The Case of the Disappearing Beaune, Excerpt by J. Lawrence Matthews

Beaune [bōn] noun: a red Burgundy wine from the Côte de Beaune region of France.

Christmas can bring to mind the sound of bells, the smell of pine, and softly lit warm feelings. But not for Sherlock Holmes, who is on the case once again. 

Christmas morning 1902, London, England. A bottle of fine French wine from the Côte de Beaune region of France, intended as a gift from Mr. Sherlock Holmes to his old friend Dr. Watson, is found to have been drained of its aromatic spirits during the night and filled with sand. But not just any sand….


“Is your cap precious to you, Watson?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Your cap. I perceive you did not wear your best this morning.”

“Well, no. You’re concerned I won’t look presentable for King Edward at Sandringham?”

“No. I’m concerned about what’s inside that wine bottle.” Holmes took my cap and placed it upside down on the floor of the cab, then stretched out his hand. “Now, the Beaune bottle, Doctor.”

I removed the heavy object, no longer filled with wine, from my inner pocket and placed it in his hand. Holmes turned the bottle over, pointed the neck at my cap upon the floor and began shaking it violently. Dirty clumps of sand dropped into the cap between our feet.

“What are you doing, Holmes?” I cried, holding on as the cab shot up Charing Cross Road.

He ignored my question and continued shaking out sand until a quantity had been released. Then he stopped and peered into the neck.


Once more he turned over the bottle and resumed his frantic efforts, spilling out the contents like a child, without any regard as to the consequences to my poor cap.

“Holmes! May I ask what you are doing?”

“The sand, Watson! The sand!” he cried, once more righting the bottle and staring into the neck. “What else is in this bottle besides sand?” Then, shaking his head in disgust, he resumed his attack upon my poor cap!

Holmes continued in this fashion, alternately emptying the bottle and peering inside it as the cab continued its journey, until the pile rising from my cap had grown several inches high and the contents within the bottle had diminished to no more than a tablespoon.

Finally, he gave the bottom of the bottle a good thump with his free hand, causing a small, dirty item in the shape of a slender bean to pop out of the neck and onto the mound of sand. Holmes picked up the object in triumph, rubbed it clean and held it to his eyes.

“I knew it, Watson!”

“What is it?”

“The prize! The prize! I knew I’d find it!”

“Not much of a prize,” said I, shrugging my shoulders. “It looks like a dirty almond.”

“It is an almond. The almond. From the Risalamande!”

“The riss-ala-what?”

“The Risalamande. Rice pudding, the traditional Danish Christmas dessert. A single almond is mixed with the pudding, and whoever finds the almond in their serving gets an extra helping.”

“And you thought you might find one in the bottle?”

“I knew I would find it. Once I remembered.”

“Remembered what?”

Holmes fixed his eyes upon me and spoke with peculiar gravity. “Alexandra, the Queen Consort, is a Dane, Watson.”

“Why, you are right, Holmes! But what does it mean?”

“It means, I fear, that the threat is not reserved for the King only,” he said, slowly and severely. “It means an attack upon his entire family. Perhaps upon the very line of succession.”

“How can we stop it, Holmes?”

“By getting your revolver and making the 1:15 from St. Pancras.”

Our cabman, however, had other ideas.


Meet J. Lawrence Matthews

J. Lawrence Matthews has contributed fiction to the New York Times and NPR and is the author of three non-fiction books as Jeff Matthews. “One Must Tell the Bees” is his first novel. Written  at a time when American history is being scrutinized and recast in the light of 21st Century mores, this fast-paced account of Sherlock Holmes’s visit to America during the final year of the Civil War illuminates the profound impact of Abraham Lincoln and his Emancipation Proclamation on slavery, the war and America itself. Matthews is now researching the sequel, which takes place a bit further afield—in Florence, Mecca and Tibet—but readers may contact him at Those interested in the history behind “One Must Tell the Bees” will find it at

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