Authors: Craig Janacek
The Midwinter Mysteries
of Sherlock Holmes
Copyright © 2013 by Craig Janacek
All Rights Reserved
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Grateful acknowledgment to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) for the use of the Sherlock Holmes characters.
Books by Craig Janacek
THE OXFORD DECEPTION
THE ANGER OF ACHILLES PETERSON
THE MIDWINTER MYSTERIES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
THE ADVENTURE OF THE MANUFACTURED MIRACLE
THE ADVENTURE OF THE FIRST STAR
THE ADVENTURE OF THE SPANISH SOVEREIGN
(THE GRAND GIFT OF SHERLOCK)
THE ASSASSINATION OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
THE ADVENTURE OF THE PHARAOH’S CURSE
THE PROBLEM OF THREADNEEDLE STREET
THE FALLING CURTAIN*
THE DR. WATSON TRILOGY
THE ISLE OF DEVILS
THE GATE OF GOLD*
THE RUINS OF SUMMER*
*Coming soon on Kindle
‘See the blazing yule before us,
Strike the harp and join the chorus.
Follow me in merry measure,
While I tell of Christmas treasure,
Fast away the old year passes,
Hail the new, ye lads and lasses!
Sing we joyous all together,
Heedless of the wind and weather.’
(Ascribed to John Jones & Thomas Oliphant)
The literary world was surprised in 2013 when another purported ‘lost’ manuscript of Dr. John H. Watson, biographer of the celebrated detective Sherlock Holmes, was brought to light. However, the provenance of the story in question is ironclad. It was discovered in some long-neglected legal files at the Great Ormond Street Hospital, where it appears to have been misplaced by a harried administrator in approximately 1930. This is one of those stories which required suppression while some of the principals were still within the reach of human law, but by 1930 it seems that Watson felt that it was possible to make the facts public. Although not specified in the tale itself, since one of the individuals herein was affiliated with Great Ormond Street (under its prior name of the Hospital for Sick Children) it appears likely that at some point Watson may have given the manuscript to that person for conveyance to the hospital itself. Watson was perhaps inspired by the action of a good friend and collaborator of his literary agent, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930). In April 1929, the Hospital for Sick Children was the recipient of the copyright to the
works by playwright J. M. Barrie (1860-1937). This gave Great Ormond Street control of the rights to these works, and entitled it to all royalties from any performance or publication of the play and derivative works. The near-simultaneous donation of two manuscripts of great value was perhaps too much for an institution dedicated to improving the health of children, but with no expertise in publishing literary works. When Watson’s tale finally came to light, the hospital board of trustees decided to donate it to the world
every December in perpetuity, in the spirit of the season in which it is set.
I would perhaps be guilty of a gross exaggeration if I termed my friend Sherlock Holmes a sentimental man. And yet, even he was occasionally prone to fits of profound compassion, and I believe that if I plotted these incidents upon a calendar, they increased in direct relationship to their proximity to the date of 25 December. It was as if Holmes had an internal version of the little carved calendars from Munich that people use to count down the days to Christmas. I doubt that Holmes, the perfect reasoning machine, who sometimes approached something akin to vanity over his carefully-prepared mind, was even aware of this tendency. To be certain, I refrained from pointing this out, in fear that the imparting of such information might induce him to consciously attempt to alter his behavior, which would be to the detriment of all that he encountered during the holidays. I have already detailed one such adventure, in which a battered hat led to the discovery of the most miraculous Christmas goose ever feasted upon in London. Ultimately, no one had been harmed in that tale, but not all of Holmes’ end-of-the-year adventures had such happy endings for all involved.
I was lounging in my velvet armchair, still wearing my brown dressing-gown despite the lateness of the hour. Mrs. Hudson had decided to not await Holmes’ appearance, and had provided me with a hearty breakfast of eggs, sausages, and thin pancakes sprinkled with cinnamon and spices. My half-drained coffee mug lay in the center of a pile of the morning papers, and I gazed about the room contentedly. For certs, I sorely missed the comforts of my departed wife, however, I reflected that for all its tragedies, my life had also its fill of blessings. It was but two days before Christmas, and Holmes had retired late grousing about how the snow and good-cheer had produced a deplorable lack of action amongst the criminals of London. Despite his complaints, it felt good to be back at Baker Street after a many-year hiatus. I gazed at the crystalline frost on the windows, which gave me pause to consider stoking the flagging fire. Before I could rise, however, a familiar voice rang from the direction of Holmes’ bedroom.
“Indeed, Watson, I hope your desire for peace on earth is fulfilled.”
I turned to him in astonishment. “I say, Holmes, at times I wonder if you are Father Christmas himself. How do you know what I’ve been thinking?”
He chuckled merrily, as he strode into the room. He was fully dressed for the day in his typical suit, with no foppery to indicate the approaching holiday. “Come now, Watson, we have known each other for almost fourteen years. You know my methods, pray put them to use.”
I attempted to recall what I had been doing when Holmes had interrupted my post-prandial reverie, but failed to ascertain how Holmes was able to read the train of my thoughts. I finally admitted this failure.
Holmes merely smiled complacently. “Then I will tell you. When you looked up from your papers, your eyes travelled first to the fireplace and from there to the coal-scuttle. As soon as I opened the door, I became aware that the temperature of the room is about three degrees lower than what you find optimal, so you were clearly contemplating adding some additional coals to the fire. The sight of my cigars mixed in with the coals caused you to subtly shake your head in virtuous dismay at Bohemian habits, which of course led your gaze to the Persian slipper in which I have taken to storing my pipe tobacco. From there, your eyes darted back to the coal-scuttle, and a mischievous grin appeared upon your face. You were obviously thinking of adding a lump of coal to the slipper in two nights’ time in hopes that I would equate such a discovery with a visit from Father Christmas down our chimney, whose ‘gift’ would signal a need for me to become more tidy in my habits. You then glanced over at the little patriotic decoration that, with the help of a hundred Boxer cartridges, I once adorned our wall. A small shuffling of your feet then induced you to look down, where your gaze lingered upon our bearskin hearthrug. A slight crinkle appeared in your brow, as if wondering wherever I had acquired such an item. Very briefly, your eyes darted back to the V.R. and you speculated whether I had coursed the poor creature myself. From there you glanced back at the fire and shook your head very slightly, before your eyes rose up to linger upon the boughs of holly with which Mrs. Hudson has seen fit to deck out our mantle. Clearly, the combination of a bear-hunt, the regret that in the rush of the holidays we failed to purchase a sturdier log for our fireplace, and the evergreens upon the mantle suggested to you the old Germanic holiday of Yule. Although originally a feast for Odin, many of the elements of its traditions were subsequently intermingled and absorbed into our current holiday after they were introduced to England by our queen’s consort, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. This realization brought your gaze back to its final resting place upon the V.R. where you hoped that the common bond that links our gracious queen with her hotheaded grandson, Kaiser Wilhelm II, would be sufficient to enable continued ‘peace on earth’ for both our nations.”
When he finished, I shook off my amazement and applauded with vigorous appreciation at his feat. “Bravo, Holmes!” I cried.
“It was nothing, my dear Watson, merely a close observation of your features and drawing a reasonable chain of inferences,” said he, dismissively. But I thought I detected a slight flush of color spring to his pale cheeks, and suspected that this one was one of those dramatic moments where his proud and reserved nature was overcome by his human love for praise and admiration.
But the moment was not to last. “Hark!” said Holmes suddenly. “What is this I hear? An excitable knocking upon the front door! Certainly no caroler calling upon Mrs. Hudson ever beat with such anxiety.” He strode over to the window and glanced down upon the street. “Ah, yes. No public cab for this client. A nice little brougham and a pair of fine horses. Perhaps not fit to draw a king, but there’s money in this case, Watson, that’s for certain.”
A light but rapid step was then heard upon the stairs and in the passage, before our door was thrown open without so much as a knock. This revealed a woman of about fifty, tall, slender, and striking, with a face that still possessed features that suggested she was once a commanding beauty. Her complexion was somewhat dark, with brilliant brown eyes, arched eyebrows, a well-formed aquiline nose, pearl-white teeth, and long sable tresses. She was dressed in a somber yet rich style, her grey dress covered by a full-length fur coat. Her face was flushed with emotion and for a moment I feared that she may faint.
I quickly sprang into action and guided her to a seat. Despite the earliness of the hour, I then fetched a brandy from the sideboard. When I placed it in her hand, she smiled at me faintly.
“Now, now, pray take a moment,” said Holmes solicitously.
She nodded and then took a small sip of the brandy before setting it aside. She folded her hands in her lap and took a deep breath, which appeared to settle her. She studied both of us and appeared to quickly determine our respective identities. Holmes leaned forward in his armchair with obvious anticipation, and once she had recovered, her narration proceeded with admirable clarity.
“Thank you, Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson. You are most kind. My name is Mrs. Rebecca Lowe. My husband is Dr. Benjamin Lowe, who is on the staff at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital and the Hospital for Sick Children on Great Ormond Street.”
“Ah, yes,” I interjected. “I have heard of your husband. He is reputed to be a fine physician.”
She appeared to become a bit choked up at this, but soon rallied. “Thank you for those kind words, Dr. Watson,” said she, nodding at me. “Recently, he has been treating a patient by the name of Mr. Clement Vaughan, a former jeweler, who lives on Vere Street. Of late, Mr. Vaughan has been fading and my husband despaired for his life. Benjamin was called to Vaughan’s house yesterday afternoon, and remained there tending to him until shortly before dinner. When he returned home, I sensed absolutely nothing amiss. We went about our regular evening activities of dinner and reading, and turned in at our regular time. However, around 5 o’clock this morning we were awakened by a rough pounding upon the door. My husband threw upon his dressing-gown and hurried downstairs to see what the matter was. Although he is often called away to see to ailing clients, for some reason I had a foreboding that this call seemed different. I anxiously awaited his return to our bedroom, for I knew that even in the most urgent circumstances he would need to complete his dress before he could go out to tend to a patient. Typically, he would have any messenger wait for him in the hall, so imagine my shock when I heard the front door open again and then slam close with a grim finality. I sprang from the bed, and hurried to the window just in time to see a pair of uniformed constables forcing my husband into a four-wheeled police wagon. Stunned, I stood there and watched them drive away, until they turned the corner and were lost to sight. Shaking off my stupor, I hurriedly changed into the clothes I now wear and made all haste downstairs. My plan was to inquire about my husband’s whereabouts at the nearest constabulary, but I was spared this search by the presence of a plain-clothed inspector outside my door. He was a little sallow, rat-faced, dark-eyed fellow scribbling in a battered notepad. He looked up only to cruelly inform me that I was not allowed to converse with Benjamin, as he was being referred to the Assizes on charges of murder! I was so flabbergasted that I hardly knew what to do. The man then chuckled and remarked that not even Sherlock Holmes could save Benjamin from the dock. That is when I recalled the wonderful stories that I have read in Beeton’s Christmas Annual and the Strand Magazine. I knew that my only hope lay with you.”
When she had concluded her tale, Holmes leaned back in his seat and rubbed his hands in eager anticipation. “Excellent!” he exclaimed, smiling. “I have only one question for you, Mrs. Lowe. Where do you live?”
Our client was clearly mystified by this seemingly irrelevant question. “We live at Bedford Place, Mr. Holmes, but I hardly see how that matters.”
He waved her objections off. “I have my methods, I assure you.” He smiled again. “Sounds like our friend Lestrade is already on the case, eh Watson?” said he, glancing in my direction. “It’s not much to go on, of course. We don’t even know who is dead, or why Dr. Lowe has been accused, but its ten-to-one odds that if Lestrade thinks he has his man, his aim may be far from the mark. What say you, Watson, are you up for a walk to see if we can clear a fellow medico?”
“Oh, thank you, sir!” cried out Mrs. Lowe. “I can pay you whatever you desire, if you only free my husband.”
Holmes shook his head. “My professional charges are upon a fixed scale. I do not vary them, save when I remit them altogether. But pray tell, Mrs. Lowe, do you fear that your husband has been singled out because of your particular faith?”
Her eyes widened in astonishment. “I made no mention of our faith,” replied the lady with a furrowed brow and a slight shake of her head. She glanced over at me, but I was equally mystified as to Holmes’ meaning.
“Well, Watson, have you noted the signs?”
“No, I see nothing.”
“On the contrary, you have seen and heard all that I have, but have failed to reason from what your senses tell you.” He shook his head in dismay, and then turned back to his client. “First, there are your names. Rebecca and Benjamin are not common English given names. However, as in the case of our late former Prime Minister, Mr. Disraeli, they are common amongst ethnic Hebrews.”
“Ah!” I interjected. “Then Lowe is an Anglicized name, from Loew perhaps, like the Rabbi of Golem fame?”
Holmes smiled. “Very good, Watson, you are catching on. Yes, a simple inversion takes a Hebrew name and converts it to a solid English one.”
Mrs. Lowe frowned. “That is a fine guess, Mr. Holmes.”
Holmes shook his head violently. “I never guess, madam. I make inferences from the clues presented to me. For example, unlike every other person that I have passed on the streets, you neglected to wish me a ‘Happy Christmas.’ Perhaps this could be forgiven in your anxiety, however, even in your recitation of the facts, you made no mention of desiring to have your husband home in time for the upcoming holiday. Hence, I concluded that the date of 25 December has little importance to you, which makes sense only if you practice a religion whose holy-days have already passed. And finally, there is the matter of your necklace.”
Upon these words, her hands flew to a small silver star dangling from a silver chain about her neck. “The sign of the six-pointed star is clear,” Holmes continued. “However, most of your people fail to wear it openly, fearing prejudice. I presume in your haste this morning, you neglected to tuck it beneath your dress as you normally would?”
She nodded grimly. “That is so. And does this finding change your decision to help me?”
Holmes waved his hand as if shooing away a pesky fly. “Of course not. I care not a farthing for a man’s ethnicity or faith. My only motivation is to ensure that justice has been served. The practices of Longshanks have no place in modern society. But I am not unaware that some individuals, even today, do not feel the same, and such ill-will could certainly be a motive for why your husband was incriminated.”
“We do not trumpet our faith, Mr. Holmes,” she said quietly.
“I am not so vain as to believe that I am the only man in London who could read the signs if he so wished. What one man can discover, so can another.”
She nodded at this wisdom. “If Benjamin has such an enemy, we had no inklings of it.”