Fourth Day of Holmes-mas

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.

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!”

The Second Day of Holmes-mas

So, my weekend involved some, err, unplanned adventures that involved an apartment door that didn’t want to open on top of an ill-planned grocery trip. (Note to self – that surgeon imposed weight limit is there for a reason, yo. Do not try lifting a bag with 2 2-liters, a case of canned soda, and all your canned goods at once up a flight of stairs again, huh?) As a warning? Slamming your shoulder into a door in aggravation does not, in fact, force it open and it also really doesn’t feel very good, especially the day after. All this is to say, my weekend *hurt* and I’m a few days behind in posting, so days 2, 3, and 4 will all go up, in quick succession, today.

Aren’t you glad now these are all bite-sized bits of nonsense?

The second day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Two turtledoves…

Continue reading

The Twelve Days of Holmes-mas

Oh my God, there’s a blog post! I think I might faint. Oh, wait, I can’t. I’m the one making the post.

Here’s the thing: I have no Christmas spirit this year, at all. I can’t blame it on COVID, either. It’s definitely a holiday that has provided diminishing returns the last five years. I keep waiting for the season to feel “normal” again, or for there to be a return of my previous exuberant Christmas enthusiasm, but it doesn’t happen, and I’m not sure how to get it back. (Or, honestly, if I want it back, but that’s a question for a different time and place.)

But here’s my concession this year, and only because the idea popped into my head awhile back and it won’t leave, and I should be writing daily anyway – The Twelve Days of a Holmes Christmas, or Holmes-mas, if you will. I do not guarantee bright and cheerful Christmas content. Charlotte, perhaps not surprisingly, shares my current view of the holiday.

A few bits of bookkeeping:

  • We’re going with the traditional definition of the “Twelve days of Christmas”, meaning they start with Christmas Day and count forward.
  • I’ll be using what is, according to the internet, the version of the lyrics published in 1882, because it most closely fits the timeframe of the pre-book Holmes, which is what I’m going with here (because, despite there being a couple Christmases past in my books’ version of the canon, they are chockful of spoilers at this point, and if these books ever see the light of day, spoilers would be a bad thing!)
  • These are probably going to be more vignettes than stories, that might possibly connect into something overarching by the end (but I guarantee nothing!) because I’m giving myself a word count limit and not letting my brain/fingers run wild. I just tucked away 90k words worth of nonsense for my 2020 NaNoWriMo project (80,032 of it in November) so obviously I need a leash currently.
  • I didn’t go back to make sure I hadn’t visited Christmas in this universe already, so on the off chance this violates my own canon…uhhh, oops? Apologies. But, really, it would be on brand, since Doyle didn’t manage to remember his own canon or timeline either, so…..

All that said, here is Day One of The Twelve Days of a Holmes-mas.

Bah humbug.

Continue reading