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The Case of The Angry Penguins

[Herald, 4/7/44; 4 July 1944.]


Image of clipping: the Case of the Angry Penguins

Sir, — On taking in your paper of Thursday I was interested to read that S.A.R., of Kew (a place where Mr Sherlock Holmes and I have had more than a few strange, even bizarre, adventures, some of which have been related in the Strand Magazine) had recalled that Lieut. McAuley and Corporal Stewart purloined the phrase “On the sole Arabian Tree,” for use in their spurious poems by “Ern Malley” from Shakespeare’s “The Phoenix and the Turtle.”

My friend Holmes was, at the moment, down in Westmoreland in connection with the mysterious affair of the missing shoehorn the Duke of W----, whose name cannot, of course, be disclosed. As soon, however, as he had returned last night, alighted from his “growler,” and ensconced himself in a deep leather armchair before the seacoal fire in his sanctum, I ventured to broach the matter to him. Artfully, I must confess, I mentioned that The Herald of the same day had spoken warmly about some slighting remark concerning Holmes made in the House the previous night.

Whether this were, or were not the determining consideration, I cannot aver with confidence, but Holmes at length consented to my setting down for readers of your paper how he had himself penetrated the Ern Malley hoax within a few minutes of the delivery of the autumn issue of “Angry Penguins” at his home.

           *  *  *  *

HOLMES was glancing through the periodical that evening, occasionally wrinkling his nostrils in distaste. All at once he paused and stared fixedly at a page. Peering over his shoulder, I descried that he was studying “Malley’s” 16th poem, “Petit Testament,” with its reference to —

‘...............that verb
Perched on the sole Arabian  Tree.”

His eyes sought the ceiling, then closed in concentration. Suddenly he turned to me.

“Quick. Watson,” he cried. “The Shakespeare!” I sprang to the bookshelves and in a trice had returned with the volume my friend had so peremptorily demanded. With a murmur of thanks he took it from me and began rapidly riffling through the pages until he came to “The Phoenix and the Turtle.” For a minute or two he concentrated intently on the poem. Not a sound but the ticking of the handsome mantel clock disturbed the silence of the room. Through the closed windows came the occasional “peep” of a fogbound wayfarer whistling for a hansom. A coal in the grate broke with a sudden sound.

At length Holmes gave a low chuckle.

“Quite ingenious,” said he, as he laid the book down on the table.

           *  *  *  *

WHEN I pressed for an explanation of this odd episode he passed “Angry Penguins” to me, indicating the phrase mentioned with a long, slender finger. Then he handed me the opened Shakespeare. I must confess I could make nothing of it, and after a while persuaded him to be more explicit.

“Obviously, Watson,” he said, “this whole thing is a hoax.” He went on to explain the reasoning he had adopted. For the benefit of your readers I append the clues upon which Holmes built his case with such dazzling speed, together with the great detective’s comments.

CLUE I (Verse 5 of Phoenix and Turtle.)

“Thou treble-dated crow...
’mongst our mourners shall thou go.”

Holmes: “This can be surely nothing but a warning that the third (autumn) issue of ‘Angry Penguins’ will be a source of sorrow to the editors. In Shakespeare’s county of Warwickshire all birds were formerly called ‘crows.’ And”— here Holmes permitted himself one of his rare puns — “a good deal of crowing appears to be done by this periodical.”

CLUE II (Verses 11–12).

Reason, in itself confounded,
Saw division grow together:
To themselves yet either neither,
Simple were so well compounded,
That it cried “How true a twain
Seemeth this concordant one!”

Holmes: “This is patently a cryptic way of sayings that two persons, obviously of the educated class, have found that the only way to destroy something completely nonsensical is to combine in the guise of a single person.”

CLUE III (Verse 14).

Beauty, truth, and rarity,
Grace in all simplicity,
Here enclosed in cinders lie.

Holmes: “A dignified reproach to those who preach that beauty has no poetic ‘validity.’” (I could not refrain from a smile at this quaint notion; but Holmes appeared to be perfectly serious.)       I;

CLUE IV (Verse 17).

“Truth may seem, but cannot be.”

Holmes: “Could there be plainer intimation of a ‘spoof’? And now, as final proof if your professional caution is still operating” — Holmes sometimes poked quiet fun at me for my inability to keep up with his racing intellect — “read the last verse:—

“To this URN let those repair
That are either true or fair.”

“Urn... Ern?” said my friend as he reached for his beloved violin, and then, as the bow touched the strings. “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

I am, Sir,
Your Obedient Servant
     J. WATSON. M.D.

Baker St.
     W 1.

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