Tuesday, August 21, 2007

'The Great Detective', by Stephen Leacock

I think it was last year, Kasia at The Clam Rampant (on her old Blogspot site) had a piece on murder mysteries and detective stories. This put me in mind of a wonderful essay written in the early 1900s by the Canadian humourist, Stephen Leacock, called "The Great Detective", where he outlined all the aspects of the classic detective tale. Unfortunately, nowhere could I find it online. Leacock wrote a second Great Detective story, and that one is available, but the first, and I believe the best one, was not. So over the months I set about hunting down a copy of the essay, and typing it out. Finally I finished, and now I present it for all fans of detective stories and humorous writing.

THE GREAT DETECTIVE
by Stephen Leacock


“’Ha!’ exclaimed the Great Detective, raising himself from the resilient sod on which he had lain prone for half an hour, ‘what have we here?’
      “As he spoke, he held up a blade of grass he had plucked.
      “’I see nothing,’ said the Poor Nut.
      “’No, I suppose not,’ said the Great Detective; after which he seated himself on a stone, took out his saxophone from its case, and for the next half hour was lost in the intricacies of Gounod’s ‘Sonata in Six Flats with a Basement.’”
--Any Detective Story


     The publishers tell us that more than a thousand detective stories are sold every day—or is it every hour? It does not matter. The point is that a great many are sold all the time, and that there is no slackening of the appetite of the reading public for stories of mysterious crime.
      It is not so much the crime itself that attracts as the unraveling of the mystery by the super-brain of the Great Detective, as silent as he is efficient. He speaks only about once a week. He seldom eats. He crawls around in the grass picking up clews. He sits upside down in his armchair forging his inexorable chain of logic.
      But when he’s done with it, the insoluble mystery is solved, justice is done, the stolen jewels are restored, and the criminal is either hanged or pledges his word to go and settle on a ranch in Saskatchewan; after which the Great Detective take a night off at the Grand Opera, the only thing that really reaches him.
      The tempting point about a detective story—both for the writer and the reader—is that it is so beautifully easy to begin. All that is needed is to start off with a first-class murder.

      “Mr. Blankety Blank sat in his office in the drowsy hour of a Saturday afternoon. He was alone. Work was done for the day. The clerks were gone. The building, save for the janitor, who lived in the basement, was empty.
      “As he sat thus, gazing in a sort of reverie at the papers on the desk in front of him, his chin resting on his hand, his eyes closed and slumber stole upon him.”


      Quite so. Let him feel just as drowsy as ever he likes. The experienced reader knows that now is the very moment when he is about to get a crack on the nut. This drowsy gentleman, on the first page of a detective story, is not really one of the characters at all. He is cast for the melancholy part that will presently be called The Body. Some writers prefer to begin with The Body itself right away—after this fashion:

      “The Body was that of an elderly gentleman, upside down, but otherwise entirely dressed.”

      But it seems fairer to give the elderly gentleman a few minutes of life before knocking him on the head. As long as the reader knows that there is either a Body right away, or that there is going to be one, he is satisfied.
      Sometimes a touch of terror is added by having the elderly gentleman killed in a country house at night. Most readers will agree that this is the better way to kill him.

      “Sir Charles Althorpe sat alone in his library at Althorpe Chase. It was late at night. The fire had burned low in the grate. Through the heavily curtained windows no sound came from outside. Save for the maids, who slept in a distant wing, and save for the butler, whose room was under the stairs, the Chase, at this time of the year, was empty. As Sir Charles sat thus in his arm-chair, his head gradually sank upon his chest and he dozed off into slumber.”

      Foolish man! Doesn’t he know that to doze off into slumber in an isolated country house, with the maids in a distant wing, is little short of madness? Apparently he doesn’t and his fate, to the complete satisfaction of the reader, comes right at him.
      Let it be noted that in thus setting the stage for a detective story, the Body selected is, in nine cases out of ten, that of an “elderly gentleman.” It would be cowardly to kill a woman, and even our grimmest writers hesitate to kill a child. But an “elderly gentleman” is all right, especially when “fully dressed” and half asleep. Somehow they seem to invite a knock on the head.
      After such a beginning, the story ripples brightly along with the finding of the Body, and with the Inquest, and with the arrest of the janitor, or the butler, and the usual details of that sort.
      Any trained reader knows when he sees that trick phrase, “save for the janitor, who lived in the basement,” or “save for the butler, whose room was under the stairs,” that the janitor and the butler are to be arrested at once.
      Not that they really did commit the murder. We don’t believe they did. But they are suspected. And a good writer in the outset of a crime story throws suspicion around like pepper.
      In fact, the janitor and the butler are not the only ones. There is also, in all the stories, a sort of Half Hero (he can’t be a whole hero, because that would interfere with the Great Detective), who is partly suspected, and sometimes even arrested. He is the young man who is either heir to the money in the story, or who had a “violent quarrel” with the Body, or who was seen “leaving the premises at a late hour” and refuses to say why.
      Some writers are even mean enough to throw a little suspicion on the Heroine—the niece or ward of the elderly gentleman—a needless young woman dragged in by convention into this kind of novel. She gets suspected merely because she bought half a gallon of arsenic at the local chemist shop. They won’t believe her when she says, with tears, in her eyes, that she wanted it to water the tulips with.
      The Body being thus completely dead, Inspector Higginbottom of the local police having been called in, having questioned all the maids, and having announced himself “completely baffled”, the crime story is well set and the Great Detective is brought into it.
      Here, at once, the writer is confronted with the problem of how to tell the story, and whether to write it as if it were told by the Great Detective himself. But the Great Detective is above that. For one thing, he’s too silent. And in any case, if he told the story himself, his modesty might hold him back from fully explaining how terribly clever he is, and how wonderful his deductions are.
      So the nearly universal method has come to be that the story is told through the mouth of an Inferior Person, a friend and confidant of the Great Detective. This humble associate has the special function of being lost in admiration all the time.
      In fact, this friend, taken at his own face value, must be regarded as a Poor Nut. Witness the way in which his brain breaks down utterly and is set going again by the Great Detective. The scene occurs when the Great Detective begins to observe all the things around the place that were overlooked by Inspector Higginbottom.

      “’But how,’ I exclaimed, ‘how in the name of all that is incomprehensible, are you able to aver that the criminal wore rubbers?’
      “My friend smiled quietly.
      “’You observe,’ he said, ‘that patch of fresh mud about ten feet square in front of the door of the house. If you would look, you will see that it has been freshly walked over by a man with rubbers on.’
      “I looked. The marks of the rubbers were there plain enough—at least a dozen of them.
      “’What a fool I was!’ I exclaimed. ‘But at least tell me how you were able to know the length of the criminal’s foot?’
      “My friend smiled again, his same inscrutable smile.
      “’By measuring the print of the rubber,’ he answered quietly, ‘and then subtracting from it the thickness of the material multiplied by two.’
      “’Multiplied by two!’ I exclaimed. ‘Why by two?’
      “’For the toe and the heel.’
      “’Idiot that I am,’ I cried, ‘it all seems so plain when you explain it.’”


      In other words, the Poor Nut makes an admirable narrator. However much fogged the reader may get, he has at least the comfort of knowing that the Nut is far more fogged than he is. Indeed, the Nut may be said, in a way, to personify the ideal reader, that is to say the stupidest—the reader who is most completely bamboozled with the mystery, and yet intensely interested.
      Such a reader has the support of knowing that the police are entirely “baffled”—that’s always the word for them; that the public are “mystified” that the authorities are “alarmed” the newspapers “in the dark” and the Poor Nut, altogether up a tree. On those terms, the reader can enjoy his own ignorance to the full.
      A first-class insoluble crime having thus been well started, and with the Poor Nut narrating it with his ingenuous interest, the next stage in the mechanism of the story is to bring out the personality of the Great Detective, and to show how terribly clever he is.


II



      When a detective story gets well started—when the “body” has been duly found—and the “butler” or the “janitor” has been arrested—when the police have been completely “baffled”—then is the time when the Great Detective is brought in and gets to work.
      But before he can work at all, or at least be made thoroughly satisfactory to the up-to-date reader, it is necessary to touch him up. He can be made extremely tall and extremely thin, or even “cadaverous.” Why a cadaverous man can solve a mystery better than a fat man it is hard to say; presumably the thinner a man is, the more acute is his mind. At any rate, the old school or writers preferred to have their detectives lean. This incidentally gave the detective a face “like a hawk,” the writer not realizing that a hawk is one of the stupidest of animals. A detective with a face like an ourang-outang would beat it all to bits.
      Indeed, the Great Detective’s face becomes even more important than his body. Here there is absolute unanimity. His face has to be “inscrutable.” Look at it though you will, you can never read it. Contrast it, for example, with the face of Inspector Higginbottom, of the local police force. Here is a face that can look “surprised,” or “relieved,” or, with great ease, “completely baffled.”
      But the face of the Great Detective knows of no such changes. No wonder the Poor Nut, as we may call the person who is supposed to narrate the story, is completely mystified. From the face of the great man you can’t tell whether the cart in which they are driving jolts him or whether the food at the Inn gives him indigestion.
      To the Great Detective’s face there used to be added the old-time expedient of not allowing him either to eat or drink. And when it was added that during this same period of about eight days the sleuth never slept, the reader could realize in what fine shape his brain would be for working out his “inexorable chain of logic.”
      But nowadays this is changed. The Great Detective not only eats, but he eats well. Often he is presented as a connoisseur in food. Thus:

      “’Stop a bit,’ thus speaks the Great Detective to the Poor Nut and Inspector Higginbottom, whom he is dragging around with him as usual; ‘we have half an hour before the train leaves Paddington. Let us have some dinner. I know an Italian restaurant near here where they serve frogs’ legs a la Marengo better than anywhere else in London.’
      “A few minutes later we were seated at one of the tables of a dingy little eating-place whose signboard with the words ‘Restauranto Italiano’ led me to the deduction that it was an Italian restaurant. I was amazed to observe that my friend was evidently well known in the place, while his order for ‘three glasses of Chianti with two drops of vermicelli in each,’ called for an obsequious bow from the appreciative padrone. I realized that this amazing man knew as much of the finesse of Italian wines as he did of playing the saxophone.”


      We may go no further. In many up-to-date cases the detective not only gets plenty to eat, but a liberal allowance of strong drink. One generous British author of today is never tired of handing out to the Great Detective and his friends what he calls a “stiff whiskey and soda.” At all moments of crisis they get one.
      For example, when they find the Body of Sir Charles Althorpe late owner of Althorpe Chase, a terrible sight, lying on the floor of the library, what do they do? They reach at once to the sideboard and pour themselves out a “stiff whiskey and soda.” Or when the heroine learns that her guardian Sir Charles is dead and that she is his heiress and when she is about to faint, what do they do? They immediately pour “a stiff whiskey and soda” into her. It is certainly a great method.
      But in the main we may say that all this stuff about eating and drinking has lost its importance. The great detective has to be made exceptional by some other method.
      And here is where his music comes in. It transpires—not at once but in the first pause in the story—that this great man not only can solve a crime, but has the most extraordinary aptitude for music, especially for dreamy music of the most difficult kind. As soon as he is left in the Inn room with the Poor Nut out comes his saxophone and he tunes it up.

      “’What were you playing?’ I asked, as my friend at last folded his beloved instrument into its case.
      “’Beethoven’s Sonata in Q,’ he answered modestly.
      “’Good Heavens!’ I exclaimed.”


     Another popular method of making the Great Detective a striking character is to show him as possessing a strange and varied range of knowledge. For example, the Poor Nut is talking with a third person, the Great Detective being apparently sunk in reveries. In the course of the conversation the name of Constantinople is mentioned.

      “I was hardly aware that my friend was hearing what was said.
      “He looked up quietly.
      “’Constantinople?’ he said. ‘That was the capital of Turkey, was it not?’
      “I could not help marveling again how this strange being could have acquired his minute and varied knowledge.’


      The Great Detective’s personality having been thus arranged, he is brought along with the Poor Nut and Inspector Higginbottom to Althorpe Chase and it is now up to him to start to “solve” the mystery. Till a little while ago, the favorite way of having him do this was by means of tracks, footprints, and other traces. This method, which has now worn threadbare, had a tremendous vogue. According to it, the Great Detective never questioned anybody.
      But his real work was done right at the scene of the crime, crawling round on the carpet of the library, and wriggling about on the grass outside. After he has got up after two days of crawling, with a broken blade of grass, he would sit down on a stone and play the saxophone and then announce that the mystery is solved and tell Inspector Higginbottom whom to arrest. That was all. He would not explain anything but what the Poor Nut, half crazy with mystification, begged him to do.

      “’The case,’ he at last explained very airily, ‘has been a simple one, but not without its features of interest.’
      “’Simple!’ I exclaimed.
      “’Precisely,’ said he; ‘you see this blade of grass. You tell me that you see nothing. Look at it again under this lens. What do you see? The letters ACK clearly stamped, but in reverse, on the soft green of the grass. What do they mean?’
      “’Nothing,’ I groaned.
      “’You are wrong,’ he said, ‘they are the last three letters of the word DACK, the name of a well-known shoemaker in Market Croydon four miles west of the Chase.’
      “’Good Heavens,’ I said.
      “’Now look at this soft piece of mud which I have baked and which carried a similar stamp—ILTON.’
      “’Ilton, Ilton,’ I repeated, ‘I fear it means less than ever.’
     “’To you,’ he said. ‘Because you do not observe. Did you never note that makers of trousers nowadays stamp their trouser buttons with their names? These letters are the concluding part of the name BILTON, one of the best-known tailors of Kings Croft, four miles east of the Chase.’
      “’Good Heavens!’ I cried, ‘I begin to see.’
      “’Do you?’ he said drily. ‘Then no doubt you can piece together the analysis. Our criminal is wearing a pair of trousers, bought in Kings Croft, and a shoe bought in Market Croydon. What do you infer as to where he lives?’
      “’Good Heavens,’ I said, ‘I begin to see it!’
      “’Exactly,’ said the Great Detective. ‘He lives halfway between the two!’
      “’At the Chase itself!’ I cried. ‘What a fool I have been.’
      “’You have,’ he answered quietly.”


      But unfortunately the public has begun to find this method of traces and tracks a “bit thick.” All these fond old literary fictions are crumbling away.


THE METHOD OF RECONDITE KNOWLEDGE



      In fact, they are being very largely replaced by the newer and much more showy expedient that can be called the Method of Recondite Knowledge. The Great Detective is equipped with a sort of super-scientific knowledge of things, materials, substances, chemistry, actions, and reactions that would give him a Ph.D. degree in any school of applied science.
      Some of the best detectives of the higher fiction of today even maintain a laboratory and a couple of assistants. When they have this, all they need is a little piece of dust or a couple of micrometer sections and the criminal is as good as caught.
      Thus, let us suppose that in the present instance Sir Charles Althorpe has been done to death—as so many “elderly gentlemen” were in the fiction of twenty years ago—by the intrusion into his library of a sailor with a wooden leg newly landed from Java. Formerly the crime would have been traced by the top heaviness of his wooden leg—when the man drank beer at the Althorpe Arms, his elbow on the side away from his leg would have left an impression on the bar, similar to the one left where he climbed the window sill.
      But in the newer type of story the few grains of dust found near the Body would turn out to be specks from the fiber of Java coconut, such as is seen only on the decks of ships newly arrived from Java, and on the clothes of the sailors.
      But, by the one method of the other method, the “inexorable chain of logic” can be completed to the last link. The writer can’t go on forever; sooner or later he must own up and say who did it. After two hundred pages, he finds himself up against the brutal necessity of selecting his actual murderer.
      So, now, who did it? Which brings us to the final phase of the Detective Story. Who really killed Sir Charles?


III


THE TRAMP SOLUTION



      According to one very simple expedient, the murder was not committed by any of the principal characters at all. It was committed by a tramp. It transpires that the tramp was passing the Chase late that night and was attracted by the light behind the curtain (as tramps are apt to be), and came and peered through the window (as tramps love to do), and when he saw Sir Charles asleep in his chair with the gold watch on the table beside him, he got one of those sudden impulses (such as tramps get when they see a gold watch), and, before he knew what he had done, he had lifted the window and slipped into the room.
      Sir Charles woke—and there you are. All quite simple. Indeed, but for the telltale marks on the grass, or the telltale fiber on the carpet, or the telltale something, the murderer would never have been known.
      And yet the solution seems paltry. It seems a shame to drag in the poor tattered creature at the very end and introduce and hang him all in one page.
      So we have to look round for some other plan.


THE MURDER WAS COMMITTED BY SOMEBODY ELSE
ALTOGETHER DIFFERENT



      A solution, which is a prime favorite with at least one very distinguished contemporary author, is to have it turn out that the murder has been committed by somebody else altogether different. In other words, it was committed by some casual person who just came into the story for about one half a second.
      Let us make up a simple example. At the Althorpe Arms Inn where the Great Detective and the Poor Nut are staying while they investigate the death of Sir Charles, we bring in, just for one minute, “a burly-looking man in a check suit drinking a glass of ale in the bar.” We ask him quite casually, if he can tell us anything about the state of the road to Farringham. He answers in a surly way that he’s a stranger to these parts and knows nothing of it. That’s all. He doesn’t come in any more till the very end.
      But a really experienced reader ought to guess at once that he committed the murder. Look at it: he’s burly; and he’s surly; and he has a check suit; and he drinks ale; and he’s a stranger; that’s enough. Any good law court could hang him for that—in a detective story, anyway.
      When at last the truth dawns on the Poor Nut.

     “’Great Heavens,” I exclaimed, ‘the man in the check suit!’
      “The Great Detective nodded.
     “’But how on earth!’ I exclaimed, more mystified than ever, ‘were you ever led to suspect it?’
      “’From the very first,’ said my friend, turning to Inspector Higginbottom, who nodded in confirmation, ‘we had a strong clew.’
      “’A clew!’ I exclaimed.
      “’Yes, one of the checks on his coat had been cached.’
      “’Cashed,’ I cried.
      “’You misunderstand me; not “cashed,” CACHED. He had cut it out and hidden it. A man who cuts out a part of his coat and hides it on the day after a crime is probably concealing something.’
      “’Great Heavens!’ I exclaimed, ‘how obvious it sounds when you put it that way. To think that I never thought of it!’”



THE SOLUTION OF THE THOROUGHLY DANGEROUS WOMAN



      According to this method, the crime was committed by a thoroughly bad, thoroughly dangerous woman, generally half foreign—which is supposed to account for a lot. She has just come into the story casually—as a nurse, or as an assistant bookkeeper, or, more usual and much better, as a “discarded flame” of somebody or other.
      These discarded flames flicker all through detective literature as a terrible warning to persons of a fickle disposition. In any case, great reliance is placed on foreign blood as accounting for her. For Anglo-Saxon readers, if you put a proper quantity of foreign blood into a nurse and then discard her, that will do the trick every time.
      To show how thoroughly bad she is, the Dangerous Woman used to be introduced by the writers of the Victorian age as smoking a cigarette. She also wore “high-heeled shoes and a skirt that reached barely to her ankles.” In our time, she would have to do a little better than that. In short, as the key to a murder, we must pass her by. She would get acquitted every time.
      Let us try something else.


THE SOLUTION THAT THE MURDER WAS COMMITTED BY
BLUE EDWARD



      According to this explanation of the mysterious crime, it turns out, right at the end of the story, that the murder was not done by any of the people suspected—neither by the Butler, nor the Half Hero, nor the Tramp, nor the Dangerous Woman. Not at all. It was the work of one of the most audacious criminals ever heard of (except that the reader never heard of him till this second), the head and brain of a whole gang of criminals, ramifying all over Hades.
      This head criminal generally goes under some such terrible name as Black Pete, or Yellow Charlie, or Blue Edward. As soon as his name is mentioned, then at once not only the Great Detective but everybody else knows all about him—except only the reader and the Nut, who is always used as a proxy for the reader in matters of astonishment or simplicity of mind.
      At the very height of the chase, a new murder, that of a deputy police inspector (they come cheap; it’s not like killing one of the regular characters), is added to the main crime of killing Sir Charles. The manner of the murder—by means of a dropping bullet fired three miles away with its trajectory computed by algebra—has led to the arrest. The Great Detective, calculating back the path of the bullet, has ordered by telephone the arrest of a man three miles away. As the Detective, the Nut, and the police stand looking at the body of the murdered policeman, word comes from Scotland Yard that the arrest is made:

      “The Great Detective stood looking about him, quietly shaking his head. His eye rested a moment on the prostrate body of Sub-Inspector Bradshaw, then turned to scrutinize the neat hole drilled in the glass of the window.
      “’I see it all now, he murmured. ‘I should have guessed it sooner. There is no doubt whose work this is.’
      “’Who is it?’ I asked.
      “’Blue Edward,’ he announced quietly.
      “’Blue Edward!’ I exclaimed.
      “’Blue Edward,’ he repeated.
      “’Blue Edward!’ I reiterated, ‘but who then is Blue Edward?’”


      This, of course, is the very question that the reader is wanting to ask. Who on earth is Blue Edward? The question is answered at once by the Great Detective himself.

      “’The fact that you have never heard of Blue Edward merely shows the world that you have lived in. As a matter of fact, Blue Edward is the terror of four continents. We have traced him to Shanghai, only to find him in Madagascar. It was he who organized the terrible robbery at Irkutsk in which ten mujiks were blown up with a bottle of Epsom salts.
      “’It was Blue Edward who for years held the whole of Philadelphia in abject terror, and kept Oshkosh, Wisconsin, on the jump for even longer. At the head of a gang of criminals that ramifies all over the known globe, equipped with a scientific education that enables him to read and write and use a typewriter with the greatest ease, Blue Edward has practically held the police of the world at bay for years.
      “’I suspected his hand in this from the start. From the very outset, certain evidences pointed to the work of Blue Edward.’”


      After which all the police inspectors and spectators keep shaking their heads and murmuring, “Blue Edward, Blue Edward,” until the reader is sufficiently impressed.


IV



      The writing of a detective story, without a doubt, gets harder and harder towards the end. It is not merely the difficulty of finding a suitable criminal; there is added the difficulty of knowing what to do with him. It is a tradition of three centuries of novel writing that a story ought to end happily. But in this case, how end up happily?
      For example, here we have Blue Edward, caught at last, with handcuffs on his wrists—Blue Edward, the most dangerous criminal that ever interwove the underworld into a solid mesh; Blue Edward, who—well, in fact the whole aim of the writer only a little while before was to show what a heller Blue Edward was. True, we never heard of him until near the end of the book, but when he did get in we were told that his Gang had ramified all the way from Sicily to Oklahoma. Now, what are we to do?
      If it is not Blue Edward, then we’ve got to hang the Tramp—the poor tattered creature who fried potatoes by the hedge. But we are called upon to notice that now has “a singularly vacant eye.” You can hardly hang a man with a vacant eye. It doesn’t do.
      What if we send him to prison for life? But that’s pretty cold stuff, too—sitting looking at four stone walls with a vacant eye for forty years. In fact, the more we think of it, the less satisfied we are with hanging the Tramp. Personally I’d rather hang Meadows the Butler, as we first set out to do, or I’d hang the Nut or the Thoroughly Bad Woman, or any of them.
      In the older fiction, they used to face this problem fairly and squarely. They hanged them—and apparently they liked it. But nowadays we can’t do it. We have lost the old-fashioned solid satisfaction I it, so we have to look round for another solution. Here is one, a very favorite one with our sensitive generation. If I had to give it a name, I would call it—


THE CRIMINAL WITH THE HACKING COUGH



      The method if it is very simple. Blue Edward, or whoever is to be “it,” is duly caught. There’s no doubt of his guilt. But at the moment when the Great Detective and the Ignorant Police are examining him he develops a “hacking cough.” Indeed, as he starts to make his confession, he can hardly talk for hacks.

      “’Well,’ says the criminal, looking round at the little group of police officers, ‘the game is up—hack! hack!—and I may as well make a clean breast of it—hack, hack, hack.’”

      Any trained reader when he hears these hacks knows exactly what they are to lead up to. The criminal, robust though he seemed only a chapter ago when he jumped through a three-story window after throttling Sub-Inspector Juggins half to death, is a dying man. He has got one of those terrible diseases known to fiction as a “mortal complaint.” It wouldn’t do to give it an exact name, or somebody might get busy and cure it. The symptoms are a hacking cough and a great mildness of manner, an absence of all profanity, and a tendency to call everybody “you gentlemen.” Those things spell finis.
      In fact, all that is needed now is for the Great Detective himself to say, “Gentlemen” (they are all gentlemen at this stage of the story), “a higher conviction than any earthly law has, et cetera, et cetera.” With that, the curtain is dropped, and it is understood that the criminal made his exist the same night.
      That’s better, decidedly better. And yet, lacking in cheerfulness, somehow.
      It is just about as difficult to deal with the Thoroughly Bad Woman. The general procedure is to make her raise a terrible scene. When she is at last rounded up and caught, she doesn’t “go quietly” like the criminal with the hacking cough or the repentant tramp. Not at all. She raises—in fact, she is made to raise so much that the reader will be content to waive any prejudice about the disposition of criminals, to get her out of the story.

      “The woman’s face as Inspector Higginbottom snapped the handcuffs on her wrists was livid with fury.
     "Gur-r-r-r-r-r!” she hissed.”


      (This is her favorite exclamation, and shows the high percentage of her foreign blood.)

      “’Gur-r-r-r-r! I hate you all. Do what you like with me. I would kill him again a thousand times, the old fool.’
      “She turned furiously towards my friend (the Great Detective).
      “’As for you,’ she said ‘I hate you. Gur-r-r! See, I spit at you. Gur-r-r-r!’”


      In that way, the Great Detective gets his, though of course, his impassive face never showed a sign. Spitting on him doesn’t faze him. Then she turns on the Heroine and gives her what’s coming to her.

      “’And you! Gur-r-r! I despise you, with your baby face! Gur-r-r! And now you think you will marry him! I laugh at you! Ha! Ha! Hahula!’”

      And after that she turns on the Nut and gives him some, and then some for Inspector Higginbottom, and thus with three “Gur-r-r’s” for everybody and a “ha! Ha!” as a tiger, off she goes.

      But, take it which way you will, the ending is never satisfactory. Not even the glad news that the Heroine sank into the Poor Nut’s arms, never to leave them again, can relieve the situation. Not even the knowledge that they erected a handsome memorial to Sir Charles, or that the Great Detective played the saxophone for a week can quite compensate us.

8 Comments:

Anonymous antique said...

* ‘Sonata in Six Flats with a Basement.’

* ’Yes, one of the checks on his coat had been cached.’

* (This is her favorite exclamation, and shows the high percentage of her foreign blood.)

Author! Bravo! I love it! As the son of a Brit and having read everything Dame Agatha ever published (Mousetrap excepted) I can duly say, "I get it!" and I'm loving it! Thanks for intruducing me to Leacock. I've just been surfing and found a wealth of this high-brow/slap-stick humor of his. Dame Agatha may have a contender for my favorite author.

Thanks again, Dr. Well done.

12:22 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You left out one type of villain:
The man in the rubber mask who says, "And I would have gotten away with it if it hadn't been for you meddling kids!"

12:56 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oops - the whole thing is Leacock's. Mea culpa.

1:04 pm  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

Yep, my only part was typing it out - it's all Leacock's.

Antique, I'm delighted you enjoyed it, and have looked up some other Leacock pieces! A little anthology called "Laugh With Leacock" is a great collection of some of his funniest pieces - it's out of print, but easily available on abebooks.com.

Leacock is great, though not much known in the U.S. Even in Canada, though, he's less read than he used to be - 'Dead White Males' are in eclipse, especially if they're funny. But some of his stuff is SO good, we have phrases memorized to recite on occasion. "How We Kept Mother's Day" is brilliant - after poor Mother works all day making the special dinner to celebrate Her Day, Father finally notices that she's continually getting up during the meal to get things for the rest of the family, and he INSISTS that she sit down and rest. And then HE gets the walnuts. Brilliant joke, because everyone in an Edwardian society would know that the walnuts were the very LAST thing served in a multi-course meal!

'My Financial Career' is famous, where he tries to open a bank account and gets so intimidated and confused he messes up the whole thing.

"Gertrude the Governess" - 'He flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.' The multi-lingual governess is making conversation with the handsome young heir: "What a dull morning! Quelle triste matin! Was fur ein allerverdamnter Tag!"
"Beastly," Ronald had answered.

8:33 pm  
Anonymous antique said...

Oh, I say! Thanks, awefully!

I found a great deal at Project Gutenburg. Entire books, no less, and viewable on my Palm Treo (my portable, extensible, take 200 books with me when I travel, library).

http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/l

Now all I have to do is find some time to work between all this reading!

11:20 pm  
Blogger Ranuel said...

Leacock for patron saint of TV Tropes.

9:45 pm  
Blogger Ramu said...

Thanks for reviving childhood memories.we (my siblings and I were brought up on a steady diet of Leacock and this one was my particular favourite to the extant that I knew most of it by heart. Also don't miss ' The Retroactive EXistence of Mr.Juggins' a character you can observe in today's world too!!leacock rocks

9:13 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fabulous, thank you!
Love Gounod's 'Sonata in Six Flats with a Basement' and Beethoven's 'Sonata in Q'. Ha!

1:53 pm  

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