It Only Starts Horribly

It Only Starts Horribly

A Christmas ghost story

by a Real Dickens of a Sherlockian

While those little denizens of London that Sherlock Holmes called his “Baker Street irregulars,” were not above trying to drum up business for their sometime employer, I seem to have notes on only one particular case that actually came from a street urchin source. Wiggins, the captain of Holmes’s rag-tag little corps, had brought the boy up that December, and I shall never forget the lad’s dead-eyed stare, much like I had seen among the survivors of the dread Battle of Maiwand.

“They’re all gone, Mr. Holmes,” he muttered. Then he started his horrific roll call all over again. “Martha. Belinda. Peter. Matthew. Miranda. Lucy. Gillian. Father. Mother. Father’s employer, old Mr. Scrooge. Tell Wiggins, he says.”

Holmes moved the boy’s chair closer to the fire, and added an extra log.

“I don’t like that the ghost knows my name, Mr. Holmes,” Wiggins said, moving closer to the fire himself. “How does a ghost know my name?”

“A ghost?” Holmes asked quietly.

“It wasn’t the ghost that said it,” Timothy Cratchit answered. “It was one of the dead children under his robes.”

“I think it was Robinson,” Wiggins added. “Tim says he had a wonky eye and a red wool cap. That sounds like Robinson, who went missing last Christmas.”

Holmes held up a hand. “We have Scotland Yard for the early naming of names, Wiggins.”

Wiggins fell silent.

“We don’t want to cause you any more hardship than you’ve already endured, Master Cratchit,” Holmes to his new client. “But could you tell us anything more of what exactly happened. Have you talked to the police?”

“They’d make me go back, wouldn’t they?” young Cratchit asked. “I didn’t want to go back.”

“I’ll go and speak to them while you stay here,” the detective assured the boy. “Just tell me what you can.”

“The door opened. I felt the cold rush of air as it did, and I turned as the giant in the hooded robe came through. Once he was inside the house, he waved one boney hand and everyone dropped, except for me. The wonky-eyed dead boy was pulling my pants cuff and saying ‘Tell Wiggins.’ And they they was gone and the door shut.”

“Just like that.”

“Yes. In one blink of an eye. Just like that. I waited for them to get up, thinking they were playing a mean trick, but they were not.”

Mrs. Hudson had entered with a tray of hot cocoa for our guests. Holmes reached for his coat. “Come, Watson, let’s pick up Lestrade and see what has happened.”

We left the boys in Mrs. Hudson’s kindly care, and hired a four-wheeler to help us gather Inspector Lestrade.

“What horrible unseen hand writes such tragedies as this, Watson?” Holmes asked. “What awful author of tawdry fiction could bend so low as to create such misery?”

“No human hand,” I replied, “and no hand of Heaven. Why can’t we just have a nice story of finding St. Nicholas doing some house-breaking to make sure good children get an orange in their stocking. You can’t put an orange in a bad child’s stocking, you know. They use it as a weapon.”

Holmes said nothing, and soon, Lestrade had joined us.

“Whot’s all this then?” he asked, mocking a Cockney rogue from our last case together.

“We have a child at Baker Street who saw his whole family murdered,” Holmes explained. “We are going to see if we can tell how it was done.”

“If the lad saw his family murdered, how it it he doesn’t know how it was done? Is he old enough to have done the thing?”

“His infirmities are as bad as Watson’s I’m afraid,” Holmes replied with a glance my way. “Even if he wasn’t a small lad. I think we must look elsewhere for our murderer.”

Holmes filled Lestrade in on what other small details we had, and before long we arrived in the dimly lit neighborhood in Camden Town.

“Number 18 Bayham Street,” the cabman announced in a soft and gentle voice, yet somehow loud enough to hear.

It was a little, four-roomed house, as dark and dilapidated as could be. One of the windows was broken out, and it looked as though it had not been inhabited for years.

Holmes pushed upon the front door, and with a little extra effort, it opened.

“There’s nothing here!” Lestrade announced, plainly eager to display his powers of observation to my friend.

And he was correct. Number 18 Bayham Street possessed not only no people, living or dead, but no furniture, no rags, no sign of human habitation. After a quick tour of all four rooms by the light of a bullseye lantern, we went back outside to find a new cab waiting there.

“I was heading by, and had the thought, those gents can’t be going to stay in that old place for long,” the newest cabbie said. This one was a jolly giant of a man, who held up a bright lantern so we could see him. He wore a colorful green suit, and his long brown curls fell down to his shoulders, and his beard was just as brown and curly.

“Fortunate for us!” Holmes replied. “Number 221 Baker Street, if you please.”

We rode through London listening to Lestrade spinning theory after theory, each based upon some case he had handled in the past. None of them seemed to satisfy Holmes.

“Here we are!” our driver laughed as the four-wheeler came to a halt.

“Watson, did you speak to the driver?” Holmes asked, as I climbed out.

“Why would I . . .” and then I saw it. We had alighted on the sidewalk in front of my own house in Kensington. Holmes turned to speak to the cabbie and stopped, mouth agape. I looked to see what was holding his interest . . . and found nothing.

The cab was gone.

“Merry Christmas, Mr. Holmes, Inspector Lestrade!” my wife was saying cheerily from the open front door. “I’m so glad you could come to our party!”

Inside my house, music was playing, people were. talking, and the whole place glowed with life. I had forgotten that Mary had insisted we have a party this very evening.

Lestrade went eagerly inside. to join the fun.

“Mary,” I said to my wife, “there’s an orphan whose family has been killed back at Baker Street. You will forgive me if Holmes and I miss a little bit more of the party?”

“Bring the poor boy back with you,” she replied. “A child needs a good home during this season, and we can at least give him one until things get sorted out.”

I smiled and nodded, loving her all the more. She was as kind and sensitive a wife as I would ever have.

Holmes was whistling up a cab, and a dark hansom cab rolled silently up, driven by a heavily coated fellow, wrapped up for winter, covering everything but his eyes.

“221 Baker Street,” Holmes said. “And make sure it’s 221 Baker Street, the one in Marylebone.”

The cabman gave one slow, deep nod.

It all started well enough, but as a thick fog descended upon London, the trip started to take longer than it should, even though the driver didn’t seem to slow the cab’s pace. It was hard to recognize where we were at all, until Holmes suddenly exclaimed, “Highgate Cemetery! Whatever are you doing, cabman?”

The hansom cab came to a halt and Holmes stretched up to push open the little hatch to communicate with the driver. I could see nothing through the opening. Holmes pushed out of the cab, leaped to the ground and stared up at the driver’s seat, then ran a quick circle around the vehicle, startling the horse a bit.

“Where’s the cabman?” I asked.

“He seems to have left us,” Holmes said. “I can drive us back, of course, but I’m hesitant to steal his cab if he just had to relieve himself, and scurried into the fog.”

The fog let up to the south enough for me to see a few of the graveyard’s monuments, and one in particular caught my eye. It was quite unique, featuring an open book and a doctor’s bag carved in stone. I decided to have a look and see what fine fellow was so remembered.

“Holmes . . .” I said, when I saw the stone. Turning to wave him over, I realized what a second fine monument in the next plot featured: A stone bust not unlike the wax dummy that Sherlock Holmes had used on more than one occasion.

“Holmes . . .” I said again.

“Watson . . .” he said as he joined me.

And we stood there, staring at our own tombstones. Memorials to the lives we were still living.

“This is astounding, Holmes,” I muttered. “Someone is threatening our lives in a most extravagant manner.”

“I think not,” Holmes replied. “Look closely — they only are etched with our dates of birth. We’re not dead yet. This smacks of one of Mycroft’s plans, always trying to get ahead of things.”

After a few more moments of just taking it in, we turned to see our third cab was now gone as well.

“I guess we’re walking,” Holmes said. “At least the fog is lifting.”

“Is that dawn I see on the horizon?” I asked.

A sound came from up the room, and a sleek metal wagon came up the lane with a load of excited passengers behind its windows. They rolled past us, and came to a halt next to our tombstones, unloading five oddly dressed passengers, all chatting non-stop.

“They’re better than the pictures!”

“. . . never lived and so can never die . . .”

“Take my phone and get a picture of me hugging Sherlock!”

“This is so cool! SO cool!”

As the morning sun sent the fog on its way, I felt Sherlock Holmes and myself going ours. Back to Baker Street for another case. I wasn’t sure at all what to make of this one, but perhaps Holmes would explain matters once we were back safely in our familiar sitting room.

“Did you see . . .” I heard one of the newcomers say, as we vanished from sight.