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"The Adventure of the Beggar's Feast" is a Sherlock Holmes short story by Lyndsay Faye. It was first published in The Strand Magazine, and later included in her collection The Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. In it, a street assault leads Holmes and Watson to the remarkable annual meeting of the Amateur Mendicant Society.

Plot[]

In December of 1887, Watson is performing some charitable medical work at St Bartholomew's Hospital. Holmes arrives to collect Watson for a concert. On the way out, Holmes takes interest in a well-dressed, unconscious patient who has been brought in with a severe head wound. A nurse tells them that the man was discovered by the river in Blackfriars, and seems to have been the victim of a robbery. They have no other information about his identity or the circumstances of husband attack, besides that a singularly foul-looking beggar had been spotted in the area. Holmes, however, notices something odd about the man's clothes - while they are of the highest quality, the tailoring suggests they were made for another man. Furthermore, the ingrained dirt on the man's skin and signs of frostbite mark him as a street beggar. The only other clue is a receipt for a curio case found in the man's jacket, from a furniture store located near the site of the assault. His interest piqued, Holmes abandons his plans for evening and sets off for the Blackfriars with Watson in tow.

Almost immediately after the pair arrive at their destination, they spot a filthy beggar matching the description of the one spotted at the crime scene. They follow the beggar to a small pub, where he stops to talk to the barman, who treats him surprisingly respectfully. Eavesdropping on the conversation, they learn the beggar's name is Mr Marwick. It becomes clear that Marwick blames himself for some incident, but the barman assures him that his men will soon find and punish the perpetrator. Holmes and Watson next follow Marwick back to the furniture warehouse, which he evidently owns. Holmes knocks on the door, and when Marwick answers Holmes tells him that he is interested in buying a curio case. Marwick, however, refuses to let them in, and does not budge when Holmes assures him that he means the Amateur Mendicant Society no harm. Only when Holmes identifies himself and his relationship to the Baker Street Irregulars does Marwick relent and allow them inside.

Once inside the derelict warehouse, Marwick asks Watson about the condition of the injured young man, whom he identified as Jeremy Kitchen. Holmes asserts that Jeremy was probably mistaken for a rich man, but Marwick contracts him, saying the attack was targeted. Marwick makes Holmes and Watson promise to keep what he is about to show them secret, then lets them into a secret room. Watson is amazed to see a sumptuously decorated dining hall displaying the choicest foods, and filled with elegantly dressed people. Only on closer inspection does he realize they are all beggars. Holmes explains that one of his irregulars had first told him of the Amateur Mendicant Society and its fabled feast years ago, though the details had escaped him.

The beggar, still surprised that Holmes has recognized him, properly introduces himself as Cowderoy Marwick, the dinner’s anonymous host. He explains he is the last descendants of a family that made a vast fortune in the slave trade, and has resolved to donate his immense wealth to charity - including an annual feast for London's paupers. He explains how he distributed tickets annually to beggars across the city - the receipt in Jeremy's pocket being this year's example. Jeremy had a lover who had also received a ticket, but refused to attend as she did not believe the rumors to be true. Jeremy had come by earlier to be fitted for clothes for the dinner, and despite Marwick’s warnings had snuck out in his finery to prove the dinner's existence to his love. Unfortunately, Jeremy had been attacked by a neighborhood thug named Tom Scripps, who was jealous over his invitation. Marwick explains that he had chased Jeremy, but been frightened off by the police at the scene of his attack. He admits that he set some associates to eject Scripps from the area, but promises that he will not be permanently harmed. Holmes, however, convinces him to call off the search, and promises to have Scripps imprisoned within the week. In exchange, he requests that some of his Irregulars be invited to next year's feast.

Trivia[]

  • The story was in inspired by a reference to an unpublished case mentioned in "The Five Orange Pips": Watson lists several cases taking place in 1887, including "the Amateur Mendicant Society, who held a luxurious club in the lower vault of a furniture warehouse".
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