We all know the dangers of a get-rich-quick scheme but we have the benefit of experience. We know they usually cost us more than we can ever make from them. For the people of the late 1880’s, perhaps these scams were not so well known and for one man in particular, it cost him dearly. If there’s one episode that teaches us the danger of such a scheme, this is it!
Perhaps a Christmas gift for Sherlock, as this is the only story in the canon to take place at that festive time of year, Holmes has a very special one dropped in his lap in The Adventure of The Blue Carbuncle.
When a particularly crotchety looking Countess comes back to her hotel from a bit of Christmas shopping, she realizes that her treasured Blue Carbuncle has been stolen. The staff claim to have seen nothing but with chimney repairman on hand, John Horner, blame is easy to cast. He is arrested while doing his own Christmas shopping with his wife. But it is not the repairman who has absconded with the jewel, but James Ryder, the head attendant of the hotel where the Countess is staying. At the suggestion of the Countess’s maid, Cusack, Ryder steals the jewel and frames Horner; an easy target with a checkered past.
Here, the motive is simple: greed. And nothing spells fast money like stealing a valuable gem that your employer keeps in a small box in plain sight. Who is really the fool here, I ask?
Well this is where the game is truly afoot and requires some explaining, as this is far from a straightforward story. Holmes has a visitor: the local commissionaire, who brings with him a hat and a goose. When Holmes tells the commissionaire to take the goose for himself, as it would go bad otherwise, he hardly expected to see the man again, but later, the commissionaire bursts back in holding the elusive stone. It was found in the “crop” of the goose. And here’s where we eventually learn about the mistake, through some very enjoyable detective work from Holmes and Watson.
Ryder left the hotel soon after the theft was reported, carrying the gem with him. Not sure what to do, he goes to his sister’s house to decide his best course of action. While looking at the geese that his sister has raised to sell to various people, he has an idea: shove the stone into the creature’s mouth and take that goose as his own; his sister promised him one anyway. But he soon learns that there were two geese with similarly distinguished markings and he took the wrong one. Going back for the other, he finds it gone. It ended up with another man who had no idea about the fortune inside the creature. That man, Henry Baker, had an altercation with some people after having been a bit worse for wear, drinking before bringing his goose home. When the commissionaire sees the fracas, he runs to help but everyone runs away, leaving him with the goose, and Baker’s hat, both of which he brings to Sherlock Holmes.
Yes, it’s a convoluted tale but lots of fun to watch especially the investigation where Holmes tells people he is “a fowl fancier!”
“It is my business to know what other people don’t know!” A classic line, indeed! This is one episode I typically enjoy, but at the end, a strange thing happens. While confessing all to Holmes, Ryder is nearly in hysterics. He is a man unused to criminal activities and he regrets his actions deeply, so Holmes lets him go, much to Watson’s surprise. “I am not retained by the police to supply their deficiencies,” shouts Jeremy Brett, in a fit of agitation. As it’s the season of forgiveness, Holmes tells Watson, “I suppose that I am committing a felony, but it is just possible that I am saving a soul.” This is something I admire about Sherlock quite a bit. He may be taking the law into his own hands, but doing it for the good of another. (Although as Watson publishes these tales, it’s just a matter of time before the law catches on!)
Holmes letting Ryder go is not the only strange thing that happens. Holmes does not appear to have any intent of returning the gem to its owner. He places it in his top drawer, next to a picture of Irene Adler, from A Scandal in Bohemia. And yet, I find this episode utterly enjoyable; I loved the short story and I love the televised episode. And one reason the episode might even be an improvement is that, upon completion of the mystery, Holmes and Watson sit down for supper, when Watson reminds Sherlock that there is a man in prison and it’s nearly Christmas day. They bolt out the door toward the police station to get Horner released. The final scene of the episode shows him reuniting with his wife and children on Christmas Day!
It’s far from the best of the canon by any means, but Brett and Burke sell it and bring a lighthearted story to life joyfully, complete with a happy ending absent in the short story. Of note, watch Brett’s reaction to learning about a “goose club” or his annoyance at having someone waste his time. He again delivers a magnificent, nuanced performance as the Great Detective. Also terrific fun is watching Holmes systematically take Watson down on his failure to apply his inference skills to their full potential. This is also a rare time that Watson turns down food, an episode that features food as the main course, so to speak! There may be better mysteries for Holmes to solve, but the one that I’m interested in right now is about this particular gem. You see, apparently carbuncles come in many colors… but blue is not one of them! ML