A Winwood Read Christmas

A Winwood Read Christmas

by Watson J. Holmes

It was early December of 1861, as I recall when Master Sherlock Holmes came to me with a specific request:

“Did Winwood Reade ever write a Christmas story, papa?”

The lad had just finished reading Martyrdom of Man for the second time, and even though he had deduced that Santa Claus was mythical and the same for most of Christendom, he still had a child’s desire to enjoy the season. Alway glad to indulge the intellect of any of my children, I went over to the bookcase and pulled down The Veil of Isis, or Mysteries of the Druids by that same Winwood Reade, author of what, in my mind, was the most remarkable book ever penned. I had definitely won Sherlock over to my side, while Mycroft preferred books of abstract figures.

Leafing through the pages to the very end of the book, I sat down in my big chair, the one with room for Sherlock to squeeze in beside me, and started to read aloud.

“‘Let us imagine ourselves in the hall of some old-fashioned country mansion,’” it began.

“But we are in an old-fashioned country mansion!” Sherlock protested.

“Handy thing that,” I replied. “But that is what Reade has for us, see?”

I let him glimpse the page, but not long enough for him to read ahead as I knew he would.

“‘Let it be Christmas-night, and at that hour when merriment and wine has flushed every face, and glowed into every heart.’”

“Are they so drunk the wine is now splashing on their face as they drink?” Sherlock asked. “I shall need to make a note of that behaviour, if so.”

“No, no, just descriptive license,” I said, and continued, “‘And now I will paint to you a young maiden who embraced in the arms of her lover is whirled round the hall, her eyes sparkling, her white bosom heaving and her little feet scarce seeming to touch the floor.’”

“Is the lover whirling her to get her bosoms to heave like that? Are they going to heave out of her blouse? Mycroft seems to have hopes of bosoms heaving out of blouses a lot. Is Mycroft the boy in the story?”

“Shush, Sherlock! There’s another talk I think we’ll need to have soon enough about your brother and bosoms. Let’s get back to the story.”

“‘They pause for a moment. An old lady with an arch twinkle in her eye whsipers something to her partner, he nods and smiles; she blushes and turns her eyes, pretending not to hear.’”

“Ooooh, that old lady is the villain of the tale. I bet she’s like grandmere Vernet-Rionne, and she steals the tarts meant for her grandson.”

“You have a keen eye for villains, Sherlock. That will serve you well.”

“My maths tutor is truly evil, papa. You should dispatch him before he brings us grief.”

“For now let’s enjoy Christmas and this lovely tale, shall we? ‘They join the dance again, when suddenly he stays her in the center of the hall. Above their heads droops down a beautiful plant with pale white berries and leaves of a delicate green.’”

“THE TRAP! I KNEW IT! The old lady wants the berries to fall into the bosom girl’s mouth and poison her!”

“Hold, Sherlock, hold! What have I told you about theorizing before you get all the facts? Listen to this: ‘He stoops and gives her the-kiss-under-the-mistletoe. All laugh and follow his example till the scene vies the revels of the ancient Bacchanals.’”

“Ugh. You can’t have orgies at Christmas,” Sherlock said, face contorted with disgust.

“Apparently your brother has been teaching you a bit more than I realized.”

“No, Winwood Reade, papa. You know, the part in Martydom of Man about Spendius and Matho. ‘Venerabl senators, ladies of gentle birth, innocent children, had fallen into the hands of the brutal mutineers, and had been crucified, torn to pieces, tortured to death in a hundred ways. During the awful orgies . . .’ You know the part.”

“Apparently not as well as you, my lad. Have I ever explained to you about how your mind is a little brain-attic of limited size and you must be careful what furniture you put in it? Perhaps we should move you to something other than Winwood Reade for a while.”

“So the bosom girl didn’t get torn to pieces and tortured to death?”

“No, Sherlock, she didn’t get torn to pieces and tortured to death. Winwood Reade is just talking about a lovely holiday party with dancing, like your aunt has every year.”

“My cousins seem like they want to torture me sometimes at that party.”

“As I said, you have a keen eye for villains. Never lose that, and prepare yourself for dealing with them. How about a little Christmas singlestick?”

“YAY!” Sherlock exclaimed, hopped up, and ran for the sticks.

What followed was a merry Christmas thrashing, as no singlestick training in the world prepares you to fight an opponent of half your size and twice your energy. But it got him off Winwood Reade until at least the new year.