Hi. January kind of turned insane, didn’t it, in every definition of the word? But this little ridiculous thing is complete.
For the sake of brevity, here are the rest of the days of Holmes-mas in one, compact entry.
The seventh day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Seven swans a-swimming…
After a period of goose wrangling, and a discussion on the best means of dealing with six living geese running amuck in one’s house, Anne chose to give four of the geese to families in the neighborhood whose larders might be a bit less plentiful than most. She cooked the remaining two, one for our own dinner and one for a special celebration for the Irregulars and any other of their friends who might be in need of a good meal and a bit of late Christmas cheer.
“I do hope this doesn’t follow the same pattern as the rest,” she said as she saw the last of the children out the door. “While there are plenty to donate spare geese too, I’d rather not chase down, kill, pluck, and dress half a dozen of them daily.”
“The feathers alone may drown us,” I muttered, flicking a bit of down from my skirts.
The geese delivery provided little in the way of new evidence. They appeared in the kitchen that morning, before Anne woke, with the rest of the standard package left in the center of the table. Boot prints similar to what I found on the front stoop led in from the back door and back out to the garden. They both began and ended at the yew tree. However, unlike the tracks I followed onto Baker Street, there was evidence in the snow in the back garden that someone had worked to obscure a potential other path, leading from a side gate into the yard.
“Not as clever as they think, are they?” I asked as I crouched next to the disturbed snow and attempted to brush the top layer away to reveal the potential prints buried beneath. To my dismay, the culprit had also dragged something through the path, altering the prints enough to make them useless.
“Someone’s going to a lot of work for all this.” Watson stood behind me, bent forward to peek over my shoulder.
“They will make a mistake eventually, Watson. They will become too prideful after eluding me for too long and ultimately make a mistake.”
“Of course.” He offered down a hand and I thought I saw a flash of a smirk cross his features.
That night, I decided to sit up to catch the deliveryman when he arrived with his next parcel. I waited until the rest of the house slept, then crept out to perch halfway down the seventeen steps to the ground floor. If someone tried to enter the house through the front, I would see them; if they utilized the backdoor, I would hear them; if the culprit came from inside the house, I would surely catch them moving between floors. It was an exceptionally perfect trap. I even accounted for the possibility I might doze off – I hung a ring of large bells on each of the doors, and settled myself on the stair that squeaked, so that even a sure-footed sneak being as careful as they pleased would make some bit of noise in passing.
It was nearly dawn when I did begin to drift off, and as I was unsatisfied in my espionage, I simply waited for the sound of the newspaper delivery and made my way down to retrieve it. When I opened the door, The Times sat in its usual spot, awaiting procurement. However, it was not alone. Between it and the bottles of milk and cream delivered not long before sat a small wicker basket containing six large eggs I assumed to be from geese, five gold-banded cigars, four black feathers, three carved hens, two paper doves, a sprig of juniper, and a round glass bauble filled with something to approximate water and seven porcelain swans set to appear to float in the imitation pond.
Anne was shuffling into the kitchen as I carried the lot in and said, on the cusp of a yawn and stretch, “What have we today?”
“War,” I said, handing her the basket. “And possibly some meringues, if you’re of a mood to bake.”
The eighth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Eight hares a-running…
I was left at a loss by the arrival of the seventh day’s items. After assuring no one had left via their window when I wasn’t looking, I reevaluated the previous day’s smirk as mere amusement at my situation instead of complicity. Also, I lacked an explanation for why Watson would be involved in the nonsense anyway. I lacked any semblance of a motive for the situation, honestly, despite my best attempts at discerning one. No ominous lore clung to geese or their eggs, and swans were typically seen as benign, symbolically, at least in my reading.
However, I was still determined to catch the one responsible, regardless. To that end, I set a small trap again at the front stoop, the kitchen exit, and at the top and bottom stairway step. Utilizing a formula I’d once discovered for an invisible ink, I soaked the mats at each door, and the carpet at both the top and bottom of the steps, just before taking to my bed. The snow had mostly melted and there appeared little possibility for more, at least for the night, so I felt it a safe experiment to undertake. I had just enough ingredients for the ink and the reagent and mixed up both while Anne and Watson were busy elsewhere with their daily routines, citing an odd experiment when either asked after the smell in the lounge.
I slept well that night, both from the previous night’s lack and from the deep satisfaction of a hunter about to catch her prey. When I woke the next morning, my steps possessed a certain gleeful spring as I made my way out of my room in the minutes just before I knew Anne would emerge from her room to start breakfast. I sprayed a bit of the reagent just shy of the carpet on the top step, and then a few steps further in, and waited for a reaction. None. Then, I deftly avoided my own trap to descend the steps and spritz a bit of reagent as I went, then on the floor at the base of the stairs, then just inside each door.
No footprints emerged, however. I frowned, but did not allow myself to be deterred. I snuck back upstairs before Anne woke, then laid in bed, reading over the formula over and over, wondering if I’d made a mistake somewhere in the process. Oh well. At the very least, the shoes or feet of anyone who had wandered through my experiments would carry a very noticeable smell.
I was all bit bouncing as I left my room sometime later, at the sounds of breakfast’s arrival.
“Someone’s in a good mood,” Anne said as she poured the tea. She cast a narrow glance at Watson. “Funny, I thought I heard you emerge from your own room this morning…”
Watson’s cheeks flared instantly red and he lifted the paper higher to better hide behind it. “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re on about, Mrs. Hudson. Oh look, Mr. Trimley passed overnight. I should call on the widow…”
“I kept my own company last night, Anne,” I said to spare poor Watson a stroke. “Can’t I just be in a good mood?” I sniffed the air, searching for the familiar tang of vinegar lingering anywhere, but finding none. To cover, I lifted my cup. “Is that pekoe I smell?”
“You know very well it is not.” Anne continued to watch me curiously, then shook her head and went to the couch to pick up a skirt she’d been in the process of hemming. “If you are planning to pay a visit on the recently widowed Mrs. Trimley, Watson, let me know. I’ll put together a basket, and take her a plate for dinner as well.”
The two continued to talk about the hospitalities to be done for poor Mrs. Trimley while I waited for the ring of a doorbell or some other sign of a delivery. But there was none, and by the end of breakfast, there was no new parcel of oddly bird-themed paraphernalia awaiting me. I was almost disappointed, truth be told, and likely looked it as I finished my tea and toast and trudged over to grab my coat.
“If you’re going out, dear, could you stop by Valentine’s and pick up something to clean the carpet?” Anne didn’t lift her head a wit, but I still felt the knowing quality of her stare at my back. “I cannot abide the smell of vinegar all over the house.”
I muttered in the affirmative and stomped out of the sitting room with my coat, only realizing halfway down the stairs as I was putting it on that it felt heavier than usual, and jangled. That’s when I stuck my hands in the pockets.
One sprig of juniper, two porcelain doves, three carved wooden hens, and four black feathers were tucked in the large left-hand pocket. Five cigars with golden rings, six white feathers the consistency of ones from a goose, and another globe with seven swimming swans within it waited in the right-hand one. And the jangling came from the interior pocket, where I found a delicate gold bracelet that held eight hares that appeared to chase each other around the circumference.
“I know it has to be one of you,” I yelled back up the stairs, then stomped the rest of the way down and out.
Days 9, 10, 11, and 12
The twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Twelve fiddlers fiddling
Eleven dancers dancing
Ten pipers piping
Nine drummers drumming…
I didn’t return home until after dark that night, so frustrated and flustered was I. Though, I did have baking soda to counteract the acid in the vinegar and some lovely citrus-scented cleanser Ginny Valentine recommended for using after to freshen the rugs. I also ordered new mats for the doors instead of trying to salvage the ones I’d…boobytrapped. I went straight to my room when I returned, and I waited until both suspects had gone to bed before I emerged to take care of the unintended mess I’d left.
I was in the process of making up the second batch of paste when Anne wandered into the kitchen, her hair pulled back in a loose braid that made it far too easy to spot the silver starting to weave through the blonde.
“You’re being a little bit silly, you know,” she said, moving past me to fill the kettle and set it on the stove.
“I’m not the one stuffing feathers and silly birds in people’s pockets,” I muttered as I jabbed the wooden spoon into the bowl in a forceful gesture that looked more like stabbing than stirring.
Anne sighed and looked up at the ceiling. Then, a moment later, she laughed, a loud, deeply amused sound that cut through the otherwise quiet house. “Sometimes I forget how differently your mind works, Charlotte, from the rest of us.” She turned and took the spoon from me, pausing just long enough to pat my cheek. “Leave this to me. You’ll break something in your current state of mind. There’s a book on the mantle you should peruse. Pay particular attention to pages 238 through 242.” I hesitated a moment and she waved it in my direction, sending a flick of water and baking powder this way and that. “Go on, now, before I change my mind and make you do all this cleaning after all.”
I hurried out of the kitchen and up the stairs before my aunt changed her mind. In the sitting room, I went to the mantle framing the faintly glowing fireplace and found a single book waiting upon it. It was a book of traditional ballads and songs, one Anne had dug out for caroling purposes over the holidays. Claiming my usual seat, I pulled my legs up with me into the chair and turned to the pages she’d indicated. As I read, realization dawned. The longer I read, my expression shifted to disbelief.
“How exactly is he going to manage that?!?”
At some point, after spending the last of the fire’s glow flipping through the book and delving into carols I hadn’t given myself space for in years, I fell asleep curled up in my armchair. When I woke the next morning, with a bare minimum of light visible through a crack in the curtains overlooking Baker Street, it was to the sound of music coming from somewhere.
“Anne, do you hear that?” I rubbed my eyes as I uncurled myself stiffly from the chair. Cold had settled in at some point and left my joints tight, something not helped by the position I fell asleep in, either, and it took a minute or two of stretching to limber myself up to my normal fluidity. It was at that point I noticed there had been no answer to the question, despite it being light enough for my aunt to be about her morning routine. “Anne?”
I crept down the stairs with caution. The music became louder as I descended, but still somewhat muffled. By the time I arrived at the bottom of the steps, it was clear the source was outside and sounded suspiciously like drums, pipes, and violins. I stopped as I reached the door, my hand on the knob, sure that dancers would be involved when I stepped onto the stoop.
It looked like a scene out of a very eccentric ball, set in the middle of Baker Street. Eleven colorfully dressed dancers spun and twirled about as nine drummers, ten pipers, and twelve fiddlers played a lively polka. Standing in the midst of it all, holding a basket full of the familiar collection of birds, feathers, and other bric-a-brac, was Watson.
“If Anne objected to have a dozen geese for one morning, I didn’t think she’d be too happy with multiple days of serenades,” he said, giving a half-hearted shrug and a wave back to the assemblage. “The drum solo on its own would have strained hospitality.”
“Pipers might’ve done more than the drums,” I said, a hand lifted to shield the daylight from my eyes. “She’s not a fan.”
Watson extended his empty hand while setting the basket on the cobblestones. “What is her niece’s opinion?”
“Of dancing. Would be a shame to let the music go to waste, after all.”
“Seems to be plenty of other people taking good advantage of the music.” I gestured to the dancers twirling away. “If we join, with my in my housecoat…”
“I think we’ll survive the scandal.” He grabbed my hand and pulled me in to a spin that eventually drew us straight into the center of the chaos. Despite the hour, my attire, and the ridiculousness of the situation, I let myself be swept up, even if my polka was…more than a bit rusty. By the time the song changed, I was laughing and whooping along with the rest. As the next song began to play, I recognized the tune.
“On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me…” I sang, resting my hand on Watson’s shoulder.
“Replaced by something useful, like poisonous plants of Mongolia or something else, I’m sure.” He shook his head. “You are a very difficult woman to say ‘I love you’ to, Charlotte.”
“Don’t worry,” I said, stretching up to kiss his cheek. “That’s a fact I’ll never replace with something else.”