The Blue Carbuncle
by Terence Faherty
Art by Jason C. Eckhardt
We here publish for the first time the earliest known draft of Dr. John H. Watson’s Christmas story, “The Blue Carbuncle.” Like the other first drafts presented in this series, this version differs significantly from the story generations of Sherlock Holmes fans have come to know and love. Though heretofore hidden from the general public, the gist of this version must have been known within the detective community—perhaps passed down orally from generation to generation—as it appears to have inspired one other tale of note. (As with our prior publications, we have modernized spelling and converted Watson’s manuscript notes to parenthetical remarks.)
Late on the day after Christmas, I narrowly escaped a concerted assault upon my home by a gang of cutthroats (change to “Mary’s sewing circle”) and hurried to Baker Street, hoping to interest my old friend Sherlock Holmes in an evening of snooker. I found him stretched out upon the sofa, snoring away beneath a coverlet of newspapers. Beside him was a wooden chair from which hung a felt hat of the type first made by and named for the Bowler hat firm. Holmes’s magnifying glass was on the chair’s seat, suggesting that the detective had been examining the object.
I picked up the glass and began my own examination of the hat, becoming so intent upon it that I failed to notice when Holmes’s snoring stopped.
“Don’t fall in,” my friend advised, just as I was peering inside the bowler’s dome. “It may be deeper than it looks.”
He sat up, brushing aside both the newspapers and my apologies for the liberty I’d taken.
“Not at all. There’s no money in the hat, literally or figuratively, so peer away.”
“Not a case, then?”
“I’m not sure. Peters, the commissionaire, thought so, and certainly there are some curiosities about the business. You know Peters, by chance?”
“Nervous man, six daughters?”
“Show me a man with six daughters who isn’t nervous. He popped in on Christmas morning with that hat, a really prime goose, and a story. To wit: He was on his way home earlier that day via the Tottenham Court Road when he spied a corpulent figure walking before him. The fat gentleman was taking his half of the road out of the middle, as the saying goes, and Peters was trying to decide whether to squeeze by on the left or the right when a gang of street urchins appeared out of the shadows. One of the lads knocked off the man’s hat and a second grabbed for the goose. The big man let his hat sail away but he fought for the bird, which is interesting given the relative prices of hats and fowls.
“Peters called out, and that was enough to send the urchins scattering like our recently departed leaves. But here’s the mystery: The fat man ran as well, with surprising speed according to Peters, who was left holding the bird as well as the hat.”
“A commissionaire’s uniform is not unlike a policeman’s,” I ventured.
“Which should have made it a welcome sight to a man under assault. In any case, Peters hurried here to report. He has no money, of course, so I was hoping to talk him out of the goose as my consultation fee. But he kept a death grip on the thing.”
“It was Christmas Day,” I observed, “and he has a large family.”
“Still, it rankles. Mrs. Hudson served me cold mutton. I suppose you had a goose.”
“With all the fixings?”
“Say ‘trimmings,’ Holmes; we’re British. And what about this hat?”
“Right, the hat. What do you make of it?”
I resumed my examination. “It appears to be of the first quality, though not new. And it is certainly capacious.” I tried it on, and it easily covered my ears. “The owner must be quite intelligent.”
“Or perhaps his overeating has gone to his head. Get it, Watson?”
“Sadly, yes. You noticed these initials on the inside band?”
Holmes yawned. “H.B. Not much help, I’m afraid.”
“I guess that’s it. The bowler doesn’t tell us much.”
“Almost nothing, Doctor, except that the owner is an Englishman of some means who has been traveling abroad.”
“Seriously. The style of the hat is undoubtedly English and it is from three years ago. You can tell by the flat brim. What man who can afford so expensive a hat would fall so far behind the current fashion?”
“One who has also fallen on hard times.”
“Perhaps. But when I detect upon the inside band the mingled scents of the peculiar basil perfume of Athens, musky ambergris from Cairo, and the true Ottoman rose water from Constantinople, a second possibility suggests itself. The man has been out of touch with his hatter because he’s been traveling. To stay abroad for that length of time—frequenting foreign barbers all the while—would require considerable means.”
I sniffed the hat. “I supposed it to be lime cream.”
Holmes was about to reply when the door flew open and Peters, the commissionaire, rushed in.
“The goose!” he cried.
“It was wonderful, I suppose,” Holmes said, a touch of his earlier petulance returning.
“No, sir. I mean, yes, sir. But look, sir! Look what my wife found in its crop!”
“A goose doesn’t have a true crop,” I said. “Just an elastic gullet.”
“Quiet, Watson.” Holmes sprang from his sofa, his eyes fixed on the object Peters held aloft. It was a brilliant blue stone about the size of the commissionaire’s thumbnail, which, curiously, was also blue (omit).
Holmes seized the stone, holding it higher still. “Recognize it, Watson?”
“I should. Its description has been in the papers morning and night. It is the Countess of Nazcar’s blue carbuncle!”
“The very same. I believe a five-hundred-pound reward has been offered. That will be a windfall for you, Peters, even after my fee has been deducted.”
At the mention of a fee, Peters made to retrieve the stone, but Holmes stepped backwards deftly.
“It was stolen from the Hotel Cosmopolitan,” I interjected in an effort to forestall a wrestling match. “If I remember correctly.”
“No need to trust to your memory or even to mine,” Holmes replied, sorting through the newspapers under which he had lately slumbered. “The Pall Mall Gazette ran a précis of the case just this evening.”
He extracted a sheet and read: “‘Hotel Cosmopolitan Jewel Heist. James Moffett, twenty-five, plumber, was charged with taking from the jewelry case of the Countess of Nazcar the fabulous stone known as the blue carbuncle. John Walker, attendant at the hotel, testified that he had shown Moffett into the countess’s suite for the purpose of repairing a leaky faucet, only to discover later that her jewelry case had been opened, Moffett had run off, and the faucet dripped on. The countess’s maid, Bridget O’Malley, witnessed Walker’s discovery and confirmed that the valuable carbuncle, only recently acquired by her employer, was gone. Though Moffett was apprehended that evening, the stone has not been found.’
“Until now,” Holmes added as he tossed the paper aside. “The question before us is how the stone got out of the jewelry case and into the goose.”
“Excuse me for saying so,” Peters interrupted, “but who gives a tinker’s tintype? We don’t need to explain how it got in the goose to collect the reward.”
“What was I thinking?” Holmes said. “Right you are. Case closed. Drinks all around.”
“Wait a minute!” I said. “You’re forgetting James Moffett. Suppose he’s innocent. Suppose he has six daughters of his own or five or even four.” When the detective hesitated, I added, “It is Christmastime.”
“Very well, Doctor.” Holmes scribbled something upon a scrap of paper and handed it to Peters. “See that this appears in tomorrow’s Pall Mall Gazette.”
Peters read from the paper. “‘Found in the Tottenham Court Road, a hat and a goose. H.B. may retrieve same this evening at six-thirty at 221B Baker Street.’ Just in the Gazette, sir? How about the Evening News, the Evening Standard, the Echo, and the Star?”
“Use your own judgment, Peters. My expenses are coming out of your reward, after all.”
“The Gazette it is, sir. And the stone?”
“I’ll just hang on to it, the way you hung on to that goose. And speaking of geese, please order a comparable one and have it delivered here.”
“Very good, sir.”
Shortly after a somewhat deflated Peters had exited, Holmes dismissed me as well. “Come by tomorrow evening, old fellow. If our advertisement produces no results, you can at least dine with me. To compensate me for her failures on Christmas Day, Mrs. Hudson has promised me a woodcock. We can examine its crop together.”
“A woodcock has no crop, Holmes.”
“To quote a good friend of mine, ‘Get out.’ No, wait.” He again wrote on a slip of paper. “You can place this for me.”
“No. Orders for my Irregulars.” The sleuthhound was referring to a group of lost boys he called the Baker Street Irregulars. He read the orders aloud for my benefit. “‘Discover who hired a gang to waylay a man in the Tottenham Court Road on Christmas morning.’”
“You don’t think the attack was a coincidence?”
“A coincidence that the only man in London carrying the only goose in London carrying a fabulous gem was set upon? Good night, Watson.”
I carried the paper down to the front steps and slipped it into a gap between two bricks in the exterior wall, as I’d often seen Holmes do. Then, with a sigh, I headed home.
I was a little late returning the next evening, having been trapped behind a young woman who had caught her rather large portmanteau in a revolving door (“delayed by a case” is probably close enough). I was admitted to 221B in the company of a man so wide we were unable to climb the familiar stairs side by side. Despite his girth, he was impeccably dressed in a Savile Row suit. The thinness of his gray hair, which still showed the mark of his lost hat, permitted me to observe that the back of his skull, at least, was fat free.
The visitor entered before me and introduced himself to Holmes as Henry Butterman, currently of the Hotel Majestic.
“Welcome, Mr. Butterman. Pray take the sofa. We’re only short one Watson. Oh, you’re with us, Doctor. I didn’t see you back there. Squeeze around and join us, there’s a good fellow. Mr. Butterman was about to tell me whether this is his hat.”
Butterman crossed to the sofa and sat down, though it was some time before his various folds and mounds of flesh had ceased to echo the movement. (Watson, you wordsmith!)
“That, sir, is my hat without a doubt, my companion on many a desperate venture.”
His voice was a silken rumble, and his small eyes beamed with pleasure. “And my bird, sir?”
“There on the sideboard. Would you mind telling us how you came to lose them?”
“Not at all. I’m a man who likes men who like to listen to him talk. I was accosted by street toughs and lost hold of goose and hat in the exchange. The toughs ran off, frightened by a passerby, and I gave chase in the interests of justice. When I later returned to the site of the battle, I found my spoils gone.”
“A very clear account.”
“Then I may take my bird and go?”
“The bird is certainly yours to take, though I should mention that it isn’t the exact one you lost.”
The folds of neck and cheek squeezed by Butterman’s vast collar went red. “It is not?”
“No. That particular spoil would certainly have spoiled if it hadn’t been eaten right away. Watson and I polished it off yesterday. Of course, we still have the noncomestible parts—the feathers, feet, and neck—if you’re interested.”
For a moment, Butterman seemed interested indeed. His large tongue wet his even larger lips. Then he let forth an explosive laugh.
“You amaze me, sir, indeed you do. Who would give a fig for the odds and ends of a Christmas goose? With your permission, I’ll take this excellent bird and be on my way.”
Displaying the speed that had surprised Peters, Butterman stood, collected fowl and bowler, and reached the door.
“One moment,” Holmes said. “For my future reference, could you tell me the source of the bird we enjoyed?”
“Certainly, sir, for I’m a man who likes a man who likes a goose. It came from Breakstone’s in Covent Garden. Adieu, then, gentlemen.”
When he’d gone, Holmes tossed down his pipe in disgust. “I booted that interview, Watson. I scared my fish away, offering him those feathers and feet. Yet he was close to snapping at my hook, I’m sure of it!”
“What do we do now, Holmes . . . ?”
# # #
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The Blue Carbuncle by Terence Faherty. Copyright © 2016 with permission of the author.
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