Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Strange Infant | by Katelyn Daniels
It was wet, dismal and one o’clock in the morning as I trudged through the streets of London.
I had spent the last twenty hours by the bedside of a ninety-six year old man who was determined not to die, though every disease possible had come to tell him it was time to go. Rain was trickling down my neck and soaking my shirt. My boots, old and worn from countless miles of walking, were beginning to leak.
All these circumstances combined to put me in an understandably bad mood. As I reached my apartment on Baker Street, I slammed the door behind me, shedding coat, boots, hat, and bags as I went toward the living room.
I could smell cigar smoke, and I found my friend and roommate sitting on his sofa. The fact that he was comfortable and dry irritated me, I think, even more than the fact that he was, once again, filling our apartment with smoke.
I called his name but he didn’t respond. Muttering something that I am ashamed to remember let alone confess, I moved toward him, and on the way my knee crashed against a basket.
“Holmes!” I shrieked, without a trace of the manliness and professional cool that I generally pride myself on having. “When will you learn to take care of your bloody things?”
My friend, wrapped in his dark blue dressing gown, lowered the cigar from his mouth and smiled a trifle absently. “Good morning to you, too, my dear Watson.”
“I didn’t say good morning! I asked when you’ll start acting your age and cleaning up after yourself…Holmes, are you even listening to me?”
He was not, for he had resumed his smoking and gazing at the basket. Curiosity began to push out my anger, so I leaned over and looked into the basket, too. What I saw took me so much by surprise that I jumped back and stared at Holmes.
“So, you’ve noticed our visitor,” said Sherlock Holmes, stroking his cheek thoughtfully with one of his long, slender fingers. “And what do you think of her?”
I peeped into the basket again. There was a little baby, perhaps three or four months old, wrapped in an old burlap sack and sleeping peacefully. Her face was sweet and rosy and her hair was wispy gold.
“Where did she come from?” I demanded.
“The stairs. I came back from the morgue to find her lying precisely as you see her, except that she was outside on the stairs. I brought her in because it began to rain.”
“Who is she?”
“If I knew that, my friend, she wouldn’t be here.”
“But surely there was a note or some identification?” I said, dropping weakly onto a chair. “Did you check?”
Holmes gave me a look of pure condescension. “You must be very tired, Watson. Of course I checked.”
I glared at him and looked at the baby again. Her eyelashes, almost invisible because of their light color, fluttered a little in her sleep.
“Is she wet at all?” I asked, my medical training coming into play. I leaned over without waiting for an answer and felt the sack. It was damp. “She needs to be dried and warmed. She’ll also need something to eat soon. I’ll have to go back to my office for some formula. Where’s Mrs. Hudson?”
“Gone. She left yesterday afternoon to visit her aunt in the country.”
I grumbled. “Of course she is. It would happen right now when there’s no woman in the house. Holmes, watch the baby until I get back. And for goodness’ sake, put that cigar out. You’ll kill the little thing with all this smoke.”
Holmes reluctantly threw the cigar into the fire and sat back down on the sofa. He put his fingertips together in his peculiar way, leaned forward, and began to watch the basket again. Pulling my wet things back on, and grumbling the entire time about how I was going to catch a cold and die, I suddenly thought of something.
“Do you know what to do if she cries?” I asked.
“I’ll watch her,” came the evasive reply, which was so unlike my friend’s straightforward manner that I almost laughed.
“What good will that do? No, pick her up and rock her a little. Haven’t you held a baby before?”
“Well, it’ll be good for you, then. Don’t shake her hard or you’ll hurt her.”
Holmes began to look a little pale as I spoke. I had seen this great man face deadly murderers with more bravery and confidence than he had as he faced this infant. It amused me.
“I’ll be back in half an hour,” I said, going back out into the dark rain. Despite knowing that the situation was, indeed, good for Holmes, I went as fast as I could, knowing that the baby would probably wake up and would be hungry.
As I hurried along, I thought over all the possibilities of where she could have come from, and I came to the conclusion that she was the daughter of a beggar who couldn’t afford to care for her anymore. Completely satisfied with and actually a little bit proud of my deductions, I returned to Baker Street.
I was greeted by a loud wailing as I walked in the door. I ran into the living room and burst out laughing. Holmes was standing as still as a statue, holding the infant in his arms as if she were made of glass, and wincing as she continued to scream.
“Well,” I said cheerfully. “At least there’s nothing wrong with her lungs.”
Holmes looked up and a wave of relief swept over his face. “Take her, Watson, quickly.”
I pulled off my wet things and gently took the baby from him. When she was safe in my arms, he drew a deep breath and collapsed onto the sofa. I crooned and rocked the baby until she was quiet, her big blue eyes wet and trustful as they looked at me. I smiled and she gurgled and color returned to Holmes’ face.
“Take this formula and make it up in this bottle,” I instructed him. “Directions are on the back.”
Holmes seemed glad of something to do that would get him away from the living room. I took the damp dress off the baby, found a blanket, and then wrapped her in it. When Holmes returned with the bottle, I sat down to feed her. Holmes kept stealing careful side glances toward me as if wondering if she would scream again.
When we were finally ready to go to our rooms to sleep, Holmes insisted that I take the baby. He ignored my appeals for pity (the basis of my argument being that I had been awake since five o’clock yesterday morning) and shut his bedroom door in my face.
It was a long night. The poor baby (who I had taken to calling Belle) kept waking up and looking for a familiar face, and whenever I came into sight she began to cry. She clearly wanted her mother, and by the second time I was awakened, I wanted her mother, too.
At seven o’clock, I arose, took Belle up in my arms and went to the kitchen. Holmes was sitting, fully dressed, in his customary place on the sofa in the living room, with a steaming cup of black coffee in his right hand and an unlit cigar in his left. He watched Belle with a wary eye.
“Will you hold her for a minute?” I asked. “I’m hungry.”
“Is she safe?”
“Quite,” I grumbled.
Holmes put his coffee and cigar onto the small table and took Belle. She looked curiously at him and then, to his astonishment, reached up a tiny hand and touched his chin. Holmes tilted his head a little to the side. I left them studying each other and made my breakfast.
After I ate, I fed Belle and laid her in her basket. Sitting on the chair across from the sofa, I looked at my friend.
“Well?” I said.
“Well?” he repeated, leaning back and looking much more like the old Holmes.
“What are we going to do with her?”
“You’re asking the wrong question, my dear Watson. The question is: where did she come from? Once we find the answer to that, all questions as to what we must do in the future shall be answered in their own good time.”
“And who will be losing sleep until then?”
“You, of course, for I’ll be finding out where she came from. It’s obvious that she’s not just some beggar’s child.”
This crushed my pride inexpressibly.
“Her dress, Watson, her dress. It’s hand embroidered and made of cloth from Paris. It might be dirty now, but only a rich woman would be able to give such a dress to her child.”
I had picked up the dress and examined it for the first time. It was obviously of finer quality than I had imagined.
“So, this Belle is a rich woman’s daughter,” Holmes continued, “Or a rich man’s daughter, or perhaps both.”
“But why would a rich person leave their child at our door?”
Holmes smiled. “Now you’re asking the right question. I have five theories that may fit, yet one seems most probable. But you know my methods: apply them!”
I thought for a long time, but my lack of sleep was having adverse effects on me. I confessed that I had nothing to offer.
“I sent a note early this morning to Frank Ballister – you remember the journalist I assisted a few months ago – asking him to place an advertisement in this afternoon’s paper. We’ll soon see if anyone will come to claim the infant. However, I am of the opinion that…”
A loud knock on the door interrupted him. I dashed for my room, being still in my dressing gown, and Holmes calmly went to admit the visitor. When I returned, I found Holmes talking with a tall, broad-shouldered man in a fancy waistcoat. He was a handsome, respectable-looking fellow, and I liked him immediately.
“Mr. Wright, this is my colleague, Dr. John Watson,” said Holmes. “Watson, this is Earl Wright.”
Earl Wright smiled and we shook hands.
“I’ve just come from the printer’s shop where I hoped to put out an advertisement about my missing daughter,” said Mr. Wright, looking earnestly from me to Holmes. “A man there told me that you had just paid for an advertisement about a strange baby that you found. I’ve come to see if it’s my Fiona.”
I grinned happily as images of peaceful slumber passed in front of my eyes, and I went over to the basket, not noticing that Holmes was frowning a little and staring at Mr. Wright. When I brought the baby to her father, he took her with a smile.
“It’s her!” he cried. “It’s my dear Fiona! Thank you so much, gentlemen. I could never repay you!”
And to my great surprise, he pressed the baby to his chest and disappeared down the hall without another word.
“Wait a moment! What about her -”
Holmes clapped his hand over my mouth and the front door slammed shut.
“Get your hand off me!” I sputtered. “What on earth are you about, Holmes? I was-”
“You were going to tell him that he forgot the baby’s dress, and I had no intention of giving it to him. I might need it if we’re going to trace that weasel.”
Holmes’ eyes gleamed excitedly as he raced for his hat and coat. He knocked over a stack of my medical journals and I grumbled.
“Sorry, Watson. Have to go. No time for books.”
He tried to run by me to get to the back door but I grabbed his arm, forcing him to stop.
“Well?” he demanded, impatiently. “What is it?”
“Why are we tracing the baby’s father?”
“I haven’t seen the baby’s father. If you mean Wright, you’re as wrong as you were when you assumed that that baby was a beggar’s child. Now let me go! It’s urgent!”
I dropped his arm in surprise. “I never said that!”
As he escaped out the door I heard him laughing.
I returned to the living room with a huge yawn and tried to think through the situation as if I were Holmes. It became obvious that this was utterly hopeless, even more so than usual in my sleepless state, so I decided to go back to bed. When I awoke, it was early afternoon, and Holmes was still gone. I occupied myself with some new medical reports that a friend had left me.
At half past four, I heard the front door open and shut and Holmes came slowly into the living room. I started to ask him a question, but he held up a finger and dropped onto the sofa with a tired sigh.
“My cigar case, please, Watson.”
I handed it to him.
“A light, please.”
I lit the cigar impatiently.
“Now,” he said, “I’ll tell you what I’ve done while you slept and studied. When I left you, I hired a cab and followed that Wright fellow, and he led me on a wild chase all through London before he stopped at a little shack down in the East end by the water.”
“But that’s one of the worst areas in London!”
“That’s where he went, nonetheless, though his clothes would suggest otherwise. I got rid of my driver with a few extra shillings for his cooperation, and then I watched as our dear, respectable Mr. Wright jumped out, roughly handed his ‘dear Fiona’ to an even rougher looking man, and then jumped back into the cab and drove off.”
I leaned back in my chair, dumbfounded and pale.
“My dear Watson,” said Holmes, handing me a little glass of something. “Drink this. For goodness’ sake, man, your Belle’s all right. You didn’t think that I’d leave her there if she were in danger?”
I drank and the blood returned to my cheeks. “Then where is she?”
“She’s still there at the shack; she’s with her mother, perfectly safe. But now we move on. I hope you have slept enough, Watson. I need you to watch with me tonight and I don’t know how long it will last.”
“What are we watching?”
“The shack, where our young friend and her mother are being held. We have to find a way to get them out of there without putting them in any danger.”
“Being held?” I repeated, sitting upright. “Do you mean they’re prisoners? I thought you said she was safe!”
“And so she is, though perhaps not very comfortable. It’s a kidnapping case if there ever was one, Watson, but it’s not just the baby who was kidnapped. It’s the mother, too. And I’m certain that there’s a fair amount of money that the kidnappers placed on their heads.”
“Oh, a couple of million pounds, at the least,” he answered, coolly.
I leaned back again and passed my hands over my face. It was too much for me to take in at one time.
“Another drink, Watson?”
I shook my head.
“Then go get your walking stick and hat. I’ll fix a few sandwiches and we’ll be off.”
I went to my room as I was bidden, and when I returned a few minutes later, Holmes was in the kitchen. He handed me a sandwich and a cup of coffee.
“Drink that,” he said. “It’ll keep you awake. I’ll call a cab.”
When he came back, I had finished the sandwich and coffee and we went out to the sidewalk, where a cab was waiting. Holmes gave the driver directions and then we were off. Holmes didn’t speak; he stared out of the window and muttered something unintelligible to himself, so I kept quiet and tried to prepare myself for whatever was going to come in the next hours.
The cab stopped after about half an hour, and Holmes jumped out. I followed and looked around as Holmes spoke to the driver. It was one of the poorest sections of London. The shacks that lined the street were dilapidated and dark. A few ragged children were playing in the mud with a small black and white dog.
“Follow me,” said Holmes, and he strode down a side street that was, if it were possible, even darker and more run-down than the one we were on before. We heard a man’s voice shouting from up ahead, and Holmes instantly pulled me behind one of the shacks.
“Be as silent as possible, Watson. We must get to the back window of that building.”
We made our way to where the shouting was coming from, and Holmes peered into the grimy, cracked window.
“You let the girl get that stupid baby near the most brilliant detective in all of London!” the voice yelled. “What were you thinking, Wright? Did you think you could just waltz in and that he would actually believe that you were her father? One of the men saw Holmes following you here earlier, so Hollister took them away ahead of schedule. You’ve jeopardized everything! Get lost before I -”
He began to spout out threats, but Holmes clearly wasn’t interested in hearing them. He whirled around to face me, his face deathly pale, and he sprinted back to where we had left the cab. I began to fall behind, on account of my old wound.
“Hurry!” Holmes cried, swinging into the cab. “For God’s sake, Watson! It’s a matter of life and death now! Driver, bring us to the docks! Make haste, man!”
Holmes grabbed my hand and pulled me in, slamming the door and shouting again for the driver to go with all possible speed. I was breathing so hard that speaking was out of the question. Holmes was on the edge of his seat, his fingers drumming his leg impatiently, and he muttered to himself again. This time I caught a few words.
“If we’re too late, they’re lost…he won’t risk being found with them…why, why didn’t I see this before?”
The driver raced to the docks without sparing the horses, and we completed the drive in about five minutes. Holmes leapt out of the cab and left me trying to keep up with him. There was a large crowd of people gathered – there appeared to be a passenger boat leaving port that evening – so I lost sight of Holmes for a few minutes in the bustle. Then I heard a woman scream. I rushed toward the sound to find Holmes wrestling a huge, rough man to the ground. Holmes was ferocious, and the other man was losing the battle despite the advantage he had in size.
“Get back!” I shouted to the people nearby, waving my stick with what I hoped was a note of authority. “Get back, everyone!”
The two men were getting closer and closer to the edge of the dock. Suddenly, a shot split the air and Holmes cried out. Making one, last, supreme effort, he bent over and rammed his shoulder into the other man’s stomach. The rough man last his balance and fell heavily to the rocks below. Everything was silent.
Holmes slowly stood up and looked down over the dock. I ran to his side. The big man was motionless below us, and I could barely see the outline of a pistol on one of the rocks near him. A low groan from Holmes made me look up.
“You’re hurt!” I cried, dropping my stick and reaching for his arm, which I now saw was bleeding a great deal. “Let me see it.”
“Not here, Watson. Let me be for a moment,” he whispered, weakly. Then he took a deep breath, hid his arm inside his coat, and smiled. “Ah, my lady. I trust you are not hurt?”
I looked over my shoulder and found myself looking at a simply dressed young woman holding a baby. She had a sweet, girlish expression and long, blonde hair that curled from beneath her veil around her face.
“Not at all,” she said, speaking with soft, ladylike grace. “I owe you my life, Mr. Holmes, and more than that, my Phoebe’s. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
“Watson, this is the Lady Elizabeth Abbott, niece and heiress of the late Duchess of Winchester. My lady, this is my good friend and colleague, John Watson.”
As he spoke, Holmes grimaced and inconspicuously gripped my arm. I knew that he was weakening from the pain and blood loss, though he hated to show it. Lady Elizabeth’s blue eyes were as keen as they were gentle, however, for she touched his sleeve and cried: “Dear Lord, you’re bleeding! Sir, call a cab!”
I obeyed instantly. To my surprise, Holmes didn’t argue when she insisted that he get in, and the four of us were driven, by her instructions, to one of the wealthiest streets in London.
I began to make Holmes comfortable, but Lady Elizabeth gently pushed me out of the way. “Take Phoebe,” she said, handing me the baby, who I immediately recognized as the ‘Belle’ who had kept me awake the night before. Lady Elizabeth took off her veil and wrapped it around Holmes’ arm. He thanked her gravely, leaned back, and closed his eyes.
We stopped at a richly decorated mansion and were met by a young footman, who, upon recognizing his mistress, let out a very disrespectful whoop and ran back inside without even helping her out of the cab. She smiled tolerantly and accepted my hand; then she reclaimed Phoebe and bid me to help Holmes to the door. We were quickly surrounded by a crowd of chattering, crying, laughing people – nobles and servants alike – but Lady Elizabeth took charge and ordered two servants to bring Holmes to the sofa in the parlor.
Someone suggested sending for a doctor, but I soon reassured them that I was entirely qualified to take care of my friend. The servants brought me the supplies I asked for and ten minutes later Holmes was sitting up comfortably, his arm washed and bound and resting on his chest in a makeshift sling. Lady Elizabeth offered him some wine, and once he had drunk it, the color came back to his face and he looked quite normal again.
“I thank you for your great kindness in saving my daughter and granddaughter,” said an older gentleman, who stood with his arm around Lady Elizabeth’s waist.
“It was my pleasure,” replied Holmes.
At that moment, a young, handsome man came rushing in, his coattails streaming behind him. Lady Elizabeth saw him, cried out, and ran into his arms. Holmes smiled as he watched the young man reach for Phoebe and drop kiss after kiss on her little face.
“Now that, my dear Watson, is our Belle’s father,” Holmes whispered. “Here, give me a hand. I want to stand up.”
I did as he requested.
“This is the man who saved us, Leo; Mr. Holmes, this is my husband, Lord Abbott,” said Lady Elizabeth, laughing as she led him over to us. Leo smiled, tears in his eyes, and held out his hand.
“Ask for anything and I’ll do everything in my power to see that it’s yours, my dear sir. You don’t know what it means to me to see my wife and child here safely.”
Holmes shook the offered hand. “Please, sir. It was my pleasure. If anything, give credit to your wife for leaving Phoebe at my doorstep.”
Lady Elizabeth blushed. “I didn’t know what else to do. The cab we were in broke down when we were going down your street, so while the man they called Wright was speaking with the driver, I put Phoebe in a basket that was under the seat and gave it to a little boy who was going by. I asked him to leave it at Mr. Sherlock Holmes’ door. I gave him a few shillings and he ran off. Wright didn’t notice that the baby was missing until much later. I had heard of you, Mr. Holmes, and I hoped that you would be able to track me down through Phoebe. At least, I thought, if you couldn’t, then Phoebe would be safe.”
Holmes nodded. “I was wondering how you managed to get her to my door, but I was certain it was not a coincidence. I’m glad I could help. But I must be off now; it’s growing late.”
There was a loud clamor at this, and many demands that we remain for supper; but Holmes was obstinate, and I joined my professional opinion to his and said that he ought to be in bed. A carriage was called and we were soon back at Baker Street.
Lestrade, from Scotland Yard, met us at the door. He shook his head in amazement and offered Holmes his congratulations.
“Thank you,” said Holmes, walking by him and going inside.
Lestrade followed him. “We were right where you told us to be, Mr. Holmes, down on the east end. When I saw you hurry off in the cab, I wasn’t sure if I should follow you. By the time I got to the docks, everything had already happened…”
“It’s my fault,” interrupted Holmes. “I should have told you to be at the docks in the first place. But never mind. Is he dead?”
“Yes, the instant he hit the rocks, it seems.”
“Then I’ll bid you good-night. My arm is rather painful right now. I’m sure you’ll have no trouble rounding up the rest without their leader.”
Lestrade said good-night to me and backed out of the room.
Holmes settled himself on his sofa and I lit the fire. Then I poured two glasses of brandy. Offering him one and sitting back in my chair with the other, I sighed.
Holmes looked at me and grinned. “Go ahead; you have some questions for me.”
“How on earth did you know it was a kidnapping?”
“The dress, Watson. With that I had already figured out that it was a rich man or woman’s child. I saw that whoever left the child on our doorstep wanted to be found; it could hardly be a coincidence that the person chose my doorstep. Thus, a kidnapping came to my mind, and it is more likely that a woman would be kidnapped with a baby than a man. If she were being held for ransom, she must be wealthy, and this fit perfectly with the type of dress that we found. Of course, it might have turned out that she was being held for something other than ransom. Then I remembered this.”
He handed me a newspaper clipping, showing a sketch of the big, rough man that Holmes had left on the rocks at the dock. It had a short write up which included his description and the fact that he was wanted for kidnapping charges of a young heiress from Brighton. He had gotten away with a large ransom and had last been seen outside London.
“Ah, yes, that’s right. Jack Hollister,” I said, slapping my forehead. “I saw that last week and forgot about it completely. So you assumed it was him?”
“Not assumed, determined. It was only one of my five theories until I saw him when I followed Mr. Wright.”
“I see. Well, then, how did you know that Mr. Wright wasn’t the baby’s father before you determined it was a kidnapping of a rich woman by that Hollister?”
“The dress. I keep saying how important it was, but I’m afraid you underestimate my assertions. If you had inspected it closely, you would have found initials stitched carefully into the back of the collar: P.L.A. When Mr. Wright called her Fiona, I knew he was lying. The baby’s name begins, obviously, with a P. Also, if my baby daughter had been lost, I would begin my search by going to the police, and not the newspaper advertisements. If I found my daughter, I hope that my face would show relief and tenderness, not triumph. Lastly, he said “I could never repay you” as he left, but if that were my daughter, I would certainly try to repay the men who found her, especially if I were rich enough to own such fancy clothes as Mr. Wright. Do you follow me, Watson?”
“It’s so obvious, I don’t know how I missed it!”
“You were subconsciously biased; you wanted him to be the father because you wanted to get rid of the baby because you wanted sleep,” laughed Holmes. “It’s quite simple, really. You must remain purely objective when you observe, Watson, or you only observe what you want to see, instead of what is really there. You wanted to see a tender reunion between father and daughter, so that’s what you saw. I observed from an entirely neutral point and I saw the triumph and lack of any other feeling.”
“But how did you know to go to the docks? Surely the dress didn’t tell you that?”
“No, I must admit that was a sheer guess, Watson. I knew there was a passenger boat going out, of course, because we had passed it on the way to the shack, but I couldn’t be sure that was where they were bringing her. It made the most sense, however, and I had no time to be certain.”
“It’s incredible that you were right! Of course, you usually are, but -”
Holmes shrugged and stared at the fire. “It was merely an educated guess, Watson. Anyone could have done the same.”
I laughed to myself. As if just anyone would have guessed correctly! Holmes was absolutely impossible sometimes.
About Katelyn Daniels
Katelyn Daniels, is a 18 year old senior from Maine, the 2nd oldest of 6 siblings. She has been homeschooled her whole life, and has been a Seton student since 8th grade. She is a decided introvert and loves spending quiet time alone, pursuing hobbies such as reading classic literature, writing stories, and creating poetry. She is firmly convinced that she ought to have been born in the nineteenth century into an English cottage or onto an Oriental mountainside village (depending on her mood). Teatime in the afternoon is a daily essential, and she loves gardening, taking long walks in the woods, and daydreaming about a fairytale life with Prince Charming and a brood of her own mischief-makers. She is an ardent advocate of late nights, old-fashioned things, romance, and chivalry. She has a special devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus, St. Joseph, Padre Pio, and St. Rose of Lima.