A Holmes Christmas Carol – By Bob Byrne
It is with a certain sense of misgiving that I relate the following tale, which took place during the Christmas season of 1902. I had moved out of our Baker Street lodgings earlier that year, having married only a few months before that most festive of holidays. I now had rooms in Queen Anne Street and was quite busy with my flourishing medical practice. A newly married man, I once again found myself as head of a household, with all of the duties thereof. I saw Holmes infrequently, but had found the time to visit him the day before Christmas. Certain that he would have no plans of any kind, I extended to him an invitation to join my wife and I for Christmas day.
Holmes rebuffed my attempts to have him share in the holiday spirit with us. “Watson, I have no use for the Christmas season. Is it rational to believe a man rose from the dead? And even if it were, do you not see the hypocrisy of it all? For one day, a man will give a beggar a farthing, because it is Christmas. He would pass by that beggar 364 other days and pay him no mind. That is Christmas?”
I could not recall Holmes being so churlish. When we had roomed together, he had not been an avid celebrator of Christmas, but he did accommodate my warm feelings towards the season. Now, left to his own devices, it seemed that his natural contrariness was shining through. I made one last effort to have him spend a pleasant dinner at the Watson household. It was to no avail.
“Watson, rejoin your wife and keep Christmas in your own way. I shall keep it in mine.”
“But Holmes” I protested. “You don’t keep it at all!”
Holmes fixed me with an almost wicked smile. “Let me leave it alone then.”
I gave up. There are times when I believed my friend to be the most cold-blooded man alive. I wished him a merry Christmas one final time and headed off down Marleybone St.
Christmas day was cold as only London can be some days and it grew even more so during the evening. The snow had turned to a muddy slush and I enjoyed the warmth of my cheery home. My dear wife and I had an enjoyable day, and after our evening meal, smoking a cigar, I turned my thoughts back to Holmes. I doubted he had spent the day with Mycroft, even though his older brother was his only family, as far as I knew.
I made up my mind that Sherlock Holmes would not spend an entire Christmas day alone, whether he wished to or not. I bundled up in coat and muffler, grabbed my hat and walking stick and took a hansom cab to Baker Street. As I entered 221B, I had no idea of the strange tale that I was about to hear.
I let myself in, as Mrs. Hudson was not there. I imagined she was passing the holiday with her niece, who lived in Paddington. I climbed the seventeen steps to my former abode and knocked on the door. A familiar voice rang out. “Come in Watson.”
I had not uttered a word upon my arrival, and had approached from a direction that made it unlikely he had seen me from the window. I certainly had not noticed his silhouette, which I surely would have if he had been standing there. The surprise must have shown upon my face as I entered the room. “Sit down, sit down” he said, gesturing towards my old chair. “You wonder how I knew it was you. Come now, we shared these accommodations for well over a decade. I would have been a poor roommate indeed if I were not able to recognize your steady tread upon the stairs after all that time.”
He had a relaxed smile, and I felt a bit foolish. Often his deductions had astounded me. However, this time, such was not the case. I imagine I could have repeated his performance were our roles reversed. I took the proffered chair and felt at home, as I always did at Baker Street. Unanswered correspondence was held to the mantle by a knife, and his tobacco was in the coalscuttle. A toasty fire was flaring up, and the drapes were drawn against the cold outside. Settled in, I looked at my friend.
He remained whip-like thin, and as always, he seemed incapable of gaining or losing weight. Attired in his gray dressing gown, he appeared healthy enough. I did notice that his eyes were a bit hooded, as if he had not slept well on Christmas Eve. His deprecating smile certainly did not seem out of the ordinary.
“Watson, I am going to relate to you a very strange event. I have all of the facts in front of me, but I do not yet have a theory as to what actually happened. I daresay your odd publisher, that Doyle fellow, would have some opinions on it.”
I was a bit taken aback. I could not recall a time when Holmes admitted having all the evidence but was unable to come up with even a probable solution. I poured myself a cup of tea and sank into my chair, wondering what case he would relate.
“There is no murder here. No theft, no blackmail, no assault: in fact, no crime at all. Yet, there is a puzzle here like none I have seen before. Assuming of course, anything really happened at all.” He paused for a few moments then continued “Ah, I see I am confusing you without getting any closer to telling the story. How often, in that very chair, have I expressed my frustration at visitors who did the same?”
“Things have been quiet since you moved out. I have had few cases, and I admit that I have started thinking about retirement.” Upon this pronouncement, my eyes wandered to where he kept his cocaine vial so many years ago. He saw my involuntary reaction. “No, my friend, do not trouble yourself on that account. I have not touched that substance since before I returned from my travels after the incident at Reichenbach Falls.” I’m sure he detected my sigh of relief. “I have been making inquiries into purchasing a place on the Sussex Downs, so that I might turn my attention to beekeeping. You know that has long been a goal of mine.”
I was overwhelmed at all this. My mind was moving in several directions at once. “But Holmes, surely you are not ready for retirement yet. You are not even fifty-five. Your mind is still sharper than any of those possessed by the young constables at the Yard.” He stopped my protestations with an upraised hand.
“Watson, you are ever-faithful. I would not have achieved so much had you not been at my side. But I am not ready to move to the coast just yet. I only mention it to point out that I have not been busy at my trade these past months.”
“As you know, lack of mental stimulation leaves me fatigued as activity never does. That explains my shortness to you yesterday. I realize that your offer was genuinely meant, and I thank you for it, even though I do not share your feelings towards Christmas.”
I was touched by the sincerity in Holmes’ voice.
“Last night, I retired to my bed around an hour or two before midnight. Christmas eve was spent here alone, smoking my pipe and playing the violin. The sound of footsteps brought me awake just before the stroke of one. Instantly, I saw that there seemed to be a light coming under the doorway from in here. You know I instantly come to my senses when I awake, and I grabbed my pistol from the dresser. With yourself living elsewhere and Mrs. Hudson abed, this was an unwanted visitor. I heard no sound as I arose, and I opened the door.”
Here he stopped. He didn’t know how to continue. I had never seen Holmes grope so futilely for words.
“Watson, while I have ridiculed your chronicles of our adventures, I have never fully appreciated the ability to properly express what you want to say. As I entered the room, my visitor was standing in front of the fireplace. The hearth was empty, and the light was emanating from this man.”
He gazed thoughtfully at the ceiling. “I’m not sure that calling him a man is proper, for he seemed to be a ghost.”
Never had I been more dumbfounded by a pronouncement from Holmes! Looking back, I can’t recall if I even uttered a sound. It seems I must have simply stared at him. Sherlock Holmes, the master of deduction and rationalism, was telling me he’d seen a ghost. He could have told me that he was Jack the Ripper and I don’t believe I would have been any more at a loss. He cast a sympathetic glance at me as he practically wrung his hands. I understood why he’d referenced Arthur Conan Doyle, my publisher. Doyle was a spiritualist and a believer in ghosts, fairies and such.
“I do not believe in ghosts. But there was, certainly, an apparition standing before me. It glowed white, and was human in appearance. It was small, as if a child, but had the face of a young man. The eyes were ancient, and I thought that I saw past centuries there. Its skin and hair were of alabaster, with arms thin and bare, protruding from a sheer white robe. A belt of white flowers adorned its waist, and it held a hat under one arm.”
Holmes paused and searched for the next words. “Light seemed to exude from the being’s head. It occurred to me that if I placed the hat upon it, and lowered it down, the being’s light would dim. However, that seemed an offensive action that was not yet warranted. The ghost was of different shades. The illumination varied: some parts would be bright, while others were lighter. Then it would shift, and that which had been light became darker, and dark became lighter. It gave the being a shimmering appearance.”
“My revolver hung limply at my side. My mind was rapidly searching for an explanation whilst the figure was making no threatening movements.”
I confess I was absolutely overwhelmed by all this. If you are amazed at the words I’m writing, imagine my stunned disbelief as I heard those very words spoken aloud. I could not even utter sounds indicating my surprise. I cannot recall another moment when Holmes had left me so speechless.
“There I stood, looking at this creature, with my not inconsiderable powers of rational thought failing me. I could remain silent no longer.”
‘Who…. or what, are you?’
“The voice that came out was high pitched. It is difficult to explain, but it had the clearness and purity of a perfect bell peal. It seemed I heard it more inside my head than through my ears.”
Three spirits will visit you tonight. I am the ghost of Christmas past. I come to show you the yuletides of your youth. For you must see your past to know your present and to view your future.
“I felt no fear Watson. However, I simply could not explain what was happening. Action on my part was not called for yet. I saw no other course to follow but to give the ghost its lead. I asked what interest it had in me.”
Your welfare, “it told me.”
“I pointed out that a full night’s sleep would likely have been more conducive to good health, rather than conversing in a drafty room at this time of the morning.”
Then your reclamation! “It fairly exclaimed. It did not seem to possess much humor.”
Walk with me.
“I know you are amazed at the iron-like grip I have, though I do not appear strong. I could have protested this command, saying it was freezing outside, that I was inappropriately dressed, or that it was not an hour for traversing (either time or distance, really). But that grip would brook no resistance. I was compelled to see this strange course further along.”
“It led me to the window and started forward. ‘Ghost, I cannot walk upon air, for I am mortal.’
It is not your feet you will need for this trip. “He replied in his singsong voice.” But this.
“And so saying, he placed one hand over his heart. I grabbed the sleeve of his robe and suddenly we were no longer in my room.”
“I looked about, and we were in the village of my childhood. I recognized Old Winthorp, the greengrocer, and the miller, Johnson. I admit I was pleased to see those people of my youth, whom I had not thought of for so long. The streets were exactly as I recalled, and the buildings were all the same. I heard the sounds of children running and playing, and of horses clip-clopping down the main road. The city was miles away. I was in the beautiful countryside of my younger days.
They are merely echoes of things past. “My host told me.” You are no longer of this place, nor is it a part of this memory. Let us go to the school. It is not entirely empty of life.
“I shivered at this Watson. For I knew what was to come. It was the most lonesome Christmas of my youth. A force I could not resist pulled me. My school was a mansion of brownstone, but it was worn. I tell you, I have never seen a more tired building in my life. The bell pull hung in the steeple, twisting desolately in the breeze, with no energy of its own. Window panes were broken, and moss grew on the outside walls.”
“We passed through the walls into a dimly lit room, where a youth crouched low over a book. The candlelight was barely sufficient, but I could read the words. The ghost spoke.
Do you remember that boy?
“I felt a great sense of despair. I had been left at school that year. Mycroft and Sherrinford had returned home, but my father was upset with my studies. He felt that I did not earn the right to spend Christmas with my own parents and brothers.”
I must tell you I was touched by the raw, naked emotion in Holmes’ voice. I had never seen this quality during our years together. For a boy to be denied the comfort of home and hearth by his own father…I knew any words I had to speak would be inadequate so I started silently at my friend.
“I have never been very sociable, as you might have guessed. Even then I was not attracted to the popular games of rugby and football. So, I was not close to any of the boys. Of course, they had all gone home for the holidays, so maybe it didn’t matter. But I had my books, Watson.” A smile came to Holmes’ face at this. “Charles Dickens, Edgar Allen Poe and Herman Melville.” I was stunned to picture a young Holmes sitting in his room reading fantastic tales of adventure and fun, rather than the dry, scientific fare that occupied his mind during our association. I had not seen this imagination.
“Yes, I looked out the window, sitting in the cold, damp room, alone, and I saw one-legged Ahab there, standing in the prow of his ship, chasing the great white whale. Oliver Twist came by and stopped to say hello. Then I heard footsteps and he hurried away. After he left Bill Sikes and the Artful Dodger came through the room. I cowered in the corner, hoping they wouldn’t see me, in my mind yelling for Oliver to run!”
I must again tell you, dear readers, I was absolutely stunned. I had never even imagined this side of Holmes. He seemed caught up in the retelling, and I was there merely as a receptacle for the story. My individuality was of no concern.
The most innocent smile I had ever seen was on Holmes’ face as he remembered this time with his fantastic books.
“All I had were the books. Friends were not present, and I was denied my family. So, I turned to the magic words and found my companions there. I tell you, I was moved as I watched that lonely young boy, myself, engrossed in the stories. But for all my daydreaming, I was alone and cold at Christmas. You know I do not indulge in self-pity. But my heart went out to him.”
‘I wish…’ “Then I broke off.”
What? “Said the ghost.” What thought were you entertaining?
“The spirit’s singsong voice rang like bells in my ears.”
‘I have a group of young boys who gather information for me. I call them my Irregulars. They went Christmas caroling last night. They asked me to join them, but I steadfastly refused, wishing them well but not participating in their foolishness. Perhaps I should have joined them, for while it was merely a nuisance to me, it might have meant something much more to them.’
“The ghost smiled at me as I said this and waved his translucent hand. Then he took me to another place. Actually, to another time.”
“The young boy grew a few years older before my very eyes. The building was the same, but more aged. The ceiling was cracked and plaster lay in small piles on the floor. The windows let the chill wind in even more steadily than before. I don’t know how this happened, but I knew it was accurate. It was another Christmas, and I was alone again. I had not talked with my father in months. We had grown apart upon the death of my mother.”
“My former self was walking up and down near the window, pacing as I so often do now. The ghost was watching me with what I could only say was a thoughtful expression. I was staring towards the door, knowing what was to happen next, and impatient for it to occur.”
“I heard footsteps and the door opened. The young me turned in amazement and saw my eldest brother, Sherrinford. I ran to him and he swept me up in the finest hug I have ever had.”
“Come Sherlock, I have come to take you home. For good.”
“The child Holmes was speechless. My brother laughed at me.”
“Mycroft and I have prevailed upon father to have you return to the manor. He has changed, Sherlock. Mother’s loss struck him harder than even we can imagine. He turned his bitterness against you, the youngest, and mother’s favorite. But he has changed. He has accepted that she is gone and you, Mycroft and myself are all he has left. He wants us to be a family again.”
“I found that like the other Sherlock, I was crying, Watson. My father had turned against me after the death of my mother. We were no longer a family, though I knew my brothers still loved me. But there was no place in that cold estate for me, and I was almost glad when he sent me off to school for good. But now, what I had dreamt of for so long, was reality. I tell you in all honesty that it was quite possibly the happiest moment of my life.”
I still could not interrupt Holmes. It was as if his alter persona had come to the forefront. Even as I now put pen to paper I find difficulty believing it all. My friend was not a cold, unthinking automaton. He was a compassionate human being with the wide range of emotions which we all bear.
“A terrible voice called out in the hallway, instructing that my trunk to be placed upon the carriage outside. I cringed, for the headmaster invoked fear in all of us. He reached out and I shied away. Then he terrified me by shaking my hand. He led Sherrinford and I into his study, where he gave us tea and warm honey cakes. He congratulated me on my departure for home and commended me on my studies, which had improved over the years. I was overwhelmed and could only nod mutely. Sherrinford carried the conversation for both of us.”
A wisp of a smile formed.
“We went outside and there was a coach. I tell you it looked to my shining eyes as if it were fit for royalty. I clambered inside and bade the headmaster farewell. I leaned out the window and watched the wheels kick up snow and leave a trail behind as we headed away from that cold, lonely place.”
“The spirit spoke to me, but he was watching the carriage head down the lane.”
Sherrinford was quite a young man.
“My voice caught in my throat as I faced that apparition.”
‘Yes, Sherrinford was the best of us.’ “I said.”
But he died early: Too early.
“My dear friend, I have never told you of Sherrinford because the memory is painful, and I found nothing to gain in bringing his story before you. Sherrinford was brilliant. Compared to him I am brainless and Mycroft is only of average intelligence. And he was a fine athlete. He enrolled in her majesty’s service and was sent to America when he was only eighteen. He was observing the Confederate forces on behalf of Queen Victoria’s military. He was present at the high-water mark of the Confederacy, the Battle of Gettysburg.”
“And it was there he was struck by a musket ball and killed. It was such a waste. He died for no reason. It was because of Sherrinford’s death that Mycroft went into government service. He vowed to do all he could to keep young British soldiers from being killed in senseless wars. As you know, he has not always succeeded. But I assure you Mycroft’s actions have saved thousands of our men from falling in battle.” He took a deep breath after this speech. “The ghost merely acknowledged my grief and moved us on.”
“Suddenly we were in the city. The streets and alleyways were filled with snow, and people hurried to and fro. I somehow knew it was Christmas Eve. The lanes were lit, and the hustle and bustle of the city was a far cry from the complacent quiet that the countryside had offered. We stopped in front of a merchant’s rear door.”
Do you know this place? “It asked me.”
‘Know this place!?’ “I exclaimed.” ‘I was an apprentice here. For this is Pinkerton’s accounting house. It was here that I learned the science and certainty of numbers. I discovered that applying logic could solve mysteries. Facts should be examined, and chance not blamed on circumstance. I learned much here that made me a successful detective.”
“The ghost looked deeply at me.” One should not forget where he used to be. For a large part of what a person is comes from what he was.
“I did not have time to reflect on this, for we entered the place.”
I noticed that Holmes’ eyes were almost shining. The bittersweet thoughts of his older brother had been locked back up in that sealed chest he kept them in. Now he was on to a happier memory.
“Sitting at a desk, with a huge powdered wig upon his head, was Pinkerton. I cried out to the ghost.”
‘Why, it’s Pinkerton! Jolly old Pinkerton. Bless his heart, he’s alive again.’
“At that moment, he put down his pen and looked at the wall, seeing it was seven o’clock.”
“Ho, Sherlock, Thomas, come here.”
“He called out in a loud, bellowing voice that seemed to start deep in his belly and grow in volume as it worked its way up to his mouth.”
“I saw myself, now a young man, enter with my fellow apprentice.”
‘Why, it’s Thomas Moreson. We were the closest of friends.’
The ghost merely looked at me, watching and seemingly waiting.
“No more work tonight. For it is Christmas Eve. Draw up the shutters,” “He said with a clap of his beefy hands.”
“Watson, you never saw two more industrious young men. We flew outside, putting up the shutters faster than anyone ever had before. They were up and secured in less than two-dozen heartbeats.”
“We returned to the main room, where Pinkerton was rising from his desk. He was quite agile for such a large man. His cheeks were pink with excitement beneath his gray whiskers.”
“Come my lads, it is time to celebrate. Make some room”
“We cleared tables and desks out of the way and opened up a space in the center of the room. The floors were swept, lamps were lit and the fire was built up until flames danced in the air. This accounting house was now a ballroom, warm, cheery and spacious. Or so it seemed to us.”
“The door flew open and a fiddler entered, marching straight to the desk and setting his music book open upon it. He scratched at the strings, tuning the instrument. And following him in was a parade of all those in Pinkerton’s life. His large, smiling wife led the procession, bearing a cake in one hand and a pudding in the other. Behind her came her three daughters: willowy Sylvania, plump Beatrice and shy, quiet Regina.”
“They also carried treats that they placed upon a table. All of the other employees of the firm attended, as well as the Pinkerton’s household staff; cook, housemaid, servant boy, all of them. Our regular postman was present, as well as Pinkerton’s former partner, who had left the firm ere I came.”
“Watson, you could feel the warmth in the air as those present laughed and smiled, greeting folks they’d seen yesterday as if it had been years. Then, the fiddler commenced playing. We all danced, even I, for it was known I was fond of Sylvania and paired with her whenever music was played. She was always proper, but I knew that she liked the attention. As we turned, top couple, bottom couple, hands up, hands on waist, old Pinkerton smiled as he looked upon those people dear to his life.”
“We ate much food, for Pinkerton provided cold roast, pies, vegetables, potatoes of various types, bread and more. It was a glorious evening full of merriment for all. But then the fiddler stuck a note and played “Sir Roger de Coverly.” We looked at our master, and he formally bowed before his wife, requesting her hand. Oh, Mister and Misses Pinkerton could dance. It wasn’t so much their skill, which was considerable, but I was the way they moved together, as if their souls were one.”
Reader, I hesitate to interrupt the flow of this amazing narrative when all I can interject are phrases such as \I was stunned’ and ‘I listened with utter disbelief.’ But I was nearly in shock as Holmes continued with his story. The things he was saying were romanticized ideals even I had never uttered. It was overwhelming.
“Finally, the clock struck eleven, and the evening ended. The Pinkertons stood, each on one side of the door, and bade each departing guest a good night and a merry Christmas. Finally, only Thomas and myself remained, and we went to our beds in the back of the office.”
“It was a strange feeling I had as I watched all this Watson. For part of me remembered the feelings the younger Holmes was experiencing, but the other part of me was the Holmes of today, and you know I am a very different man than that youth was. I felt a sense of loss mingled with foolishness. For a few brief moments, I was both as I was then, and as I am now. That is a feeling very few men have experienced. I acknowledge that I was totally immersed in the scene before me. However, it faded from my view at the end, and I recalled the thing next to me. I turned as it spoke to me.”
It is such a small thing to make these silly people so grateful.
“I was annoyed at this cavalier comment, while at the same time realizing I have often uttered the like myself. But I had to reply to the ghost.”
‘Small! This is no small matter.’
“The ghost gestured and I heard myself and Moreson praising how good Mister Pinkerton was.”
Why is it not small? “The ghost asked me.” He has spent a few pounds and given you a few minutes free of your work. Why such compliments for so little?
“Watson, it was my former self that answered, for I grew heated at that last remark.”
‘So little, you say! The power Pinkerton held over us was near complete. He could make our day a joy, or a dreaded period to be merely survived. A kind word or a harsh glance could change our attitude in a moment. Any happiness he gave us was equal to a fortune for Moreson and myself.’
“The spirit looked at me with what I can only say was an odd glance. I stopped speaking.”
What is the matter? “Echoed on the wind.”
‘Nothing spirit. I was just thinking of my kind landlady, Mrs. Hudson. Perhaps at times I have been too short, too….’
Yes, what else would you say? “It asked as I trailed off.”
“Then I heard the ghost speak, but not to me.” My time grows short.
“I looked around, and the scenery had changed again. It was 1877. I was grown a man now. I believe you were at that very time earning your medical degree at the University in London.”
I nodded my head in agreement.
“I was living in Montague St. The area that I now looked upon was Bedford Square. I had the sharp, distinctive features you have so often written about, but there was a softness that I have since lost. I was studying daily in the British Museum, and the light of knowledge burned brightly in my eyes.”
“It was cold, though not snowy that Christmas. Dead leaves blew through the park. I was not alone. Sitting next to me was a beautiful young woman.”
Please bear with my telling of Holmes’ account, friends. Were I to ask Holmes to tell me something completely so shocking, so totally foreign to his nature, he could have come up with nothing greater than this revelation. For I knew by the tone of his voice that Holmes had borne this woman a special tenderness.
“The girl was in a black dress, with a heavy coat, the hood hanging down the back. She was very sad, and tears glistened in her eyes. Somehow, they shone bright, illuminated by my spectral host. Were it to happen today, I would tell you it was a case of over-emotions from a woman. But watching my old self, I knew her feelings were genuine.”
‘Carlotta’ “I whispered, barely audible. But the ghost gave me a sharp look.”
So, you remember? it said, then turned away from me and watched.
“It matters not,” “she said with a soft, murmuring voice, almost drowned out by the wind.”
“Another idol has displaced me in your heart, and it shall be the one that comforts you on the cold days and nights to come. If you are pleased with that, what cause have I to be sorrowful?”
“I remembered every moment of this encounter, Watson. But now I was in yet another unique position. My rational brain, with all its experiences since that moment, looked with disdain on the scene. And I remembered every emotion that the foolish young Holmes was feeling. But there was a third me, one I did not recognize. Somehow, it fully realized what was happening in the moment of choice between young and old man. It was this unknown Holmes that seemed dominant in my thoughts as I watched the scene unveil.”
‘What idol has displaced you?’ “I asked, rather impatiently.”
“She looked at me with true sorrow.”
“An idol of science, or reason, or knowledge. I know not what it is called. But you sense a calling so complete, so full, that there is no place for me in it. You will not make space for both of us.”
‘But it is knowledge that we must quest after!’ “I cried, with emotion.” ‘So many of man’s follies could be prevented or corrected through the use of observation and discovery. I would make the world a better place in my own way.’
“You fear unsolved mysteries, affronts to that which you could resolve with knowledge and reasoning. That is what drives you: the challenge of solving the puzzle; not justice or reward.”
‘Is that so wrong? If the ends are the same, what matters the motive? And even if my quest for knowledge has consumed me, my feelings towards you have not changed. Correct?’
“She shook her head sadly. As I watched this, I knew she was right, but I did not realize it then. I had changed in my pursuit of knowledge.”
“No, you are not the same man. You once loved me. Now I am just a fixture in your life, something in the background of your new pursuit. You have changed, but I have not. We were one heart, searching for happiness together. Now we are two hearts, and we do not seek the same things. I can release you from your pledge to me.”
‘Have I ever asked for you release? Ever!’
“In words, no. Never.”
“I know now what she meant. But the other me was merely frustrated.” ‘Then how?’
“In many little ways. In the way your nature has changed. In the things that used to make my love of value and worth to you and your life. If we met anew, today, with no past between us, would you try and win me now?”
“I hesitated, Watson. And she was lost to me forever. My failure to speak immediately was the answer no words could undo.”
“She gave a great trembling sigh, as if her spirit and soul were trying to leave her body.”
“Ah, no, I thought not.”
“I feebly replied,” ‘You think so, do you?’ “You know me now as a skilled actor, Watson. At that moment, I could not dissemble at all.”
“Yes, I know. For if you were to choose me now, with words and some part of your heart, you would betray your guiding principle, and bitterness and regret would follow. Our future would not be that which I wished for. Therefore, I release you from your pledge to me. I release you with a full heart for the man I once loved, for now and for ever.”
“With that, she threw up her hood, covering her chestnut hair and walked away from me. I heard her final words.”
“May you rarely remember this moment, for it is not pleasing. But, should it cross your mind, may it pain you to recall that which you gave up for your other calling.”
“And she was gone. I urged that man before me to chase after her, to tell her of his true feelings, deep, deep inside. But I could no more affect this scene than a bird may fly without wings. I felt anguish, knowing I had set myself upon a certain path by letting her leave. And it was a very different path than what I had supposed only a short time before.”
“I turned to the spirit.” ‘Why do you torment me so? Must I see all that came before? Will you punish me with more, or let me return home?’
One more, “the relentless spirit said.” For though I am the Ghost of Christmas Past, I shall show you what could have been.
“These words chilled me to my very bones. To say the trip had not been pleasant so far would be quite an understatement. I did not want to view what might have happened as well. But I had no choice.”
“Suddenly I was in a small room. It was not large, but very comfortable and full of books, tables, and the furnishings of a lived-in place. There was a beautiful young woman, who I first took to be Carlotta. But it was not. For Carlotta sat in a chair by the fire. She was in her forties now, a handsome woman who had retained her strong looks and a firm figure. I realized the younger woman was her daughter. And there were more small children there.”
“The air was filled with uproarious noise. Each child was acting as if he or she were five such, and they ran to and fro, giggling, laughing, chasing each other and climbing on their mother. For the first time, I understood what a warm household could be. As you have suspected and learned of tonight, that of my youth was cold and formal. I wondered what it would be like to come home to this bedlam each day. And I admit that I thought it might be pleasing.”
“Then there was a knock on the door, and the children scampered to it, pulling it open excitedly. And in strode the father, with a man behind him, carrying wrapped presents. Oh, that poor porter, Watson. He was nearly knocked to the ground by anxious children. Carlotta laughed and smiled with all her soul. The father shooed the children off of the porter, then sat beside the fire with his wife and eldest daughter. Even with all the bedlam raging on, it seemed a small pocket of serenity had been found. And somehow, I felt the warmth of it myself.”
Holmes’ eyes actually glistened with tears, and his voice was soft; not quite trembling, but not the usual flat tone I knew so well.
“I realized that I could have been master of that household, and that fine young woman might have called me father. And somehow, the image in front of me dimmed, and the details were blurred, no longer sharp.”
“Then the father spoke.”
“Carlotta, I saw an old friend of yours today. It was Sherlock Holmes.”
“Really?” “She said, with no noticeable inflection of affection or sorrow.”
“Yes, he was walking down Marleybone. I know that his chronicler, Dr. Watson, is married and living with his wife, and I wondered what Holmes would be doing this Christmas. I imagined he would be spending it quite alone.”
‘STOP!’ “I yelled to the spirit.” ‘No more. I have seen all that I wish to and more. Remove me from this place. Take me away NOW!’
“Its soft voice answered me.” I told you these were the shadows of things that were or might have been. That they are what they are, do not blame me.
‘You are the one showing me these terrible visions.’ “I exclaimed.” ‘You can stop doing so.’
“Then, I grabbed the hat it held and pulled it down over its head. I wrestled with the force against me, though the ghost did nothing to resist me. I managed to pull the hat all the way down to the ground, but still the white light shone out from underneath it. I heard the singsong voice.”
I have shown you all that I came to, Sherlock Holmes. Remember.
“And the voice faded into nothingness. I suddenly felt weary beyond endurance, and I simply collapsed to the ground. However, as I drifted off, I realized I was once again in my bed, sleeping under my own covers. I thought no more about anything, but fell asleep.”
“Homes, what a remarkable story,” I began, but he cut me off.
“That was merely the beginning my friend. For I was but one-third of the way through this terrible evening. Pray wait until I have completed the tale before we enter into what I imagine will be a unique discussion.”
Yet again, I was surprised. This incredible tale of the supernatural, from the master of rational reasoning, was not nearly complete. What else could lie before me? He seemed to need a few moments to gather himself for the next chapter of his story, so I made some more tea, poked at the fire and waited in silence. His eyes were closed and I knew he was reliving the scene in his mind.
“I awoke in a cold sweat. I looked at the clock, and it was only one! How could that be? For it had been at the stroke of one that I faced the ghost. I imagined that spirits didn’t follow our normal rules of time. My room was dark, but an incandescent glow crawled under the door from this very room. Apparently, my next visitor would not come to me in my room either, but I must put on my slippers and go to it.”
“I stood before the door, preparing to open it and face fate. But a strange voice, deeper than that of the first spirit, named me and bid me enter. I knew resistance was futile. I opened the door, and even after the strange events I had already witnessed, I was dumbfounded: for I was in this room. But it was not exactly the same. In fact, it was completely different.”
“The walls were covered with holly, ivy and mistletoe, with sharp red berries glistening in the light. It looked a bright green forest. The fire blazed like a furnace, roaring up the chimney into the dark night.”
“All around the floor and on every surface food was heaped in piles. Mrs. Hudson has never provided such a spread. There was roast beef, goose, turkey, ham, strings of sausages, plum pudding, bread pudding, chestnuts, apples, oranges, pears, pig, pheasant, mincemeats, huge cakes and bowls of every variety of punch you’ve ever seen. But even facing all of this food, my attention was drawn to the couch.”
“For there was a being I can only describe as a jolly giant. He was bearded, and wore a wreath of holly and ivy ‘round his head. His face was bordered with curly brown hair that hung from below the wreath, and he smiled. He bore a cornucopia torch, which he held up and it lit the room brightly. He was dressed in a large robe or gown of the purest green, with white trimming. It was open in the front and a manly chest showed. He was also barefoot. He seemed a personification of a forest.”
Come in, come in, you must know me better.
“This was said in a cheery voice. I was aware that there was nowhere else I could go, so I approached the figure, once again trying to maintain my composure.”
I am the Ghost of Christmas Present. Look upon me!
“I met its gaze. While not comfortable, I was more at ease. Though it was dressed strangely, it appeared human, unlike my first visitor.” ‘Take me forth, where you will. I have been visited by one spirit already.’
Touch my robe, “he told me. Suddenly the room, and everything in it, vanished. I was standing in the street on Christmas morning. Men stood on their roofs, pushing last night’s snow off, while some children scraped pavements, and others merely frolicked in the snow. The streets had deep furrows and ruts where wagons and the like had passed through, pushing snow and slush to the side. Fresh white snow rested on top of dirty, brown snow that showed through here and there.”
“The sky was gray and gloomy. The clouds were pregnant with moisture, foreshadowing another storm. Chimneys shot out black soot, so that dark particles fell to the ground, mixing in with the snow. Yellowish water mingled with the brownish mud in the streets, leaving the whole looking like a palate of darkish colors on a white background.”
“But if the atmosphere seemed heavy and forbidding, the people were cheery and jovial. After all, such a mundane thing as the weather could not diminish Christmas day. Jests were flung from one house to another, often followed by a missile of snow. Shops were open, and fruiterers had heaping piles of goodies in their windows and on cleared tables out front, tempting men and women to buy just one more item to perfect the evening meal.”
“The heavy bells of church steeples pealed through the streets, calling all to pay homage on the holiest of days. Children with combed hair shrugged in tight-fitting coats, and fathers in their Sunday best escorted women in bonnets and stoles up stairs to chapel entrances.”
“Whenever a pair or more entered into some squabble or disagreement, the spirit passed his torch before them, and a few drops of water fell upon all. Suddenly the arguments ended, and they clapped each other upon the back, saying there was no cause for such small disputes on Christmas day.”
“In time, the churches finished their services, and the bakers’ shops closed up so that they themselves could go home to their own dinners. The ghost took me down the streets until we stopped in front of your own residence on Queen Anne Street.”
Once again, I was shocked by these words. A ghost took Sherlock Holmes to my own door on Christmas day. And Holmes himself recounted this event! I had finally heard enough that required me to have a drink. I helped myself to the gasogene and scotch, making myself a stiff one. Holmes merely smiled quietly at me and waited until I was again seated with some much-needed fortification. To be honest, I’m not sure there was enough fortification in our entire lodgings for me to properly face this story.
“The spirit passed through the wall into your study.”
Holmes now looked at me with what I could only call compassion.
“Watson, you know I have the greatest respect for your privacy and would never intrude into your personal affairs. However, I saw you lighting a candle on your mantle and heard the words you uttered to your departed Mary.”
My cheeks flushed at this and I sat upright. Every Christmas day I light a candle in memory of my dear Mary. I looked evenly at Holmes. “Yes, it is my remembrance to Mary, a testament to the love we shared for so brief a time.”
“I know you love the current Violet Watson fully. The important thing is that you celebrate the time you had together with Mary, not dwell upon how much was lost by her early death.”
While Holmes has never been anything but supportive in regards to my first wife’s sad death, he had never reached to these depths before. I attributed it to the profound remembrances brought to the surface by the first ghost’s visit.
“Thank you Sherlock” I said. It was the first time I had felt close enough to him to use his first name. “Violet understands my devotion to Mary, and is pleased that I feel so, knowing that I give her the same.”
“We moved forward and you and Mrs. Watson were seated at dinner, a turkey being served by the cook, Gloriana. You were quite pleased with the meal before you and complimented her profusely, perfectly in character with your fine manners.”
“You said a most proper blessing, thankful for all that you have, and asking that those who did not would have more bountiful futures. Then my friend, I was most touched, for you offered a toast to me.”
“Why to Sherlock Holmes?” “Your wife asked.”
“What has he done other than heap scorn upon your writings, those writings which made him famous! And is he here this evening, or is he home, alone, shunning the company of all?”
I was most embarrassed at these words, which in fact my own wife had said. “Holmes….”
“No Watson, you need not apologize. Her feelings are genuine, and not without due cause. And I of course heard your reply, defending me, though perhaps a trifle too earnestly. You have no reason to feel other than content on this matter.”
I sank back into my chair, knowing nothing I could say would contribute to the conversation, and not wanting to break the spell that was compelling Holmes to tell me all this.
“So, you two toasted me, you with genuine regard for our friendship, Mrs. Watson so as to not quarrel with you. My involvement with your Christmas dinner done, the two of you enjoyed the warmth of both hearth and season.”
“We left your home, and the ghost took me through the streets of London. Though the snow was growing heavier, folk were everywhere, visiting kith and kin. Carols were sung in the streets. Groups of young lasses, giggling together, went to and fro, and heaven help the single man who saw them and lost his breath for a moment. “
“Children ran in the snowy streets, while men tipped top hats to women they passed. And throughout it all, my guide smiled, bestowing mirth and joy on all he passed. And it did seem that those receiving his blessings were a little happier. This was his time and place and season.”
“Then suddenly, we were gone!”
I was started at Holmes’ sudden change of tone.
‘Where are we?’ “I asked the ghost. For I stood in a bleak moor, windy and bleak as a desert. Pools of water were spread everywhere, though they were frozen. Dry, coarse grass covered the rest of the land. Large stones and boulders were strewn about, as if giants had tossed them randomly aside. The sun had just set, leaving a glaring red scar in the western sky. It looked over the desolate landscape, and not approving, faded to darkness.”
This is where miners live. They spend their days deep in the earth, and come above at night to see this.
“The humor was no longer in his voice, but now sounded solemn. Then it lightened. But even here, they know and honor me.
“Suddenly we looked into a small shack, yellow light glowing through the windows. Passing through the mud and stone walls, we entered into the small hut, almost a hovel. You’ve seen the like in the east end.”
“Gathered around a small fire were an old man and woman, and their sons and daughters; and with them, their sons and daughters. Generations of this family were together, decked out in holiday attire. The old man sang a Christmas song that was old when he was a boy. The wind whistled outside, but his voice rose above. The rest joined in on the chorus, and the old man sang louder, subsiding as the others fell silent, waiting again for their part.”
“But that quickly we were gone, speeding our way out over the coast and to sea. I flew over the whitecaps towards a lighthouse. The sea crashed and roared, and onward we continued through the howling gale. We drew closer to the beacon of light, which cut through the air and waves, always performing its duty. We were approaching the Isle of May. The builder of that lighthouse was a fellow named Robert Louis Stevenson. His grandson’s stories, most notably Treasure Island, rival your own in popularity.”
“The lighthouse bore the brunt of the angry sea, and moss grew upon the rocks as the waves continued pounding all they could find. The wind roared past the slim needle rising from the ground. But even here Christmas was respected. Looking through a porthole, tightly stoppered against the elements, two keepers raised a toast to each other.”
“And we were sailing away again, quick as a heartbeat. We flew out into the ocean, far from any sign of land. But a ship’s lights glowed in the distance, and it was to there that we went. I walked among the men on the ship, from the lookout in the riggings to the helmsman on the deck, to the captain in his quarters. Every sailor hummed a tune, or talked of past Christmases, or was a little kinder to his follows than he had been the day before. Even with no family around, they shared the warmth of Christmas. And the ghost smiled at his work.”
“The spirit took me to many other homes and places, and all had happy endings. The sick felt a surge of hope when the ghost stood next to them, and men staying in foreign lands felt a sense of home, and even those in prison had a sweet breath of freedom. Then I noticed something that escaped my attention. The being was growing older as we sped from one holiday event to another. Finally, I noticed gray in his beard.”
‘Oh being, are all spirit’s lives so short?’ “I asked”
“He looked at me with a sad smile that I didn’t quite understand.” My time upon this earth is very short. For it ends tonight.
‘Tonight!’ “I exclaimed.”
Tonight, at midnight, for I am the Ghost of Christmas Present, and my time depends on such.
“Watson, I was not totally addled during this trip. I realized his powers only existed during the period of Christmas, which man has defined as only twenty-four hours.”
“He spoke,” Midnight draws near, and I will leave you now.
“I noticed something beneath his robe, down around his feet.”
‘Spirit, is there not something there, something that is not a part of you? Do I see a claw?’
Aye, claw it is. “And he lifted up the hem of his robe and opened it, so that I saw what was there.”
“A horrible sight I beheld. There were two children clinging to his legs: a boy and a girl. But they were not normal children. They were little more than skeletons, with no flesh. They did indeed have bony claws for feet. I somehow knew they were hungry, always wanting to devour more.”
‘What…what are these children? Are they yours?’
No! “The ghost thundered.” They are not mine, they are man’s; the boy is loneliness, the girl is pride. They feed on humans, created by their own hand. Beware of both. The girl shall cause you to suffer what the boy has. They shall be your downfall. I have shown you what lies ahead. You may deny them if you change and show strength. If not, you shall suffer from both.
“As the last word was uttered, a clock chimed. The ghost vanished. I looked around but saw him not. However, I beheld the most fearsome being of them all. The first ghost had been soft and incandescent. The second was robust and earthy. But this third was the true personification of a phantom. It was black and willowy; as if made up of the black robe it wore. It was dark and only an outstretched hand let me focus on it, distinguishing it from the night around it.”
“It did not walk but floated along the ground, moving towards me without a sound. The first spirit told me I would be visited three times that night, so I knew this would be the last. I took two steps forward and greeted it solemnly.”
‘You are the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come?’ “It bowed its hooded head in acknowledgement.”
‘You have come to show me the holidays of my future, have you not? Those things that have not yet happened, but will?’
“The being merely stood silently. I couldn’t really see it Watson. This is hard to describe. But I had the sense it was tall and had a stately presence.”
‘Lead on.’ “I told the being.” ‘For I know you shall not leave me be until your task is complete. Take me to my future.’
He moved around in his chair, paused for a few seconds, and then resumed his tale. “I relate these words to you calmly. I will admit that I was somewhat unnerved by this last being. A man’s future holds the most uncertainty, and it was certainly the most threatening, at least by looks, of the three.”
“The ghost pointed forward, one arm raised, and led us to my future. We were in London again, and I found myself in Scotland Yard. A group of officers were gathered in an office, seated in various places. I saw Gregson, Lestrade, Jones, Hopkins, and a few others I knew barely, or not at all. They were older, but I could not say by how much. Suddenly the sounds of their existence were audible.”
“He was an arrogant sod, always making snide comments, insulting us, dropping vague hints rather than simply telling what he knew.”
“This was said by Jones. There were murmurs of assent and nods as the others agreed.”
“Sure, he helped us. But it all seemed a joke to him. I say the Yard is better off with him in his grave.”
“Again, heads went forward and back in agreement.”
“I will attend his funeral,” “Lestrade said.”
“Who else will go see him buried?”
“I will, if there’s a free lunch!”
“This was said by a man I didn’t know, and it was greeted with much laughter.”
“I know that the men of the Yard had a less than warm attitude towards me, but I did not realize the depths their dislike of me sank to.”
“Then we were moving again. I was in Spitafields. The streets were grimy and buildings were jammed together. The poor roamed the streets in ragged clothing. Many were homeless, carrying their few meager possessions. The ghost took me to a small shop at the end of a cobblestone alley. It was a grubby place, and we went to a back room. There, some young boys surrounded an old man. I did not recognize any of them. Several of the boys carried bags that they plopped down beside them.”
“Well boys,” “said the old man, rubbing his hands together.” “What do you have for old Millwood?”
“The oldest of the youths answered him. opening up one of the bundles.” “This is good stuff. We got it from a real well-off codger.”
“A smattering of items fell to the floor with a clatter. A fireplace poker, a knife, a mirror and the like lay on the blanket. Another bundle was opened, and I saw more items obviously taken from someone’s apartment. Then I noticed my calabash pipe. I suddenly recognized all of the items as having been in our rooms here. I deduced that one or two of the boys were future Baker Street Irregulars. “
“The scene shifted and the boys were crowded around each other, looking at the money in their palms. I gathered from their conversation that they had taken the items from my rooms when Mrs. Hudson was out. I doubt not that the Irregulars were ingenious enough to break in while she was gone. It is a disturbing feeling watching others sell your life’s belongings in such a cold, impersonal way.”
“I turned to the ghost.” ‘So, this is my future? My belongings plundered by boys and sold in the back of seedy shops?’
“The spirit merely looked at me. I could not feel its eyes, but I knew it was watching me.”
“Then, I was in a room. It was dark around the periphery and in the corners. All I could see was a bed in the middle. Lying on the bed was a body, covered from head to toe. None of it was visible. But I knew it was I under the sheet. I urged every muscle in my body to come to life and expose the face. But I could not move. The ghost just stood there, waiting for me.”
‘I want to uncover the body, but I cannot.’ “The spirit did not move.” ‘I tell you, I cannot step forward and do what you wish.’ I was greeted with impassive indifference.”
‘Please, if there is one man in this city who shows emotion for my death, take me to him.’
“We went to Newingate Prison, where Alexander Evans languished. I believe you titled the adventure involving him The Case of the Shot on the Stairs. He was talking through the door to the guard walking down the hall.”
“Ah, that toff Holmes is dead. I outlived that pious cur. May his eternal soul rot in hell.”
‘No ghost.’ “I cried.” ‘Show me someone who is sorrowful, not pleased.’
“Once again we moved, and I found myself in Pall Mall. I was in a spartan but cozy apartment. A fire blazed in the hearth and I saw a large figure standing before it, a glass of scotch in his hand. Lo, it was Mycroft.”
“Sherlock, my brother, would that you had outlived Sherrinford and myself. I am the last of the Holmes’ now, and the line dies with me. I miss your keen wit and our duels of intellect.”
“With that, he raised the glass, drained it, and shattered it in the fire.”
‘See ghost, there is someone who misses me. Family stays true to its own.’
“It reacted not, though I somehow knew it wondered how I could find joy that only one was saddened to see me go.”
At this point I had to speak. “Holmes, you know I will be greatly saddened at your passing!”
“Yes, dear Watson, you have been a steadfast friend, and I’m sure you will remain so in our future adventures together. But I controlled not this dream, and you were not in this part of it.”
“I sensed that the spirit’s time was almost up.” ‘Spirit, take me back to my home. Show me to my resting place.’
“We did not go to Baker Street, and I protested to no avail. We continued onwards to a poorly kept cemetery. As I looked around me, we stopped in front of a grave. The site itself was overgrown with weeds and bracken. Damp moss covered the tombstone. The ghost merely pointed at it. I bent forwards to peer at the headstone and saw my name on it.”
‘No, I meant take me back to my lodgings, not my gravesite.’ “As before, no audible response was forthcoming.”
‘Are these the things that must be, or only that may be?’ “I asked. It made no noise or gesture in return.” ‘If I were to change now, could I change that which will come to pass?’
“I recognized a sense of desperation in my voice. But the phantom had not spoken to me, nor was it going to now. It merely pointed from me to the grave, and back to me again.”
“A shifting of my surroundings brought me back to my room, the black spirit floating before me. I sensed it waited for some type of recognition from me, some summation of the night’s lesson. I felt more comfortable back on solid ground, if you will. I spent a few minutes in silent contemplation of all that had gone before. The phantasm merely waited. Finally, I spoke.
‘The past is done, and my actions at various Christmas holidays set my feet upon a path that I continued to follow, from lonely days at school, to a brief happiness at home with both my brothers, to my letting go of Carlotta.’ “The spirit rippled, indicating approval of my statement.”
‘While people the world over celebrated their Christmas with friends, relatives and loved ones, I spent a solitary day alone.’ “Your visit tonight was not part of my dream, Watson.”
‘I did not join in, either through actions or spirit, in honoring this day.’ “Again, I sensed the ghost’s approbation at my assessment.”
‘And a lonely future lies ahead of me. My belongings plundered, my associates sneering at my life, friends gone and only an elderly brother mourning me. I spend eternity in an uncared for grave.’
“For the third time (and is that not representative of the number of spirits visiting me, Watson?) it acknowledged what I said. I knew, somehow, that it was now waiting for me to impart what lesson I had learned this long night.”
‘So, you stand there, waiting for me to say I’ll change my ways.’ “As I said this, I had regained my confidence and was once again the reasoning, rational detective you know. So, I was fully in control of matters as I finished with this unwanted visitor.”
I was most disturbed at the end of this tale. Holmes had showed emotions I’d never seen from him before, and in depths I could not have guessed at. But now he was the Holmes of old, and I felt that something had been lost.
“I cast a steely glare at where I felt the ghost’s eyes would be.”
‘A man may not change what has come and gone. And he must make do as best he can in the now. His future lies before him as a result of his present choices. I have chosen this life that I lead. What do I care how jealous police inspectors from Scotland Yard feel at my passing? Do I not provide them with help whenever they ask? And if I do not have a house full of noisy children and a loving wife, it gives me the quite and tranquility I need to properly use my intellect and powers of reasoning.’
Holmes was almost sneering as he said this. The passion and feelings I had seen during his story were gone, and he was even harsher than usual.
‘So, my grave will be covered with weeds and sit in a windy graveyard, visited by none. Once I pass Hades’ threshold I will have no concerns about the earthly realm. I leave tales of the supernatural to dabblers like Conan Doyle.’
I don’t believe anything could better distinguish Holmes’ change in attitude from the beginning of the tale to now than this reference to my publisher.
‘I have dedicated my life to the highest principles of thought and reasoning. I have dedicated my skills to justice and the solving of problems. Is that not a noble calling? If I had used my powers for evil, perhaps some repentance on my part would be in order. But I have nothing to be ashamed of, nor sorry for. The fair Carlotta was correct in knowing my heart would lead me on this path. I have been, and will remain, true to my calling.’
I could contain myself no longer. “But Holmes, the feelings you expressed, the very emotions you felt during the night. When you looked upon your childhood self; your own expression of sorrow at letting Carlotta go; the sorrow you felt when you talked of Sherrinford, who you had never mentioned to me. What of all that? Can you continue on the same path, knowing you can make up for such events should the like arise again in the future?” It was an impassioned plea that came from my throat as I threw these words at him. I did not even realize I had risen to my feet and held my hands out, imploring him.
He smiled at me. “Watson, ever the emotional one. I will not deny that I was moved by all that the three spirits showed me. But what of it? Should I turn over a new leaf and change my ways? Would that not betray all that I have done to become what I am? I am an analytical machine. I take data, process it, and produce a result. If man could ever be so bold as to invent a machine that could do the same, the world would be revolutionized. I have the respect of my peers, if not their admiration. I am on good terms with my brother, and I have a staunch friend and companion in you. What more do I require? Nothing!”
I looked for something to say, some key that would once again unlock the flood of memories he had visited with the Ghost of Christmas Past, but I could find nothing. So many times in my association with Sherlock Holmes I had tried to show him the folly of shutting out any emotions, to no purpose. In my confused state after this incredible tale, I was not up to the task. He finished his story.
“The ghost seemed somehow disappointed in my words, but I knew them to be true, and I would not change them for its approval. It slowly shrank down and became my bedpost. The clock struck one for the final time, and I went to sleep, knowing my journeys for the night were over.”
“It is late Watson. You should spend this holiday night with your wife. I thank you for listening to my story. As always, you have proved an invaluable sounding board. I feel my old self again, and am ready to solve a small matter I have undertaken for the Sultan of Turkey. Our paths shall cross again soon, I am sure.”
I knew there was nothing for me to say. As I put on my heavy coat, he added: “Watson, I must insist that you not publish this story. At least certainly not while I am alive. It can in no way enhance my reputation, and in fact, there is not even a case involved or a mystery to solve. Your word on it?”
Of course, I could not deny his request. I always respected his feelings on these matters. It was a small price to pay for enabling me to serve the role of his assistant, friend and biographer. As I opened the door to the landing, emotionally exhausted from this experience, something tickled at the back of my mind. I turned to Holmes and said “Merry Christmas to you, and to you a good night!”
That is the story of the most peculiar Christmas I experienced with my friend, Sherlock Holmes. I have deposited this manuscript in the dispatch box I keep at Cox & Company, London, with instructions that it is not to be published until twenty-five years have elapsed since both of our deaths. So, as you read these words, the memory of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson have undoubtedly faded, until it is unlikely those names will even be recognizable a hundred years hence. However, I hope that you, dear reader, will see, just for a few brief moments, as I did, that Holmes was more than a brilliant mind, and had an emotional side as well. It is a shame he did not choose to show it more often.
John H. Watson, MD
You can read Bob Byrne’s ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column here at Black Gate every Monday morning.