A good friend of mine challenged me to write a 221B story. If I remember correctly, the goal was to write a Holmes story containing 221 words and ending the whole thing with the letter B.
I FAILED that challenge bc I couldn't stop writing. Below is the story I wrote. Forgive any non-Holmesian characteristics. (From my archives)
With the warm crackling fire in front of us, the smell of Holmes' pipe tobacco, and my fullness from having eaten entirely too much of Mrs. Hudson's wonderful dinner, I was nearly asleep when the timid knock sounded at the door. One look at Holmes told me he was not going to rise to answer it, as he was deeply engrossed in a book who's title I could not read for lack of a true understanding of the German language.
I pulled my dressing gown closer, expecting to find a woman on the opposite side, considering the lightness of the knock. To my surprise, a neatly dressed man, much larger and younger than myself, stood in our doorway. From the way he clenched his hat in his meaty hands, it would not have taken Holmes' unique powers of observation to know our visitor was deeply troubled by something.
"Would you be Mister Sherlock Holmes?" The man's voice was soft and apologetic. His light blue eyes twinkled with mirth and shyness. Both seemed to be permanent fixtures.
The strangeness of the man's size compared to his seemingly smaller demeanor, left me standing in shock for how long I could not guess. It was Holmes who finally broke the spell.
"Do please come in from that drafty hallway." Holmes spoke from a standing position near his chair. "Forgive my friend Watson. I believe he is trying to engage my methods in figuring out the reason for your late night visit."
The large man nodded and I stood aside to allow him entrance, remembering myself enough to take his hat and coat. Both were wet from the snowfall outside.
"So, vicar," Holmes said once our visitor was comfortably settled. "How are you and your wife finding London? I would guess that it is very different from Elham."
The man stared at Holmes as I had at him in the doorway. He was quicker to recover though.
"I've heard of your powers, Mister Holmes." The man gave a small smile. "I do believe you have a gift from God and know that I have seen them for myself, I believe it all the more. Surely you are the man to help me and my family. The good Lord knows we are in need of help in this time when we celebrate the birth of his only son."
Holmes removed his pipe from his mouth and waved it at our guest.
"Perhaps you should start at the beginning," Holmes said. "Aside from my knowing you are a vicar, recently moved to London from Elham with your young wife and that the two of you have recently taken in two orphaned children, I know nothing about you."
The vicar shook his head in astonishment.
"How you know even that much is beyond me," the young vicar said.
Holmes gave his knowing smile.
"All too often I explain my methods only to have those who hear my reasoning say it is incredibly simple," Holmes said. "I will say your clothing, accent and the sticky stain on your left leg held me deduce all I know. Other than that, let us put it down to, how did you say, a gift from God."
"And it's such a gift I'll be needing sir," the man was quick to reply. He sat forward in his chair and rubbed his hands together. "All you say is true. My name is Silas Webley and until three months ago, I was vicar for St. Mary's Church in Elham, Kent.
"I married my wife, Flora, nearly a year ago and we lived happily in Elham, but I felt a deeper calling. Having no children of our own, I convinced Flora to move with me to London and help the wayward children of the city. I have heard all too often how many homeless and hungry children there are here. I wanted to do something to help."
Holmes with eyes closed, tilted his face toward ceiling as Webley spoke. The vicar paused in his speech to glance at me. I gave him an encouraging nod.
"Well, you see, sirs," the vicar continued, "I was able to work with orphanages and several churches to start schooling and trade programs to start the children of the poor on a better path. If a strong lad can learn a proper trade, he won't need to turn to criminal enterprise to earn his living."
"Ah, I agree," Holmes interjected, "I myself employ several young children in the area to find people or information for me. Whether or not they turn to crime as they age, I could not tell you. London is not forgiving to all."
The young man nodded vigorously.
"What I have seen in my short time in London has shown me that," Webley said. "After only a week in London, I knew I could not help all and became despondent. My dear Flora suggested we take in a child from an orphanage or workhouse. When we realized we could not help all the children of London, we decided to make a tremendous difference in the life of one."
"Then why did you take in two?" Holmes asked. "I would say both boys. One is approximately 7 or 8, the other is younger. Maybe 4 years of age."
Webley gaped at Holmes, but the detective never opened his eyes.
"That is also true, sir." Webley kept glancing at me for support, which i tried to offer through a sympathetic look. Without explanation, Holmes' deductions can be quite unnerving. I was sure there were some small thing he was seeing that would explain away the entire matter simply, but Holmes was apparently not in a mood to explain.
"We did take in two boys, little Lucas is four and his older brother, Bennet is seven." Webley's soft voice became warm. "Both came to us unexpectedly, as if God himself had decided to place these boys in our lives. My wife and I were here but a month when we found ourselves on a street we did not know. It was a dirty street, filled with those who were obviously in a poorer condition than ourselves.
"Ahead of us but a little way was a shop, a bakery to be precise," Webley's eyes watered at his telling now. "The two young boys that are now my sons, came out of the doorway at a rush. The keeper, screaming, followed them out. He was shouting obscenities and managed to grab the younger boy by his oversized coat.
"I have never seen a man shake such a small child with that kind of ferocity. The child began crying but the man did not stop with his shaking. He lifted his free hand and began brandishing a large rolling pin, menacing the child further. I had made to stop this but the older child beat me to it. Though I do not agree with his methods, the older child dealt the baker several hard blows in the shins, making him drop the younger boy.
"By this point, my wife and I were upon the baker, who was now hitting the older boy in the ribs with the pin." Webley shook his head again. Through the tears in his eyes and the compassion in his voice, you could hear the distress in his voice. "I managed to grab the pin from the baker, stopping his assault of the child now curled on the ground. I threatened to contact the nearest constable and have him arrested for what he did to the children and asked what they could have done to warrant such an attack. I learned the offense was the theft of one bun.
"I was ashamed of unChristian-like behaviour of the man and told him as such. I sent him back in his shop with payment for the bun. By the time I turned back towards the children, Flora was holding the youngest, still crying, in her arms, while the older child still lay on the ground, holding his sides and breathing heavily. I knew from the look on Flora's face that we were taking these two children, assuming they had no guardian to stop us."
Holmes opened his eyes and gave Webley a searching look.
"And so you came to take in two stray waifs," Holmes summarized. "So far I do not see a problem for me to solve. I assume if you were to come at such a late hour, your problem must be pressing."
Webley blushed to the tips of his dark blonde roots.
"It is true, sir," he said. "I wanted you to understand the story from the beginning so you would have no questions as to how the children came in our keep. My wife and I have only a little money and surely not enough to keep two boys in the comforts we would like. We were told by the eldest, Bennet, that he and his brother had no living parents and had escaped the terrible conditions of a workhouse to make their own way. Should we stay in London, I fear the boys may end up in worse conditions as we go poor."
"Flora and I decided to take the children back to Elham, since I was assured I could have my old parish back. Before we took the children, we wanted to be assured there would be no one coming to accuse us of kidnapping. We wanted to learn all we could about the children we were adopting."
Here Webley rose, straightened his dark suit coat and paced in front of the fireplace.
"That is why we are still in London, Mister Holmes." The vicar was clearly agitated. "Flora wanted to leave long ago, and we should have considering our monetary circumstances, but I told her we had to do all we could to ensure our boys would never be taken from us."
Webley stopped his pacing and stared at the decorations over the fireplace.
"We agreed we would stay until after the holidays, wanting to give the boys one good Christmas memory in London before going back to Elham." Webley absentmindedly scratched at the button on his cuff. "In that time, by the grace of God alone, I have learned about our boys."
Webley turned to face Holmes.
"I have learned they are not truly brothers," Webley said, "but no one could deny their devotion to each other. Bennet was put to the workhouse when his mother died one year, very near Christmastime. His father is unknown.
"Lucas is the true surprise." Webley said. "Through a letter kept by the woman where Lucas' mother birthed him, I have learned that Lucas is actually the son of Laurel Wexham. I have learned she her family had a great deal of money. Money that could be used to care for Lucas."
I let out a soft breath. If what Webley said was true, little Lucas would indeed become heir to a large fortune. Lord Wexham's daughter, Laurel had disappeared after a scandal involving a local ruffian. She was believed dead. Being Wexham's only child, his estate went to other family members. If Webley could prove that Lucas was a Wexham, he would gain control of the Wexham estate and title.
"I do hate to press you, vicar." Holmes did not seem to hate it. "It is late and I will guess what your problem is. The letter proving Lucas' heritage has gone missing and, despite your best efforts, you cannot find it."
"Where did you discover this letter?" Holmes asked.
"The mother sought refuge in a church on Bow Street," Webley said. "The nuns there helped a woman deliver a child. She didn't survive long after the birth and they sent the child to an orphanage. They kept the letter and willingly gave it to me."
Holmes nodded and tented his fingers together.
"You must understand, Mister Holmes," Webley continued, "I want nothing more than to care for my children and provide them with all they could ever need. My meager savings has nearly gone trying to start the charities in London. Once we move back to Elham, we will be quite poor. We move after Boxing day and if this is not resolved, I have agreed with Flora that we will leave the matter forever, thus denying our sons greater opportunities for the future."
Webley fiddled with the button on his cuff again.
"I am here at this late hour because, after nearly a unsuccessful week of searching every spot in our home, my wife and I finally agreed this very evening to call you in," Webley said. "Paying for your services will take away from our savings, but if you can find this letter, all will be well."
Holmes stood and walked towards the vicar.
"I have noted your address in your hatband." Holmes said. "Watson and I will be at your apartments tomorrow morning before 9 to aid in your search. I have no doubt we will be able to deliver your letter to you within a half hour of our arrival."
Webley's face lit up at Holmes' promise. He grabbed Holmes' hand and shook it with such vigor, I was afraid the larger man would harm Holmes.
Holmes saw the vicar to the door while I stood, watching the detective.
"How can you be so sure of success?" I asked Holmes once Webley was gone.
"After all, if they cannot find a letter in their own household, how will you be able to?"
Holmes turned to smile at me.
"Because I already know what happened to it," Holmes said. "I just have to find out where young Bennet hid it."
Before I could ask another question, Holmes bade me goodnight and retired to his rooms. Leaving me with burning questions was not a new trick of Holmes'.
The next morning, I woke to find Holmes already eating breakfast. Though I wanted to question him on our guest from the night before, but I had learned that Holmes did not reveal his conclusions until he was ready. To press him now would only result in my not getting breakfast before we left for the Webley household.
Even in the carriage ride over, I held my questions. I would insure Holmes never left my sight. That way he could not discover the letter without my knowing all.
The apartments we arrived at were comfortable, though not what I would call high end. The clean yet worn surroundings seemed to fit in with the man I had met the night before. It also gave credence to the vicar's statement that he and his wife only wanted to provide more opportunities for the boys they took in than they could give the children in their present circumstances.
Mrs. Webley answered when we knocked. She was her husband's opposite in every way. While the vicar was light complected, Flora Webley was as dark an Englishwoman as I had seen. Here brown eyes and hair matched the color of dark mahogany wood. While her husband was a large man, Flora was quite petite.
"Good morning, sirs!" Flora Webley's voice was laughing and booming, another difference between her and her husband. "My husband said you would be visiting us. Can you really find the letter we have so long been missing?"
Holmes gave the small woman a bow.
"Ma'am, I told your husband I could find the letter and I assure you I can," Holmes said with utmost confidence.
The woman laughed and moved to let us in the apartments.
"Silas! Mister Holmes and Doctor Watson are here!" Mrs. Webley called out, causing me to flinch at the sheer volume of her voice.
"He's in the drawing room with the boys," Mrs. Webley explained. "Silas takes time everyday to teach the boys how to read, write and do simple arithmetic. Oh, and bible lessons, of course."
Mrs. Webley led the way to the room where we found all three, as she had said, engaged in various school-type activities. I instantly found the two boys were a good match for the couple. The older boy, Bennet, was as dark and petite as Flora. From a medical standpoint, I would not have believed the boy to be seven, as Vicar Webley had told me. I put his small and slightly scrawny stature down to improper nutrition early in life.
The younger boy, Lucas, was clearly in better condition than the older boy. He had the same dark blonde hair and blue eyes as Webley did. The boy's build, even at that age, showed he would one day be as large as his adopted father. Had Webley not told us the boys were foundlings, no one would have been the wiser.
Silas, who had been bending over a picture book with Bennet, rose and came towards us, ready to shake our hands. He nimbly stepped over Lucas, who was sprawled out on the floor, busying himself by drawing something colorful yet undecipherable on a sheet of paper.
"Boys, this is Mister Sherlock Holmes, the detective, and his friend Doctor Watson." Silas beamed at the two boys. "They've come to help up find the letter we told you about. The letter about Lucas' real family.
"Don't be shy," Silas said. "Come say hello to the gentlemen."
Lucas jumped up from the carpet and ran over. He half hid behind his adoptive father's leg as he smiled up at us. Bennet came at a far more leisurely pace. The older boy shook our hands, but I gathered he did it with a bit of reluctance. I couldn't help but think that Holmes had said Bennet was the cause of the letter's disappearance.
"Please, have a seat!" Mrs. Webley all but pushed me and Holmes towards two seats. Holmes stood his ground.
"Actually, madam," Holmes said, "If we are to find your letter, we must begin immediately."
Mrs. Webley swept past us and pulled her family close.
"We are at your disposal, Mister Holmes," she said. "Please tell us what you'd like to do."
"We shall break into groups of three," Holmes said. "You vicar, your wife and young Lucas can go upstairs and begin searching the rooms. Please take special care to look through bedding and any books you may have.
"Watson, Bennet and I will search on the first floor. I have no doubt the letter will turn up."
"But, Mister Holmes," Flora said, "I am sure my husband told you we have thoroughly searched this house already."
"Not using my methods." Holmes replied. "if this letter is important to you, I would ask that you please search in the way I ask."
Mrs. Webley, still keeping her smile, shrugged and ushered her husband and youngest son towards the stairs. Holmes waited until they were completely gone from sight before settling himself in a chair nearest the fireplace.
For several moments, the dark haired Bennet and I stood next to each other, watching Holmes take in the room. I had to admit that for their circumstances, the Webleys had done well to decorate the home for the Christmas. There was a small tree, decorated lovingly with handmade ornaments. There was a wreath over the fireplace, as well as several cheery holiday pictures hand drawn by the children.
"Tell me, Bennet, do you like living with the Webleys?" Holmes turned to the young boy. "Do they care well for you?"
The boy looked from Holmes, to me, to the staircase his new family had gone up. I could almost feel the young boy's mind working, looking for an escape route. Seeing he had no option, he sighed and stood as straight as possible to speak to Holmes.
"They're very nice, sir," Bennet said. "They don't 'it me…hit me. They're very nice to me and my brother."
The boy spoke in a slow voice, obviously the teachings of the Webleys were working on him. Even if he didn't drop his h's, it would still take some time for the boy to lose his accent. He would stick out in a school with monied children.
"You want to continue living with them, don't you?" Holmes made it a point to look straight at the boy. "You want to be a family instead of being out on the streets or in a workhouse."
The boy's body began to shake ever so slightly. I wanted to reach out to comfort him but I understood Holmes had his methods. I would go with them so long as no harm came to the child.
"Answer me, boy." Holmes' voice was sharp. "Do you want to continue living with them or do you want to end up back on the London streets, being beaten for taking food to survive."
The boy hung his head.
"I want to stay 'ere, sir." The boy's voice was very soft, almost a whisper.
Holmes stood up and walked straight up to the boy. His lean frame towered over the small boy. I wanted to step in. Holmes was clearly using his power to intimidate a boy who only saw adults as something to fear.
Before I could say anything, Holmes knelt and put a gentle hand on the boy's shoulder.
"Then why did you take Lucas' letter?" Holmes' voice was kind but stern.
The young boy broke into tears. His small frame began shaking so violently that I led him to a chair to sit down. Holmes followed, sitting across from the boy. He waited until the sobs had subsided before beginning his questioning again.
"Why did you take the letter?" Holmes asked. "You don't have to admit to it. I already know where it is."
Bennet looked up quickly to stare at the pictures on the mantle. Holmes followed the young boy's eyes. Holmes stood and walked over to the fireplace. His nimble fingers touched each picture in turn before settling on one depicting the Webleys with the two boys in front of the Christmas tree.
Holmes took the picture down and flipped it over. The paper on the other side was blank. I let out a breath I wasn't aware I was holding. Holmes kept the picture as he went to sit down opposite the boy again.
"Tell me, Bennet," Holmes flipped the picture over and over in his hand, "What do you think the letter is about?"
Bennet wiped his eyes and gave Holmes a serious look.
"It says who Lucas' real parents are," the boy said. "Our new parents are going to turn 'im…him over to the ones that didn't care."
Bennet leaned in and lowered his voice.
"I know who me…my dad is," Bennet confided, "but I don't wont…want to go back to him. When he would find me, he would beat me and make me steal. My new mum and dad don't do that. I don't want Lucas to go back to the ones who threw 'im…him out."
Holmes smiled kindly at the young boy. He turned his attention back to the drawing and picked at the corner of the page until it split in two. Slowly, he peeled back the papers until he had two full sheets in his hands. He stood back up and replaced the childish family portrait in it's place on the mantle. He sat back down the sheet that I could now see had writing on it.
Holmes motioned for the boy to come towards his chair. Bennet got up with a resigned air and did as he was told.
"Father," Holmes began reading, pointing to each word on the page, "I am writing this letter to be sent to you with my son, your grandson, Lucas Christopher Wexham. His father will never be a part of his life so I have had him christened with my family name. I have made a mistake that I believe the Lord will forgive me for. I am not sure if you will ever forgive, though I pray you will. The midwife has told me I will am very weak and may not live to see morning. I have made one swear she will bring this letter along with my son to you."
Holmes waved his hand at the rest of the letter.
"It goes on for some time like this," Holmes explained. "I am telling you this because Lucas has no family other than you. His mother did die and his grandfather, his only relative has also died, leaving behind him a great deal of money. No one is left to take Lucas. The Webleys and you will still have to be his family, only there will be more money. Do you understand now why this letter is important?"
Bennet nodded, his eyes wide.
"Could it be enough money to help other children?" Bennet asked. "Me dad…my dad, my new dad wants to help other children in London, but he says he needs more money."
Holmes nodded at the boy and handed over the letter.
"With this letter, he can care for you and Lucas for the rest of your lives," Holmes said. "He will also be able to help other children."
Bennet smiled, his entire body shook, but this time with joy. He held the letter tight to his small frame.
"Mum, dad!" He ran up the stairs calling. "The letter! Mister Holmes found the letter! You can have the money now!"
It was three weeks later that the entire matter final came to a happy close. Holmes was reading the mail one morning during breakfast when I woke.
"Ah, my dear friend Watson!" His cheerful mood put me on guard for a moment. Usually such happiness only came when he had some puzzle to solve.
"Tut, tut," Holmes shook his egg spoon at me. "You misjudge me, Watson! I bring you news I feel you would find most fitting now that the holiday cheer has come to a close."
Holmes pointed to a piece of paper he had placed on my plate. I sat, picking up the letter and began to read. It wasn't long before a smile crossed my face as well.
"It seems the letter was enough to prove the identity of the child," I couldn't help but smile at Holmes. "According to the letter, they have turned the Wexham estate into an orphanage that focuses on educating the children they care for. I think it a fine idea and one that I wish were standard for the poor of London. They also say that Lucas and Bennet are doing well."
Holmes smiled after taking a sip from his cup.
"At least they are doing good things with the money." Holmes said. "I thought the Webleys would be true to their word and care for the children."
"And Lucas will grow up to have a title." I shook my head in surprise. "Imagine finding the last of the Wexham line on a street in London. I suppose the vicar was right to think God must have had a hand in their meeting."
Holmes' eyes twinkled, leaving me to believe he knew something he was not telling me.
"What do you know Holmes?" I asked, rereading the letter to see what I had missed.
Holmes sat back and looked at the paper in his hand.
"The morning before we went to the Webley home, I found that church on Bow Street," Holmes said. "The baby that Laurel Wexham birthed died not long after the mother. The nuns feared if Wexham ever found out where his daughter died, they would be blamed. The three nuns who took care of Laurel Wexham swore they would keep the secret. When Webley came with a child of the same age and same name, they thought it a way to ensure they would never be blamed for the death of the Wexham child."
"If you knew, why did you allow Webley to believe the inheritance belonged to the young child they took in?" I couldn't help but ask. Holmes usually had no emotions and this seemed out of context for my friend.
Holmes handed me the paper he held. It was a child's drawing of a family in front of a Christmas tree. It was the same drawing Bennet had used to hid the Wexham letter.
"Webley is one of many men in London," Holmes explained. "He has ideas that could better his fellow man but no means by which to see those ideas through. The Wexham fortune was gained by deceit and through the hard work of London's poor."
"I have seen the factories Wexham used to run," Holmes continued. "Children working in horrible conditions and being paid a slave's wage, if any. I knew Wexham as a liar and a cheat, which is one reason his daughter ran away from him."
Holmes tapped the drawing with his egg spoon.
"Someone needed to use the money Wexham left and do good with it," Holmes said. "Why not the Webleys? Why not young Lucas and Bennet?"
I took one more look at the happy family portrait, drawn by a child who had only known seven years of the worst London, and life, had to offer.
"Indeed," I agreed. "Why not them?"
My lofty dreams of being a famous & brilliant writer were literally smacked out of my head. Now I plan to fill the void with copious amounts of subpar writing!