Vanishing shorts

Two weeks from today, on Feb 1, a number of my e-short stories will be coming down, vanishing, going underground (except, of course, if they’re already on your reader.) king_beeke_9780345529930_h-203x300These stories won’t be for sale again until Random House publishes my collection of Russell & Holmes tales in October (as an ebook, though possibly, eventually, as a print book as well. We don’t have a contract for that yet.)

The e-stories going out of, er, print (?) on February 1 are:

Russell’s War

Mary’s Christmas

Mrs Hudson’s Case (Kindle, Nook, and other)

Beekeeping for Beginners

Cover-5-201x300My other self-published shorts won’t change: Mila’s Tale, The Mary Russell Companion, Laurie R. King’s Sherlock Holmes, My Thesis Being…, and Hellbender will all remain for sale as ebooks (and, in the case of the Sherlock Holmes essays, in print.)

Got it?  Good.

Mary Russell’s War

One hundred years ago, the armies in Europe were locked head to head all along a line from the North Sea to Switzerland.german_soldiers _in_belgium copy

In the past twelve months, hundreds of thousands had fallen, soldiers and civilians alike.WWI_machine_gun_2thirds copy

An entire swath of Europe lay devastated, the technology of War was building.pilot_dropping_bomb_from_plane_2thirds copy

And Mary Russell met Sherlock Holmes.Beekeepers-Apprent11FA9AD-199x300

Yes, the e-book Mary Russell’s War is on sale today, on Kindle, here, and on Nook and other formats here.

Mary Russell's War cover4I hope you enjoy your visit with a young Miss Russell.

 

 

Russell’s War

Last year on the centenary of the Great War’s beginnings,Chronicle_Polaris_front_page_full_webI began posting young Mary Russell’s War Journal. Her weekly reflections about the War, her drive to do something more than just be a fourteen year-old girl,Kitchener-leete-poster_1half copy

(her mother is raising money for the British air force)pilot_dropping_bomb_from_plane_2thirds copy

and her suspicions about German spies weave in and out of her family history, the Russells’ building War troubles, and the personal trauma that ultimately drives her to Sussex, and to her momentous meeting with Sherlock Holmes.

The 101st anniversary of the Great War’s beginnings is next Tuesday. To mark it, I’m putting a revised version of Mary Russell’s Journal, with a lot of contemporary illustrations, up for sale as an ebook.Mary Russell's War cover4

The blog posts remain up on this blog, under the tag “Mary Russell’s War,” but if you enjoyed reading young Mary’s journal, and you’d like an updated and cleaned up version (with pictures!) it’s be available on Kindle for pre-sale now, here, and will be on the other formats here.

I hope you enjoy it!

Mary Russell’s War Journal (thirty-six): Russell off to War

 

6 April 1915

A slight hitch in my plans has occurred with the discovery that identity papers are not readily forged by a person with naught but an amateur’s workshop. However, by asking around among the village troublemakers, I discovered a man in Eastbourne who can provide the necessary documents, and I have paid him the first instalment of the price. Unfortunately, it will take him some days to finish, thus my reading on the Downs resumes.

I admit to a brief hesitation, in my intent to set off for the Front, following some Times articles this last week, in which it would appear that the government may be starting to take seriously the potential that lies in the female half of the nation. The government wish to induce women to come to the aid of agriculturists by doing dairy work, milking, and other “light” employment. In the meantime, Patrick will be troubled in the coming year by the same article’s description of “the scarcity of farm labour and the requisitioning of hay by the War Office….” My two strong arms will be missed, when it comes to this summer’s harvest. Or perhaps not—with any luck, the War will be over by then. In any event, Thursday’s news then trumpeted THE ARMY OF WOMEN, with OVER 20,000 APPLICANTS FOR WAR WORK, so perhaps he and my aunt will manage without me.

I suppose it is understandable that Sunday’s celebration of the Christian holiday made for a wistful pursuit of normality, with a number of News pieces such as one about the EASTER HARE AND EASTER EGGS.  (It asked: What is the connexion of the hare with eggs, and of both with Easter? In reply, the writer claimed that as a Christian symbol, the hare is as old as the catacombs, where it is the emblem of the repentant sinner. Which seems quite odd to me.)

Similarly, an earnest gentleman urged the use of HONEY FOR SOLDIERS, in a letter to the editor that began, “May I bring to notice the value of honey for our warriors? It is an especial nutrient for them when they have lost body heat on deck or in trench…”

Lacking Easter eggs, or even pots of honey (personally, I’d have thought them unsuitable as a gift for the Front, being both heavy and breakable) I shall divert myself with my former reading material, the Latin text of Virgil. The Georgics, by odd coincidence, contain a section on bees: “First, seek a settled home for your bees, where the winds […of War?] may find no access…”

I write this in the still hours of the morning, having been unable to sleep. For yesterday, just before tea, Patrick came to the door with a look on his face such as I had not seen before. I knew immediately what it meant.  Yes, my friend Thomas Saunders was killed, three days ago.

It was a shock, and yet it was not unexpected. I think I knew the moment he planted his shy salute on my cheek that I would never see him again. Just as I know that this War will not be over until every person on earth has the heart ripped from his or her chest.

His passing has also firmed my own thoughts. Tomorrow the Met office are predicting rain, which will make it a good day to spend in the stables with my thoughts and this journal. When I started it thirty-six weeks ago, I was the daughter of two parents, the sister to a younger brother, the citizen of a country far from War. Eight months ago, I was a child, with no more pressing concern than my right to visit a friend. So much change, such sadness in the world.

When I have finished my meditation on the past months, I shall close the book and arrange to send it to a place where it shall be safe, but where I can do my best to forget it.

Thursday, they forecast, will have fair skies. So that morning when the sun rises, before my aunt (whose unreasonable behaviour has reached absurd heights, now reaching a protest over replacing a pair of shoes that have blistered my toes) is astir, I shall pocket the Georgics and a bread roll and set out for a day’s rambling. Only this time, instead of turning north to the forested Weald, I shall walk in the direction of those distant guns and that ominous stretch of sea, that I might confront them face to face.

I do not know when, if ever, I will read the final installments of The Valley of Fear, a story that has taken up so much of my interest in recent months, a tale that—shallow as I feel to admit it—helped to pull me from the state I was in after the accident.

Stories do not matter, not really.  Like the hay harvest, the tale will go on without me.  I shall do what I can, and do it with all my strength, wanting only to feel that my parents, and my brother, would be proud of me. I shall walk across the Downs with my Virgil, and prepare to set off for France.

Mary Judith Russell

 *  *

Thus ends Mary Russell’s War Journal. Two days later, the Russell Memoirs begin, with:

I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex Downs, and nearly stepped on him. In my defence I must say it was an engrossing book, and it was very rare to come across another person in that particular part of the world in that war year of 1915. In my seven weeks of peripatetic reading amongst the sheep (which tended to move out of my way) and the gorse bushes (to which I had painfully developed an instinctive awareness) I had never before stepped on a person….

Read more from The Beekeeper’s Apprenticehere, or to see the momentous meeting from the other person’s point of view, an excerpt of Beekeeping for Beginners is here.

Mary Russell’s War Journal (thirty-five): The march of women

 

30 March 1915

In the past week, the Times has continued to shrink in pages, and expand in its messages of desperation. Letters from the Front speak of A DOCTOR IN THE BATTLE LINE and his AMBULANCE WORK UNDER FIRE, from Neuve Chapelle:

“It has been quite impossible to write lately, as there has been a tremendous battle going on, the earlier part of which was a great success… Life has been absolute Hell; there is no other word for it…..Getting the wounded away was the worse. I had only four stretcher-bearers out of 16, and only two stretchers; and the shell fire was so great that it was impossible to carry them to the ambulance a mile and a half away.”

Boys at home are being encouraged to respond to the thrill of War, that they might be encouraged to volunteer for service in the Red Cross, to raise war funds, and to dig potatoes for desperate farmers. In the meantime, THE CALL TO WOMEN includes TO WORK IN ARMAMENT FACTORIES doing SHELL-MAKING, and to FARMING.

Under this relentless barrage of War news, the headline BRIDES DROWNED IN BATHS, concerning one George Smith of Shepherd’s-bush who stands accused of killing a series of three wives by drowning each of them in a bath, seems positively droll and homely by comparison. As does the description of NEW PROFESSIONS FOR WOMEN that includes POSSIBILITIES OF MUSIC ENGRAVING and WOMEN TRAM CONDUCTORS. I do not know that music engraving fills a tremendous wartime need, although I suppose even the boys on the Front need to sing. Driving a tram would at least free a man to carry a gun—as my own driving frees the doctor to concentrate on his work, allowing him to doze the roads instead of hunching bleary-eyed over them.   It may be a sign of his cumulative fatigue (the district’s other practitioners are all in France) but either my driving has improved, or he is too tired to notice. The other night, the sound of a fence-post scraping against the side of the motor only caused his snores to briefly pause, and fortunately it missed the head-lamp.

I fear, however, that the good doctor will have to make use of another chauffeur before too long. I am determined to make a more active service to this, my mother’s homeland: I shall drive an ambulance at the Front. Last December, I learned the skills of looking older than my years. In the past weeks, I have perfected the art of driving over uneven ground at all hours of the day and night. I can even perform basic repairs to the machine. My nerves are steady, my stamina considerable, and my wits sharp: England needs such as me. I know my vision of coming to the rescue of Thomas Saunders is but a figment of imagination, but surely any number of other young men could stand in his stead.

I have heard of a local widow-woman who is not only well skilled behind a wheel, but whose sons are now out of her house, leaving her at loose ends for employment. To make matters even more interesting, the lady is of an age appropriate to my Doctor, whose own wife died three years ago. I have arranged the use of the motor this afternoon, while the Doctor holds surgery hours, and will go and see if she might be willing to step into my place, freeing me to forge identity papers and leave for the Front. If a schoolboy child with ten shillings of choir money can work his way to France, I shall have no trouble at all slipping into a driver’s position amidst the chaos of a field hospital. By the time I am discovered, I will have made myself indispensible.

Mary Russell’s War Journal (thirty-four): Conquest and carburetters

 

23 March 1915

This week has taught some interesting lessons, both in practical knowledge and, perhaps more valuable in the long run, in the subtle relationships between the sexes.

Dr X and I (I decided I should probably not use his name, since my presence as his chauffeur is probably against a string of regulations and I would not want the man struck off simply because he is too exhausted to stand up to me) have forged a reasonable working relationship, in which he agrees to permit me to drive him about the countryside on his daily rounds, while I agree not to lay wait for him outside of his door at night. As a temporary solution, it is most workable, although eventually I shall have to take on the skills of night-time driving.

One of our trips this past week took us to Seaford, where he anticipated a longer than usual visit. As I prepared to settle in with my Latin, I noticed just down the road a small garage, so I set aside the text and moved the motor over to the establishment’s forecourt.

I have not reached the age of fifteen years without realising that men prefer not to take women seriously—even less, young women such as myself. There are two ways around this: one can either force matters, asserting one’s needs and abilities until the man reluctantly admits some degree of acknowledgment, or one can manipulate him. The first way is easier on a woman’s self-respect, but I have to admit, the second way is often faster and more productive.

In this case, my request—that the man in the greasy coveralls be hired to introduce me to the mysteries of the internal combustion engine—had the result I had anticipated: he laughed. Had his hands not been so filthy, I think he might have patted me on the head.

But instead of bridling and manoeuvring him into a corner, I did the unnatural (to me) and unexpected: I went soft, blinking my eyes at him (and contriving to seem shorter than I was) and admitting that it was silly, I knew, but until I knew just a couple of things, like changing tyres and what to do if the starter wouldn’t catch, the aged grandmother I lived with far at the end of a country lane would be vulnerable and might even have to move into town…

He relented, patently amused at the idea of a girl changing a tyre, much less cleaning the points of a carburetor, but since the forecourt was empty of other cars—and, perhaps more important, other men—he walked around to the bonnet and opened it to demonstrate the key architecture.

Two hours later, having passed from amusement through bemusement to astonishment, he had taught me all the main parts of the motor and what to do in any event short of a broken axle.

Dr X was most taken aback at my appearance, and my aunt filled with outrage, but I shall purchase my own set of coveralls and keep them in the motor, against my next exploration of the guts of the machine.

Mary Russell’s War Journal (thirty-three): Keeping one’s head down

 

16 March 1915

The juxtaposition of War with an attempt at maintaining the bastions of normal life is at times painful. For example, last Tuesday’s Times (which I did not receive until late on Wednesday) contained the following:

NEW PROFESSIONS FOR WOMEN.

That section of the field of labour hitherto regarded as the exclusive property of men is being rapidly invaded by women. These include: Medicine, railway clerical work, carriage cleaning, grocery, engineering, toy-making, architectural drawing, debt collecting, motor driving, banking, and accountancy

While nearby was printed excerpts of a diary from the Front:

AT NIGHT.

It was quiet when we were in the line. To the right there was the “devil driving in nails” with a machine-gun, and along the line the isolated reports of rifle fire—for firing at night keeps your own sentries awake and worries the enemy. The Germans are blazing away with pistol flare lights, the brilliant pallid flame of which hangs in the sky and then slowly nears the earth, throwing everything within its radius into sharp relief. Their searchlight flashes across every now and again, lighting up the low rain-laden clouds and playing like phenomenal summer lightning along our trench line. When we leave the trenches the night has grown black.   We plod heavily up the communication trench, which seems to thirst after our boots, bending low so as to avoid the prying finger of the searchlight.

*  *

Thomas—Lieutenant Saunders—is there in the midst of it, his letters giving a picture of truly appalling conditions: freezing mud, swarming lice, and the pervasive stink of unburied bodies. I encourage him to write me these distasteful details of life, since I am quite certain he cannot send them to his mother and I feel that it must only do a sufferer good to unload some small part of his burden onto a sympathetic friend. At the same time, I try not to read the lists from the Front, lest it remind me how many junior officers lose their lives in their first weeks of duty in the trenches. Thomas tells me that he has a sergeant of the classically grizzled type who has taken him under his gruff and no doubt malodorous wing, going so far as to deliver a slap to his head (assaulting an officer is a court martial charge) to knock it below the sandbags, lest the sniper’s crosshairs find a focus.

Would that Lieutenant Thomas Saunders learns his lessons well, and keeps his head well down in the future.

I have finally worn down the patience of the village doctor, who has come to accept my offer and agreed to teach me the basic skills of starter engine and gear lever. In fact, these lessons amounted to a demonstration of a) starting and b) how to change gears, after which he got out of the motor and left me to explore the machine’s workings on my own while he (having been up for 36 hours attending first a birth and then an emergency surgery) stumbled off to his bed.

I will admit that I was a bit concerned with the effects of my initial trials on the workings of the motorcar, but it would appear that the machine is designed to permit much grinding of gears and choking to a halt. By midday, I was able to drive to the outskirts of Eastbourne and back without killing the engine more than three or four times.

I then presented myself to the good doctor, and told him that I would be available at any time, day or night, and that he had only to telephone me or drive past and sound the horn. I assured him that it would be quite convenient for me to be given some hours of enforced reading in the car’s shelter while he attended to patients. I am not sure he was convinced (he did, to the contrary, look a bit stunned—perhaps he had merely forgot that he’d handed me his keys?) However, once I have taken up a position outside of his surgery for a few days, springing to his service whenever he makes in the direction of his motor, he will understand that Mary Russell is not to be put aside.

The next thing will be to find someone to teach me the basic workings of the engine itself, since I imagine that the ability to render basic repairs would be a necessity when driving ambulances on the Front.

Mary Russell’s War Journal (thirty-two):old sweaters and Paris veils

 

9 March 1915

This month’s instalment of The Valley of Fear reached me two days ago, although I have to admit, it has not done much to clarify the mystery around the story’s murder. I could see from the very first that any victim whose head was all but obliterated by a shot-gun is a victim whose identity the reader needs to question, and with this current episode, one is led to suspect that the man McMurdo, far from being the criminal and bounder he appears, has another purpose behind his presence in the Valley. In the hands of a truly clever writer, one might begin to suspect a double-bluff, however, I fear that Mr Conan Doyle is too straight-forward for that.

As for “Birlstone Manor”, Sussex has proven rich in candidates. Brief research through my mother’s collection of Sussexiana has given me a plethora of moated houses, an investigation of which will have to wait until the roads have dried enough to permit use of a bicycle. I was surprised at first, until I reflected on this part of England: as enemies from Norman French to the Kaiser’s Boche well know, the south coast is Britain’s open underbelly, and it would well behove any king to have a string of fortified allies between the south coast and London. War is not a new thing to this land.

As to the current horrors, The Times informs me that 12,369 re-dyed old sweaters have been sent to the Front, along with countless socks and other bits of knitwear, for the benefit of our clearly desperate soldiers. In the meantime, the Bishop of London has dedicated a motor coffee stall on its way to France, that he might promote temperance among the serving men: heaven forbid that men clothed in mud-soaked and ill-dyed jumble-sale rejects should be handed a mug of alcohol to warm their bones. Regular articles on “Daily Life in the Army” describe a continuous assault of artillery on the nerves, the diabolical cleverness of German snipers, and an omnipresent rattle of machine guns, while their wounded officers retreat to the luxury of Woburn Abbey and Blenheim Palace for their recuperation.

This may or may not have to do with the article concerning a “young woman of independent means” who lives in Bayswater, and was charged with assaulting a Captain home on sick leave with her umbrella, saying that she had been insulted by men like this.

In Paris, meanwhile, debate continues over the coming width of ladies’ skirts and the most flattering way to arrange one’s veil.

Mary Russell’s War (thirty-one): the moated house

 

2 March 1915

Today is the second day of March, and there has been no sign of the month’s Strand. February’s issue did not come until the third of the month, and the post seems only to be getting slower. Perhaps the magazine should forswear the serialisation of its pieces for the duration of War, in consideration for the frustration of its readers.

Similarly, I received two letters from Lieutenant Saunders on the same day, although they had been written a week apart. I found it difficult to decide whether I should read both at once, or whether I should wait a week for the second, so as to duplicate his chronology across the Channel. In the end, I compromised and waited but a day to read the second one—by which time a third had arrived.

I shall probably now receive nothing more from him for a month.

(I wonder if the post office could be to blame for my lack of correspondence from Dr Ginsberg? I know that she wrote to me every week, after I left California, although again they arrived in fits and starts. However, I have had nothing since one brief letter that was dated on my birthday, 2 January. That one I did answer—although I fear that she may have taken offence at my previous lack of a reply, since nothing has come since then. Three weeks ago, it occurred to me that that one of the ships sunk by the Germans could have held my piece of Royal mail, so I wrote again. Perhaps I will send a third one, just to be certain that one of them reaches San Francisco? After that, if there is no reply, I shall have to accept that ours was not the friendship I had thought, and that her affection for Mother, followed by her professional care of me after the accident, does not make a sufficient call on her time. She is, after all, a busy woman.)

That would not be the only ship to have gone down. Submarines prowl the waters off Beachy Head, and in the last week have sunk four or five steamers. It must be terrifying to look over the rails and see a periscope sticking up from the waters, followed by the track of a torpedo coming at the hull. One of the ships—the Thordis—claims to have made a run directly at the U-boat and damaged it, but either it sank or it limped off because it did not wash up on our shores.

Not that I would know. I have avoided the coast since my one time there, not wishing to see doomed ships or hear the sound of the guns. Instead, when the weather permits, I go northerly out of the Downs and into the Weald, where the trees shelter one from the distant rumbles. Last week the weather took a turn for the better, Thursday dawning surprisingly mild beneath a cloudless sky. I slid my book in one pocket and some bread and cheese in another, and before midday I reached the Michelham Priory.

I had come across mention of this ancient moated house, formerly monastic and now private, in one of Mother’s histories of Sussex. It reminded me of the moat that surrounds the house in Valley of Fear, and I took a fancy to see it.   As I drew near, I saw that the resemblance was thin, since the moat is some distance from the walls of the house, not directly below its windows as in the story. Nonetheless, the place looks intriguing, and perhaps another time I shall knock at the door.

Is it a sign of maturity that I noticed restoration on portions of the structure? Or the preoccupation that comes in being responsible for the fabric of a house?  I doubt that last summer I should have noticed such a thing.   My parents attended a Christmas party at Michelham one year, and I remember Father’s concern over the heavy hands of the restorers. Today, this seems a frivolous sort of worry, when a million men are at each other’s throats just over the horizon, but a person grasps what small piece of normality she can, in these days.

So, I agree with my father: I hope the Priory’s restoring hands are gentle.

*  *

Read about the Michelham Priory, here.  Previous entries of Mary Russell’s War diary are here.

Mary Russell’s War (thirty): to the service of the King

 

23 February 1915

Each day, the young son of the village postmistress comes cycling up the lane to bring us, among the various requests from cook and aunt, my day’s copy of The Times. My aunt seems to think this inappropriate reading material, given my sex and age, but it is the newspaper my parents used to read, and the font is familiar to me (although the quality of the paper itself seems to have slipped somewhat, under the pressures of Wartime shortages.)

It is, I admit, a more difficult means of following the world’s events than the San Francisco Chronicle used to be. That paper’s preference for the more sensational headlines made for a more entertaining experience, one being certain to find out about daring criminal exploits, smuggling, and the abduction of young girls than about the War dead and the dry decisions of Crown Courts.

Still, even the Times acknowledges the need for the softer interests among the hard edges of international affairs. The Queen, it seems, has been visiting her “Work for Women Fund” workrooms, a training college where unemployed girls are taught the skills of dressmaking, ironing, and kitchen. Only some of them, it seems, are deemed capable of learning the demanding skills of the clerk.

A schoolboy of 13 years has taken ten shillings of his choir money and set off for the Front, sleeping rough and carrying luggage for tips. When retrieved, he was disappointed to hear that he cannot enlist as a drummer boy for another year.

In the meantime, the King has been inspecting a collection of motor ambulances at the Palace. They, too, are on their way to the Front, under the auspices of the Red Cross. Posters urge enlistment, shops arrange goods on sparse shelves, there is talk of gathering scrap metal and iron fences to be melted down into armament. And half the population of Britain sits at home and feeds the children.

Why are women permitted the needle, even the type-writing machine, but not the rifle? Surely chivalry is a dangerous luxury when the enemy is a short distance of water away? Perhaps, in the end, some leeway may open up, that the “gentler sex” may be granted the right, if not to fire a rifle across no-man’s land, then at least to drive to the aid of wounded riflemen, perhaps in those very Red Cross ambulances?

My farm’s motorcar—my motorcar, strictly speaking—currently sits upon blocks of wood at the back of the stables. However, even if I were to take it down, fill the tyres, and get it running, I would only then come up against the shortages of gasoline. Why did I not insist that Father teach me to drive, once my feet would reach the controls? Still, there are motors occasionally to be seen in the village. One of them belongs to the local doctor, who is to be seen, pressed up against the windscreen with a worried look on his face. This has given me a plan: I shall invent an ailment, to get me in to see him, and tell him he needs a chauffeur. (Chauffeuse?)

The actual skills of driving will no doubt be quickly learned—Patrick will have to teach me, once confronted with the fait accomplis of my new position.  And when I am expert enough, I can put my name forward for the Front.

All sorts of men drive. How hard could it be?

*  *

Previous entries of Mary Russell’s War diary are here.

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