Sherlock Holmes' opinion of Christmas was quite clear. He loathed any mention of it.
Throughout our first unmentionable holiday season in Baker Street, I dropped less-than-subtle hints to the effect of how pleasant a candlelit tree—a very small tree, with a very few candles—would appear, shining from the sitting room window, and how cheery our door could be made by a tastefully simple tiny wreath of holly.
Holmes declared the former to be a fire hazard, and the latter to contain toxic alkaloids.
Gregson and Lestrade sent Christmas cards. Gregson's I can only hope was meant humorously, depicting as it did an infant Jesus who appeared to be on very friendly terms with several fluffy sheep. Holmes used it to light his pipe. Lestrade's I never saw. What Holmes did with it, I dared not ask.
By late afternoon on Christmas Eve, I was resigned to an utter lack of festive décor. Neither the plainness nor the clutter of our rooms had kept me from inviting a friend to share an excellent bottle of brandy.
I had resumed my medical practice in a small way at Bart's. The brandy was a gift from a grateful patient, and the new friend who honored me with a visit was a man of sterling character both professionally and personally. As I reflected on the past year's goodness to me, Holmes burst into the room, slammed and locked the door, and flung himself upon the settee in a posture of complete exhaustion.
"Merry Christmas, sir," said my colleague, who was a jovial sort.
"Thank heaven that madness will be over soon," Holmes retorted. "I'm worn out with it. All this day, and the three weeks before it, perfect strangers have accosted me with fatuous smiles and 'Merry Christmas.' What's so merry about a holiday that forces us to endure the transformation of perfectly normal persons into carol-whistling lunatics, not to mention every street corner chock-a-block with Father Christmases ringing bells and soliciting funds, pickpockets in the markets, chestnut men and holly sellers crying their wares at all hours, stories of little girls who fantasize about nutcrackers, and helpless newborn infants stuffed into mangers? Do you know how long I had to wait in line at the post office? Do you? Forty-five minutes!"
My colleague, a polite as well as jovial sort, merely chuckled.
"To add insult to injury, the postman happily assured me that my letter would be delivered in time for Christmas. My correspondent is a Muslim scholar, and my communication to him is a monograph upon the effect of regional differences on styles of Koran bindings. Whether he receives it before or after Christmas is a matter of supreme indifference to him and myself. In other words, who bloody well cares?"
"Oh, really, Holmes!" I laughed. "You're making a bit much of it. After all, it's only once a year. Have a brandy." I poured a glass and thrust it into his hand.
My guest shifted in his chair.
"Where are my manners?" I exclaimed. "I nearly forgot to introduce you. Holmes, this is-"
"Don't tell him," my colleague interrupted. "Let him deduce it."
Holmes scowled. "Really, sir. The art of deduction is not a parlor game, nor am I a pet dog that will do a trick to amuse Watson's friends."
"I would hardly call it a trick, sir," responded my colleague, who was not easily insulted. "It is a skill acquired through careful study and honed by constant practice."
"In that case..." Holmes was as susceptible to flattery as any man born. He sat up and gazed at our guest.
I had made an earnest attempt to learn and emulate my flatmate's methods, as it seemed to me they could be quite usefully applied to medical diagnosis. All I could observe of my guest, however, was that he was about fifty years of age, balding, kindly of expression, and lacking in height, although certainly not in girth.
All of four seconds went by before Holmes said, "I can tell you very little, sir, other than the obvious facts that you are have been a surgeon for many years, you have a generous nature, and are married to an equally generous woman. There are children among your patients. They are fond of you, and you of them. Very likely, the difficulties in your childhood influenced your decision to study medicine."
"And how are those facts obvious?" I asked.
"Oh, Watson, how often must we go through this? Let us start with your friend's watch. Although battered by decades of use, it is of the finest quality and in a handsome gold case. It is just the sort of thing one might give to a young man upon his obtaining a degree, or some like achievement which would make one proud of the said young man. It is engraved, 'T. C., F.R.C.S., from E. S.' If I am not mistaken, F.R.C.S. means 'Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.' Therefore the gentlemen is either a surgeon, or has brazenly appropriated a surgeon's watch. The former seems a more likely conclusion."
"Quite so," I agreed. It was all perfectly simple when he explained it.
"You're right so far," said my colleague. "It was given to me by my godfather, who financed my education. I don't think the day would have been prouder for him if I'd been his own son."
"Yet instead of using an equally fine chain, you keep your watch, which is of great personal as well as monetary value, on a clumsily-made lanyard, such as a child might make. You also allow your young patients to play with it. There is a smear of candy upon it, and a nearly empty bag of the same candy in the pocket of your frock coat. These are the sure signs of a man who likes and is liked by children."
"Guilty as charged," the surgeon laughed. "But what makes you believe I'm married?"
"Your clothing, sir. Your shoes are polished, but have been resoled, your suit is clean and pressed, although far from new, and you have recently lost a cuff button. Someone has sewn another in its place. The replacement is almost a perfect match to the others. In addition, I venture to remark that you are amply fed. Men of your temperament rarely concern themselves with personal appearance, let alone regular meals. Were you a bachelor, you would be lean and perpetually disheveled. You are not, ergo, you are married."
"And the generosity, my own and my wife's?"
"Your shoes are of a style sold less than two years ago, yet they have already needed resoling. This indicates that you walk a great deal, which, with your profession in mind, in turn indicates that you have a busy practice. Now, a surgeon of many years with a thriving practice ought to be a well-to-do man. You, however, wear resoled shoes and a suit several years old. I say, therefore, that much of your work is with patients who cannot pay. This in itself is generous, but you take the matter even further by giving candy to children on your rounds. As for your wife, only a woman of like inclination would love a husband who could be rich but instead chooses to be good."
"But that's marvelous!" my new friend exclaimed. "How do you know she loves me, the button?" He held up his cuff.
"Obviously. If she did not care for you, she would have made less attempt to match it to the others. Have I left anything out? Oh, yes, your childhood. I notice, sir, that the sole of your right shoe is half an inch thicker than that of your left. Your right leg is shorter, then. This indicates some injury or illness affecting the bones. Your leg is not withered, you do not require a cane, and it causes you no obvious discomfort, so whatever the cause, you made a complete recovery from it long ago. What was it, anyway?"
With a certain amount of mischief, the surgeon answered, "Tubercular lesions on the head of the femur. Curettage and irrigation took care of the lot. The outcome was excellent—a trifling fibrous ankylosis, and, as you see, a mild impairment to growth of the femoral epiphysis."
Holmes nodded gravely, murmuring, "Watson, what did he say?"
"He had a gimp leg, but it's better now."
"My godfather paid for that, too," the surgeon said. "This was after he had lost his mind, of course. Like you, Mr. Holmes, he once hated Christmas, until suddenly, one Christmas Eve, he went completely barmy. Off his head. Crackers. One day, he was a completely normal old miser, snapping at everyone and pinching pennies till they bled. The next-" He snapped his fingers. "-like that, mind you, he was happy as a lark, party-going til all hours, buying turkey dinners for the poor, and claiming he saw dead people."
"Good heavens!" I exclaimed. "The poor man. What caused his condition?"
The surgeon shrugged. "There were theories, of course. Stroke, brain fever, premature senility... No one ever really knew. Everyone liked him better that way, though, so they let the matter drop. I was a child, of course, so the sudden change scared the dickens out of me. It was weeks before I could look at him without screaming that he was possessed. But all's well that ends well, eh?" With a gulp, he finished his brandy. "I must be off. Dinner with the family."
"Good afternoon, Tim," I said, "and a merry Christmas to you."
"The same to you both," said Dr. Cratchit, "and God bless us, every one!"
"Well," I said to Holmes, after I had shown the good doctor out, "what do you make of that account? Could hatred of Christmas really drive a man mad?"
"I believe you gave your guest rather too much of this excellent brandy," said Holmes. "However-" With great reluctance, he stood and reached for his coat. "On the off chance... Do you suppose it's too late to procure a goose and a small amount of mistletoe?"