A Story for Christmas...
My son loves Sherlock Holmes. Of course we watched it last night, but this was his Christmas present to me. A really beautiful gift, as he has signed away all rights to the story so any money I ever make from it is mine..... (I jest. It's a 70-30 split in my favour)
Please read and enjoy;
Please read and enjoy;
Irregular Christmas by D P Kneale
221b Baker Street
24th December 1881
An extract from the accounts of Dr John H. Watson
In the year that I had known the venerable mind of our age that was my friend Sherlock Holmes; I had never seen him celebrate the festive season on any given holiday. He sneered at Easter, laughed scornfully at the celebrations of Pentecost, and given me scornful looks when I mentioned the holiday of Valentine’s Day.
So you will forgive me if I did not anticipate Holmes celebrating the monumental date of Christmas.
In the weeks leading up to the holiday, Holmes had not reacted with the scorn I anticipated. The most hostile he achieved was a scornful glance as myself and Mrs Hudson navigated a Christmas tree into the room. Nevertheless, I was fully expecting an eruption of ascerbic comment and criticism upon the arrival of Christmas Eve.
It was approaching the tenth hour of the night, and I was on tenterhooks. Holmes had sat in his chair all day, saying not a word to either me or Mrs Hudson. Doubtless I was anticipating a great tirade of the illogicality’s of Christmas, but I was to be disappointed. Holmes did not say a word.
That was, until a group of boys singing Christmas Carols outside the window proceeded to sing ‘Good King Wenceslas’.
As the sound of this carol entered our lodgings, Holmes stiffened in his chair, then proceeded to retrieve his violin and play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as loudly as he could. When this did nothing to relieve the sound of the carollers, he stood up, grabbed a bucket sitting by his armchair, and proceeded to fling open the windows and turn the bucket upside down.
I was shocked. I had expected a reaction, but not like this.
That was, until I saw that the bucket did not, in actual fact, contain water, but several twenty pound notes. There was much excited shouting from the streets below, as well as cries of adulation and thanks.
Holmes resolutely shut the window and turned to me.
“It would appear, Watson,” He remarked “that I have accidentally spent the next years rent.”
“Good heavens, Holmes!” I exclaimed.
“Apologies.” Holmes replied, placing the bucket by his desk “But I have a particular disliking of that carol.”
“That particular one?” I queried.
“Indeed. The king, in my opinion, was a rather crass ruler.”
“Indeed?” I questioned.
Holmes sat at his workspace, lighting his pipe.
“The king helped the homeless man purely because it was Christmas, correct?”
At my nod, he continued.
“Was he there last month? Would he have been here the next week? No.” Holmes was standing now, pacing and violently gesturing. “But that night he wanted to feel all warm inside. That night he wanted them to say: what a generous king he is.”
I stared at Holmes in astonishment. Never, even whilst on a case, had I seen Holmes this animated.
Holmes sighed, and ran a hand through his hair. Then, he tuned to a cupboard and pulled out a hat box. He proceeded to open it, taking out a tall silk top hat with a red ribbon around the brim. He placed the had atop the bust of Julius Caesar in the window, also placing a rag ball coloured red beside it.
I watched in amazement at this strange behaviour from my colleague. Had Holmes lost his mind?
The question of my friend’s sanity was answered by sounds of shouting from downstairs, and our good landlady’s protestations.
I have often reflected on the dramatic entrances of clients onto our humble stage of 221b Baker Street. What I have neglected to mention was that, of these, none could rival the many sudden and unexpected entrances of the Baker Street Irregulars.
There they came, the half a dozen dusty street arabs that, at the time, made up their ranks. They burst in in a disorganised rabble, with Mrs Hudson’s complaints hounding at their heels.
"'Tention!" cried the tallest, a dark-haired boy I knew as Wiggins.
The group hastily formed itself into the required line. There was an aura of command about Wiggins that I had seen only on the battlefield, so I did not blame them for their adherence toward his commands.
Wiggins turned to Holmes.
"Mister 'olmes." he said, tilting the deerstalker cap uncommonly like Holmes' towards my companion.
Holmes inclined his head in reply.
"Wiggins." he greeted.
Without turning around, Wiggins addressed one of his-and I realised that already I had started to think of them as his-Irregulars.
"Stop lookin' at the table, Vicky."
One of the Irregulars, who I suddenly registered as a girl, protested "But its real silvah"
"Vicky." he shot her down.
"Well, Wiggins." Holmes interrupted before the argument could escalate "What brings you here on so cold a night?"
"The col'?" one of the Irregulars suggested, and they all laughed.
"We been relyin' on too much Charity." Wiggins replied, his face sombre. "On 'count o' it bein' Christmas. Too many people wan' to feel good 'bought themselves."
I leaned forward, astonished. It was as if these urchins were colluding with Holmes.
"You do not enjoy Christmas, then, Wiggins?" I asked.
One of the other Irregulars, answered.
"Wha' good' Christmas if yer on the street? Just another day fer yer ta starve, innit?"
This was met by sounds of approval from the others.
"An' 'nother excuse fer fat rich bastard's ta eat all the grub." Another offered.
I stared at them in astonishment. I glanced at our Christmas dinner, 'a measly spread', I distinctly remember saying to Holmes. He had stared at me in astonishment, and it was only now that I understood. How ungrateful I must have seemed to him.
I looked at Holmes. He was staring at me with an imploring expression on his face. I turned back to the Irregulars.
“I don’t suppose…” I started, then, retrieving my courage, I carried on “I don’t suppose you all would care to join us?”
The Irregulars stared at me in astonishment. Then one of them, a boy standing on Wiggins’ right hand side, stepped up shyly.
“Wou’ ‘hat be alrigh’, Mr ‘olmes.” he asked, and I realised from the high pitch of the voice that this was a girl dressed as a boy.
Holmes smiled at her gently, a rare sight on his face. “Nothing would make me happier, Titch.” Then he turned toward me.
“Good lord, Watson!” he cried “It has just occurred to me that you have no idea who these children are!”
“I’m afraid not, Holmes.” I replied.
“Wiggins!” Holmes barked “Introduce the men!”
Wiggins threw a salute, then marched down the line, proceeding to introduce each individual Irregular to me.
“This ‘ere’s Titch, our secon’ i’ comman’” he introduced the girl, who smiled shyly at me. Holmes beckoned me into confidence.
“No doubt you have deduced that the ‘boy’ Titch is, in actual fact, a girl.” he remarked to me. “I would consider it a great service if you divulged this information to no one. You, Mrs Hudson, Wiggins and I are the only ones who know this information. The other Irregulars are oblivious, and she would wish it to remain so.”
My heart lifted at Holmes’ trust in me, and at my nod he waved for Wiggins to continue.
“This’s Connor, our littl’ spy.” he introduced a nervous boy whose eyes snapped and darted, and whose fingers nervously fingered a pound coin in his hands.
“A very good observer.” Holmes informed me, “And has several other…talents.”
Before I could inquire further, Wiggins continued.
“‘awkins, our Whitechapel resi...resi...red-i-dent.” Wiggins introduced a small boy, glancing hungrily at the table.
“The youngest of the Irregulars,” Holmes whispered to me “Barely two. We give him the easiest tasks of the group, and pay him the most.”
I stared in pity at the boy, but was distracted by Wiggin’s continued introduction.
“Vicky, our klepto...klepto...klepto...” Wiggins stumbled.
“Kleptomaniac?” Holmes suggested.
Wiggins nodded. “That’s the one. Put ‘em back, Vicky.”
“I ‘ain’t got nothin’” she protested.
“Vicky.” he commanded. Vicky grumbled, then put on the table four knives, two forks, and a silver soup dish.
There was a moment of silence as myself, Wiggins and even Holmes stared at her in astonishment. Then Wiggins cleared his throat and introduced the last member of the group.
“This ‘ere’s Ellie.” He introduced the last girl, who gave a graceful curtsy… to the table. It was only when she stood up again that I saw the white film over her eyes, and realised that she was blind.
“Well,” said Holmes, rising from the armchair, “I believe I shall call down for more food from Mrs Hudson, and then we can begin. Don’t stand on ceremony, take a seat.”
They all did, Titch leading Ellie to a chair between herself and Wiggins. I took my customary place at the right side of Holmes' seat, and Wiggins took the left. The other Irregulars took up seats around the table, and presently Holmes came back burdened with a tray of turkey and roast potatoes, a burden the Irregulars were happy to relieve him of.
There are many things that I enjoyed and still enjoy about my time with Mr Sherlock Holmes, but that Christmas, with Titch helping Ellie to eat her food, Wiggins and Holmes having a whispered conversation, Hawkins and Vicky entering into an argument between Connor and Titch, only to have the argument halted by Holmes and Wiggins giving them an identical sharp look, that always remains in my mind.
After dinner was over, Holmes retrieved his Stradivarius, and led the Irregulars into a re-enactment of Silent Night, and then, with much calling out and wishes of Merry Christmas, the Irregulars disappeared into the fog.
"Well, Watson," Holmes puffed on his pipe, "I don't suppose you would wish to invite the Irregulars next Christmas?"
"Gladly, Holmes. Gladly." I replied.