The Third Day of Holmes-mas

The third day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Three French hens…

By the time Watson returned, I had sketched and measured the boot prints and placed the latest delivery onto my desk, the Greek botany forgotten in favor of the newest bit of curiosity. He watched in mild amusement as I measured each of the paper birds and searched their surfaces for fingerprints.

“Doves,” he said as he passed a wrapped sandwich into my hand, after removing the magnifying glass from it. “Turtledoves, possibly. Or mourning ones. But doves all the same.”

“Aren’t doves just prettied up pigeons?” I asked as I pulled newspaper back from around the thick slabs of bread piled high with fried onions and mushrooms and melted slices of cheese. I frowned at it, even as my stomach reminded me that food might likely be a good idea. And it did smell remarkable.

Watson laughed again as he sank his teeth into his own sandwich while watching me pick bits of meat from between the pieces of bread. “I suppose one could make that argument on a strictly scientific basis.”

I looked up at him and blinked. “Is there any other basis worthy of consideration?”

He simply shook his head and directed me back to my sandwich.

The following morning, I headed out before breakfast to see if anything remained of the trail of those unidentified boots from the stoop. The snow had remained intermittent the rest of the previous night, and the temperature unpleasant enough to reduce foot traffic in general, but the trail was still hard to maintain for more than a few steps. Watson’s own returning boot prints assisted in making the trail harder to follow, as his larger, more distinct impressions crisscrossed and covered them on the stairs. The owner of those boots had, indeed, come from the north, and had crossed the street after stopping at 221B’s door. Once on the street, however, carriage wheels obscured any further presence, and they did not resume on the opposite sidewalk.

Intriguing. Had they caught a passing carriage? I didn’t remember seeing or hearing one when I approached the door…

Meanwhile, some ornithological investigation confirmed Watson’s assumption. The folded birds were, indeed, meant to represent doves, if the general shape was anything to go by. Unlike their cousins, the standard pigeon, doves were seen as sweet and romantic symbols, likely because they were rumored to pair up and mate for life. It seemed an unimportant detail and likely unrelated to their appearance at my door. The Juniper branch still confounded me as well.

I heard the bell, followed a moment later by Aunt Anne’s bellow. “CHARLOTTE! Please attend to the door. I’ve my hands half buried in a week’s laundry!”

I sighed and set aside my riddles to answer the door. Hugo Nelson, a young lad who did deliveries and other tasks at Valentine & Son’s Dry Goods stood on the stoop holding one box, while another waited on the ground at his feet.

“Morning, Miss Charlotte,” he said, fumbling with the box for a moment as he seemed intent on managing to tip his hat. I plucked the box from his arms to stop him from spilling the contents, or himself, onto the steps in the process.

“Good morning, Hugo. Thank you for bringing this ‘round for us.”

“S’not just my job, but my pleasure, Miss.” He gave a bow and bent to grab the other box. “Should I leave this in its usual, then?”

I stepped aside and waved him through, then shut the door to carry my own burden towards the kitchen. Along the way, I peered into the small crate, moving aside a yard of dark wool to see what else Anne might have included in the week’s order. Tucked just beneath the first fold of the material, identifiable by the slight piney scent that preceded its discovery, was a third sprig of juniper.

And two more paper doves.

And three wooden hens.

“HUGO! I need to have several words with you!”

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