Winners of the Annual Birthday Challenge 2003
Editors' note: Each year we provide an essay topic in a special birthday edition of the Muse which is distributed at both New York dinners and posted on the ASH website. This year’s assignment was:
From seemingly ordinary objects such as a hat or pipe, Holmes frequently drew elaborate conclusions about the owner—conclusions which were always correct! Assume that you’ve found a left-handed gray leather glove with a stained thumb and first finger on the sixth step at 221B Baker Street. Give us your conclusions about the glove and its owner and the reasons for them in 250 words or less.
Our winning entry was Warren Randall’s with Sandy Kozinn, Trish Pearlman, and Sue Vizoskie as our three runners-up. Honorable mentions go to (alphabetically): Judith Freeman, Brad Keefauver, Laurie Fraser Manifold, and Regina Stinson.
A Case of “Glove in Bloom”
“So, Watson, while you still prefer the fair sex, you will accept the offer made by Messrs. Newnes and Smith even though you think it preposterous?”
“Most preposterous!” I exclaimed, and then suddenly realizing how he had echoed the inmost thought of my soul, I sat up in my chair and stared at him in blank amazement. “You’re doing your mind-reading shtick again, right?”
“Not at all,” he said affably, “you have not lately written even so much as a letter, and I know you would not extend your experience of women to Baker Street.”
“My blushes, Holmes, whatever are you thinking?”
“Blushes, my dear Watson? There was a glove upon the sixth step of the seventeen and it was a left glove.”
“Left? Is that unusual?”
“I have seen this symptom before – a bare left hand at such a low step presages an affaire de cœur. Who would call at Baker Street leaving a glove, but neither card nor message? Not a client! Mrs. Hudson’s callers do not climb. Ergo! Someone for good old Watson. It is not brown or tan or black or yellow—not one of your chums. Grey, with a stained thumb and forefinger. Where have we seen its mate? Why upon the right hand of the noted typewriter, Mary Sutherland. We are both upset with the editing of your literary agent, who substitutes his imagination for your poor penmanship, hence the need not for professional companionship, but professional transcription.”
“Yes, Holmes,” I hastened to agree, “Miss Sutherland is quite forgetful.”
“You are fortunate it was not a white glove, for that would require a rebuke and perhaps a constable.”
The Evidence of the Glove
“What do you make of this glove, Watson? I found it on the sixth step of our stairs.”
“It’s stained on the thumb and left forefinger. Probably dropped by one of your clients.”
“This glove cannot belong to a client. You returned from your rounds just before the rain started. You were writing at your desk, your slippers on, your boots off, your leg upon a footstool. I left, and saw no glove below. The boots are still dry, so you have not gone out, yet you spoke of no client.”
“Well, I don’t know how the glove got there, Holmes. It’s all nonsense, anyhow.”
“These gloves, Watson, belong to a physician, no stranger to this house, in haste this morning, who has difficulty walking stairs.”
“Nonsense, Holmes, how could you possibly know that?”
“A stranger would missed his glove when he left. One whiff tells me that the stains are iodoform. A doctor who doesn’t remove his gloves to replace the iodoform bottle in his bag is in a hurry indeed.”
“Oh well, it seems so simple when you point it out, Holmes. But the difficulty with the stairs? Bosh, Holmes!”
“The only physician familiar with this house has a sore leg. Surely steps are difficult. The glove is yours, Watson!”
“But I put my glove in my pocket when I stopped on the stairs. Unless one….”
“Elementary, my dear Watson!”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Cut! Print! Nice work, Mr. Rathbone, Mr. Bruce! Eight o’clock tomorrow for the fog scene, please.”
The Adventure of the First Stain
There was a mysterious maiden
Who came with rich chocolates laden
To two-two-one B—
T’was a tribute, you see.
As she came near, her courage was fadin’.
Still, she knocked and Billy the page
Answered quickly, or so she did gauge.
The beribboned treat
That she carried smelled sweet.
She was moving quite slow at this stage.
By the third step, she started to weaken,
Said to Billy, “Let’s just take a peek in...”
So they opened the package,
Took a look at the snackage,
Of its own will, her left hand did sneak in.
Between them, they ate the box bare,
Seated comfortably on the sixth stair.
So embarrassed was she,
Dropped her glove and did flee.
Billy thought he had best not be there.
Observations and deductions that led me to this scenario:
The glove was a lady’s glove, dove gray and quite costly. The stains upon index finger and thumb were chocolate — Guatemalan dark, to be precise. There was also a hint of hazelnut praline, such as is found in chocolate assortments. The lady had been acting on impulse or she would have removed her glove before eating. Since Billy must have admitted her to the house, he clearly had a powerful inducement to conceal this fact. I suspect a mixture of chivalry and bribery. She must have intended to present the candies to Mr. Holmes or Dr. Watson and departed in chagrin once they had been prematurely consumed.
Mrs. Hudson and Her Stained Gray Glove
The left-handed gray leather glove with a stained thumb and first finger belong unmistakably to Mrs. Hudson. Dressed for her afternoon errands and wearing her gray feathered hat and gray kid leather gloves, she remembered that she needed to speak to Mr. Holmes. So, before leaving, she climbed the stairs, grasping the banister in her regular, irregular manner – that is, gliding the thumb and first finger of her left hand along the opposite edges of the banister to be certain that the maid had dusted both sides properly. As she reached the sixth step, Mrs. Hudson realized that a sticky substance was impeding her hand’s smooth progress. Mrs. Hudson stopped dead in her tracks, removed the affected glove and inspected it carefully. In six short steps, the pristine glove had acquired brown stains on thumb and first finger. She cautiously sniffed the stains. She didn’t require the services of a consulting detective to identify the stain: it was boot polish, not furniture polish. The new maid had blundered. Here was a serious case of mis-identity.
Mrs. Hudson turned slowly, accidentally dropping the offending glove on the step. She descended, her hat feathers gracefully waving—some might say oscillating—from side to side as she shook her head. Errands forgotten and heading toward the kitchen to find the maid, Mrs. Hudson realized that she had just stained her right glove. The afternoon had now become the mis-adventure of the second stain.
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