'Tis the time of year for both Dickens and Doyle, for both Cratchit and Peterson, and for both a goose stuffed with sage and onion and a goose stuffed with a blue gem. The more popular of the two features a fellow whose heart is turned by spirits of the holiday to join in the festivities of Christmas day. And in the other?
You know. And I almost hate to say it.
"I had called upon my friend Sherlock Holmes upon the second morning after Christmas with the intention of wishing him the compliments of the season."
The second morning after Christmas. And Watson seems to find it very important to tell us from the start of just what his intentions are. A little too important, one might say, almost as if he didn't want us to suspect what his true intentions were. Does a man, intent on wishing his dear friend a merry Christmas, a man filled with the courage of his Christmas cheer convictions, enter meekly with a . . .
"You are engaged -- perhaps I interrupt you."
Watson sounds utterly and completely like a man who has readied himself to scurry back down the seventeen steps, should he find his presence unwelcome. Like there's some bad blood between Watson and Holmes, and it has yet to be fully ironed out. What bad blood? Well, for a clue, attend to their next bit of conversation regarding the hat:
". . . there are points in connection with it which are not entirely devoid of interest, and even of instruction," says Holmes.
". . . homely as it looks, this thing has some deadly story linked to it -- that it is the clue which will guide you in the solutions of some mystery, and the punishment of some crime."
Do their different perspectives on the hat sound at all familiar? They should.
"You have degraded what should have been a course of lectures into a series of tales," Sherlock chastises Watson in "Copper Beeches." Holmes sees his work as something to be used to teach. Watson sees it as something to be used to entertain. And why would they be arguing over that little difference in the times before "Blue Carbuncle" Christmas?
Look at something Watson says: "Of the last six cases which I have added to my notes, three have been entirely free of any legal crime." And that is where it gets interesting. One of the cases Watson refers to is "A Scandal in Bohemia," plainly dated March 1888. A second is "The Man with the Twisted Lip," just as plainly dated in June 1889. There is well over a year between those two stories, yet taking Watson at his exact wording, we are to believe he only took notes on four of Holmes's cases in the intervening period?
I think not. Especially when one realizes that Watson isn't referring to "notes," he's referring specifically to the six stories which he published first in The Strand Magazine in 1891. Note that I said "published" in 1891, in the summer after Holmes disappeared over Reichenbach Falls. Watson had plainly chosen those six and written them up before Christmas of 1889, certainly with hopes of putting them before a publisher.
And Holmes? He's still plainly thinking his cases should serve as lessons. And he and Watson have not come to a harmonious agreement on what should be done with them. Perhaps even to the point of some bad blood pushing them apart at Christmas time.
But Holmes can still draw Watson in with the puzzle-lesson of Henry Baker's hat, and once Peterson brings the Countess of Morcar's blue carbuncle into 221B, they're off on another adventure, out having a couple beers, falling back into their old friendly habits and patterns like there was no difference of opinion about what should be done with publishing the cases.
We are almost certain to believe that Holmes's final lines in "Blue Carbuncle" refer to John Robinson . . . er, James Ryder. But perhaps . . . just perhaps . . . Holmes is speaking of Watson and himself.
"Besides, it is the season of forgiveness. Chance has put in our way a most singular and whimsical problem, and its solution is its own reward. If you will have the goodness to touch the bell, Doctor, we will begin another investigation, in which also a bird will be the chief feature."
And with that dinner invitation, they lived happily ever after . . . until one "died" and the other's wife probably went, "It's okay, dear, he would want you to publish them now." And of course, by letting the thief go, Holmes was also deviously making it so that Watson wouldn't expect that he could write up the case without implicating his friend in the crime of concealing a criminal . . . which wouldn't matter once Holmes was, again, spoiler alert, "dead." And then the whole thing could be the seventh story in Watson's series . . .
In my personal chronology of the cases, "Copper Beeches" comes next, and as the earlier mentioned quote tells, their little dispute over Watson's write-ups continues, but it continues as a friendly debate Watson can bring up with a smile on his face. And I think that friendliness we see in the spring of "Copper Beeches" owes much to the "season of forgiveness" in "Blue Carbuncle."
Holmes and Watson forgiving each other provides a much better lesson for us in this yuletide season than the allowed escape of Ryder. For even friends can have those moments when they have to find a reason to overlook a difference of opinion and come back together. And what better season to sit down over a bird, or some Chinese food, or hot chocolate, and do just that.
Compliments of the season, my friends. And trust me, if you are engaged, I will still interrupt you to say so.