Since Day 6 ran a bit short (and, honestly, I was a bit flummoxed about how to handle six geese a-laying, so I’m glad I found away to work around it), I combined the two into a single day’s post.
Also, yes, someone did indeed wuss out on the five gold rings a bit.
The fifth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Five gold rings…
The morning of the fifth day did not bring with it an influx of clarity, or information. When I joined Watson for breakfast, he and Anne sat in perplexed conversation, staring at the morning’s unopened newspaper.
“It came delivered that way,” Anne said, gesturing at the table. Once close enough to properly observe the situation, I understood the confusion: she discovered the paper on the stoop adorned with what was becoming a familiar sight – a sprig of juniper baring the weight of two paper doves, three hens, and four black feathers. With these items, however, came a new item.
“At least they appear to be of quality,” Watson said, lifting one gold-ringed cigar to his nose for a sniff. “I recognize the brand. Quite exceptional tobacco, in fact.”
I plucked the cigar from his fingers and ran it below my own nose. I closed my eyes as I inhaled the fragrance. The strong scent of the leaves reminded me of the scent that used to trail behind my father when he paced in his study, deep in thought. He only smoked in his study – Mother detested the smell, as it had made her quite ill during the early days of Mycroft and I’s…baking – and usually only when working through an issue that stumped him. Some nights, I would wander past his door, smell the faintest hint of the smoke, and sit outside in the hall listening to him pace and mutter to himself. I would fall asleep there, if Mother didn’t find me and shoo me off to bed first. Many a night, though, I woke cradled in Father’s arms, caught in the act of being carried to my room. “The hall rug is definitely not soft enough for sweet little heads to get decent rest, Charlie-girl,” he always said.
As the memory surfaced, one eye opened and a thoughtful frown pursed my lips. “Where has Mycroft gotten himself again?”
Anne swatted my hand with a rolled napkin and gestured to my chair. “I believe he and his mates mentioned something about Bath.” She shrugged before starting for the door. “Or it might have been Paris. Or Berlin. They discussed a few options while raiding my cupboards.”
“Interesting.” I claimed my seat and took the napkin from Anne to drape across my lap. “Well, I suppose the curious gift giver has at least finally sent something moderately useful. Practical, even.”
“I still say the feathers have a more than passing potential, if thoughtfully altered. And you’re never short on needs for a writing implement.”
“That leaves, of course, the small flock of birds I’ve begun to acquire, and the pile of juniper.”
Watson slid the paper deftly out from beneath the collection of oddities and chuckled. “Well, we’ve kindling, at least, with the sprigs.”
I lifted the nearest cigar and stared at it, spinning it so that I might see every small detail. The band bore the maker’s mark, which brought to mind a thought. “How many tobacco shops would you wager there are in London, Watson?”
The paper dipped so that two shrewd eyes caught mine across the table. The sound of jostling crockery carried up the stairs as Anne approached with the breakfast tray. “Am I going to regret answering this question?”
“Just the ones likely to carry such fine stock. How many of those would you estimate?”
Anne must have recognized something of the tone or the form of the question. She clucked her tongue sharply as she set a plate in front of me. “Plotting to drag a man all over London before he’s even properly fed. And in weather such as this! That’s the definition of cruelty right there, Charlotte.”
I smirked as I lifted a bracing cup of tea for a sip. “Don’t worry. I’ll leave him time for breakfast first. I am, after all, a benevolent dictator, am I not?” Watson took just long enough to reply that I felt justified tossing a sugar cube at him.
The sixth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me,
Six geese a-laying..
The previous day’s wanderings were not all a lost cause. Three shops carried the brand of cigar in question and two had sold a quantity of them recently – a box of 25 at Beardsley’s and a box of 50 at Horton’s. None of the three had sold as few as five, but there was no reason to let the number stifle my investigations. Neither proprietor could remember anyone matching my brother’s description recently acting as a patron of theirs, either, however.
“This proves little as to his innocence in this matter,”I assured Watson that night, after Anne had retired for the evening and we sat, the two of us on the couch, each engaged in our own reading. “He could have purchased them months ago. And anywhere. London isn’t the only place with tobacconists, after all.”
“Yes, Holmes,” he said without looking up from his medical tome.
“Or had them delivered by post.”
I looked up from my own book – a dull treatise on ornithology borrowed from an acquaintance at the Natural History Museum – and stared at him. I had the oddest feeling he wasn’t listening to a thing I said. “Or flown in by well-trained squirrels.”
“All valid theories.” He turned a page without batting an eye. I reached over and took the book from him, tossing it across the room. “I was reading that.”
“And I was talking. Quite cleverly, in fact, which seems pointless when there’s no one listening to appreciate my being clever.” I tossed my own book after his and laid my head against his furthest knee, staring up at him with suspicion. “Do you have a list you run through?”
“Responses to mutter when you don’t feel like paying attention, but don’t want me to notice I’m mostly talking to myself?”
He looked thoughtful a moment, eyes turned upwards as he rubbed his chin. “Oh, just a small one. Fifty or sixty long. Thank God I’ve often enough need of it that I’ve memorized it.”
I sat up to sputter and complain, and, possibly, commit mild violence upon his person, but he diverted all in the way only he seemed able:
With a kiss.
The following morning, I was dragged out of a perfectly acceptable night’s sleep by the sound of Anne squawking – and quite a bit of unexpected honking. I emerged from my room, still belting my housecoat, to find my aunt surrounded by six excitable geese padding about the kitchen, and a quite familiar collection of odd items adorning the table.
“Your mysterious deliverer’s gone too far this time!”