“No, I’m afraid Mr Holmes isn’t in at the moment, Mr Gandalf, and from what I can see you don’t need a detective you need an extra pair of hands. In the circumstances I am prepared to offer you mine. But I shall need to be back for seven o’clock this evening as I have my sewing circle to attend. Right, shall we be off?”
Mrs Hudson picked up her broom and a mop and bucket. Then she thought for a moment and handed a brush and dustpan and a carpet beater to the rather bemused wizard, before marching down the stairs.
When she reached the bottom, she turned round and said, “Well, what are you waiting for?”
Gandalf hurried down the stairs, and, opening the front door, said, “This way, madam.”
Mrs Hudson followed Gandalf into the underground station, and then down a set of stairs which she didn’t remember having seen before. The stairs led into a tunnel, which in turn led into a cavern. Inside the cavern was what appeared to be a welcoming committee.
“Did you find him?” One youngster asked.
“Er, no, I’m afraid he was out. So I’ve brought Mrs Hudson instead.”
The youngster pouted. “But you said …” he moaned.
“We’ll have less of that talk, thank you,” Mrs Hudson said. “Now, you” she pointed at Gandalf, “go and lie down. You’ll be much more able to cope once you’ve had a rest. And the rest of you can help clean this place.”
There was a general edging towards the entrance to the cavern. “Stop right there!” she ordered.
“Right, you, take this.” She handed over the dustpan and brush. “And you, this.” That was the broom. “And you and you, the mop and bucket. The rest of you, start tidying.”
“And what about that?” Someone with a strange hat asked, pointing at the carpet beater.
“That stays with me.” Mrs Hudson swung the carpet beater, and everyone took a step backwards.
The largest of those gathered there approached her and said, “Excuse me, madam, I was about to start making lunch. Would it be acceptable for me to do so?”
“Of course it would,” Mrs Hudson said with a smile. “Do you need anyone to help you?”
“No, thank you. I find it better on my own.”
“I can understand that. In which case, do please carry on.”
As he left, four others arrived.
One of them stepped forward and said, “Who are you and what are you doing here?”
Mrs Hudson raised her eyebrows and gave him her best ‘Mr Holmes, I suggest you rethink that sentence within the next thirty seconds’ glare.
It had the required effect, because he stammered out, “If, um, you wouldn’t mind, um, telling us.”
His companion, who had a long white beard, bowed slightly and said, “Good morning. My name is Balin, and we are the dwarves of Thorin Oakenshield’s company. I presume Gandalf brought you here. Although I don’t see him anywhere.”
“No. I told him to go and have a rest.” Mrs Hudson became aware that something was happening behind her. She turned round to discover one of the dwarves waving the brush and dustpan in the air. She turned her attention on the dwarf, but before she had time to deliver a suitable glare, he muttered “Sorry!” and returned to sweeping up.
“I’m not sure you should …” the apparent leader began, but Mrs Hudson turned back and he stopped immediately. The smallest dwarf began to giggle. Mrs Hudson looked at him.
“I’m very sorry,” he said. “My name is Bilbo Baggins, and I’m a hobbit, not a dwarf. You seem to have the same effect as Dis does. She’s Fili’s mother,” he indicated the dwarf with the dustpan, “and Thorin’s sister. This is Thorin Oakenshield, by the way.”
“The leader of the company,” Mrs Hudson said.
“Yes,” Thorin looked pleased with himself.
“Then maybe you would like to lead by example and help tidy up the mess by the fire.”
Bilbo giggled again, and Balin smirked.
The fourth member of the group said, “I’m Dwalin. I’ll just go and lay the table for lunch.” He departed hurriedly before Mrs Hudson could reply.
Once everyone but Bilbo and Balin were gainfully employed with cleaning and tidying, Mrs Hudson turned to the two and said, “Since I am sure that wizard didn’t call on Mr Holmes simply to arrange for a cleaner, perhaps you could tell me what exactly he was wanted for.”
Balin and Bilbo exchanged glances, which Mrs Hudson interpreted as meaning, ‘this is all rather embarrassing’, so she said, “I’ve lived with Mr Holmes for many years now. It is highly unlikely that anything will totally surprise me.”
Balin nodded. “A few days ago, Gandalf received a pearl, which had certain properties to it. Gandalf was supposed to pass the pearl on, which he was going to do, but carelessly left it in full sight on the shelf over there. Someone, and no-one is admitting who it was, picked it up and held it, at which point the pearl disappeared.”
Bilbo continued, “Technically, it didn’t disappear it simply changed. According to Gandalf the pearl is quite safe if it is held flat on the palm of the hand, but if the fingers close over it, it turns into whatever the holder is thinking of.”
“But surely it would then be obvious what it had turned into?” Mrs Hudson asked.
“Unfortunately, it disappears out of the hand and reappears somewhere reasonably close by in its new form,” Bilbo replied. “This way if the holder was, say, thinking of an elephant, then the elephant wouldn’t squash them.”
“However,” Balin added, “If it had been a flaming elephant, at least we’d know where it was. Everyone has looked and there doesn’t seem to be anything untoward around.”
“Well, perhaps when everything is clean and tidy, you’ll be able to find it,” Mrs Hudson said.
At that moment there was an exclamation from a corner of the room.
“What’s this?” one of the dwarves said.
“I didn’t know we had a mini-tree,” Fili replied.
“It’s mine!” Thorin stomped over and snatched it away from Fili.
“Oh!” Bilbo said.
“I wonder,” Balin added.
“Could I have a look at that tree, please, dear,” Mrs Hudson said. “I’m quite good with pot plants.” She didn’t add, or I would be if Mr Holmes wasn’t even better at killing them.
Thorin brought the tree over. It had little Christmas decorations on it and was very pretty.
Mrs Hudson looked thoughtful. “I may not be a consulting detective, but I think I may have a solution.” She was going to say more, but Bombur called out, “Lunch is ready!” She waited while the other dwarves hurried out, before saying, “Go and get your lunch. And while you’re eating, I shall sort everything out.”
Thorin departed and Mrs Hudson went to wake Gandalf up, which she did by prodding him with her umbrella. “Come along,” she said, “the game is afoot.” Obediently he trailed after her.
By the time the dwarves had finished eating Mrs Hudson and Gandalf had returned. Mrs Hudson was holding a small tree, similar to the one which had been found earlier, and Gandalf was holding the pearl carefully, flat on the palm of his hand.
She passed the tree to Thorin, saying quietly, “I believe this was intended to be a Christmas present.”
He blushed and nodded, and she smiled at him.
Then she said to the whole company, “We have the pearl back. You see how much better it is when you keep everything clean and tidy.”
They all grunted their agreement. She had the feeling they believed that just as much as Mr Holmes did.
Bilbo accompanied her back to the bottom of the stairs which led up to the street. “Thank you very much for all your help, Mrs Hudson,” he said. “I don’t know how you managed to solve it so quickly, but I’m very grateful to you for doing so.”
“Well,” she replied, “once you’ve eliminated the impossible, then whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. So, if nothing else was out of place, the little Christmas tree had to be the pearl.”
But, she thought to herself as she walked back home, if only everything else was as easy to solve.