The fourth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me,
Four colly* birds…
Young, guileless Hugo Nelson proved a pointless witness. Mr. Valentine and his daughter, Ginny, had put the crates together and left them, already prepared, near the front door of the shop that morning before heading out of London to visit relatives up North. Hugo hadn’t had a single hand in packing a thing, nor did he leave them unattended long enough someone else might have fiddled with the contents. It would be at least a week, if not more, before any of the Valentines were back in town to question.
I poured over every item in the box looking for a bit of unmissed hair or ripped fabric left behind in the planting of the items and found nothing. Anne confirmed the order of every item in the crate, so it wasn’t a mistake in the delivery process, though that option seemed the oddest, given the other recent deliveries. Each successive addition to the collection made the previous items even more confusing. I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand what doves, hens, and juniper had in common, nor what kind of specific code they might have been attempting to transmit. Orange pips made far more sense, or even tiny dancing men. This…left me perplexed.
It was a feeling that the following day did not assuage. When I settled at my desk to address the issue again the next morning, with a fresh pot of tea and a renewed sense of purpose, I discovered another collection of oddness tucked into the center drawer. This time, the juniper, two doves, and three hens laid atop four pristine and carefully plucked black ravens feathers.
“It makes no sense,” I said to Watson as we sat for lunch a few hours – and a fresh headache – later. “I originally pondered the likelihood it was some sort of masked threat, but juniper is nowhere near toxic enough to be considered an obvious one. But ravens, on the other hand, are often associated with death and as a sign of ill portent in most ridiculous ideologies. Does their sudden inclusion mean it all is to be considered a threat? And what then of the hens? And the doves?”
“It is indeed a conundrum,” Watson said from behind his paper. It arrived late that morning and he hadn’t the chance to peruse it over breakfast, per usual.
“As is the delivery method. It began in a very personal capacity – left upon my pillow in the middle of the night. Then, the next two deliveries were through external means. And once more, this latest is extremely personal and speaks of access to the house. But if one has access to the interior of 221B, why would they need to involve others, externally, for any of the methods?” I frowned down into my teacup. “It’s all a bit ridiculous, which should make it easier to make sense of, but…”
Watson snapped the paper as he turned the page. “Perhaps your secret admirer simply thought you in need of a few new quills? Or thinks you need to refresh one of your hats?”
I shook my head. “I fear it can’t be such an easy answer. This will require much deeper thought. And perhaps a trap of some sort, to catch the scoundrel in the act.”
*colly birds – This is one of those verses that has many, many variations. Before it became “calling birds” in 1909, the fourth thing the subject of the song’s true love sent were either colly birds, collie birds, canaries, curley birds, Corley birds, or “colour’d birds.” Most of these variations were all intending to insinuate that the birds being gifted were blackbirds – collier being a term for a coal miner and colliery meaning mine.