The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
|"The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle"|
|Author||Arthur Conan Doyle|
|Series||The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes|
"The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle", one of the 56 short Sherlock Holmes stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is the seventh story of twelve in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The story was first published in Strand Magazine in January 1892.
As London prepares for Christmas, newspapers report the theft of the near priceless jewel, The "Blue Carbuncle", from the hotel suite of the Countess of Morcar. John Horner, a plumber and a previously convicted felon, is soon arrested for the theft. Though the police have yet to find the jewel, and despite Horner's claims of innocence, the police are sure that they have the thief. Horner's record, and his presence in the Countess's room where he was repairing a fireplace, are all the police need.
Just after Christmas, Watson pays a visit to Holmes at 221B Baker Street. He finds the detective contemplating a battered old hat, one brought to him by the commissionaire Peterson. Both the hat and a Christmas goose had been dropped by a man in a scuffle with some street ruffians. Peterson, an honest man, had hoped for Holmes' help in returning the items to their owner but although the goose bears a tag with the owner's name - Henry Baker - Holmes had little hope of finding the man. Peterson took the goose home for dinner and Holmes kept the hat, to study as an intellectual exercise.
While Watson is there, Peterson returns excited, carrying the Blue Carbuncle, claiming that the carbuncle was found in the found goose's crop (throat). Realizing that the identity of Henry Baker is now part of a larger mystery, Holmes makes a concerted effort to identify Baker. Based on his observations of the hat and its condition, Holmes makes several deductions as to Baker's age, social standing, intellect and domestic status, but cannot determine if Baker knew that he was carrying a priceless gem. When Baker appears at 221B Baker St. in response to advertisements Holmes had placed in London's newspapers, Holmes' deductions prove correct. Holmes gives Baker a new goose, explaining that the old one had been consumed. Baker, happily accepting the replacement bird, declines to cart away his original bird's entrails (Disjecta membra), convincing Holmes that Baker knew nothing about the missing jewel. Baker does, however, give Holmes the valuable information that he had purchased the goose at the Alpha Inn, a pub near the British Museum.
Holmes cannot resist such an intriguing mystery, and he and Watson set out across the city to determine how the jewel traveled from the room of the Countess of Morcar to a goose's crop. The proprietor of the Alpha Inn informs them that the goose was purchased from a dealer in Convent Garden. At Covent Garden, a salesman named Breckinridge gets angry with Holmes and refuses to help. The merchant complains of pestering he has endured about geese sold recently to the landlord of the Alpha Inn. Holmes, realizing that he is not the only one aware of the carbuncle's connection to Baker's goose, tricks an irate Breckenridge into revealing that the bird was supplied by a Mrs. Oakshott, a poultry and egg purveyor in Brixton.
A trip to Brixton proves unnecessary when Breckenridge's other "pesterer" - a cringing little man named James Ryder, head attendant at the hotel where the carbuncle was stolen - appears, again pressuring Breckenridge to tell him the whereabouts of the Oakshott geese. Holmes and Watson invite Ryder back to 221B Baker Street, telling Ryder that they know he is looking for a goose with a black bar on its tail.
Holmes tells Ryder that the goose "laid an egg after it was dead". Ryder is terrified when he realizes that Holmes will turn him over to the police. Pressured by Holmes, Ryder recounts that he and his accomplice Catherine Cusack, the Countess's maid, contrived to frame Horner, knowing that Horner's past would make him an easy scapegoat. But he was plagued by fears of arrest after stealing the stone. During a visit to his sister - Mrs. Oakshott - Ryder hit on the idea of hiding the jewel by feeding it to one of the geese being bred by his sister, one of which had been promised to him as a gift. Unfortunately, Ryder dropped his bird and then confused it with another, taking away the wrong goose. By the time Ryder realized his mistake, the other geese had already been sold. Ryder tried to follow the trail but got no further than Breckenridge.
Being Christmas, Holmes does not have Ryder arrested. He concludes that arresting the clearly anguished Ryder will only make him into a more hardened criminal later. Ryder flees to the continent and Horner will be freed as the case against him will collapse without Ryder's perjured testimony. Holmes remarks that he is not retained by the police to remedy their deficiencies.
There have been three memorable BBC Radio dramatizations:
- 13 March 1955, with Sir John Gielgud as Holmes and Sir Ralph Richardson as Watson
- 25 December 1961, with Carleton Hobbs as Holmes and Norman Shelley as Watson
- 2 January 1991, adapted by Bert Coules with Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson
Peter Cushing portrayed Sherlock Holmes in the 1968 BBC series, and "The Blue Carbuncle" is one of only six surviving episodes. This version begins with Holmes refusing the Countess' request to take up the case of the robbery and ends with him personally returning the stone to the Countess, accompanied by Peterson (and refusing her request to find her missing maidservant).
The Granada TV version starring Jeremy Brett is faithful to the original, except that it has — after Ryder flees to the Continent — Holmes and Watson making their way to the authorities, which leads to Horner being freed in time for Christmas with his wife and children. Also, the TV version has Holmes stating he "will keep the stone in my museum" — despite promising Peterson the Duchess' £1,000 reward; for this to be true, Peterson's "reward" must come from Holmes, in return for Peterson's silence. The original story states Holmes sends a line to the Countess saying that he has it.
Frank Middlemass appears in both the Granada TV version and the BBC adaptation. In the BBC adaptation he plays Peterson, whilst in the Granada adaptation he plays Henry Baker.
This story is also available in an altered version, but with the same characters, as part of Jim Weiss' children's CD, Sherlock Holmes for Children.
It was illustrated in a 1993 issue of Boys' Life magazine, with a few notable changes: the jewel in question is called the "Morcar Blue Diamond"; Holmes refuses Ryder's request for mercy and surrenders him to the police (along with Catherine Cusack), although he comments that his honest admission of guilt will likely help his case for clemency; and Holmes is rewarded for returning the diamond, which he uses to set up a trust fund for a group of boys known as the 'Baker Street Irregulars', to pay for their formal education.
The animated television series Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century featured an adaptation of the story, replacing the goose with a blue stuffed toy called "Carbuncle" and the stone with a microprocessor.
The story was adapted for comics in 2010's Graphic Classics volume 19.
In episode fifteen of the television series Elementary, Sherlock Holmes mentions the "case of the blue carbuncle" in conversation with Joan Watson.
In "The Empty Hearse", the first episode of the third series of the BBC television series Sherlock, Sherlock Holmes and his brother Mycroft have a casual competition in deduction (itself a reference to "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter") over analyzing a particular knitted hat. When Mycroft determines that it belonged to a man, Sherlock asks, "Why, the size of the head?", to which Mycroft reproachingly replies, "Don't be silly. Some women have large heads, too." Sherlock's subsequent look of guilt is a satirical allusion to the phrenology involved in the original short story, where Sherlock Holmes deducted that an owner of a hat was intelligent based on the size of his head, remarking "a man with so large a brain must have something in it."
A blue stuffed bear brought to 221B holds a key to all in "The Adventure of the Blue Polar Bear", an episode of the NHK's puppetry Sherlock Holmes. It's also based on "The Adventure of the Three Gables" and Isadora Klein, a female juvenile gang leader is eager to take back the bear that is confiscated by a teacher and passed into some pupils' hands. Holmes and Watson visit Klein with it but Holmes becomes presumptuous and is about to expose her secret hidden in the bear (kangaroo in reality), the very reason why she tries to take back it. Holmes' behaviour makes Klein weep and Watson blames his roommate for it. The secret is a love letter in the kangaroo's pouch that tells Klein's affection to Watson who once had picked up her hat with a flat brim blown off by wind.
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