Jody Baker: Dumb, Dumb, Dumb

Friday, January 18, 2013 - by Jody Baker


In The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot, John Watson describes, in vivid language, the effect of radis pedis diabilo upon the human being. In short, it leads to a horror of horrors and to torturous death or madness. In Dr. Watson’s words: 

“I had hardly settled in my chair before I was conscious of a thick, musky odour, subtle and nauseous. At the very first whiff of it my brain and my imagination were beyond all control. A thick, black cloud swirled before my eyes, and my mind told me that in this cloud, unseen as yet,  but about to spring out upon my appalled senses, lurked all that was vaguely horrible, all that was monstrous and inconceivably wicked in the universe. Vague shapes swirled and swam amid the dark cloud-bank, each a menace and a warning of something coming, the advent of some unspeakable dweller upon the threshold, whose very shadow would blast my soul. A freezing horror took possession of me. I felt that my hair was rising, that my eyes were protruding, that my mouth wag opened, and my tongue like leather. The turmoil within my brain was such that something must surely snap. I tried to scream and was vaguely aware of some hoarse croak which was my own voice, but distant and detached from myself.”

Sherlock Holmes knew that the fumes from the burning brown dust of the ground root from the West African tribes had brought upon Brenda Tregennis a horror stricken death. Holmes knew that the fumes had driven her brothers George Tregennis and Owen Tregennis mad. Holmes suspected that such was, also, the cause of the death of Mortimer Tregennis.  

Notwithstanding, Sherlock Holmes persuaded his friend and cohort to join him in an experiment  --- to voluntary subject themselves to the poisonous fumes which were certain to cause death or madness. To conduct the experiment (Holmes) --- and to agree to be part of it (Watson) --- was  dumb, dumb, dumb.


It was luck, luck, luck that saved the lives of Holmes and Watson. For no apparent reason – just luck – Watson awakened from his poison-induced stupor. Let’s hear it in Watson’s words: 

“At the same moment, in some effort of escape, I broke through that cloud of despair and had a glimpse of Holmes's face, white, rigid, and drawn with horror -- the very look which I had seen upon the features of the dead. It was that vision which gave me an instant of sanity and of strength. I dashed from my chair, threw my arms round Holmes, and together we lurched through the door, and an instant afterwards had thrown ourselves down upon the grass plot and were lying side by side, conscious only of the glorious sunshine which was bursting its way through the hellish cloud of terror which had girt us in. Slowly it rose from our souls like the mists from a landscape until peace and reason had returned, and we were sitting upon the grass, wiping our clammy foreheads, and looking with apprehension at each other to mark the last traces of that terrific experience which we had undergone.”

But for luck, both Watson and Holmes would be no longer with us. It was luck, luck, luck plus swift work by Watson,  that brought our heroes through. 


At the end of this tale, Holmes extracts a full confession from Dr. Leon Sterndale. With premeditation and malice aforethought Sterndale had killed Mortimer Tregennis. What were Sterndale’s reasons? 

Well, Mortimer had killed his own sister, Brenda. And Leon loved Brenda. That’s no defense to premeditated first-degree murder.  Once again Holmes is a sucker for a sad tale. and he turns a killer loose on the world. That’s not just wrong, wrong, wrong. It is madness, madness, madness. 

 Respectfully, Insp. Baynes

(Jody Baker is a Chattanooga attorney, who specializes in Sherlock Holmes lore. He can be reached at

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