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Alimentary, My Dear Watson

Lawrence Schimel

The scene was unnervingly familiar as I called upon my friend Sherlock Holmes to wish him the compliments of the season. He was lounging upon the sofa in his purple dressing gown, his pipe rack within reach upon his right, and the morning papers in a crumpled pile upon the floor where he had dropped them after a thorough study. Save for the fact that it was the day after Christmas rather than the second day past, and that the hat under examination was a sharp-looking top hat rather than a seedy and worn hard-felt type, I would have thought I had stepped back into the events which I chronicled in The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.

"And where, pray tell, is the goose?" I asked in a loud tone as I entered the room, hoping my attempt at humor might alleviate my uneasiness. "You have not, once again, eaten it before my arrival, I hope."

Holmes set the lens and hat upon a wooden chair beside the sofa and smiled at me warmly. "My dear fellow, it is rabbit this time, rather than the goose of the case you allude to. Mrs. Hudson is preparing it as we speak. Meanwhile, tell me what you can deduce from this."

He offered me his lens and I took the hat from where it hung upon the back of the chair. I recalled all that Holmes had been able to deduce of Henry Baker's identity and situation from that hat and tried my best to extrapolate similarly from the details I noticed upon the one I held. It was an ordinary, if rather large, top hat in all regards, save for a slip of paper tucked under the brim which declared: "n this size 10/6 and a small stain where a splash of tea had fallen against it. I pondered these facts, and at last declared, "He was not a very careful man, nor overly concerned with his appearance. He has bought himself a very fashionable hat, yet one which does not fit him properly and dips down over his eyes. Nor, having spilled tea upon his own hat, should he have then ventured forth unconcerned with such a prominent stain upon the velvet had he cared about the image he presented to the world. Unless, of course, there was an afternoon struggle which resulted in the stain, and in his haste to flee, the man simply donned his stained hat. Have we a crime to solve this time, or is this a whimsical inquiry?" I replaced the hat and lens upon the chair and waited for Holmes' judgment of my surmises.

"Very good, Watson. You are losing your timidity in drawing inferences. However, one can also tell that the man is short in stature, since the angle of the stain indicates that the hat was being worn at the time it was acquired, rather than lying beside him upon the table or a chair waiting to be spilled upon. Therefore your conclusion that a struggle occurred is most probable. Only, the man did not retrieve his hat when he fled, since we have it before us. It was found in the residence of one Mr. Charles Dodgson, who is presently missing. Will you accompany me for a visit to his residence this afternoon?"

I nodded my assent.

"Good, then sit and share a bit of rabbit before we go. I hear Mrs. Hudson upon the stair."


"The police declared that insufficient time had passed to warrant an investigation," Holmes informed me as we walked to Dodgson's apartments, "but on the implorings of his landlady, Mrs. Bugle, and for the sake and safety of his young niece, Alice, who lived with him, I consented. I must confess, I was intrigued by the puzzle she presented: though he had had no callers, she found the unusual hat, which you have already examined, in his study, a large crack in the looking glass, though she heard no sound of either a struggle or of glass breaking, and the white rabbit of which we partook just recently, lying on the floor of the study, its neck wrung."

We had arrived at Dodgson's apartments, and I mulled over the information Holmes had given me as Mrs. Bugle admitted us and led us up to the study, where she introduced us to Dodgson's niece, Alice. As is quite common for young girls, she had set up a tea party for some imaginary friends of hers, with whom she had been conversing as we entered. She stroked a large grey cat, who sat in her lap.

"That's a handsome watch you've got," Holmes remarked to the girl. "Was it your uncle's?"

The girl pulled it out of her pocket to display. "My uncle's? No, it belonged to the March Hare."

As if a premonition, my stomach began to growl at the mention of the rabbit, and I could not help wondering if we had just eaten the girl's favorite pet.

"You realize that it is set fifteen minutes ahead of the hour," Holmes continued, while looking about the table where the tea service was set.

"Yes," the girl answered, "he was always late, and thus had set his watch ahead in an attempt to arrive at the proper time."

"Did the March Hare also wear this?" Holmes asked, showing her the hat Mrs. Bugle had brought to him.

"Aha!" she said, when she saw it. "So that's where his hat disappeared to. That belongs to the Mad Hatter. He's been frantic over it since yesterday afternoon, when he left it here. It's his only hat."

"He came to tea with you?"

"It's the only way to get him to come, you understand, and he had to come, so they could help me. They had to bring it with them."

"It?" asked Holmes, pointing to a little bottle that rested on the table. A paper label round its neck bore the words drink me in large letters. The girl nodded.

"And what would this do?" Holmes inquired.

"It makes one smaller."

Holmes did not bat an eye at this outlandish remark. "Is there an antidote?"

"There is," the girl replied, and pointed to a cake in a glass box beneath the table. Bending closer to observe it further, I noticed it bore the words eat me written upon it in currants.

"I see," said Holmes, who proceeded to dip his finger into the bottle and taste thereof. He shrunk noticeably, around two or three inches, and all his clothing accordingly.

"Curiouser and curiouser," Holmes declared after the transformation had taken place. He looked thoughtful a moment, considering the finger he had just tasted, then continued, "It has a sort of mixed flavour of cherry tart, custard, pineapple, roast turkey, and toffee."

"And also hot buttered toast."

"Yes," Holmes agreed, "and also hot buttered toast. And why did the March Hare and the Mad Hatter need to bring it to you?"

The girl looked between Holmes and myself, her lower lip trembling. Trustingly, she decided to place her confidence in Holmes. Looking back to him, she began, "At night he would climb into bed with me and touch me and—" She broke down into such a fit of crying that she was soon surrounded by a puddle of tears. I cannot explain it, since she must have cried more water than her body could possibly have contained to produce such a puddle. But Holmes and I both witnessed it.

I wanted to reach out and comfort the child, but, especially in view of the circumstances for her tears, forbore. Holmes steered the discussion onto a different matter. "That's a lovely cat you have."

"Dinah?" The girl blew her nose delicately on the sleeve of her dress and patted at her eyes to dry her tears. "Why, yes, she is. Such a capital one for catching mice, and oh, I wish you could see her after the birds! Why, she'll eat a little bird as soon as look at it!"

"Or a man," Holmes asked, "shrunk down to the size of a mouse?"

Dinah gave a large smile, and slowly vanished, beginning with the end of her tail and ending with her grin, which remained some time after the rest of her had disappeared.


Holmes took these unusual occurrences in much calmer stride than myself. "You might," he even ventured to remark, when we were back at Baker Street, "write in your notes that he died of consumption, if you're willing to interpret the term loosely." He smiled, turned away from me, and began an alchemical distillation of the contents of that mysterious cake, in order to determine how much he should consume to return him to his proper height. I saw no evidence that his humor was an attempt to alleviate uneasiness, as my own earlier attempts had been. I was amazed at his lack of ponderings or attempts to explain the many inexplicable events we had witnessed that day. Justice had been done in the girl's favor, he had declared, and was content, evidently, to let the case rest, solved if unexplainable.

I shook my head and stared at his back a moment while he worked. At this rate, I thought to myself as I began to prepare my notes, he'll have me believe in no less than six impossible things before breakfast!



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