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This parody appeared in the Cardiff Western Mail in 1894. As far as I am aware it has not been republished since then.


“Ah, Dr. Dotson! You are just in time. I may need your assistance!”

Forelock Tomes put away his Jew’s harp an lighted a cheroot as I entered the second floor front bedroom which we occupied.

“Another mystery?” I asked, for I had become accustomed to the lightning changes in his moods.

“My dear Dotson, please do not use that word. In this day of advanced science and logical reasoning there are no mysteries. The word is fast becoming obsolete. It will not appear in the next edition of the One Hundred Years Dictionary.”

“I beg pardon. I mean, you have a new case on hand?” I replied.

“Precisely; and if I am not mistaken, and I never am, it is going to be an interesting one before we reach the end.”

Forelock Tomes puffed away at his cheroot for several seconds, while he studied the movements of a fly crawling across the ceiling. I leant against the folding bed and waited for him to proceed.

“there was a caller to see me this morning during my absence. This much I learnt from the servant. Here I have an index to the character of the man and a pretty clear history of his trouble.”

As Tomes spoke he picked up an umbrella.

“A few minor links in the chain of evidence are missing, but the man will no doubt be able to supply those when he returns at 6.45 o’clock, and with your assistance I expect to be able to clear up the whole matter in a couple of hours. Try one of my cheroots. They are a new brand. On examination I find they are made of tobacco grown in Virginia, in a light soil, half sand, on a subsoil of red clay. The crop was harvested by negro labour, and the weed had seasoned two years before it was manufactured.”

Without heeding the deviation from the main subject, I asked Tomes how he had learnt so much of his caller.

“Oh, in a perfectly natural way,” he replied. “You see, the fellow was somewhat nervous and embarrassed. That, added to a natural carelessness and absent-mindedness, caused him to bring his umbrella upstairs instead of leaving it in the rack below. His nervousness increased as he reached my door, and he put it down in the hall. Of course, he forgot it when he went away. I picked it up, and as a result of my examination of the article I expect to be able to surprise him when he returns.”

“But what can you find out about a man by looking at his umbrella?” I asked, in surprise.

“Everything!” replied Tomes, with emphasis. “He bought it, which is something in his favour. I know that, because there is no name inside. When a man borrows an umbrella he always takes a good one, which is sure to have the former owner’s name stamped on the lining or handle. Mu caller purchased this at a bargain sale for ten shillings, marked down from a pound. That I learn from the fragment of the tag which I found caught in one of the ribs. It is an expensive one for him, as he is a clerk in a dry gods warehouse, with the promise of an increase next year; but he is something of a fop, with a fancy for costly articles. That he is a clerk is clear to a novice like yourself. See, the folds are carefully adjusted and smoothed down on the outside, and the loop is buttoned. The owner is accustomed to folding cloth, smoothing down the creases, and securing cords that hold the bolts of goods in shape.

“the man is young, about 22, I should say; he is slender, and ought to weigh about 143 pounds. With my glass I have traced the faint marks left by his fingers where he held the umbrella, and by careful measurement have ascertained that he wears a number 6¾ glove. With a hand of that size he ought to measure about 5ft. 8½in. in his stockings.  He is in love with a woman who works in a candy store and paints her face. Last night he met her by appointment. He kissed her once on the lips and once on the cheek. Then they were interrupted, and he left in a hurry. The woman is a blonde, and has encouraged his advances.

“The man is in trouble on account of this woman, and that is why he came to consult me. The nature of his trouble is not exactly clear, but my impression is that the young man has a rival who is jealous.”

“Great heavens, Tomes!” I exclaimed, “you do not mean to tell me you have learnt all this about a man you never saw, simply by looking at his umbrella?”

“Precisely. It is very simple to one who observes. To a person of a low order of intelligence this would be only an umbrella, slightly shop worn and used a short time, nothing more; but when we come to examine it with care we find certain well-defined marks on the cloth, traces of two distinct foreign substances adhering to the handle, which, combined with my infallible theories, lead directly to certain facts, and then you have all the really essential points in a drama of real life, which, let us hope, will not end in a tragedy.”

“Wonderful!” I exclaimed; “but tell me how you ascertained the owner of this umbrella kissed a woman who works in a candy shop and paints her face, and then left her in a hurry.”

“That was the least puzzling feature of the case. Take my glass and look at the handle. You will see outlined there in two colours the imprint of a man’s lips. After parting with the woman this fellow was nervous and excited, and, unable to borrow a cigarette, he bit the handle of his umbrella. The lighter colour is paint. It is a very light shade of red, used only by blonde women. The darker colour, you will observe, is made by a slightly adhesive substance. That is candy – caramels, I make it out. The presence of those two substances prove beyond the possibility of a mistake that he had kissed the woman first on the cheek. She did not resent that, then he kissed her lips; which left traces of paint and caramels on his own mouth.

“I know that they were interrupted and that the young man departed in a hurry because the imprint of his lips on the handle was made within a few moments of the time of the kissing. But further evidence of his haste and excitement is found here, where he crumpled one of the folds in the cover by clenching his hands over it.”

Tomes arose, walked over to the window and looked out. I stood watching him in silent admiration, when suddenly a smile of satisfaction broke over his face.

“Here comes my man, half an hour earlier than I expected him. His case must be serious.”

I went to the window, and, looking out, saw a slender young man walking rapidly across the street, and glancing anxiously up at our room. In a few moments there was a sharp ring of the hall bell, followed by steps on the stairs and a knock at the door of our room.

“Come in!” called Tomes, putting the tell-tale umbrella under the table.

The young man entered with a businesslike air, and putting his hand in the inside pocket of his coat, drew forth some papers.

“Never mind the letters in the case for the present,” said Tomes, motioning his visitor to a seat.

“I’m from Suitem, the tailor; was here this morning. He says if you don’t pay that bill he’ll bring suit to-morrow.”

I handed Tomes a fresh cheroot as the collector thrust forward a bill, and reaching down I picked up the umbrella and put it out of sight in a corner of the room.

Tomes looked at the bill, looked at me, and walked back to the window. Then he made remarks, and the young man of business-like aspect assumed a pained and deprecatory air. Language which appears in books and magazines only in the form of a blank did not suit his moral feelings. In an interval of painful silence I moved to Tomes, and laid my hand affectionately on his shoulder.

“If it is a fiver you need, old man,” said I, “only say so. And as for the other, don’t be disturbed. We must all make mistakes.” This I said to soothe him.

“I am not disturbed – I am not mistaken,” replied the great detective. “Hark at those steps! He is coming! Hush!”

Just then there was a second knock at the door and a moment later Jennie, the maid, looked in.

“If you please, Mr Tomes,” she said, “the old gentleman on the top floor back says I’m to ask if you found his umbrella. He dropped it in the hall this morning.”


Leighton Buzzard Observer and Linslade Gazette 14 Jul 1896; Burnley Gazette 19 May 1897



Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (

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