Merry Eggsmas, Mrs Hudson
Merry Eggsmas, Mrs Hudson
By Paul Thomas Miller
I remember the morning of Sunday 2nd December 1883 very clearly. As was usual for the day of rest, I had planned on rising no earlier than ten o'clock. As was usual, this was not to be. I was woken by thundering footsteps up the stairs, the sound of our door being flung open and Mrs. Hudson's primordial shriek of "WHERE ARE MY EGGS?"
While I was completely awake, it was still a little while before I braved the cold outside my blankets, and by the time I got to our sitting room, Holmes was already halfway to placating our landlady.
“Watson! Do join us. It seems our household has a thief and Mrs. Hudson believes you or I may be the culprit.”
“Not the doctor.” Mrs. Hudson chimed in. “He is a decent chap.”
To prevent tensions rising again, I interrupted.
“What has been stolen Mrs. Hudson? And why do you believe it was one of us? Eggs is it?”
Her gaze bore into Holmes as she answered me.
“Pickled eggs. Yes. My jar of pickled eggs which I was saving for Christmas day. Someone has been helping themselves. That jar was full when I set it to brewing last month. Packed. You know I like my pickled eggs for Christmas, Doctor.”
I wrinkled my nose in affirmation.
“When I brought it down to check on it yesterday it looked wrong. I know my eggs, Doctor Watson. It looked as if there was one missing. But I couldn’t be sure. So, before I went to bed last night I counted the eggs. Twenty-five. This morning I checked again. Twenty-four. Now I know – someone is stealing from my pantry. So I repeat, Mr. Holmes… WHERE ARE MY EGGS?”
“Mrs. Hudson, I assure you, neither Watson nor myself have anything to do with the disappearance of goods from your pantry. Besides which, why such heat over a couple of eggs?”
“Perhaps it is my country upbringing, Mr. Holmes. When the contents of your pantry are the only food available, you become indoctrinated in protecting it. Or perhaps I just like pickled eggs and don’t want to see them all gone before Christmas morning. Either way, it must be someone in the household. That means me, you or him,” this last with an angry thumb thrust in my direction. “No one has broken in, after all; if they had I’m sure I’d be missing more than a couple of eggs.”
“Or it could be Billy,” Holmes suggested.
“My own nephew? NEVER!”
“It’s a possibility, my good lady. He’s only been with us a few months, after all. We must take steps to rule him out, at the very least.”
“I haven’t ruled you out, yet, Mr. Holmes. Let’s deal with that first.”
Which, that evening, we did. We gave Mrs. Hudson the keys to our room and she locked us in. We had no means of egress from our rooms unless we battered the door down or smashed a window. If any eggs went missing that night we should be cleared of all charges.
There was no doubt in either of our minds that another egg would be stolen. It was clear that Hudson’s nephew, Billy, shared his Aunt’s penchant for pickled eggs and had taken to sneaking himself a bonus supper each evening.
Sure enough, promptly at seven the following morning, Mrs. Hudson unlocked our door, sat herself beside our fire and, between sobs, uttered a mournful “Twenty-three.”
Once we had calmed her, we all agreed that the best way to deal with this was to catch Billy in the act.
After she had sent the boy to bed that evening, Hudson checked on the eggs – still twenty-three – and came to our rooms. Together we set up a vigil in the storage room opposite Billy’s quarters. When he left them and returned with his stolen egg, we would confront him while there was no room for denial.
We waited. Expecting him to show his true colours sometime before midnight. He did not. We waited. We took turns sneaking off for quick naps. We waited. Until eventually dawn broke. And, disappointed, we all made our way to Hudson’s kitchen for a morning coffee. Holmes broke the silence.
“At least you lost no eggs last night, Mrs. Hudson. But I just can’t fathom how the boy knew…”
But Mrs. Hudson, who had already busied herself in the pantry, interrupted: “TWENTY-TWO!”
She brought out the jar, set it upon the kitchen table and we all found ourselves staring at it, utterly aghast. Ten minutes or more must have passed. Every now and again one of us would offer a murmured “But how?”.
Eventually, Mrs. Hudson began to speak.
“We had this on the farm when I was a girl. Not pickled eggs, mind, but the jam supply. It was the lid that threw us. The lids had been unscrewed and removed so we figured it must be a human. My father and I staked out the pantry one night to catch my brothers in the act, but found it was rats. They’re cleverer than people credit, you know. Rats were unscrewing the lids with their filthy little paws. We cornered the beasts and father netted them. Between us we had to snap the necks of all eight of the dirty creatures. Horrible times,” and she rose to wash her hands.
“But that can’t be, this time,” I said. “Rats who put the lids back on, too? It makes no sense.”
“Maybe, I’m wrong, Doctor Watson. But who’s to say how sophisticated your city rats have become?”
Holmes was still glaring at the jar of eggs. He was, I could tell, thoroughly perplexed. With no other plan to speak of, he announced “Yours is the only hypothesis we have, Mrs. Hudson. So we must put it to the test.”
And we did. That evening Holmes and I staked out the pantry. As soon as we saw or heard something, I would flip open my dark-lantern and we would at least know what we were dealing with. But again, we failed. I thought perhaps I heard a scamper outside the kitchen door at one point, but it appeared to be scampering away from, not into the kitchen, so I held tight. Come morning, when we checked, no eggs were missing.
Mrs. Hudson was unsurprised.
“Rats are cleverer than people credit,” she said. “That’ll be why you heard one scamper away, doctor. It saw you and knew you were a danger. All the time the rat knows you are there, you’ll never catch it.”
So that evening, we did not stake out the pantry. We simply left several large and vicious rat traps around the jar of pickled eggs. Come the morning, however, one egg missing and no traps set off.
“Rats are cleverer than people credit,” explained Mrs. Hudson. “It was the same on the farm as a kid. You could never catch a rat in a rat-trap. They knew them for what they were. That’s why we had to catch them the way we did – in nets. And then you had to do the deed yourself – snapping their necks with your bare hands.” And she trailed off as she went to the sink to wash her hands.
So we tried poison. We tried hiding. We tried sticky traps. We tried sealing up all the chinks in the woodwork. We tried everything we could think of. But as December wore on, the pickled eggs continued to vanish.
By December 23rd we were at our wits end. Occasionally we had prevented eggs from being taken by our presence, but more often, the egg-thief found a way to the eggs regardless of us. There remained only seven pickled eggs in the jar.
Holmes and I both insisted that no rat could outwit us so consistently, but Mrs. Hudson would always reply “Rats are cleverer than people credit.” Sometimes, sadly reliving the necessity to snap their necks before slinking off to the sink to wash her hands. It seemed to me she felt guilt about the destruction of these vermin. Her respect for their intelligence played a part, I suppose. Or maybe you just didn’t like the fact that she had had to kill them herself. Whatever the reason, it was as though she were trying to justify the necessity of their deaths to herself.
Once again she related the story of her father netting the rats in the pantry who had learned to remove the lids from jars…
“Netting!” Holmes interrupted. “We haven’t tried that yet! It worked for your father, Mrs. Hudson, why not us.”
And by that evening he had set up a fine net trap, practically invisible, which would ensnare anything larger than an ant which tried to get to Mrs. Hudson’s pickled eggs. We all retired to our rooms, so as not to scare off our prey, and I, for one, nodded off.
I was awoken around midnight by a high-pitched squeal from the kitchen. In nothing but my pyjamas, I rushed downstairs to the kitchen where I met Hudson and Holmes, similarly attired. An unholy racket was coming from the pantry as, presumably, our captive egg thief thrashed about in Holmes’s net, trying, unsuccessfully, to free itself. Mrs. Hudson volunteered to deal with the rodent, being well versed in such matters. She opened the door, gasped, and then with a puzzled look on her face, pulled the egg-thief out by the scruff of his neck.
Holmes and I stared on in disbelief. Dangling, morosely from the landlady’s hand was a seven inch tall man. He had a wispy white goatee, pointed ears and was dressed in a rather snazzy red and green suit.
It was Holmes who put out thoughts into words.
“It is one of Santa’s elves!” he exclaimed. “He must be stationed here to check up on Billy for the naughty-or-nice lists. Here is your egg thief, Mrs. Hudson; a pickle pilfering pixie. Using magic to steal his supper each night.”
“It is as you say! I could never resist a pickled egg!” squeaked our diminutive villain.
“We should have you arrested!” Holmes replied.
But the elf protested vehemently.
“For God's sake, have mercy!" he shrieked. "Think of Father Christmas! Of Mother Mary! It would break their hearts. I never went wrong before! I never will again. I swear it. I'll swear it on a Bible. Oh, don't…”
He was interrupted by a snapping noise. Staring in disbelief at the lop-headed corpse she was holding, Mrs Hudson mumbled “Force of habit, I suppose.”
She solemnly laid the elf out upon the kitchen table and made her way to the sink to wash her hands.
And that is how the occupants of 221 Baker Street became permanently placed upon the naughty list.