Sherlock Holmes and the Missing Christmas Presents
A COT SSC#4 entry and Sherlock Holmes fanfiction
Upon looking through the numerous records I, Doctor John H. Watson, hold of the many singular cases my friend Sherlock Holmes has undertaken over the years, it is surprising to me that a percentage of them have occurred during the season of Christmas. Perhaps there is something about the spirit of the season that causes people to behave in an out-of-ordinary fashion; I have no authority to say for certain, for I am a Doctor of the body and not the mind.
The case that I choose to reproduce here is one that, as usual, I believe highlights the remarkable powers of perception possessed by my friend and his rather unique skill at applying those skills to solve any problem, no matter how trivial. The criminal scale of such problems rarely mattered to Holmes; his concern was only whether each case presented notable features so as to be of interest to his keen mind.
It was early on the morning of Christmas day - so early that we had not yet breakfasted - that Holmes and I were visited, at our rooms on Baker Street, by a most distressed young gentlemen. The two of us were sitting in chairs before a roaring fireplace, the heat of the flames and the cloth of our gowns defending us against the icy atmosphere of the winter season. I was engrossed in the morning paper whilst Holmes added tobacco to the new pipe he had received from me as a Christmas present. His bright eyes were narrowed as he performed the delicate operation, though they swept to the doorway when our visitor was shown in.
“My apologies for disturbing you at so early an hour, gentlemen, and on Christmas day at that,” said the man, who looked to me to be no older than thirty, and sporting a modest moustache much like my own. His paleness appeared to me to be not an effect of the cold weather, but of his own shaken nerves. “The fact is that I cannot afford to waste a moment while my concern plagues me, and yet it is not a matter that I can confidently bring to the Police without a fear of being laughed at. So I seek the services of one Mr. Sherlock Holmes.”
I folded up my newspaper as our visitor entered. “Have a seat,” offered my friend. He continued speaking as our visitor placed his hat and coat carefully upon the corners of an empty chair. “I am Sherlock Holmes, and this is my chronicler, Dr. Watson. Please explain to us the nature of the problem that plagues you, Mr. Scott.”
Our visitor stared at Holmes with a curious expression. “You know me, then, sir?”
“Not at all. But the name printed upon the inseam of your hat makes no secret of the matter.”
“Ah, of course.” Our visitor said. I glanced toward the exposed interior of the man’s hat, where the name HOWARD SCOTT could be read. “Well, my trouble is this, Mr. Holmes, and I implore you that this is no joke, or delusion, or anything of the sort.” Howard Scott paused briefly, as if bracing himself. “The Christmas presents for my entire household have gone missing.”
“Is that so?“ Holmes sat up. I noted the telltale curious twinkle in his eyes that signalled his piqued interest. He struck a match and applied it to his pipe. “Please furnish me with every possible detail regarding the matter. Do not be sparing. I will decide for myself which are the relevant facts.”
“Right,” said Howard. “I shall first let you know about my family, those to whom the presents belonged. I have an honest and caring wife, Violet, to whom I have been married for eight years, and together we have a child, Grace. We live in a modest little house at Camden Heath. It has been an excellent year for me financially and so I have been able to purchase some quite expensive gifts for my loved ones this year.
“The thing is, little Grace, she can be a mischievous and curious sort, and every year she has a habit of searching our house high and low for her presents. So each year I have taken to concealing them in some cunning way, keeping the information as to their location known only to myself and my wife. This year I decided to contain the presents within a sack. I mentioned that I had done well financially; I have purchased a great many vegetables this year, as I have invited my brother Stephen and his family to join us for Christmas dinner, and as a result there were a great many large brown sacks stored in our house, and having seen that they are intended to carry vegetables my daughter has no desire to rifle through them.
“As there is to be a lot of preparation for our Christmas meal my wife desired to start early. For this reason we brought all of the vegetable sacks into the house last night.”
“What hour was this?” Interjected Holmes.
“Just after nine, as we did it once Grace had been put to bed.”
“I see. Pray continue.”
“We brought the sacks into the house and placed them in the kitchen, ready to be unpacked in the morning. At this point I made sure to place the sack full of presents at the back of the group - Grace is a small girl, only seven, and has not the strength to move the other sacks out of the way.
“Well, after that my wife and I spent the our evening in the living room, and retired to bed at about half past eleven. We were engrossed in a book each so that there was hardly a sound in the house. I am certain that if there had been an intruder during that time, we would have heard him. We are both heavy sleepers however, so after that time any number of things could have gone unheard.
“I awoke this morning with my alarm-clock, which went off at half past five. After washing and dressing I ventured downstairs with my wife into the kitchen, and instantly we noticed the absence of the presents. Their sack had been placed closest to the window and, upon examining it, I found that the lock had been forced open during the night. It was clear that some petty thief had made off with them, thinking them to be vegetables. I left the house with then intention of going to the Police. As I summoned a cab, however, I considered my dear daughter, who loves Christmas, and the effect a police investigation might have upon her precious day. I cannot bear to see it spoiled. I remembered that my brother had told me of a man who had helped him immensely during a time of difficulty once. That man was you, Mr. Holmes, and so I set off to find you at once, and here I am, just after six and desperate for your assistance.”
My friend was quiet for some time, puffing on his pipe with closed eyes, head lolling upon his chest as he turned over the information provided. Howard watched Holmes all the while, fidgeting with anxious impatience.
“Thank you for that detailed narrative, Mr. Scott,” Holmes said at last. “I think that I would like to come with you to Camden Heath to examine the scene of the crime, as it were, and if I am much mistaken Dr. Watson will be joining me as well.” Holmes was correct, for I could never resist a chance to observe his brilliant mind in action.
“I have no objections, but please bear in mind my reasoning for coming to you,“ said Howard. “My daughter still sleeps, and I do not wish for her to suspect that anything is amiss.”
“I give you my word that I will be as inaudible in my investigation as possible, Mr. Scott. If you would be so kind as to hail a broughham, Watson and I will be with you in five minutes.”
Holmes and I dressed quickly, giving the order to our landlady Mrs. Hudson to postpone our breakfasts as we set off in a four-wheeler. Even under our thick gloves and coats we could feel the bitterly cold air. Faint swathes of mist hung around the dun-coloured rooftops as we passed them. There was little traffic at this hour, and in a short time we had reached the residence of Howard Scott and his family. The house was an ordinary-looking one, standing at the end of a row of identical neighbours. A small square of garden surrounded it.
“Is that the kitchen window, on the right side?” Questioned Holmes as we stepped out.
“Good. Then we shall - what are you doing there, Watson?”
Upon stepping out of the cab I had spotted a small brown object lying on the pavement several feet away. I strode over and picked it up; it was a pocket-knife, with the name ‘L. Graham’ carved into its handle.
“Curious!” Chuckled my friend as he observed the knife from over my shoulder, rubbing his hands with glee. Howard had joined him also.
“By jove, we’ve got him already!” Exclaimed Howard in delight. “L. Graham, that’s our culprit!”
“Ah, but Mr. Scott, it is dangerous to theorise before one has all the facts,” warned Holmes. “This is a public street. This pocket-knife is of a common make. It could belong to dozens of innocent passers-by rather than your thief.” As he said this he flipped out the blade to examine it, revealing the crimson stain borne upon its tip.
“I know of no innocent men with blood on their pocket-knives!” Cried Howard, his eyes alight with excitement.
Holmes studied the blade with a look of intrigue. “Well, it seems that this is worth holding on to - halloa! What’s this now? Watch out for that ice, Watson.” He had crouched down, sweeping his fingers across the ground. I stepped over the wide frosty patch that my friend had indicated - in the weak morning sunlight it was barely visible, and were it not for his warning I would have experienced a nasty slip - and noticed as he brought his black-gloved fingers up close to his face that they were coated in some form of white powder. Before him a long streak of the substance lay upon the pavement, culminating in a hand-shaped print.
“Undisturbed,” muttered Holmes. “This means that this substance cannot have come to rest here any earlier than yesterday eve, otherwise the footfalls of the passing public would have disrupted it. It is lucky that there has been no rain since the other day. Mr. Scott, can you confirm whether this mark was here when you left your house this morning?”
“I am afraid that I cannot. I did not turn that way as I left the house.”
Holmes rubbed the powder between his fingers, dabbed a smidgeon upon his tongue, and finally brushed the substance off.
“Hum! It is lime powder. Used in builder’s yards. How came it to be here, then?”
“There is a builder’s yard some short distance from here,” said Howard. “No more than a ten-minute walk, I should say.”
“The handprint is definitely a man’s,” I offered.
“It is not precise enough to offer fingerprints, though,” observed Holmes. “Never mind. Let us put this curiosity to one side and concentrate on the initial object of our visit.”
The three of us passed through the outer gate, and walked across the garden to the right face of the house. The frosty grass crunched beneath our feet. We had just rounded the corner when Holmes thrust out an arm, stopping us, his eyes narrowed as he stared at the ground. Two trails of impressions had been left there, one trail leading towards the base of the kitchen window, the other leading away. Both extended from different points of the garden fence, forming a wide ‘V’.
Holmes knelt down and produced a lens from the interior of his coat. He proceeded to study the footprints as intensely as a man could, crawling and twisting around them, careful not to affect them in any way, observing from every possible angle. Aside from a few self-directed murmurs he was utterly silent, and I chose not to engage Howard in any conversation for fear of waking his sleeping daughter. By the time Holmes had finished our faces were drained of colour, save for our reddened noses. Our breathing was accompanied by wisps of white mist. Though he bore the same physical influences of the cold as we, Holmes’s eager manner as he spoke to us in hushed tones showed that he was utterly distracted from any discomfort the temperature might be causing him.
“These footprints evidently belong to the thief, a man weighing around one hundred-and-thirty pounds and measuring approximately five and a half feet tall. These things can all be deduced, in turn, from the style of his boots, depth of prints, and the length of their stride. Such a man must appear to be remarkably thin, do you not agree? Furthermore, the fact that the prints leading away from the house possess an additional degree of depth shows that this visitor was indeed carrying the weight of your presents with him as he left. Note also the direction of the prints. Upon his retreat he has made sure to avoid the pool of light that would undoubtedly have been cast by that street lamp. Now let us examine the window through which he pilfered his prize.”
As he approached the window a woman could be seen bustling about inside. She was a tall, dark-haired beauty. She noticed us at once and dashed to the window, lifting it open and glancing between us.
“Howard! Are these gentlemen from Scotland Yard?”
“No, madam, I am a private consulting detective,” answered Holmes. “Your husband has employed my services so that your problem can be resolved without necessitating the disturbance of your daughter, as,” he added sardonically, “the London Police are wont to do.”
“Oh, but I am afraid you are too late for that,” said Mrs. Violet Scott, “She has risen now from the smell of my cooking, but she does not know yet that the presents are gone. I have told her that her father has gone out on an errand and that we must not open our presents until we are all together as a family.”
“Then I shall not re-enter the house until our presents are found,” said Howard firmly.
“Thankfully her mind is preoccupied with other thoughts for her to question my excuse. I have had to do a little calming-down of her, She believes that she saw a ghost in the night.”
Holmes had been examining the window-sill, but perked up as she said this. “A ghost, you say? How interesting. When? Where?”
Both Violet and Howard looked at Holmes with slightly shocked expressions. “Last night,“ Violet answered. “She says she saw it outside, on the street. But this is just the imagination of a child at work, Mr. Holmes, is it not?”
“Most likely. I should like to speak to the young girl though. Might I do so?”
“If you really think it would help your investigation in some way.”
“I do not presume to decide such things until after I have received my data,” declared Holmes. “Rest assured, I shall not so much as hint at the nature of the crisis for which you have summoned me.”
“Very well,” nodded Violet. “You must wait a few minutes while I get her dressed.”
“Please, do not rush the girl on my account. I should like to examine this window first, anyhow.” Holmes’ return to the material investigation seemed to avail the traces of concern that had crept into the faces of Mr. and Mrs. Scott. He applied the magnifying power of his lens to every aspect of the window, but was silent only for a few moments before announcing his results.
“See here,” he said, pointing, as Howard and I leaned in for a closer look, “these are fresh scrapes. They are the result of the instrument used to force the lock and open the window. Can you infer anything from them?”
Years spent observing my friend at work had encouraged me to try to sharpen my own perceptive skills. Though I was not - and doubted that I ever would be - on such a scrutinous level as Holmes, I endeavoured to apply my mental faculties to produce a result worthy of my friend’s high standard. “They are very thin. The work of a pocket-knife?”
“Oh! The one we just found!” Exclaimed Howard. “And - and look! This orange-hued dust must be a result of its bloodied blade!”
“I am afraid not, Mr, Scott. In fact these orange particles point in a rather different direction. You see, they are the result of a rusted blade being applied to the woodwork of your window-sill.”
“But the blade we just found appeared to be almost brand new,” said I.
“Precisely. This means that the pocket-knife we have just discovered could not have been used to force entry to your window, and therefore did not belong to the thief.”
Howard’s brow furrowed in a mixture of confusion and disappointment. “Maybe - maybe the thief carried two pocket-knives, and the other was a spare.”
“Who keeps a brand new blade as a spare and utilises a rusted one?“ Retorted Holmes. “Look now. There are a fair number of scrapes here. But more than that; some appear to have missed the lock entirely. The thief appears to have had some difficulty in forcing the lock. The light of the street lamp would have stretched this far, so he must have been able to see clearly."
“Not necessarily. There was some fog last night,” Howard said.
“But the space between your kitchen window and the street must have been clear, else he would not have spotted your vegetables and decided to steal them in the first place.”
“What if his hands were numb with cold?” I suggested.
“Ah, much better, Watson. But I am afraid that we cannot be so specific without additional data; all we can say for sure is that he had some difficulty with his hands when forcing the lock. An injury or disability might also be the case. Ah, Mr. Scott, I do believe I hear your daughter descending the stairs now. I shall enter so that I may question her as to this Christmas ghost.”
Holmes and I went to the front door. Mrs. Scott opened it for us. A small, raven-haired girl was clutching her mother’s skirts shyly.
“Grace, these men wish to speak with you about the ghost you saw last night,” said Violet carefully. Grace pulled tighter. “Oh, darling, you mustn’t be afraid.”
Holmes crouched down, so that he was eye-level with the child. On many occasions I have known Holmes capable of affecting an utterly charming manner, and it again surfaced as he fixed the girl with a smile as warm as if he were her own father.
“Good morning Grace. My name is Sherlock Holmes. I heard from your mother that you saw a ghost last night, and would be very grateful if you could share your story with me. It sounds most interesting.”
The girl looked up to her mother, then back at Holmes.
“I saw the ghost outside,” she said quietly. “It… it rose out of the fog. It went along the street, but I got scared and went back to bed.”
“What time did you see the ghost, Grace?”
“I don’t know. I was in bed. I woke up when I heard a shout from outside. I looked out the window and saw the ghost. Then I went back to bed.”
“Can you remember what the ghost looked like?”
“It was a big man. Um, white all over. I could only see bits of it because of the fog.”
“Did it have a moustache or a beard?”
“And you say it rose from the fog?”
“Do you think that you could point out to me from your window exactly where you saw this ghost?”
Grace nodded again, and looked up at her mother. Mrs. Scott brought us and Grace upstairs into the child’s bedroom. Grace walked to the window and Holmes once again crouched beside her.
“There.” She pointed. Holmes stared. I gazed outside also, but from my position standing beside Mrs. Scott I could not properly follow the direction of Grace’s extended finger. Soon Holmes got to his feet.
“I have seen all that I would like to see. Thank-you very much for talking with me, Grace. Mrs. Scott, Watson and I will be taking our leave now. There are certain other things that we must look into, regarding the problem we had previously discussed.”
We were shown out by Mrs. Scott, to whom Holmes affirmed once Grace was out of earshot that if all went as expected then her husband would be joining her before the day was done.
Returning to the harsh winter air we found Mr. Scott sitting on a tree-stump in one corner of the garden, positioned so as to render himself imperceptible to any view from the windows of the house. He was tapping his feet as we approached.
“Well?” He asked. “Have you solved it?”
“Not quite, Mr. Scott, but I am getting there. There is now a rather monotonous but unfortunately necessary task ahead of us.” Holmes withdrew the pocket-knife that I had found earlier. “Since the owner’s name is apparently unfamiliar to you, we must call upon the houses of your neighbours and seek the owner of this item, Mr. L. Graham.”
“And thus we will have got our man,” Howard declared, getting to his feet.
“No,” Holmes corrected him, “we will have got a man who can point us in the right direction.”
A look of incredulity passed over Howard’s face. “Mr. Holmes, I trusted my brother’s anecdote; I had been told that you were an expert. But your investigation so far has resulted in nothing but a collection of irrelevant observations, including the unnecessary interrogation of my daughter about a ghost story! And still you have managed to miss the obvious logical outcome that the owner of this knife must be the thief responsible for the disappearance of my family’s Christmas presents.”
Holmes was silent during Howard’s short outburst. When he spoke it was in a calm, but firm tone.
“As Watson will tell you, Mr. Scott, during an investigation I do not generally like to make known my theories until I have enough evidence to wholly support their conclusion. It is dangerous to attempt to warp evidence to fit a theory, as you have done, rather than the other way around. My recommendation to you is to travel into town and obtain yourself a good breakfast, for hunger and anxiety are no doubt making you irritable and impatient. Go on, there is a cab now, off you go. Watson and I will continue investigating, and I promise you that we will return here as soon as we have solved this mystery.”
Howard muttered a weak apology then took the suggested cab. As we watched him rattle off down the street Holmes shook his head.
“Our client has made the same amateur mistake that many Police officers have made in the past; of deciding upon their culprit and then acknowledging only the evidence that supports their initial decision. To learn the truth, however, one must look at the information in an unbiased manner; seek the chain which connects each scrap of information until the entire picture is complete. As I have explained before Watson, once an investigator manages to eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
At this point I knew better than to probe him for answers as to his current theory - in addition to the logic trap he had described, Holmes possessed a flair for the dramatic, a desire to bring all the pieces of his investigation together in one swift conclusion. “So we must enquire as to the owner of that pocket-knife,” I said. “The thing is, how can you be sure that its owner lives close by?”
“He must have been walking home in order to slip on the ice and drop it. And no-one walks home on a foggy night unless they know their route by heart. He was a local man, I am certain of it. Now, I shall call upon the houses on that side of the street and you call upon these; that way we may cover ground much more quickly. Give me a shout if you learn anything.” He crossed the street and I embarked upon the task he had given me. I found the neighbours a mostly friendly lot, and though ultimately unhelpful they bade me on my way with festive cheer. Eventually, as I was returning to the street whilst closing a gate behind me, I heard Holmes’s voice call out to me. I crossed the road to meet him.
“124 Ashton Road,” he told me with a grin, breaking into a brisk walk as soon as I joined him. “It’s not far from here. We may have to engage in this little public survey once more after we get the details of the thief from L. Graham, our Christmas ghost.” I blinked at him. He chuckled. “Come now, Watson, is it really that unexpected? You have the same information available to you as I have. I am holding nothing back but my theories.”
I considered the facts of the case again, turning them over in my mind in an attempt to fit them together. Then when the notion hit me I felt a fool for not having made the connection immediately, as Holmes must have done. “Of course - the lime powder!”
Holmes smiled. “Very good. Ah, here is the address.” He knocked upon the door and, after a pause, it was swung open by a rather large, clean-shaven man. He was thick with muscle and a fresh purple bruise covered his left cheek. From his overall appearance I might have taken him to be a Rugby player.
“What is it?”
“Good day to you sir. Are you L. Graham?” Holmes ignored the rudeness.
“What’s it to you?”
“I have recovered a pocket knife which belongs to you. It has your name carved on the handle.”
The surly giant appeared to become a little more amiable at this. “Oh, I see. That’s good of you to find me. Have you it with you?”
“Indeed I have, but I feel that my friend and I are due some small reward first, for our efforts in seeking you out. We desire information - specifically, information on what it was you were doing last night that caused you to become covered in lime powder?”
The man stared at Holmes incredulously. “This - is this some sort of practical joke? Or are you undercover officers?”
“I assure you that I am being wholly serious, and that my friend and I are not working for or with the Police. I am simply investigating a matter with which you may be able to help us.”
“Well,” breathed the man, “I don’t know what use it will be of to you, but I suppose I will tell my story all the same. I was at the Queen’s Head pub late last night, was there for most of the evening, and at about midnight I set off for home. I’m a regular there, and I often take a shortcut home through a builder’s yard. I had the drink in me, so I didn’t notice those other two fellas following me until it was too late. They ambushed me; one of them slammed a bag of lime powder over my head so hard that it burst. I fell to my knees dazed, as the other one kicked me in the face - that’s how I got this bruise - and told me to hand over my valuables. Well, I wasn’t going to stand for it, and I managed to discreetly draw out my pocket-knife, pretending to be more out of it than I was. When one of them approached I jabbed the knife deep in his thigh. He let out a shriek of pain and scurried away, and his friend followed. That was the last I saw of them.
“After that the only thing that happened to me on my way home was that I was bowled over by some fella. He sprang right out of the fog and in trying to avoid him I slipped on some ice. I’m not proud to say I let out a yell of surprise; I had thought that it might be those two villains come to continue their mugging. I suppose that was where I lost my knife, and you two fellas found it?”
“Could you possibly describe the fellow that surprised you?”
“He was in a hurry, so I only caught a glimpse of him. By the time I got to my feet he had gone. He only had one-arm, though, and was carrying a sack of vegetables over his shoulder. Apart from that I can’t tell you much else.”
“Thank you very much for your time, Mr. Graham. Here is your pocket-knife.” As he turned away I saw that Holmes was wearing a broad smile of satisfaction; evidently the tale told by Mr. Graham contained exactly the things he’d hoped to hear.
“One-armed! That would explain why our man seemed to be so light,” mused Holmes as we departed. “Putting them into chronological order, Watson, it seems that the events last night progressed in this way: our thief spots the Scott family’s collection of vegetable sacks through their kitchen window, neatly illuminated by the light of a street lamp. He climbs over the garden fence and attempts to force the lock using a rusty pocket-knife, through with only one arm this presents him with some difficulty. Meanwhile Mr. Graham begins to pass by the house, covered in lime powder in the wake of his assault. The thief grabs the first sack he can reach, which as chance would have it happens to be the one filled with presents, and leaves, careful to avoid stepping into the pool of light again. He climbs over another part of the garden fence and flees, knocking over Mr. Graham in his haste. This elicits a yell from Mr. Graham that is loud enough to rouse Grace from her sleep. It is just as he gets to his feet that Grace spots his whitened form from her bedroom window, seemingly rising out of the fog as he does so. Well, we have solved the mystery of the Christmas ghost, at least. Now we have but to find our thief. I am certain that this man also lives locally, and thankfully a man with one arm is something that will fuel community gossip. You may as well stick with me this time, Watson, as I have no doubt that we will locate him soon enough.”
Holmes was right, for it was only after visiting several more neighbours that we learned of one Ernest Browning, who lived in the adjacent street. “Nice enough fellow,” said the old woman who informed us.
“Even the nicest fellow can be tempted to wickedness,” Holmes remarked to me as we set off once more.
The house of the thief was a run-down little terraced house with an unkempt front garden.
“I do not think that he will be able to put up much of a fight, should he be of a defiant mindset,” said Holmes as we knocked upon the door, “but he may try to slip away once he realises why we have come. Be ready to spring for him if he does, Watson.”
After what sounded like a rather laborious unfastening of the lock, the front door swung open to reveal the culprit of the case. He was, as Holmes had deduced, a man around five and a half feet tall, somewhat slender He looked upon us with a neutral enough expression, although there was hint of alarm in his grey eyes.
“We have come to you to learn the fate of the Christmas presents that you stole from the Scott household last night.”
As it turned out, no chase was to be necessary, for the moment that the reason of our visit became clear the man turned pale, and with quivering lips he dropped to his knees.
“Oh, lord! He exclaimed. “I feared this moment might come. You have discovered my crime, gentlemen, though I know not how you could have done it so quickly!”
“Perhaps if we were to step inside, my friend and I might be able to enlighten you,” offered Holmes.
Ernest Browning invited us inside. The interior of the house was as drab as the exterior, though it seemed as if it may have once appeared more respectable. We three seated ourselves in front of a small fire and, lit pipe in hand, Holmes relayed the story of our investigation, urging our host to speak only if confirming or denying points which particularly concerned him. As it transpired the version of events as we understood them was wholly correct.
“As you can see, I am a bachelor, and have fallen on hard times,” Ernest explained to us. “I used to work at a locomotive factory, but lost my right arm in an accident and had to be let go. I have been struggling to find work since, and I looked set to be having a lonely, quiet Christmas. It was as I was walking home last night that I spotted the impressive array of vegetables contained in that household, and I thought to myself, in a fit of self-pity and jealousy, how such a small household did not deserve to have so much extraneous food when I can barely afford my essentials. I’m ashamed to say that I succumbed to the temptation that crossed my mind and enacted the theft of one of their vegetable sacks. Or so I thought - when I got home and discovered what it was that I had stolen, I felt nothing but an aching hollowness inside me. I’d ruined this family’s Christmas, and I was too cowardly to attempt to return my useless prize. I thought that if I kept quiet the matter might go unsolved and by swallowing my shame life could go on as normal. But I see that my hopes were in vain, for you have tracked me down and exposed my selfish crime.”
“It was indeed a selfish thing you did,” agreed Holmes. “but you seem sorry enough, and have offered us a full confession without resistance. Since your crime is the theft of the Scott household’s Christmas presents, I see one obvious solution as to how you can absolve yourself of that sin.”
“Is that them?” Howard Scott queried anxiously twenty minutes later, when Holmes, Ernest and I had travelled back to the dwelling of the Scott family and presented the lingering Howard with a large brown sack.
“It is indeed your sack of missing Christmas presents,” smiled Holmes. Howard gave a cry of joy and snatched the sack up in his arms, feeling it over, confirming that it was indeed the collection of missing gifts.
“This is more than I honestly hoped for. In the back of my mind I feared that with their theft the presents would be gone forever,” Howard beamed. “Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson, I owe you both my sincerest thanks, for your efforts in solving this crisis.”
“That is quite all right,” said I.
“Indeed, it is - no Mr. Scott, do not even think about it.” Holmes had noticed the cheque book which our client had begun to draw from his coat pocket. “I engage in my particular line of work for the reward of intellectual stimulation, not accruement of finances. So long as I have enough to sustain my current lifestyle and habits - which I do - payment is of no concern.”
“As you wish, sir. But won’t you and Dr. Watson join the family for Christmas dinner? There is plenty to be shared. You too Mr. Browning. Though it was selfish act you performed, I can sympathise, having once also felt the despair of poverty, and now that you have had time to dwell upon what you did you appear wholly sorry. Besides, it is the season of forgiveness after all.”
“Bless you and your family, Mr. Scott! A more generous man I never met,” exclaimed Ernest with a glowing smile.
“Given the efforts we have made to recover that sack full of presents, I must admit to having developed a certain curiosity as to what is in them,” Holmes mused. I nodded in assent, and together we four made our way into the house.
“In the end it really proved to be a simple, though singular, case,” remarked Holmes as we walked. “Certainly one for your casebook, I should think, Watson. Pilfered presents, a ghost, and a one-armed thief. This has been a most interesting Christmas indeed.”
Author's comments: ... whew. I had meant to write this casually over a period of six days but ended up cramming then entire thing, from start to finish, into about ten hours. This is my entry into the CoT short story contest. I am a massive Sherlock Holmes fanboy, and have attempted to emulate the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original stories whilst writing this. Comments on how well I succeeded at that, or just on the story in general, would be appreciated.
Edited by Kumata, Jan 06 2012 - 11:24 PM.