~*~*~ Advent Calendar ~*~*~
* Day 12*
Summary: Clem receives a gift that leads to something more and provides inspiration.
Rating: G 2,845 words
This story was written for the Bonanza Brand 2020 Advent Calendar, originated in the Forums.
The Adventure of the Antique Opera Glasses
“Deputy! Open up, sir.”
Clem reluctantly set his meal aside and left the comfortable chair he’d just settled into. Of course, a sheriff (or acting sheriff since Roy was visiting family over the holidays) was always at the beck and call of the citizens. But . . . for crying out loud, couldn’t a man eat his dinner in peace once in a while?
The citizen currently becking and calling gave up on hollering and took up on pounding on the door.
“Hang on out there. I’m comin’ – just give me a minute.” Clem reached for the door after taking care to brace himself. Comstock winds were a force to reckon with, and he didn’t want to be thumped by the door (again).
He’d been right to be cautious. The citizen in distress was nearly blown into the jailhouse. Snow, dust, and assorted debris blew into the room as well. Oh well, Clem had planned on sweeping up again, anyway.
“So, what’s the problem?” The man standing before him was young Artie, an English lad who’d been visiting Virginia City as part of his Grand Tour. Apparently, Artie’s travel guide had failed to properly emphasize the importance of moving along to the coast before the snow started to fly.
Artie stood shivering from the cold. His scarf had been looped over his hat and tied under his chin. His coat was buttoned tightly over what Clem presumed to be a few extra layers of shirts. Thick gloves protected his hands. Very sensible, considering the weather. He also held a preposterously large turkey carcass clutched to his chest and battered opera glasses tucked between his chin and chest.
Oh, my, this promised to be a good story.
Clem made his surprise guest as welcome as possible. He brushed the snow from the poor boy’s suit, placed the bird on a nearby table, and ushered Artie into the seat by the fire. It didn’t take too much coaxing for Artie to begin his tale.
“Not a half an hour ago, I was returning to my boarding house after enjoying my midday repast. It was tough going, as I am sure you are familiar. This municipality is cursed by the most appalling gales, wouldn’t you agree?’
“I reckon it can’t all be silver nuggets and gold dust.”
“I suppose not. As I labored, I saw two women, bundled from top to toe in as many clothing articles they could layer upon themselves struggling against the wind.”
“Two ladies walking together?”
“No, not together, but within my vicinity. As they neared the confluence of C Street and Taylor, a particularly fierce gust caught the ladies’ clothing as if they were ships’ sails, toppling the damsels and sending them rolling down the mountain’s side, dropping parcels and personal effects as they spun through the roiling snow . . . out of sight.”
“Good heavens, man!’ They might be hurt. Let’s head out and see if we can help.”
“I tried! Don’t you think I would have tried? But, the ladies were gone, no doubt they’d already rescued themselves and made their way to their homes. But, I did discover these two items, the turkey and the opera glasses. Naturally, I brought them to you so that these things could be returned to their rightful owners.”
Clem hid the smile that tugged at the corners of this mouth. It had been clear in the short time the deputy had known Artie that the young man had a kind and honest soul. Trust Artie to think that Clem could solve this mystery with so little to go on. Well, no point in disappointing the lad.
“Let’s take a look at this stuff.”
The two men studied the opera glasses. Mother of pearl, a bit yellowed and cracked with age decorated the set. No initials marked the gilt edging, and no name was attached the leather strap. Clem didn’t go to the theater much, and he didn’t remember ever seeing this geegaw. But, he did have an idea of who to ask.
“On your feet, Artie. We’re goin’ to see Widow Hawkins. This set of glasses looks like something she would own.”
“Shall I bring the turkey?” Clem nodded. He saw no point in struggling back up to the jail house to fetch it, and then back down to Widow Hawkins’ place in case the bird turned out to be hers as well.
The citizen and lawman clothed themselves to for the storm. The opera glasses were tucked safely inside Clem’s jacket pocket, and Artie’s hat was once more tied securely to his head. Clem fiddled with writing a note for anyone who might visit the jail in his absence when he was interrupted by a squawk of surprise from his companion.
“Aren’t turkeys sometimes referred to as ‘gobblers’?”
“Yep. They make a noise that sorta sounds like ‘gobble-gobble.’”
“It wouldn’t be because they ‘gobble’ up strange items. Would it?”
“What are you on about?”
Artie held the turkey around its floppy neck in one hand, and in the other hand, a pile of gold coins glowed in the dim light.
“I chanced to grasp the bird around its neck as I lifted when the most amazing thing happened—a small leather pouch was spewed up and out of the mouth. These coins were inside the pouch.”
Clem had never seen anything like it before. Upon close inspection, it was clear that someone had indeed shoved the pouch as deep into the turkey’s craw as they could manage.
“Who could have done such a thing?”
“Gonna need more information before I can figure that out. I can’t make bricks without clay, ya know. Leave the turkey here. We goin’ to see the Widow.”
“Thank you, deputy! Yes, those are my glasses. Well, I say they’re mine, but I have an entire box of opera glasses left from my time in the theater. And who is this handsome young man?”
“Artie Doyle at your service.”
“Cor! Someone from my corner of the world. It’s so nice to hear a voice that sounds like home. You will have to come for tea soon.”
Clem felt he needed to step in before the investigation was hopelessly sidetracked. “The opera glasses. How did you come to lose them, ma’am?”
“I was carrying them in my coat pocket. I like to use them now and then when I am out and about. I was just returning from the butcher where I’d placed an order for a Christmas turkey, and I was carrying it home. The wind knocked me right off my feet! But, I have my priorities, and I held on to that turkey. We rolled right down the hill, practically into my yard. If it weren’t for the bruises, I’d say it was a pretty good way to get home quickly.”
The Widow Hawkins sure could say load of words before needing to take breath.
“I’m sorry you were hurt, Miz Hawkins. How’d the turkey hold up?”
“Fine, just fine. It’s already been cleaned, and it’s about to go into the oven. Of course, it’s not a goose, but you can’t have everything, can you? Not even at Christmas time.”
Clem sighed. Clearly, the turkey and gold coins in the jail house didn’t belong to Widow Hawkins. He gestured to Artie, and they prepared to leave.
“Deputy, please take these opera glasses with you. They’re my gift to you.” She pressed the glasses into Clem’s palm.
“That’s very nice of you, but I hardly ever go to the theater.” Clem knew he didn’t have a chance of leaving the widow’s house without the opera glasses, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t try.
“No, no, you must take them. There ever so handy for all sorts of things. Please, for me? Merry Christmas.”
After many utterances of farewell as well as a handful of cookies for each of them, Clem and Artie left the widow’s house to pursue the next part of their investigation.
“Now, what do we do?” Artie was only a hairsbreadth from whining, despite the three cookies he had just consumed.
“Now,” Clem said, pulling at Artie’s elbow to get him started trudging up the hill, “we go to the butcher to see who else picked up their Christmas turkey. And while we walk, you can describe the other woman you saw.”
Artie thought hard. “Mmmmm, she was a woman, and she was wearing a dress and a coat . . . and a knit hat.”
“That all you got?” Artie nodded.
By the time they reached the butcher, the wind had died down and the number of pedestrians had picked up. There was quite a crowd of women, and a few men, waiting their turn outside the shop and leaving with a turkey in their arms.
“Artie, do you see anyone you recognize?”
The poor kid shrugged. Clem couldn’t really blame him; it was his first case, after all.
“Look over there. I think that’s our lady.”
“What” Why? She looks just like everyone else.”
Clem had already started sauntering in said lady’s direction. Artie had to scramble a bit to keep up with him.
“My boy, you see, but you don’t pay attention. That lady there isn’t in line, she’s kicking into snow drifts, obviously looking for something. Not only that, the knees of her skirt are soaked with mud, and we know there’s a big mud puddle on the corner of C and Taylor. I’m betting she fell into the mud and lost the grip on her turkey.”
“Miss? Miss” Can I help you find something?”
The lady, just a bit startled when Clem and Artie approached her, pulled the scarf away from her face to properly greet the gentlemen coming to her aid.
It took several seconds, and a rather loud clearing of Artie’s throat, before Clem could remember their mission.
The lady in question, (But, who was Clem kidding? She was more than a lady; she was an angel.) possessed large, dark eyes (Brown or dark blue? It was difficult to be sure. He needed more time.), framed by delicate wings of brows that set off a complexion so smooth and radiant that Clem’s own complexion blushed furiously in sympathetic warmth.
“Sheriff?” That voice! A choir of angels could not have been more melodious.
Who knew how long Clem would have stood, blushing and mouth agape if Artie hadn’t punched him sharply in the back?
“Sorry, miss. Actually, it’s Deputy Clem Foster. I am the acting sheriff, though, at the moment.” Artie employed another punch to the ribs. “Ahem. Are you looking for something? Maybe we can help?”
“I’m so foolish,” the lady responded with a little catch in her voice and the slightest shine of moisture in her eyes. “I’d purchased a turkey for my employer not long ago. Somehow, I managed to lose my footing on my way back there, and I fell, quite hard. I was so shocked from the fall and the bitter cold that I made my way home without looking for the turkey. Now, when I’ve come back to retrieve it, it isn’t to be found. I am going to have to explain to my employer, Mr. Gruener, that the turkey is gone.”
Clem’s heart seemed to beat even faster with this information. “I’m sorry, Miss . . .?”
“Hunter. Violet Hunter.”
“Miss Hunter, your turkey has probably been picked up by someone. Perhaps, since we’re so close to the butcher, we could get you another?”
“Or . . .” Artie interrupted, “maybe that turkey the concerned citizen brought in to the jailhouse could belong to Miss Hunter.” Bless his heart. Artie had superb instincts for this sort of work.
“Someone found a turkey?” Oh, happy day! At the sight of her smile, Clem felt he could die satisfied.
“Let’s go see if it’s yours, shall we?”
They all arrived at the jail house with further incident. It appeared no one had called during their absence, and the turkey lay on the table, just as they left it.
“My turkey!” Miss Hunter exclaimed. She ran to the table and proceeded to handle the carcass in a way that couldn’t quite be described as delicate. It didn’t take long for her jubilation to turn to desolation. In fact, the poor lady dropped into the chair and covered her face with her hands.
“Miss Hunter, what’s wrong?”
“Deputy Foster, the turkey I carried was . . . special. I’ll just tell you the whole story. I’m completely ridiculous. I’ve been working as a governess for Mr. Bernard Gruener’s children for the last six months. It’s a lovely home, I receive a fair wage, and the children are not any worse than any other children.
But, Mr. Gruener has an awful temper. Whenever his business affairs go awry, he completely loses control. He shouts the house down, curses, and throws whatever is close to hand against the walls. Of course, it upsets the children, and I have no interest in living in such a state of affairs myself.
After these fits of temper, he is very remorseful. He brings home an armload of gifts for the children and hands me a gold coin for weathering his storms. I have been tucking these guilt offerings into a small pouch I usually wear around my neck.
A few days ago, his wife returned from her visit to relatives on the Continent. The entire family is agog with delight. They asked me to fetch the holiday turkey from the butcher today. It seems the lady will be taking over the care of her household again, and I can see the writing on the wall. They won’t be needing a governess for much longer.
Usually, I wear the pouch of coins around my neck. Today, I noticed a small group of rough boys hanging about the butcher shop. I was afraid of being accosted and robbed. So, I did a very foolish thing. I shoved the pouch of coins down the turkey’s throat thinking I was being clever.
Instead, I have lost my stake. Those coins were going to allow me to set up a small seamstress shop where I would never have to be concerned about anyone’s temper than my own.”
The poor young lady began to cry bitterly.
Clem’s heart went out to the poor woman. It tore him up to think what some ladies had to endure to make ends meet. It also pleased him no end that he was about to be the bearer of glad tidings.
“Miss Hunter, stop. Don’t cry. I’m sorry you’re upset, but I had to find out the story behind this special turkey here. Artie found this turkey, and he found your pouch of coins. Show her, Artie.”
Well, at the sight of her golden grub stake. Violet Hunter lost all sense of propriety. She threw her arms first around Artie’s neck, and then grabbed Clem by the shoulder and planted a warm kiss on his cheek.”
It took a few minutes for all of them to settle down from the commotion. When all was quiet again, they knew it was time to part ways.
“Good afternoon, Miss Hunter,” Artie bowed over the lady’s hand. “I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors. This will be a good adventure to write in my journal.”
“Mr. Doyle, I would not have had a future without your sense of integrity.”
Artie clasped Clem’s hand in farewell, and the pair watched from the jail house door as the young man ambled down the street toward one the town’s plentiful drinking establishments.
“So, Miss Hunter,” Clem said. “What do you say to me toting this bird back to the Gruener’s house for you?”
“I’d say, ‘Thank you very much.’ But, you must promise to call me Violet.”
“I’d be pleased, and you can call me, Clem.”
The weather was decidedly more pleasant as the couple walked slowly to the Gruener residence. Clem followed Violet into the kitchen long enough to deposit the special turkey on the kitchen table. He had no excuse for lingering. He’d done his duties as sheriff for the day.
“Miss Violet,” he said, “it’s been a pleasure to meet you.” Shoving his hand into his pocket, he nudged the opera glasses he’d tucked away.
“I feel the same way, Clem. I hope to see you again.”
That was very promising. Clem took a leap of faith. He pulled the opera glasses out of his pocket.
“I got these opera glasses today as a gift from the Widow Hawkins. I don’t go the theater much, but I’d love to try these glasses out if you’ll come with me to the Winter Pageant.”
“I would be delighted to go with you, deputy.”
Clem figured the soft kiss on the cheek had to be the greatest Christmas gift he’d ever gotten.
He was going to owe Artie one helluva of a New Year’s gift.
Character: Clem Foster
Gift: Opera Glasses
Link to Bonanza Brand 2020 Advent Calendar – Day 13 – Upon a Knight of Olde by sklamb
Other Stories by this Author
- Turmoil (by Belle)
- Advice (by Belle)
- Gifted (by Belle)
- All Through the Night (by Belle)
- Aunt Agnes’s Dilemma (by Belle)