The Case of the Pregnant Patient
To condense a rather convoluted tale, Mrs. Hudson and I were assisting at a birth in the rooms I shared with Sherlock Holmes. Under these extraordinary circumstances, neither of us was pleased when Holmes returned unexpectedly, bringing Inspector Lestrade with him.
Fortunately for my temper, what we were doing was so obvious that neither made inquiries—or not precisely. Holmes did ask rather sharply how we had gotten into this predicament.
"She came round the kitchen door, begging for food," Mrs. Hudson replied in a similarly tart vein. "I couldn't very well leave her out there in her condition, could I? So I brought her to Dr. Watson."
"Quite right, Mrs. Hudson." I adopted a soothing tone to forestall any argument. "You did the right thing."
"But she's giving birth on the hearth rug!" Holmes exclaimed. When no one reacted, he shrugged, then reached for his pipe.
"This is no time to smoke!" Mrs. Hudson snapped.
I kept my attention on the patient—as much as I could, anyhow. By her long red hair and large green eyes, she must once have been young and pretty. Now she was thin and bedraggled from life on the streets of London.
"There!" I exclaimed in triumph, holding a newborn aloft.
I would have wagered that Holmes' curiosity would get the better of him, while Lestrade beat a hasty retreat. I would have lost.
Holmes flung himself into a chair and retreated behind the newspaper.
Lestrade came forward, stared, then pointed at the infant. "It's black!"
"No detail escapes you, eh, Lestrade?" Holmes murmured.
"But the mother isn't black."
"Again, no detail escapes."
Then Lestrade noticed the firstborn contentedly nursing. "That one's white! How did that happen?"
Holmes lowered the paper and opened his mouth.
I fixed him with a glare. "Holmes, if you begin a discourse on Mendel's laws of inheritance, I shall eject you from the room."
"They probably had different fathers," Mrs. Hudson explained, much put upon. "It has been known to happen."
"Well, yes..." Lestrade agreed hesitantly. "But not right in front of me, as it were."
"Their coloring is of no consequence," Holmes said. "The question is, what do you propose to do with the wretched creatures, Mrs. Hudson? Maybe Lestrade will take one off your hands."
"What, walk in carrying one? What would my wife say?"
"Undoubtedly she'd say that you are a scoundrel."
"You might keep one yourself, come to that," Lestrade retorted.
"Not I," Holmes said firmly. "Just the other day, a young lady of the merest acquaintance proposed a similar arrangement, and much more persuasively. Still, I refused."
"That was undoubtedly for the best," Lestrade agreed. He frowned. "The white one seems a bit puny. Look how much bigger his brother is."
"She's his sister," Mrs. Hudson corrected impatiently.
"I should think you'd have some sympathy for those of small stature, Lestrade," Holmes said.
With great relief, I ended that line of discussion by showing off a third newborn.
Lestrade, unfortunately, was not struck speechless. "Have a look at this one, Mr. Holmes! It's got seven toes!"
"Polydactylism?" Holmes flung the newspaper aside and leaped up. "Aha! At last, something of interest! Move over, Lestrade. Let me see."
As they jostled for position, Mrs. Hudson could contain her annoyance no longer. "Honestly! The way you two are carrying on! Why can't you be like Dr. Watson? He hasn't lost his mind."
"Indeed not," I said, scratching the mother cat behind the ears, and admiring the new kittens—the black one, the white one, and the one with seven toes.