Covent Garden Market is today a thriving , busy, bustling enclave crammed with eateries, craft stalls and street performers. But in the 19th century it was a busy and bustling fruit and veg market.
It was to this market that Holmes and Watson came on the trail of the thief who stole the Countess of Morcar’s famed jewel the Blue Carbuncle from the Hotel Cosmopolitan.
Today were Holmes to be seeking information in Covent Garden he would just need to step into Europe’s largest Apple store, located on the north side of the grand Piazza, and google the solution on an ipad, iphone or macbook. But in those days more cunning, not to say underhand, methods were required.
For those not familiar with this Holmes storyline it begins with Watson dropping by at 221B Baker Street on the second morning after Christmas to wish him the compliments of the season. He finds Holmes “lounging on the sofa in a purple dressing gown.” By the side of the couch on the back of a chair there hung a ” very seedy and disreputable hard felt hat, much the worse for wear, and cracked in several places.”
It transpires that the hat had been brought to Holmes by the commissionaire Peterson who had, at around four o’clock on Christmas morning, been walking home along Tottenham Court Road from some “small jollification” when he witnessed a tall man, who was carrying a large goose, being attacked by a gang of roughs at the junction with Goodge Street. One of them proceeded to knock off the man’s hat, whereupon the man lifted his stick to defend himself and promptly smashed a shop window with it.
Peterson raced forward to assist but the man, shocked at having broken the window – and even more shocked at seeing an official looking figure in uniform racing towards him – took to his heels and headed off into the “labyrinth of small streets which lie at the back of Tottenham Court Road,” leaving his hat and his goose behind.
The commissionaire, being an honest fellow, gathered them both up and, on Christmas morning, took them to Sherlock Holmes in the hope that his capabilities of deduction and detection would restore them to their rightful owner.
Since the goose will go off if not cooked soon Peterson takes it home to enjoy for his Christmas meal leaving Holmes with the man’s hat, which the great detective is studying for clues as to the owner’s identity when Watson drops by a few days later.
However, the mystery takes an added twist when Peterson’s wife discovers the Countess a carbuncle in the bird’s crop (throat). Recognising it straight away as The aforementioned Blue Carbuncle
Holmes has deduced that the man’s name is Henry Baker and has advertised for him to drop by at 221B to collect his lost goose. When he does so, he clearly has no knowledge of the crime, nor of the presence of the Blue Carbuncle in the bird’s throat. As he leaves (with a new goose that Holmes has purchased for him) Holmes asks him where he got such a fine fowl from. Henry Baker informs him that he is a member of a goose club at the Alpha Tavern (in reality the Museum Tavern opposite the British Museum) whereby he had paid a few pence a week throughout the year to be able to afford a fine goose for Christmas Day.
Enquiries at the Alpha Tavern reveal that he had acquired two dozen geese (including Mr Henry Baker’s) from a salesman named Breckinridge in Covent Garden.
However, when they arrive at the salesman’s store in Covent Garden Market, and Holmes enquires where he bought the goose from, Watson is somewhat taken aback when Breckinridge’s reaction is to explode with anger. Apparently he has been pestered by people asking who he sold the geese to and comments that “One would think they were the only geese in the world, to her the fuss that is made over them.”
Realising that straightforward questioning isn’t going to acquire the desired information Holmes, who has deduced that poulterer is a gambling man, opts for a wager. He bets Breckinridge that he “has a fiver” that the bird he ate “is country bred.” The salesman insists that all the birds that went to the Alpah were “town bred.” Holmes stands firm on the fact it was country bred, the bet is accepted and Breckinridge, falling for the ruse, brings out the book in which he keeps the names of his suppliers, and shows Holmes the exact address on Brixton road where he got the goose from.
Just as Holmes and Watson are bout to set off for Brixton the other “pesterer” shows up and elicits a roar of anger from Breckinridge. Approaching him him, they learn that he is James Ryder, the head attendant at the Hotel Cosmopolitan. Holmes tells him that he has the bird he is looking for and the three of them travel by cab to 221B Baker Street.
Here Holmes reveals that it was “most remarkable bird” and that “it laid an egg after it was dead – the bonniest, brightest little blue egg that ever was seen.”
Realising the game is up Ryder confesses that he had stolen the Blue Carbuncle in collusion with the Countesses “waiting maid” Catherine Cusack and that, to keep it hidden during the initial stages of the inevitable enquiry to trace it, he had fed it to a goose being bred by his sister, intending to retrieve it over Christmas. Unfortunately, his sister sold the goose to Breckinridge and thus the train of events that would bring Holmes into the mystery were set in motion.
Having confessed, Ryder pleads for mercy and Holmes tells him to get out. When he has gone Holmes observes to Watson that he has commuted a felony by releasing him “but it is just possible I am saving a soul. The fellow will not go wrong again… Send him to gaol now, and you make him a gaol-bird for life.” And then, evidently full of the Christmas spirit Holmes tells Watson “Besides, it is the season of forgiveness, ” and the two of them settle down to, in Holmes’s closing words, “begin another investigation, in which also a bird will be the chief feature.”