestionably, it is spinach!

WATSON: Holmes, you amaze me! What new wizardry is this?

HOLMES (rising): It means a man's life, Watson. The gardener was lying when he said he found Riccoletti's body in the gooseberry bushes. (He rubs his hands.) I think, perhaps, a note to our friend Lestrade ...

WATSON (jumps up): Holmes! Merciful Heaven. I had forgotten!

HOLMES: Forgotten what?

WATSON: A note for you was delivered by hand this morning. You must forgive me. I was attending the funeral of my last patient.

HOLMES (impatiently): The letter, Watson! The letter!

(WATSON takes note from his pocket, hands it to HOLMES, who examines postmark, holds letter up to light, then opens with care and reads.)

HOLMES: "There will call upon you tonight, at three o'clock in the morning precisely, a gentleman who desires to consult you about a matter of the deepest moment. Be in your chamber at that hour, and do not take it amiss if the visitor wears a mask."

WATSON: This is indeed a mystery. What can it mean?

HOLMES: These are deep waters, Watson. If Porlock had not warned me about the Scarborough emeralds ... (Thoughtfully) Three o'clock ...

(Clock strikes three. Bong! Bong! Bong! Immediately followed by three loud raps on door in same tempo)

WATSON: And that, if I mistake not, is our client now.

(Enter visitor dressed in evening clothes but covered with medals - decorations, stars, ribbons, etc.)

VISITOR: Mr. Sherlock Holmes?

HOLMES:- I am Mr. Sherlock Holmes. This is my friend and colleague, Dr. Watson.

VISITOR: You will forgive me, Mr. Holmes, if I do not reveal my identity. I also wear plain evening dress so as not to be conspicuous.

HOLMES (coldly): You would be better served, My Lord, if Your Lordship removed the mask.

VISITOR (staggering back): You know me, then?

HOLMES: Who could fail to know Lord Cosmo Conk-Singleton, third son of the Duke of Folkstone and private secretary to the Prime Minister?

WATSON: You mean ... Mr. Gladstone!

VISITOR (finger at side of nose): Sssh!

HOLMES (same): Ssssh!

WATSON (same to audience): Sssssh!

VISITOR: The matter upon which I have come to consult you, Mr. Holmes, is no ordinary one.

HOLMES: It seldom is. Pray be seated.

VISITOR (sits): It will be not unknown to you, Mr. Holmes, that for some time there has been-shall we say-disagreement between Mr. Gladstone and Her Gracious Majesty, Queen Victoria. I have here a diplomatic communication in Her Majesty's own hand, sent to Mr. Gladstone on December 15, 1886. You are empowered to read it.

(Hands important-looking document to HOLMES)

WATSON: These are deep waters, Holmes.

HOLMES: Her Majesty, I perceive, was not amused.

VISITOR: She was indeed (hesitates) somewhat vexed. (Then suddenly amazed) But how could you possibly know-

HOLMES: Her Majesty has twice underlined the word "bastard." And she has placed three exclamation points following her instructions as to what Mr. Gladstone should do with the naval treaty involving a certain foreign power. Surely our inference is obvious.

WATSON: Excellent!

HOLMES: But very superficial. (Reading again) "Even that German sausage, my late husband, could have done better." Hmm! Yes! But how do these diplomatic matters concern me?

VISITOR: Mr. Holmes, the Prime Minister has been poisoned!


VISITOR: On December 24th Mr. Gladstone received-apparently as a Christmas present from Queen Victoria-a case of Scotch whisky.

HOLMES: I see. And did the case indeed contain whisky?

VISITOR: Whisky, yes. But each bottle was most unhappily charged with two ounces of prussic acid!

WATSON: Merciful heaven! The man is dead!

VISITOR: No, Dr. Watson, no! Dei gratia, he still lives! The strength of the whisky neutralized the poison.

HOLMES (blandly): Come, come, this is most disappoi - most interesting. Have you any proof, My Lord, that the Prime Minister drank this particular whisky?

VISITOR (producing document): Here is a letter of thanks, in Mr. Gladstone's own hand, written on Christmas Eve. Pray read it aloud.

HOLMES: Will you oblige, Watson?

WATSON (very dignified, clears throat gravely, and reads): December 24th, 1886. Illustrious Madam: How extremely kind of you to send me this case of whisky for Christmas! I have never tasted such superb whisky in my life. The whisky you have sent me for Christmas is superb. I keep tasting it and how kind of you to sen me thish wondrous whichkey which I keep tasting for Xmas. It really is mosh kind of you to keep sending me this whisky in cases which I kep tashing for whichmas. Hic! Dock, dickory dock, and kissmus.

VISITOR: Can there be any doubt, Mr. Holmes?

HOLMEs: None whatever. Then it is your belief, My Lord, that Queen Victoria herself is the poisoner?

VISITOR: No, Mr. Holmes! (Horrified) A thousand times, no! But think of the scandal! It bids fair to rend asunder the fabric of the Empire! You must come down to Sussex and investigate. Will you come?

HOLMES: No, My Lord. I will not.

WATSON (amazed).. Holmes, this is unworthy of you! Why won't you go?

HOLMES: Because this man is not Lord Cosmo Conk-Singleton! (Sensation. HOLMES produces revolver.) Let me present you, Watson, to none other than Professor Moriarty.

WATSON: Professor Moriarty!

HOLMES: Your double disguise as a younger man, my dear Professor, deceived me for perhaps ten seconds. The note from Mr. Gladstone seems quite genuine. But the letter from Her Majesty is a manifest forgery.

WATSON: Forgery, Holmes?

HOLMES: Her language, Watson! Her language!

WATSON. You mean-

HOLMES: Queen Victoria, Watson, would never have written in so slighting a fashion of her late husband, Prince Albert. They intended the letter to lure me to Sussex while the Scarborough emeralds were stolen from Yorkshire, not knowing (HOLMES produces emeralds from his pocket) that Lord Scarborough had already given them to me for safekeeping!

VISITOR (in a grating voice): One day, Mr. Holmes, you will try my patience too far!


The Unicorn Mystery Book Club News, 1949

No comments: