Mary’s Christmasshort story from Mary Russell’s War by Laurie R King
published as a collection in 2016, stories from several years before that date
When it came to Christmas [Mary’s father] did not mind what the holiday was called – generally, Mama termed it ‘Winter Solstice’ in private and ‘the holidays’ when talking to others, although she had been known to slip and give December 25th its traditional name – but he did insist on most of the trappings: roast goose, mince tarts, mistletoe sprigs, and morning presents – everything short of church services and the more religious carols. It was, for children, the best of both worlds. Better still, in order to celebrate far from the eye of Mama’s rabbinical father, we quietly took ourselves from London to our holiday home on the South Downs for the entire month, there to decorate a tree, fill the house with delicious smells, and wait for Papa to arrive.
Sometimes, packages were already waiting for us, collected by the village woman who kept the house both when we were there and in our absence: packages large and small, with numerous stamps or none at all, bearing return addresses from London, from America, or from the world beyond. The tidiest – always rectangular – were from our grandmother in Boston, predictably ill-suited for our age (the toys), our bodies (clothing), or our interests (books). Only slightly less boring would be those from the London shops, purchased by Mother, who never really understood that Christmas was about thrill, and thus could be depended on to produce the next book in a series, a packet of our respectively preferred sweets, and any piece of clothing or equipment we had taken care to mention to her in November. Father’s were considerably better, although they were as apt to be puzzling as exciting (such as the year he decided I might enjoy learning to fly-fish) and often did not reach us until we had returned to London in the new year. But the very essence of Christmas throughout my childhood were the well-travelled parcels that arrived with Jake’s bold handwriting on them...
comments: Mary Russell is Laurie R King’s way into continuing Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. (she’s not the first to do this – when I looked at the blog archives, Holmes has featured far more in other people’s books than in his own… ) She invented Mary as a super-clever, super-brave, super-feminist, absurdly talented, multilingual heroine who would end up marrying Sherlock Holmes, despite his being a lot older than her. He turns out to be surprisingly sexy. Cue fainting from some diehard fans of the original. I featured the wedding of these two superstars in a post at the beginning of December.
The books are tremendous fun: I was very dubious indeed – not because I think Holmes is particularly sacred, but because run-on books just tend to be not very good. But these were excellent: someone lent me The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, I remember, and I stayed up all night reading it, and went out and bought the next in the series as soon as the bookshops opened. The books, it must be said with a heavy heart, have got longer and longer as the series wears on, with more and more detail (no doubt historically accurate) of the times in which they are set – first half of the 20th century. But I still enjoy them, with some light skimming.
And now Mary has fans as devoted (if not as numerous) as those of Sherlock Holmes. This book is a light reward for them, with a handful of stories from different parts of Mary’s life. I enjoyed them.
This is her remembering her childhood Christmases – exciting Uncle Jake is going to come and get involved in a good card-playing story involving the wicked local publican. All good stuff, with the somewhat predictable last line ‘Every young woman should have had an Uncle Jake.’
The picture is from the National Archives UK, and is from 1907.