"Watson! Come quickly!"
From the way Sherlock Holmes cried out you'd have thought he'd just discovered the telephone, or some such thing. It was quite late, or quite early, depending on your point of view -- just before dawn on a bitterly cold, grey, foggy December morning. I'd not been asleep for very many hours, as the damp weather was causing me some pain in my leg, where the Jezail bullet had passed through, an unpleasant reminder of my years in India in the service of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria. Now, here was Holmes, awakening me with a tug at my shoulder. The candle in his hand shone upon his eager, stooping face and told me at a glance that something was amiss.
"Hurry, Watson, hurry! The game is afoot!"
"What is it, old man?" I queried.
"We've had an inruder!" he replied gravely. I could hardly believe my ears. "But how could we?" I protested. "We've both been here, and I've heard nothing."
I threw back the covers and shrugged on my dressing gown, as Holmes strode into the parlor and lit up the gas lanterns.
"Is anything missing?" I asked.
"It isn't a question of what's been taken," replied Holmes, "but rather, of what's been left!" He nodded toward our dining table, upon which were two large boxes wrapped in silken paper and beribboned with bows. Each box had a small card attached, one with Holmes' name, one with my own.
"I say! Where did these come from?" I asked, reaching for the package with my name on it.
"Don't touch that!" cried Holmes, slapping my arm away abruptly. "It may not be as innocent as it appears."
"What do you mean?"
"Consider the curious method by which these attractive parcels have been delivered. Whoever left them did so anonymously, and anonymity often goes hand-in-hand with malevolency. No, let us first ascertain how they were delivered, and by whom."
His eyes gleaming with the thrill of the hunt, Holmes reached for his magnifying lens and leaned over the two packages.
"The paper is silk," he muttered, "of a type I have never seen in London. From the size of the thread and the weave, I'd say it was produced outside the British Isles." Lowering his lens, he fixed me with a narrow-eyed stare, adding, "Far outside."
Dropping down onto the floor, Holmes minutely examined it. Prone upon his stomach, he slowly crawled away from the table, and toward the fireplace. "Curious," he said.
"What is it?" I asked, stepping up beside him.
"Careful, Watson, careful!" he said sharply, rolling up onto his haunches. "Don't smudge the footpints!"
"Here, and there, and there," Holmes said, pointing. "Small footprints, in soot."
"From the fireplace. Our intruder apparently entered there, through the chimney, walked straight to the table, deposited the packages, and returned to the chimney."
"Returned to the chimney? Whatever for?" I asked.
"To make his exit, I presume." Holmes reached up into the chimney flue and plucked a piece of red lint from the corner of one of the bricks. "Yes, you see?"
"Extraordinary!" I exclaimed.
"Quite," said Holmes, pulling a pinch of tobacco from the toe of the Persian slipper on the mantle. As he tamped it into his favorite black pipe, his eyebrows knotted with consternation, he asked, "Watson, are you sure you heard nothing during the night?"
I twirled the tip of my mustache, deep in thought, and answered, "Well, now that I think about it, I must confess that I was awakened at some point by a rather odd noise..."
"What type of noise?"
"A clatter. Like horses' hooves on the cobblestones. Except..." I paused, almost embarrassed to admit what I now remembered so clearly. "Holmes, you'll think I've gone balmy. The sound I heard, it didn't come from the street. It came from the roof."
"The roof?!" Holmes gave me a wide-eyed look, then he began to pace the floor, puffing contemplatively on his pipe.
"This is most unusual, Watson," he said thoughtfully. "Most... curious."
"What does it all mean, Holmes?"
"It means, Watson, that our visitor was none other than Saint Nicholas!"
I stood for several seconds with my eyes bulging and mouth agape, before I managed to sputter, "Saint Nicholas?! You mean to say -- ! Oh, Holmes! Surely you don't believe in Santa Claus! Why, that's -- that's incredible!"
"You know my long-held maxim, Watson. When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth!"
"But Holmes -- Santa Claus?!"
"Given the packages, the footprints, the piece of red lint hanging from the brick inside the chimney, the single long white hair I observed as I searched the floor, AND the sound of hooves on the rooftop..." Holmes exhaled a long plume of smoke. "What other explanation could there be?"
"Holmes, really...!" I chortled.
"Really, Watson, I don't want to believe it either. It goes against every precept of logical, analytical thinking. Nonetheless, the clues clearly point to only one conclusion. Sometime after we both retired to bed, a white-haired man no larger than a pygmy wearing boots and a red wool coat appeared in the chimney, walked to the table, deposited two packages wrapped in a material from some faraway land, returned to the chimney, and vanished. How would you explain it?"
I shook my head, unable to offer any other scenario. Then, in a quiet voice, I asked, "Well, Holmes, if what you say is true, then... what do we do now?"
"What else?" he replied, taking a pair of scissors from his desk and stepping to the table. "We open our presents."
Holmes deftly cut the ribbon around the package marked for him, and quickly tore apart the wrapping paper. As he raised the lid of the box, a broad smile crossed his thin face, and his cheeks actually reddened with a blush.
"My word!" he exclaimed. "A new microscope! He pulled the instrument out of the box, admiring it delightedly. I couldn't help but grin at his obvious enjoyment of his new-found treasure. "I've been coveting this model ever since I broke the retaining clip on my other one." His eyes bright with anticipation, he motioned for me to come to the table. "Come on, come on, Watson! Open yours!"
And now, I must digress. Of course I knew that Holmes would find a microscope in his package even before he opened it, just as I knew that mine would contain the latest edition of the Cambridge Medical Dictionary, for it was I, after all, who had wrapped the presents and planned this little scheme to confound my friend, carefully planting the proper clues for him to discover. Now, as Holmes looked on expectantly, I snipped the ribbon and tore the paper away from my box, opened the lid, and reached inside.
"Why," I exclaimed, "it's a Med --" And then my breath caught short in my throat, for my present was not a Medical Dictionary, but rather a brightly polished gold pocketwatch. Speechless with surprise, I popped open the lid, and found the inscription:
"To my Boswell -- the one fixed point in a changing age. S Holmes to Dr. J. Watson, Xmas, 1898."
I looked up at Holmes, whose smile had grown and blossomed into a gentle, chuckling laugh. "You knew!" I said.
"Of course," Holmes nodded. "A very clever ruse, Watson. I really must commend you. I assume you purchased a pair of young boy's boots to make the footprints. The red lint came from Mrs. Hudson's coat, the white hair from her head. And the wrapping paper... where did you get the wrapping paper?"
"From an old Army friend of mine still living in India. I wrote him months ago requesting that he send me brightly-colored silk wrapping paper, trusting that you wouldn't be able to identify it as easily as paper purchased in London."
"And your instincts proved correct."
"Yes, but Holmes... if you knew from the outset that I was behind this mystery, why didn't you just say so?"
"Oh, Watson, you know I can never resist a touch of the dramatic. Besides, dear fellow, I know all too well how much it delights you to see me unravel these little conundrums. So, since you had gone to such trouble to give me the gift of a mystery, I couldn't very well deprive you of the pleasure of watching me solve it."
"And that was your gift to me..."
"And the watch."
I nodded. "And the watch. Thank you, Holmes."
"Thank you, Watson." Holmes put down his pipe. "And now I see the sun has risen. What do you say we take a brisk morning stroll before Mrs. Hudson comes up with a serving of her Christmas pudding?"
When Holmes and I came down the steps outside 221B Baker Street some minutes later, a light snow was falling from the grey sky, and the red rays of the rising sun made the ice crystals on the cobblestones sparkle with the colors of the rainbow. The city was quiet, with that special feeling of peacefulness that is always more tangible on this particular morning than on any other. We strolled to the corner, where Cratchett, the lame newspaper boy, stood with a crutch propped under one arm, hawking the morning edition of The London Times.
"Merry Christmas, Mr. 'olmes," said the boy
Holmes tossed him a half-sovereign in return for a newspaper -- more than ten times it's cost -- and indicated with a dismissive wave that he did not expect to receive any change. "And a Merry Christmas to you, Tim Cratchett."
Cratchett beamed a luminous smile, and as Holmes and I turned to walk onward, I thought I heard him say, "And God bless us, everyone."
Since graduating from USC (BA, Cinema), Bruce has been pursuing a career in the film business. After working on several low-budget movies as a Special Effects Assistant (see Internet Movie Database for his credits) and working in Business Affairs at various film companies, he finally decided to stop pursuing screenwriting in his off-hours and go at it with a vengeance. Bruce now has several specs available in a wide range of genres and budgets. You can email Bruce with your comments or questions or visit his website Screenwriter - Bruce Scivally. This work is copyrighted © 1994-1999 by Bruce Scivally. My deep thanks to Bruce for allowing me to publish this work on Yoxley Old Place.
Note: This web version first appeared on 'Yoxley Old Place'
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