The Sign of the ‘400’ (223B Casebook series)

ad-Sherlock-Holmes-1904-safe-adToday’s entry is one of the more popular pastiches. “The Sign of the ‘400’ by R.K. Munkittrick appeared in the Oct. 24, 1894, issue of Puck magazine, where Munkittrick was the editor. It was republished in Ellery Queen’s “The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes” (1944) and “The Game is Afoot” anthology.

Here’s how Queen described the story:

“It was brought to your Editors attention by Mr. Christopher Morley, “Gasogene” of The Baker Street Irregulars and a charter-enthusiast in all matters Sherlockian. Printer’s copy was generously provided by Edgar W. Smith, Hon. “Buttons” of the same devotional organization}. “The Sign of the ‘400’ ” an exceptionally felicitous parody-trifle that belongs to the “Punch” school of burlesque. Like the Picklock Holes series by R. C. Lehmann and “The Adventure of the Table Foot” by Zero (Allan Ramsay}, it exploits the reductio ad absurdum technique, leaning heavily on mere farce and lacking the really clever plot framework which is so essential to classic permanence.

Richard Kendall Munkittrick (1853-1911) was a humorist and editor of Judge magazine (1901-1906). He was born in Manchester, England, but moved to Jamaica and then the U.S. He was editor of Puck from 1881-89. When the New York Times asked him to contribute some biographical notes, he replied with this:

“Descended from a race of clergymen and drunkards, I am a natural born lotus eater. Would rather loaf a week than work an hour. Left school at 15 and went into the dry goods business. Remained five years, and knew less of the mysteries of business than when I started. Then a position was secured for me on an East River steamboat. I once received a load of bran in a thundershower, and I showed my sympathy for the family of Gen. Rawlins by shipping his body to Connecticut for 50 cents — putting him through at the rate charged for a barrel of apples. Then I quit. Have been hammering a living out of writing since ’76.”

He was the author of “Some New Jersey Arabian Nights.”

The complete list of stories from the 223B casebook — parodies and pastiches published during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lifetime (plus later ones I liked) — can be found here.

The Sign of the ‘400’

For the nonce, Holmes was slighting his cocaine and was joyously jabbing himself with morphine — his favorite 70 per cent solution — when a knock came at the door; it was our landlady with a telegram. Holmes opened it and read it carelessly.

“H’m!” he said. “What do you think of this, Watson?”

I picked it up. “COME AT ONCE. WE NEED YOU. SEVENTY-TWO CHINCHBUGGE PLACE, S.W.,” I read.

“Why, it’s from Athelney Jones,” I remarked.

“Just so,” said Holmes, “call a cab.”

We were soon at the address given, 72 Chinchbugge Place being the town house of the Dowager Countess of Coldslaw. It was an old-fashioned mansion, somewhat weather-beaten. The old hat stuffed in the broken pane in the drawing room gave the place an air of unstudied artistic negligence, which we both remarked at the time.

Athelney Jones met us at the door. He wore a troubled expression. “Here’s a pretty go, gentlemen!” was his greeting. “A forcible entrance has been made to Lady Coldslaw’s boudoir, and the famous Coldslaw diamonds are stolen.”

Without a word Holmes drew out his pocket lens and examined the atmosphere. “The whole thing wears an air of mystery,” he said, quietly.

We then entered the house. Lady Coldslaw was completely prostrated and could not be seen. We went at once to the scene of the robbery. There was no sign of anything unusual in the boudoir, except that the windows and furniture had been smashed and the pictures had been removed from the walls. An attempt had been made by the thief to steal the wallpaper, also. However, he had not succeeded. It had rained the night before and muddy footprints led up to the escritoire from which the jewels had been taken. A heavy smell of stale cigar smoke hung over the room. Aside from these hardly noticeable details, the despoiler had left no trace of his presence.

In an instant Sherlock Holmes was down on his knees examining the footprints with a stethoscope. “H’m!” he said; “so you can make nothing out of this, Jones?”

“No, sir,” answered the detective; “but I hope to; there’s a big reward.”

“It’s all very simple, my good fellow,” said Holmes. “The robbery was committed at three o’clock this morning by a short, stout, middle-aged, hen-pecked man with a cast in his eye. His name is Smythe, and he lives at 239 Toff Terrace.”

Jones fairly gasped. “What! Major Smythe, one of the highest thought-of and richest men in the city?” he said.

“The same.”

In half an hour we were at Smythe’s bedside. Despite his protestations, he was pinioned and driven to prison.

“For heaven’s sake, Holmes,” said I, when we returned to our rooms, “how did you solve that problem so quickly?”

“Oh, it was easy, dead easy!” said he. “As soon as we entered the room, I noticed the cigar smoke. It was cigar smoke from a cigar that had been given a husband by his wife. I could tell that, for I have made a study of cigar smoke. Any other but a hen-pecked man throws such cigars away. Then I could tell by the footprints that the man had had appendicitis. Now, no one but members of the ‘400’ have that. Who then was hen-pecked in the ‘400,’ and had had appendicitis recently? Why, Major Smythe, of course! He is middle-aged, stout, and has a cast in his eye.”

I could not help but admire my companion’s reasoning, and told him so. “Well,” he said, “it is very simple if you know how.”

Thus ended the Coldslaw robbery, so far as we were concerned.

Of course, Jones got all the credit. I showed the newspaper accounts to Holmes. He only laughed, and said: “You see how it is, Watson, Scotland Yard, as usual, gets the glory.” As I perceived he was going to play “Sweet Marie” on his violin, I reached for the morphine, myself.

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Basic Home Security

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Suburban stockade introductionWhen it comes to military bases, nuclear power plants and other high-value targets, good security is tedious, expensive, intrusive, and requires constant vigilance. You have to be right all the time; terrorists have to be right only once.

Effective home security operates on the same principal. You have to safeguard your home 24/7 against that one time the drug abuser needing money for his next hit walks down the street, testing the doors.

Fortunately, there are a lot of simple things you can do, both active and passive, that will improve the security of yourself and your household. These suggestions are the easy ones to implement; other security measures are harder, take more time, and more money. I will discuss those in future posts. Which is to say, you can start keeping your doors locked right now but 6-foot-high thorn hedges take a long time to grow.

Basic Security

Before we begin, understand that if someone really, really wants into your house, they can do it. A sledgehammer will take out your picture window in a second. A fire axe to a door. Driving a car into the side of your house. A concrete block tossed through a patio slider. But for most of us, most of the time, that isn’t the concern. The concern is the casual burglar or home invader.

Burglars, like everyone else, prefer easier jobs to harder jobs. So, the first line of defense is to keep your doors locked! Even when you are at home during the day! Why do this? Because burglars have been known to go down the street, checking each door. A locked door means move along. An unlocked door says come on in. The same principal applies to cars parked in the street. Police routinely check out reports of someone walking down the street, testing the handles on car doors.

Good dog!

Good dog!

At Fortress Peschel, we never unlock the front door unless it is actually in use and then it gets relocked at once. We compromise on the back door for a few reasons. I have multiple family members coming and going at odd hours. I have a fenced-in backyard with a free-roaming dog. I live in a safe, low-crime area. I know my neighbors. My back door is not easily accessible from the street nor is it visible. I don’t advertise my possessions and I don’t try to look rich (easy to do: we aren’t). I don’t have a 60-inch flat-screen TV proudly displayed so it can be seen from the street through the front window. But when everyone is in for the night, the back door gets locked top to bottom as well.

In fact, you don’t see into my windows at all. During the day, it is much brighter outside than it is inside. That, combined with semi-sheer lace panels at all my windows, makes it pretty hard to see into my house. We do the window dance so window shades may be drawn to block out summer sun and heat. As soon as it gets dark, shades get pulled, quilts put up, and drapes are drawn. If I am cooling the house in the evening, then only the screens are exposed; all other glass is covered.

When I walk Muffy in the evening, I notice all the houses around me with their lights on and a clear view into their rooms where I can see the glow of giant TVs and computer monitors. Don’t do this for two reasons. First is security, of course. It isn’t that easy to see into someone’s windows during the day because of the light imbalance from bright sunlight to dim interiors. But at night, the opposite is true. It is really easy to see into a room; in fact, the light catches your eye! Secondly, if light is escaping, then so is heat. In warmer months, if you want to let out heat and let in coolness, keep the screens uncovered for free air passage. Block the rest of the glass and block the sun. In the winter, as soon as the sun goes down, put up and close all the layers of window treatments. Trap your heat, and keep out potential prying eyes.

All your doors should have working locks. Your door knob (get exterior ones for heaven’s sake) has a lock in the knob, but that isn’t enough. You also need a separate deadbolt. If you are reasonably handy, this is a do-it-yourself job or have the locksmith do it. Have all your locks rekeyed, especially if you are not the first owner. You have no way of knowing how many keys to your house are floating around, distributed over the years, to previous owners or tenants, relatives, friends, helpful neighbors, cleaning services, etc. If you are renting, save up the hundred dollars this might cost and have it done yourself. You may have to supply a key to your landlord but again, you’ll have more control over how many keys there are; i.e., one or two versus dozens.

We keyed our front and back doorknobs (exterior ones!) to match and our front and back deadbolts match. This was a compromise between convenience and security. This way, you need two keys to get through either door. Four separate keys might have been more secure, but that would also be a pain in the tucus to remember which key went where.

You may want to upgrade your door knobs. There are lots of styles, some made of heavier metal than others. Get exterior ones! They are different from interior knobs! We use the lever style as it is far easier to work when you are tired, carrying bags, or you are in a hurry to get inside. There are better quality knobs and poorer ones. Do a little research and get the best ones you can afford; this is your first line of defense.

Get deadbolt locks. These come in two styles: single key and double key. What that means is, do you have to use the key to operate the lock on both sides or just the exterior? A single-key deadbolt has a knob to open the lock on the inside of the door. A double has to have the key.

The double-key deadbolt is supposed to make the door more secure. Maybe. What I do know is that if your house is on fire and you have to get out in a hurry and you are dazed with shock and fatigue at being awakened at 4 a.m. by the alarm, you aren’t going to be handling keys very well. If you can find them. Some people keep the key on a hook by the door so they can unlock the double deadbolt. If you are going to do that, you might as well get the knob-opening single-key style.

The idea behind the double deadbolt is that the burglar will punch through the glass sidelight by the door (or the window in the door), reach in, and unlock the door from the inside. The way to forestall this is to install a chain bolt. Get the heaviest one. Do not put the chain bolt by the door knobs! Instead, install it at the top of the door or at the bottom of the door so it is as far away from the windows as you can get. It is unexpected and will slow down an intruder; maybe enough to alert your dog while you phone for the police. The intruder might even abandon the attempt rather than make more noise kicking the door down.

When you install the locks and strike plates, use better screws than what came with the lockset. Get the longest ones that will fit for the strike plate in particular: these screws are going into the door frame and then the house itself so you can go pretty long, three or four inches sometimes. You will need a power drill or power screwdriver for this (dabbing the screw with a bit of oil will help it into the wood). Even if you could manage a screw driver for the amount of time doing this would take manually, you will strip the head of the screw long before you finished the job.

When you are upgrading the screws on the strike plate, upgrade your hinges as well. Get the heaviest hinges and use screws three inches long or more. This will support the door better and make it harder for someone to kick it off the hinges and out of the door frame.

Look at your front door. Is it solid, heavy oak? All steel? Is there a peephole or a small, high window so you can see who is outside? If the answer is no, you need a better door. Glass front doors look lovely and let in tons of natural light. Anyone can get through one in seconds with a brick. Get the solid door and the beautiful, all-glass storm door (with it’s own lock of course). That way, you can still let in light during the day and have multiple layers of locked doors at night. A storm door will also help cut down air infiltration and protect your solid-oak door from the rain.

004While you are upgrading your doors, weather-strip them too. Install a really loud door knocker so you can hear it anywhere in the house. Door knockers don’t require electricity to work. If you don’t have a peephole, install one. As a final touch, install shopkeeper’s bells on the inside surface. When the door is opened, they make noise, potentially alerting you and your dog to someone coming in. If you want a DIY substitute for the shopkeepers bell, arrange a lot of large jingle bells on a hoop and hang that up. Put the bells on every exterior door, including back doors and French doors leading to your patio. Use stick on hooks to mount them to patio sliders.

Fortifying Windows (not your software)

Next up is windows. A window is, essentially, a hole in the wall of your house. Because they are glass, they are quite vulnerable to a rock being thrown through them. A burglar is unlikely to throw a brick through a window as it makes noise and might alert you or the neighbors. If, on the other hand, you proudly display your collection of hunting rifles, your big-screen TV with its game consoles, and your framed rare coins on the wall and this is easily visible at night from the street for everyone to see; well! You might as well invite burglars inside.

Walk around your house during the day. What can be seen when looking in from the street? Then do it at night when the lights are on inside and your purely ornamental window treatments don’t conceal your house contents. What do you see? This is what a burglar sees. The window dance tells you ( **** refer back to this one *** ) how to dress your windows for heating and cooling; it also works for security. If there is nothing to see, there is less reason to break in.

I highly recommend a layer of lacey, semi-sheer panels at each window. Use whatever pattern you like as they all work the same. They make it a little harder to see into the house during the day without blocking all the free sunshine and they add another layer of insulation at night. The thicker or heavier the pattern, the more light they block and the more they conceal. Choose what works best for your situation; more lightweight panels on a rod will equal out to fewer heavy panels as the added bulk of another panel compensates for the thinner fabric. Layers and layers of window treatments are also a little harder to struggle through than just a single set of vertical blinds.

Do your windows lock? I am most familiar with double hung windows but every style of window should have some kind of locking mechanism when it is closed. The lock serves two functions: making it harder to open from the outside when the window is closed and making sure the window is tightly closed against the elements. If your windows don’t have any kind of lock, you will have to research what you can do to fix this. Just like your doors, if your windows are not in use to air out the house, they should be kept locked. Make sure all family members know this and know how to operate the window lock in case of fire.

If you have old-fashioned wooden double hung windows, most hardware stores will carry replacement locks. Most hardware stores will also carry the special lock for a wooden double hung window that lets you open them at night to a few inches and no more. Get the heaviest brass ones you can afford. Mount these air venting locks so the window goes up about two or three inches from the sill. More than that is a judgment call as you get more cooling air but it is also easier to pry the window up from outside.

If you have new fangled double hung windows of vinyl or aluminum and the cheapie, fragile built-in air venting locks don’t work, got broken, don’t exist, or you don’t trust that flimsy tab of plastic, you will have to use 1/- inch oak dowels as a substitute. It isn’t elegant but it does work. Cut dowels to about three inches, one per window. Open the window, insert the dowel, then close the window onto the dowel. Next, measure the space between the top of the lower window and the top of the window opening. Cut the second dowel to just fit into this space. Working together, both dowels will keep the window from being opened from the outside with anything other than a brick. If your windows are quite large, you may want to use two sets per window, placed at each side. When you place the dowels, tuck them into the sides of the frame where the molding will conceal them and they can’t be seen from the street.

You should have screens on all your windows for airing out your house and you may have storm windows as well. If you have a choice, get screens that cover the entire window. Those screens that cover only half the window are easier to slide aside. A full screen is just a tiny bit harder because of its larger size. It also lets you vent the room better and screens out bugs a little better.

Storm windows get opened and closed with the rain and the seasons; fully closed against the winter night they do offer another layer to get through. They don’t do much for security on a summer night when the screens are open. If however, you are running an air-conditioner, make sure your storm windows are tightly closed. It is a bit more security AND you make a tighter seal to trap that expensively cooled air. When you close your storm windows do it right. The outer most pane of glass is at the top and over the lower, inner pane so the window sheds rainwater. If you reverse this, you chance rainwater leaking inside. This seems a minor point, but I routinely see incorrectly closed windows when I walk Muffy. Muffy and I also observe open storm windows in the dead of winter. They aren’t keeping in the heat and they aren’t giving another layer of security.

If you have to replace windows, ask about any security features and make sure your new ones come with locks and full size screens. Why have a hole in your wall if you can’t get the benefits of light and air and safety? I understand that there are films that you can adhere to the inside of the glass that will make your windows less breakable. They will probably let in a little less free sunlight, but then, so do sheers. If you live in a hurricane area, then storm shutters would be invaluable; their cost is sure to be less than that of rebuilding your house after the storm and they would be easier to use than storing, installing, and removing sheets of plywood. Their presence may also give you a discount on your home-owners insurance.

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A La Sherlock Holmes (223B Casebook)

By Charles Loomis

Although Holmes doesn’t appear in this story, his theory of the science of deduction does. Charles Loomis (1861-1911) was a New York humorist who wrote for Puck, Harper’s Century, Bookman and other magazines. He was a parodist who took on Henry James, early science-fiction and even Edgar Allen Poe.

The complete list of stories from the 223B casebook — parodies and pastiches published during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lifetime (plus later ones I liked) — can be found here.

capital-letterONES and I recently had occasion to take a drive of four or five miles in upper Connecticut. We were met at the station by Farmer Phelps, who soon had us snugly wrapped in robes and speeding over the frozen highway in a sleigh. It was bitter cold weather — the thermometer reading 30 above zero. We had come up from Philadelphia, and to us such extreme cold was a novelty, which is all we could say for it.

loomis-illoAs we rode along, Jones fell to talking about Conan Doyle’s detective stories, of which we were both great admirers—the more so as Doyle has declared Philadelphia to be the greatest American city. It turned out that Mr. Phelps was familiar with the “‘Meemoirs’ of Sherlock Holmes,” and he thought there was some “pretty slick reasonin’” in it. “My girl,” said he, “got the book out er the library an’ read it aout laoud to my woman an’ me. But of course this Doyle had it all cut an’ dried afore he writ it. He worked backwards an’ kivered up his tracks, an’ then started afresh, an’ it seems more wonderful to the reader than it reely is.”

“I don’t know,” said Jones; “I’ve done a little in the observation line since I began to read him, and it ’s astonishing how much a man can learn from inanimate objects, if he uses his eyes and his brain to good purpose. I rarely make a mistake.”

Just then we drove past an outbuilding. The door of it was shut. In front of it, in a straight row and equidistant from each other, lay seven cakes of ice, thawed out of a water-pan.

“There,” said Jones; “what do we gather from those seven cakes of ice and that closed door?”

I gave it up.

Mr. Phelps said nothing.

Jones waited impressively a moment, and then said quite glibly: “The man who lives there keeps a flock of twelve hens—not Leghorns, but probably Plymouth Rocks or some Asiatic variety. He attends to them himself, and has good success with them, although this is the seventh day of extremely cold weather.”

I gazed at him in admiration.

Mr. Phelps said nothing.

“How do you make it all out, Jones?” said I.

“Well, those cakes of ice were evidently formed in a hens’ drinking-pan. They are solid. The water froze a little all day long, and froze solid in the night. It was thawed out in the morning and left lying there, and the pan was refilled. There are seven cakes of ice; therefore there has been a week of very cold weather. They are side by side: from this we gather that it was a methodical man who attended to them; evidently no hireling, but the good man himself. Methodical in little things, methodical in greater ones; and method spells success with hens. The thickness of the ice also proves that comparatively little water was drunk; consequently he keeps a small flock. Twelve is the model number among advanced poultrymen, and he is evidently one. Then, the clearness of the ice shows that the hens are not excitable Leghorns, but fowl of a more sluggish kind, although whether Plymouth Rocks or Brahmas or Langshans, I can’t say.

Leghorns are so wild that they are apt to stampede through the water and roil it. The closed door shows he has the good sense to keep them shut up in cold weather.

“To sum up, then, this wide-awake poultryman has had wonderful success, in spite of a week of exceptionally cold weather, from his flock of a dozen hens of some large breed. How’s that, Mr. Phelps? Isn’t it almost equal to Doyle?”

“Yes; but not accordin’ to Hoyle, ez ye might say,” said he. “Your reasonin’ is good, but it ain’t quite borne aout by the fac’s. In the fust place, this is the fust reel cold day we’ve hed this winter. Secon’ly, they ain’t no boss to the place, fer she’s a woman. Thirdly, my haouse is the nex’ one to this, an’ my boy an’ hers hez be’n makin’ those ice-cakes fer fun in some old cream-pans. Don’t take long to freeze solid in this weather. An’, las’ly, it ain’t a hen-haouse, but an ice-haouse.”

The sun rode with unusual quietness through the heavens. We heard no song of bird. The winds were whist. All nature was silent.

So was Jones.

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That Pesky Time Management

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For some reason, last week’s update didn’t post when it should, so this is an extra-long edition of the Suburban Stockade!

Time management is a difficult subject. Like everyone else, I have too much to do and too little time to do it in. The moment I’m writing this, I could be working on my fiction (the adventures of Dez and Jaxim), writing one of 15 topics for Fortress Peschel, sewing fabric tote bags for the upcoming Winter Craft Fair (Nov. 1, 2014, at Hershey High School, if you’re interested in attending), sewing any one of the hundred other projects begging for my attention, particularly the beautiful velvet coat a la Koos van den Akker, the mountain of boring and mundane but useful mending, weeding the yard so it looks like a planned natural garden and not an unkempt, neglected wilderness, researching storm water management so I can answer questions about it at the program I am arranging, doing more cooking from scratch and less peanut butter sandwiches and canned soup for dinner, learning better food preservation of the garden harvest, maintaining close ties with family, friends, and neighbors, walking Muffy . . . the list is endless. And I don’t work outside my home!

Everybody gets twenty four hours a day. You never get less, but you never get more, either.

Everybody gets twenty four hours a day. You never get less, but you never get more, either.

Subtract 10 hours a day for sleep, eating, and basic hygiene and you are down to 14 hours a day. If you work outside your home, hopefully at a job you like rather than one you hate, subtract out the time spent at the job, including commuting back and forth and time for meals. That is, if you work an eight-hour day with a one-hour meal break and your commute is one half-hour each way, subtract out ten more hours a day (8 + 1 + 1/2 + 1/2). You have four hours a day left with which to maintain close family ties, cook slow food like Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman recommend (do they really do this on a daily basis? I doubt it), exercise, garden, learn new skills, sew your own clothes, train your dog, be active and involved with your children’s school, participate in the neighborhood watch, be politically active, run some of your church groups, etc, etc, etc.

It is exhausting, overwhelming, and never ending. The only possible cure is to say no all the time and delegate whenever you can. We watch very little television (we don’t want to be educated into being dissatisfied with everything we have), I go on-line about twice a week to catch up with what is most important to me, I don’t do any social media, I don’t go to movies, I don’t go shopping; in fact, I don’t do a whole host of activities. I can’t do any of these things and still come anywhere close to doing what I think is most important for me to do.

I don’t think anyone can do all the things they want to and should do. You have to say no. If you say yes, yes, yes, you end up not sleeping enough (which eventually makes you unhealthy, overweight, psychotic and suicidal; this is certainly how it works for me) and doing all the things you want to do in a half-assed, lick-and-a-promise way.

To accomplish what you say you want to accomplish, you have to set goals. Then, look at the activity you want to do (or someone tells you what you should do). Will it help you reach your goal? Yes? Then it needs to be done. If the answer is no, then you better ask yourself why you are doing it.

No matter what you tell yourself, your actions are saying differently.

No matter what you tell yourself, your actions are saying differently.

If your goal is to be financially independent, out of debt and owning your own home, then shopping for recreation — no matter how you do it, the thrift shop, the mall, online — has to come off of the to-do list. If you leave it on the list, then you are saying that you don’t really want to be financially independent. No matter what you tell yourself, your actions are saying differently. Time spent in recreational shopping is time not spent cooking from scratch, which will save you money. This becomes rather circular.

Want to improve your job skills? Then take classes, ask for help from people you want to emulate, find out from the boss what work is waiting to be done. Study, pay attention, focus. Learn how to do better at whatever you are working on. Drifting along aimlessly says you don’t want to do any better. Your actions demonstrate what you really want. Time spent surfing isn’t time spent working. The work still waits for you, building up, while you waste that time on things that don’t make you a better employee.

If your goal is to be an artist, then you had better be drawing or painting. All the time. That’s what artists do. If you are busy watching other people’s creativity on YouTube, or reading pirated manga online, then you aren’t serious about your own art. Hanging with your friends does not equal time in the ceramics studio working on your technique at the potter’s wheel.

Want to be a musician? Driving around in cars with boys does not equal skill at the piano or violin. Hours and hours of focused practice will get you to the stage. Music and art are both hard ways to make a living. You will need talent, drive, and ambition to compete with all the other artists and musicians out there. If they all work harder than you do and are more focused on their goals then you are, then guess who gets the prize? It won’t be you.

II. Learn to Want What You Want

That was the easy part. Don’t do the things that keep you from achieving your goals. The harder part is deciding which of the things that you need to do to achieve your goals can be done in the little time you have allotted. It helps me to write things down in a daily log. My logbook reminds me to do things, it provides me a written record of what I have actually done, and it helps me keep focused. I use it to keep the family focused on their jobs so they get their stuff done. I get, as you can imagine, a lot of resistance on their parts to this approach. Nonetheless, I persevere as my kids would do even less if I let them. My family (including the pets) are a part of my time management problem as I use some of my time to keep them efficient, focused and on the job.

Having a clear idea of my goals on a daily, weekly, monthly, lifely basis helps me to prioritize. Removing aimless behaviors and time-sinks gives me a little more time to get things done. It does not give me anywhere near enough time to accomplish what I want to do.

I like to cook. Cooking from scratch is better for our health, better for our pocketbook, better for the planet, and better for our emotional well-being. But if I am going to write Fortress Peschel plus the fiction I want to write (which may actually make some money) and edit all of Bill’s writing, then I can’t spend several hours a day cooking. I am a very skillful cook, able to walk into a kitchen cold and produce a meal for four in an hour or two. It is hard to chop that time shorter without eating out of cans or from the freezer case. You find yourself eating a lot of eggs, toast, and raw vegetable trays. The alternative is to set up stews in the crock pot at dawn. So I cut back on the finer cooking. The time I spend writing is more important to me, now, than the time cooking. That may change.

The wedding quilt. You won't believe how long it takes to sew a cat in place.

The wedding quilt. You won’t believe how long it takes to sew a cat in place.

I like to sew. I do all the household mending and repair and I do mending and repair for pin-money. I make quilts; the most recent being a wedding quilt for Stan and Michael. I got it done in time for their first wedding anniversary. It will be a long time before I get to make another one. I have wonderful ideas but I don’t have the time to execute them.

The other wonderful idea is to make insulated fabric bags lined with ironing board material. This is an updated haybox in that you bring your homemade soup (which you got up at dawn to make) to a boil, then put it into the heavily insulated bag so it can cook slowly with residual heat all day. At dinner time, the soup is ready, without heating up the kitchen (good in summer!) or spending precious dollars on cooking fuel. Boy does that meet some of my goals. And, it won’t cost me anything to make as I have a salvaged metallic ironing board cover, wool batting, and a lifetime supply of the fashion fabric. All it would cost me is time. Time I can’t spare now, even though this bag will, eventually, save me money and time babysitting soup or stew.

The big sewing project now is making fabric tote bags for the upcoming Winter Arts and Crafts Festival on 1NOV2014 at Hershey High School. Bill and I will be selling his books and my tote bags. I make these from heavy fabrics like upholsteries and they are sized to hold groceries. Each bag takes fifteen steps starting with cutting the fashion fabric into as many bags as I can squeeze out of the yardage. The original plan was to sew a set of bags, then work on another sewing project such as the wonderful velvet coat ala Koos van den Akker, then tote bags, then a lined jacket, then tote bags, then the mending mountain, tote bags, the haybox-insulated bag. That plan went by the wayside as I just couldn’t make up more time. Now it is all tote bags and writing. My velvet coat (a 1950s’ vintage swing coat with funnel neck) will have to wait. So will the jackets, the mending, the stylish tops, the insulated cooking bag. I can’t do it.

The garden has largely gone by the wayside. Younger son has taken over a lot of the vegetable portion but he doesn’t have the knowledge or skill set yet for the ornamental portions. Because the yard is very naturalistic and heavily planted, you have to know that the plant you are pulling is a weed and not Virginia Bluebells. You don’t want to guess and be wrong (which did happen). Weeding is very Zen for me and I like doing it. I can’t do it now as the writing and sewing have taken over.

Some activities are seasonal. Eventually, winter will come, and we won’t be doing much weeding. There may be snow shoveling, but older and younger son will be doing that. Sewing and writing can be done anytime of the year. Other seasonal jobs are painting doors and kitchen cabinets. Those are best done in spring or fall so you can paint outside without weather issues. Laying the patio is a spring or summer job. Insulating the attic is a fall, winter, spring job. You don’t want to be up there in July when the temperature is 125 degrees. Insulating all your pipes should be done right now so they are less likely to freeze this winter. Made those insulated quilts and drapes for all the windows yet? That can be done anytime but you really need them ready for the winter. Cooking, of some sort, has to be done year round as everyone has to eat. So does laundry and basic housekeeping. Laundry and cooking and housekeeping have to be done on a daily basis as if you don’t, you end up with mountains of work. Unless you can afford a housekeeper or you like living in a sty, this is work that can’t be put off for very long.

How do you choose? What is the most important thing to do? Good habits help some. I don’t shop for recreation so I don’t spend money I don’t have so I am better able to reach our family goal of financial independence. I do make time to exercise almost every day as better health and fitness means I sleep better. When I sleep better, I function much better and I am not psychotic and suicidally depressed. I say no. I say no. I say no.

I say no. That can be so hard. So many books to read, movies to see. I have seen almost nothing of all the great must-see TV out there. I don’t have time. I see the supermarket magazines and I don’t know who most of the celebrities are. It is hard to let go. I know that I’m totally out of touch with the culture. But keeping up with the Kardashians will not help me reach my goals. It is kind of horrifying to me that, even though I have never seen their TV show(s), I know who they are from seeing them on the magazine covers at the supermarket! My precious brain space being spent on Kardashians instead of hundreds of more worthwhile things.

What are your goals? Do your activities help you reach your goals or do they just get in the way? Only you know. Only you can decide what to say no to. And your nos will change. Time management is so difficult. I would like to say that practice makes it easier, but I don’t know about that either. I look around at everything I am not doing and wonder what am I missing? What is going to jump up and bite me, saying “you didn’t do me and now you’ll pay! Bwah hah hah hah.” Arrgg.

I won’t lie. It is always and will always be a challenge. Establish your goals, try to instill better habits, compare what you are doing to what you say you want to accomplish. Say no, adapt, say no again. Stay out of step with the tidal wave of media, stuff, everything, trying to come in your front door on a minute by minute basis. Reassure yourself that you are doing what you have to do, to meet your goals. Say no some more. Unless you can get someone else to do it, this is what time management is.

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Twerking with Sherlock

While posting today’s Sherlock Holmes parody, I went searching through Google Images for the appropriate art to accompany the story. Since the story was about the widow of Holmes, I naturally searched for “female Sherlock Holmes.”

I approve of this example, from GalleryHip.

I approve of this example, from GalleryHip.

There weren’t nearly as many inappropriate images as I anticipated. There were the expected ones showing Miss Irene Adler in the altogether from the “Sherlock” series. Some Halloween costumes. (Although now, as I’m searching again to write this post, I’m coming across more. There’s one of Paris Hilton in a bodice, accompanying an old, discredited story about her possibly being offered a role in a SH movie.)

But I did come across a publicity still from the Robert Downey movies that amused me. Such shoots are carefully controlled and focused on selling the fantasy, so it makes me happy to see Sherlock and Irene adopting postures never conceived by Sidney Paget.

"Even white boys got to shout. Baby got back!"

“Baby Got Back didn’t start with Sir Mix-a-Lot.”

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The Identity of Miss Angela Vespers

Today’s 1894 story from the 223B Casebook is unusual by creating a sort of female Sherlock Holmes. It was one of two that appeared in The Student, a journal for university extension students published at the home of Durham University in Newcastle-on-Tyne, England, It stars the widow of “Herlock Shomes,” taking up her husband’s business after his death.

female sherlock holmes

How not to create a female Sherlock Holmes.

There were few women writing in the detective field at the time, and even fewer women acting as detectives. Those that were acted like Holmes, as “consulting detectives,” because women weren’t allowed on police forces. It’s surprising, then, that the first American crime novel was written by a woman: “The Dead Letter” (1864), by Metta Victor writing as Seeley Register.

While we don’t know if “Ka,” the author of these stories, but the presence of Mrs. Shomes adds weight to the argument.

As this story opens, Mrs. Shomes had just succeeded in solving her first case, recounted as “The Adventure of the Tomato on the Wall.”

The complete list of stories from the 223B casebook — parodies and pastiches published during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lifetime (plus later ones I liked) — can be found here.

“I wonder who will be our next visitor,” said Mrs Herlock Shomes. She was in good spirits that afternoon, and had assured me several times that our discovery about the tomato, though galling to the landlord, was quite a feather in our caps.

“We were not at all to blame, my dear,” said she, leaning back in her chair and putting her finger-tips together in a judicial manner, “except in underestimating the extreme waywardness of Human Nature. Man is perpetually full of surprises; it is that which makes him so interesting. Once let us thoroughly understand a man; and no matter how much we may admire him, the element of curiosity is lacking, and we are bored.”

“Julia,” I said, “you talk like a philosopher.”

“Who would not,” she replied, “who had been the wife of such a man as Herlock? Life with him was as interesting and as full of the most delightful unexpectedness as a sixpenny raffle. Just fancy sitting waiting for him to come into tea, and never knowing whether a visitor was he or not till he’d been in the house half an hour! I’ve several times rushed to welcome a man and kissed him, thinking it was Herlock, only to discover afterwards that the creature had committed some terrible crime.

“The life you have led together must have been most interesting,” said I, sighing, and wishing that Mr Wiggins, though a kind husband, had not been so commonplace. In considering the late Mr Shomes one felt that, as a spouse, Darby himself would have been unsupportable. Why, oh why, should the latter have been “always the same!”

“Oh, very interesting indeed,” said Mrs Shomes, shaking her head pensively; “sometimes a Rough, sometimes a Costermonger, and sometimes a Gentleman! There is not a charm peculiar to any station of life I did not occasionally find in Herlock. And now they are all gone — all.”

I thought of Macduff’s touching “What! all my pretty ones?” and sighed. Julia was certainly unfortunate in having lost such a man. But after all, was it not better to have had a Herlock Shomes and lost him, than never — “How you must miss them,” I said, suddenly recollecting my duty to Mr Wiggins, “him, I mean.”

“I do indeed,” said Mrs Herlock Shomes, “I don’t know which of him I miss the most! And never do I miss him more, Lucilla, than in trying to solve the questions brought before us. I seem to feel more and more at every turn the need of his almost supernatural powers of observation.

“Is there no kind of rule that one could go by in solving these mysteries?” I asked, munching a biscuit. We had decided that it would not be professional to have afternoon tea, and I felt famished.

Mrs Herlock Shomes reflected profoundly, and then said: “It seems to me that in trying to clear up a Mystery one can count upon one thing only, and that is, that what at first appears to be the most improbable solution will prove to be the true one.” She paced up and down the room as she spoke, occasionally pausing to look out of the window in the street below.

“Aha! here is someone at last,” she cried, as a thin young man wearing spectacles came round the corner. He looked up at the numbers on the doors in a short-sighted manner, and after minutely examining our nameplate, rang the bell.

“Have I the honour to address Mrs Herlock Shomes?” he asked, bowing most respectfully as I opened the door to him.

“You have not,” said I, judging it best to keep my own name of Wiggins in the background; “Mrs Shomes is upstairs, considering her cases, but might spare you a few minutes, I daresay.”

“I should be greatly obliged,” he said, bowing again, “Mrs Shomes’ success in connection with the famous ‘Tomato on the Wall’ is not unknown to me.”

I ushered him in, and Julia, after gracefully bending her head, eyed him over with the most minute and yet abstracted attention of which she was capable. “Why should you have on your elder brother’s clothes?” she asked, letting her eyelids droop over her eyes, and looking at him in rather an ill-used way. The young man started violently, and examined his clothes with misgiving. “They — they are my own, I think,” he said, looking up at her again; “but I had an elder brother who was lost in infancy. It is most remarkable that you should know anything about him.”

Mrs Shomes did not reply. She took a ruby-tipped pencil from her pocket, scribbled the following words and handed them to me.” In mercy aid me, Lucilla, and suggest, if you can, why the suit he has on is so big for him.”

Of course I made up my mind to do the best I could, but oh, for Herlock! “I should like to know, sir,” I said, looking at him with all the intelligent abstraction which I could muster, “why within the last six months you have taken to wearing corsets?”

“‘Corsets’ madam!” repeated the young man, glancing from one of us to the other, with an expression of curiosity tempered with respect; “I-I’ve seen the name in tradesmen’s bills but I’m not quite sure that I can define the term. Pray explain yourselves, ladies.”

“It is no matter, cried Mrs Herlock Shomes — rather too hastily, as it seemed to me, for he might have known the corset by some other name — “It was just a little idea of my friend’s, that is all. And now, sir, may I ask you to proceed with your story. “

The young man sighed pensively, groaned once or twice, and then began: “About seven months ago,” said he, addressing himself to my friend with an air of the most touching confidence, “I had occasion to change my lodgings. My new rooms were comfortable and the cooking good. Do I make myself clear?”

“Entirely so,” said Mrs Herlock Shomes, folding her hands in her lap. “Your statement is remarkably lucid.”

“My landlady was elderly and very plain,” went on the young man in a melancholy tone, “she was also not a little mysterious. Even when she personally opened the door to the tax-collector she would sometimes insist that she was ‘not at home’ and when she went out with her husband, which she did every evening, she always put on a very thick veil. I had only been in the house three days when the servant handed me a playbill. It exhibited the portrait of a lady of remarkable beauty, stated that she was the sensational skirt-dancer, ‘Miss Angelica Vespers,’ and described in glowing terms a performance in which she had appeared the night before, and which she was to repeat that evening. Madam, I went to that performance, and was at once bewitched by the beauty and agility of the fair Angelica. Attired in a filmy cloud of lace, and seeming rather to hover in the air than dance upon the ground, she appeared to me divinely beautiful, and not above eighteen or nineteen years of age. ‘She is my affinity!’ exclaimed my heart, enraptured at her charms; ‘she shall become my wife,’ said I before Angelica had done more than poise herself, and gaily pirouette upon one toe. In all she did I seemed to follow her with my heart as well as my eyes; and when, after lightly vaulting in the air, she leant suddenly back and. three times touched the stage with the crown of her lovely head, a mist floated before my eyes, my breath came in one gasp of admiration, and I vowed that she and none but she, must sit at the head of my table.

“From this time forth I haunted the hall in the hope of seeing Angelica. I sent her bouquets, bracelets, notes, occasionally receiving a few scribbled lines in reply which set my heart aflame. In these messages she stated that she admired my presents and personal appearance; but was averse to matrimony, intended to dance till she was ninety, and could not bring herself to grant an interview. At this treatment, my excitement became intense. I tried to bribe first one attendant and then another to make them divulge by what secret exit Angelica left the hall; but without success. They informed me that my landlord and landlady were the proprietors of the place, that the two scene-shifters who slept upon the premises were their sons, and that none but these four persons were ever permitted to speak to the dancer.

“What was the appearance of the two scene-shifters?” asked Mrs Herlock Shomes. “Did you ever see them?”

“Frequently,” replied the young man; “they were dwarfs, and squinted horribly. They were not above three feet high.”

“It never occurred to you that either of them resembled Angelica?”

“It did not.”

“Pray continue,” said Mrs Herlock Shomes, noting down these particulars, “you interest me extremely.”

“During the next six months I not only spent every penny I could afford on presents for Angelica, but in order to make these as handsome as possible I began to restrict myself as to diet, coming down latterly to two meals a day.”

“Ah!” said Mrs Shomes, looking thoughtfully at his suit of clothes, “I see it all now.”

That's better.

That’s better.

“Madam,” cried the young man, “your words fill me with the utmost confidence in your powers! — but I will resume. The waywardness of the fair dancer, her beauty, and the mystery that surrounded her, were driving me frantic, and I went to the hall one evening determined to bring matters to a crisis. The dance which she performed on that occasion was called ‘The Devil’s Horns.’ In it she wore a whirling robe of black and shimmering gauze, which set off her dazzling fairness to perfection. Never shall I forget her as she then appeared with her long robes coiling round and round her lovely form, enveloping her snowy arms, and rising at last to a great height on either side like two demoniac horns. Faster and faster played the music, higher and higher danced Angelica. A weird red light was suddenly flashed upon her from the side. The audience cheered; but as she danced on their faces began to blanch, and sinister whispers of ‘witch’ and ‘demon’ could be heard among them. Just as she gave her final pirouette and was about to leave the stage, she turned in my direction and blew a kiss into the auditorium. This was too much for my excited nerves. With one bound I leapt upon the stage; but was immediately followed and held back by several members of the Orchestra. ‘Let me see her!’ I panted, ‘where does she go? I insist on following her!’ There was a shriek, a slamming of a door, and all was still. Then a great hubbub arose amongst the audience, the curtain fell, and I was taken by two of the attendants and thrust into the street.

“Well?” said Mrs Herlock Shomes, as the young man looked at her and paused, “well?”

“From that day to this,” he said impressively, “Angelica Vespers has disappeared! Her name is no longer on the bills, other performers are on the stage, and all my enquiries after her have met with no response.”

“Have you asked your landlord and landlady about her?”

“Oh, repeatedly; but they profess to be as much in the dark as I am.”

“Do you happen to have a specimen of your landlady’s handwriting here?” The young man produced a bill for a week’s board and lodging. “Thank you,” said Mrs Herlock Shomes, “and now give me one of Angelica’s letters.” She carefully compared the documents, and put them into her pocket. “Have you anything more to tell me?” said she.

“There is only one fact more, madam, but it is a most important one. I have twice seen my landlady wearing a bracelet which I could swear was one of those I gave Angelica.”

“Ha!” said Mrs Herlock Shomes, “what sort of woman is this landlady of yours to look at?”

“Very ugly; she is slim and active, but has grey hair, small eyes, a nose to one side, and a complexion of walnut shells.”

“That will do,” said Julia, affably; “I quite see the whole thing.”

“Eh!” cried the visitor, falling back a few steps, “you can find Angelica?”

“I can put my finger upon her at any moment,” said Mrs Herlock Shomes firmly. The young man bowed with an air of stupefaction and took his leave.

“I begin to be afraid of you, Julia,” I said, when he was gone. “Where do you think she is? What are you going to do?”

For an answer she went to the bathroom tap and filling a bottle with water placed it upon the table. Then she went to the cupboard, and got out a piece of coarse flannel and a large lump of washing soda. As I looked at these preparations I felt in a state of utter collapse. My hands fell limply by my sides, and I emitted a low gurgle of amazement.

With an unpretending leather bag in our possession we went to the somewhat shabby hall that night and asked to see the proprietress, Mrs Delaware, on important business. We were taken to a small room where we found her renovating the theatrical wardrobe; and no sooner were we alone with her than Julia pounced upon the key of the door, turned it, and put it into her pocket.

“So you have locked the door have you?” said the lady, pausing in her work. “You seem to be rather an extraordinary person. Why have you come here?”

“I have come, madam,” said Mrs Herlock Shomes, with perfect calmness, “to wash your face.

Mrs Delaware sat and stared at us both for several minutes. “To wash my face,” she repeated musingly, “are you a professional face-washer then?”

“I am not; but I’ve every intention of removing that mask of yours,” said Mrs Herlock Shomes, getting out the flannel.

“M-mask!” murmured Mrs Delaware.

“Yes,” said Julia firmly. “What looks like your face you know. Don’t imagine we are deceived. That hideous mask is merely a cosmetical preparation warranted to ensure all sorts of charms beneath. Your secret, Angelica, is discovered!”

Almost before my friend had finished speaking, the lady went off into violent hysterics, and I had much ado to bring her round. “There, she is better now,” said Julia. “You hold her and I will try her face with this.

She had been vigorously rubbing the flannel on the soda, and no sooner did Mrs Delaware hear the words than she sprang from her chair at a single bound and positively screamed for mercy. “Anything but that,” she cried, clasping her hands in supplication. “You terrible person, I am as wax in your hands. Anything but that awful — awful soda!”

“Well then,” said Julia, seizing her opportunity, “Are you, or are you not, the lost Miss Angelica Vespers?”

“I Miss Vespers?’ returned the lady much amazed. “I the lovely Angelica? Certainly not.” She seemed to be still much agitated; and at a sign from me Julia put down the flannel.

“Then what have you done with her?” asked my friend. “Your writing is identical with hers, which should not be. Produce her at once, or I arrest you upon the spot for forgery.”

“But Angelica had no education,” cried Mrs Delaware, “I had to write her letters.”

“No matter,” said Julia, unabashed, “Produce her at once, or I arrest you for stealing her bracelets, one of which you have on.”

“I never knew anyone like you!” said Mrs Delaware, looking from the bracelet to the face of my friend in uncontrollable agitation. “And must we suffer?” she went on, “and must our little ruse by which we hoped to gain a fortune be exposed to all the world?”

“Ha!” said my friend, looking at me in triumph; “It need not be, if you will produce the lady.”

“And will you not arrest me if I produce her?” cried the other.

“Not if she does not accuse you in any way. It all depends on how you’ve treated her.”

With this Mrs Delaware appeared to be content. “I can and will produce her, quite unharmed,” she said. Thereupon she unlocked a large press which stood in the room, and emerged from it bearing in her arms the apparently lifeless figure of a dancing girl. The face and arms were exquisitely moulded, the hair fell in a shower of golden ringlets to the waist, and the whole form was enveloped in black-bespangled gauze.

“Angelica is a perfect triumph of mechanism,” said the lady, taking one of the girl’s hands in her own, and turning the fingers about in all directions. “She can vault three feet higher than any living lady on the stage, and has danced us out of bankruptcy over and over again. No one ever suspected us,” she went on, carefully dusting the face of the figure of a dancing girl with her pocket handkerchief; “but her accomplishments are of the kind that take with men, and they were constantly pining away on her account. Three noblemen and two poets have committed suicide because of her; and as my own lodger was becoming skin-and-bone, and had begun to make things most unpleasant, we did not like the idea of an inquest at our house, and we’ve agreed to sell her.”

“Then she’s neither more nor less than a marionette!” cried I.

“And there’s our second Mystery cleared up,” said Mrs Herlock Shornes.

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The Adventure of the Two Collaborators

A failed attempt to follow in the footsteps of Gilbert and Sullivan lies behind this J.M. Barrie Sherlock parody.

Barrie Sherlock parody

Conan Doyle and Barrie

“Sir James Barrie paid his respects to Sherlock Holmes in a rollicking parody,” Doyle wrote in his “Memoirs and Adventures. “It was really a gay gesture of resignation over the failure which we had encountered with a comic opera for which he undertook to write the libretto. I collaborated with him on this, but in spite of our joint efforts, the piece fell fiat. Whereupon Barrie sent me a parody on Holmes, written on the flyleaves of one of his books.” The book, by the way, was “A Window in Thrums.”

The comic opera in question is “Jane Annie, or The Good Conduct Prize,” for which Doyle and Barrie wrote the book and Ernest Ford the music. Although it ran for seven weeks at D’Oyly Carte’s Savoy Theatre, it was considered a failure. But because it inspired this delicious parody, in which the authors appeared, it was worth it to Sherlock fans.

The complete list of stories from the 223B casebook — parodies and pastiches published during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lifetime (plus later ones I liked) — can be found here.

In bringing to a close the adventures of my friend Sherlock Holmes I am perforce reminded that he never, save on the occasion which, as you will now hear, brought his singular career to an end, consented to act in any mystery which was concerned with persons who made a livelihood by their pen. “I am not particular about the people I mix among for business purposes,” he would say, “but at literary characters I draw the line.”

We were in our rooms in Baker Street one evening. I was (I remember) by the centre table writing out “The Adventure of the Man without a Cork Leg” (which had so puzzled the Royal Society and all the other scientific bodies of Europe), and Holmes was amusing himself with a little revolver practice. It was his custom of a summer evening to fire round my head, just shaving my face, until he had made a photograph of me on the opposite wall, and it is a slight proof of his skill that many of these portraits in pistol shots are considered admirable likenesses.

I happened to look out of the window, and perceiving two gentlemen advancing rapidly along Baker Street asked him who they were. He immediately lit his pipe, and, twisting himself on a chair into the figure 8, replied:

“They are two collaborators in comic opera, and their play has not been a triumph.”

I sprang from my chair to the ceiling in amazement, and he then explained:

“My dear Watson, they are obviously men who follow some low calling. That much even you should be able to read in their faces. Those little pieces of blue paper which they fling angrily from them are Durrant’s Press Notices. Of these they have obviously hundreds about their person (see how their pockets bulge). They would not dance on them if they were pleasant reading.”

I again sprang to the ceiling (which is much dented), and shouted: “Amazing! But they may be mere authors.”

“No,” said Holmes, “for mere authors only get one press notice a week. Only criminals, dramatists and actors get them by the hundred.”

“Then they may be actors.”

“No, actors would come in a carriage.

“Can you tell me anything else about them?”

“A great deal. From the mud on the boots of the tall one I perceive that he comes from South Norwood. The other is as obviously a Scotch author.”

“How can you tell that?”

“He is carrying in his pocket a book called (I clearly see) Auld Licht Something. Would anyone but the author be likely to carry about a book with such a title?”

I had to confess that this was improbable.

‘I have him — at last!’

It was now evident that the two men (if such they can be called) were seeking our lodgings. I have said (often) that my friend Holmes seldom gave way to emotion of any kind, but he now turned livid with passion. Presently this gave place to a strange look of triumph.

“Watson,” he said, “that big fellow has for years taken the credit for my most remarkable doings, but at last I have him — at last!”

Up I went to the ceiling, and when I returned the strangers were in the room.

“I perceive, gentlemen,” said Mr. Sherlock Holmes, “that you are at present afflicted by an extraordinary novelty.”

The handsomer of our visitors asked in amazement how he knew this, but the big one only scowled.

“You forget that you wear a ring on your fourth finger,” replied Mr. Holmes calmly.

I was about to jump to the ceiling when the big brute interposed.

“That tommy-rot is all very well for the public, Holmes,” said he, “but you can drop it before me. And, Watson, if you go up to the ceiling again I shall make you stay there.”

Here I observed a curious phenomenon. My friend Sherlock Holmes shrank. He became small before my eyes. I looked longingly at the ceiling, but dared not.

“Let us cut the first four pages,” said the big man, “and proceed to business. I want to know why —”

“Allow me,” said Mr. Holmes, with some of his old courage. “You want to know why the public does not go to your opera.”

“Exactly,” said the other ironically, “as you perceive by my shirt stud.” He added more gravely, “And as you can only find out in one way I must insist on your witnessing an entire performance of the piece.”

It was an anxious moment for me. I shuddered, for I knew that if Holmes went I should have to go with him. But my friend had a heart of gold.

“Never,” he cried fiercely, “I will do anything for you save that.”

“Your continued existence depends on it,” said the big man menacingly.

“I would rather melt into air,” replied Holmes, proudly taking another chair. “But I can tell you why the public don’t go to your piece without sitting the thing out myself.”

“Why?”

“Because,” replied Holmes calmly, “they prefer to stay away.”

A dead silence followed that extraordinary remark. For a moment the two intruders gazed with awe upon the man who had unravelled their mystery so wonderfully. Then drawing their knives —

Holmes grew less and less, until nothing was left save a ring of smoke which slowly circled to the ceiling.

The last words of great men are often noteworthy. These were the last words of Sherlock Holmes: “Fool, fool! I have kept you in luxury for years. By my help you have ridden extensively in cabs, where no author was ever seen before. Henceforth you will ride in buses!”

The brute sunk into a chair aghast.

The other author did not turn a hair.

To A. Conan Doyle.
from his friend
J. M. Barrie

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Long-Range and Long-Term Water Storage (part 3)

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Suburban stockade introduction

In the long term, the easiest, cheapest way to store water is in the ground. There are two ways to go about this. For household water, i.e. drinking, laundry, hygiene, cooking, and some irrigation, you need a cistern to catch rainwater. If you live in dryer portions of the country and you expect to be at least partially off-grid, a cistern is a must. A cistern is an enormous tank holding thousands of gallons of rain. They are usually buried, both to protect the water from contaminates and evaporation and to keep it cooler. Think of an underground swimming pool with a layer of dirt on top.

Cisterns are not normally do-it-yourself projects unless you have an army of sullen teenagers with shovels to dig the hole, brick it up, line it with tile, build the cover, and then landscape over top of it.

Cisterns can also be built above ground.

Cisterns can also be built above ground.

Locating the cistern can be troublesome as most, if not all, of your house gutters need to drain into it to keep it filled. It is probably easier to dig the cistern first and then build the house rather than retrofitting it into a small yard with trees, driveways, underground pipes and what have you all getting in the way. Sometimes cisterns have to be built above ground as there is no other place to put it.

Cisterns need pumps to get the water back out for use. An electric pump is easy to use but you must have a manual back up. If you lose power, and you can’t get to the water, you don’t have any water.

Do a lot of research before installing a cistern so you know how to use and maintain it. Get plenty of references from the builder and visit his installed cisterns so you can see how big they can be and how they work. Bigger is always better when it comes to water storage. If you can count on only fifteen inches of rain a year, in one or two big storms, you need to be able to catch and hold every drop.

The second way to store rainwater is in the ground itself. If you have a well, then — in a round about way — you are storing water for household use. Soil that catches and holds onto water lets you go longer between waterings when the rains are not reliable. As well as watering less often, this means watering less in terms of quantity. Less run-off and evaporation means more soaking into the soil for your thirsty vegetables. Improved soil leads to being more drought proof.

The way you improve your soil is with tons of organic material, deep rooted plants, no bare soil ever, and never turning over soil if you can avoid it. You want a deep, rich, humusy loam and you can turn that dead dirt in your yard into this gardener’s dream.

Step one is to set your lawn mower to it’s highest setting. Taller grass means deeper roots. Deeper roots let water soak down deeper, and air too. Taller grass shades the soil better, keeping it cooler. Use the mulching setting on the mower and let the clippings spread around. They will rot in place and return organic matter to the soil, improving its tilth. For optimal grass health, don’t cut off more than about 1/3 of the blade when you mow. That is, if your lawn mower is set to three inches of depth, cut when the grass is about four inches high. Aerate the lawn if it seems to need it, either with one of those mechanical things from the rental store or with a sullen teenager and a broad fork. Enhance your lawn with regular top dressings of compost, either home-made, or purchased. Spread it thin and let the rain work it into the soil. If the lawn is covered with leaves in the fall, have your sullen teenager run them over with the mulching lawnmower a few times. The leaves disintegrate into the grass.

Step two is to keep ALL of your planting areas, vegetables, trees, ornamentals, berry bushes, heavily mulched. Wooded areas mulch themselves every fall when the leaves drop. Rake them from the grassy areas back underneath the trees and let them rot in place. Collect leaves from the neighbors in the fall. Get them from landscaping services. Collect chipped and shredded branches when the power company does tree topping. Ask! The crew is usually happy to dump a load of shredded trees in your driveway. In the fall, you should not have to purchase mulch. Nature is giving it away. Collect this fertility from your wasteful, profligate neighbors. All of this organic material will rot in place, slowly building up the humus in your soil.

For this reason, don’t use plastic or landscape fabric. They do nothing to build soil and as they deteriorate, you end up with bits of plastic all over the place. Stone and gravel will allow rain penetration but they don’t build soil. Shredded rubber is terrible too. It does nothing to feed the soil, and as it degrades over decades, it breaks up into little rubber bits that will be there forever.

We are learning to do no-till. This means that we don’t spade over the soil in planting areas any more. Instead, we pull back the mulch a little, make enough of a space for the seeds, and leave the soil as undisturbed as we can. Soil is alive. It is a complex web of critters from small to microscopic. A web of funguses binds it together. Break up this complex community by spading it over and you change how well the soil functions.

We have been on our property for thirteen years. My soil has gone from hard, dead clay to a complex, humusy topsoil up to a foot deep in spots. There is never any standing water even after four inches of rain. It all soaks in. That means that every drop of rain that falls on my yard, stays in my yard. I loose very little to run off or to evaporation. Where I have grass, it is healthy and green with no feeding, amendments or spraying. My vegetable beds are better than ever. I have berry bushes, trees, some wilderness areas, ornamental flowers, hedges, shrubbery screens.

As the soil improves year by year I do less and less supplemental watering. I don’t have to! We water only when something is newly planted, vegetables when needed (from captured water in the cube) and, and, that’s kind of it. I certainly don’t water the lawn and the thicket, hedgerow, hazelnuts, and berry bushes take care of themselves. Improving the soil so it does the work is letting this happen.

You can store water this way too. The more organic material in your soil, the more water it collects from the rain. Eventually, much of this water makes it way down to the aquifer. If you have a well, then you are making sure it continues to provide water for your household. So capture all of your rain. It isn’t hard and the returns are huge.

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The Day A Newspaper Scooped Mark Twain

In 1868, Mark Twain was busy: launching his career, courting his future wife Livy, and anticipating the publication of his first travel book, “The Innocents Abroad.”

Mark Twain lectureHe was also a public lecturer, a profession which caused him a problem when he visited Washington, D.C. He discovered that a friend had booked him to give two lectures. He hastily cobbled together a lecture titled “The Frozen Truth,” about his trip to the Holy Land aboard the Quaker City.

The first night, to his relief, went well, but when the Evening Star published the article below on its front page, he was forced to cancel his second show, costing him several hundred dollars. “[O]ne never feels comfortable, afterward, repeating a lecture that has been partially printed,” he wrote, “and worse than that, people don’t care about going to hear what they can buy in a newspaper for less money.”

But if newspaper reports can hurt Twain at the box office, they can also help him. That week, Twain was a guest at the Washington Newspaper Correspondents Club. Among the dozen toasts given to round out the dinner, one of them by Twain. The toast “To Women” was printed in newspapers nationwide and helped to burnish Twain’s reputation as an after-dinner speaker. Anthologies still republish it.

Below is the story from the Evening Star, drawn from the page on the Library of Congress’ “Chronicling America” site, that gives us a bit of the flavor of experiencing Twain on stage.

Washington News and Gossip

The Evening Star [Washington, D.C.] Jan. 10, 1868

“Mark Twain.” — Almost everybody who fancies he knows a good thing, in the humorous way, when he sees or hears it, was on hand last night to assist at the debut of Mr. Clemens, otherwise known as “Mark Twain,” as a lecturer.

The subject announced was “Frozen Truth,” but as in the case of the well-remembered “discursive” [style] of the lamented “Artemus Ward,” upon “The Babes in the Wood,” in which the audience were favored with only a single allusion to the babes, to the effect that they were the children of poor, but respectable parents, and died young, so in this discourse of last night, the promised gelid facts never made their appearance, though anxiously looked for by literal sort of hearers.

The thread of the lecture was a running review of the renowned excursion of the New England pilgrims, per steamer Quaker City, to the Holy Land, and this trip, illustrated from the “Mark Twain” point of view, afforded matter for a most successful attack upon the rustics. His description of the sea-sick pilgrims, (the pilgrims he liked, but didn’t “dote” on;) or the aggravating doctor, who was continually making himself disagreeable by having the tooth-ache and the heart-disease, though remonstrated with; of the fellow-traveller who sat up all night, on the watch for Scylla and Charybilis; of the breakfast with the Emperor of Russia; his personal description of the Emperor, who treated him so kindly and frankly, telling him he “could leave whenever he wanted;” his rough experience in Syria, the only pleasing reminiscence of which was the time he had the cholera at Damascus; his mathematical comparison of the proportion of arable land to desert in Syria, to that of absolute lemon in the pies known as lemon pies, at his Washington hotel; his warmly expressed detestation of the villainous camels “that were always trying to bit you when you hadn’t done anything to ’em”; his unanswerable argument against matrimony, found in the fact that the Sultan “has 900 wives and isn’t happy;” his ad captandum appeal to his bachelor auditors apropos to this muchness of matrimony “How would you like your sleeping apartment lumbered up with a bed six feet long and thirteen hundred feet wide!”; his comparison of the public institutions, buildings and monuments of the U.S. to those of the Old World; his proud claim that no quarter of the Old World has such a monument as the Washington Monument; and that no officials there are more efficient and patriotic, or collect their salaries more promptly than our members of Congress ? these and a thousand other kindred touches and points, served to give piquancy to the lecture. In the didactic portions he was not so effective, his voice and style being not favorable to the expression of sentiment or pathos.

“Mark Twain” in a certain grotesque fanciful humor reminds one of “Artemus Ward,” and though not in any sense an imitator, his humorous description of the inconveniences and perplexities experienced by the Sultan with his surplusage of wives, was much in the same vein as “A. Ward’s” description of the kindred tribulations of Brigham Young. In person Mr. Clemens is not the kind of man the spectator “expected to see.” Of medium size, a cast-iron inflexibility of feature, grave face, eyes that lack expression from their neutral hue and the light color of the brows, a drawling speech, and a general air of being about half asleep, “Mark Twain” has a very unpromising look for humor. Many of the audience last night supposed that his slowness of speech and movement was stage mannerism but that was a mistake. That imperturbable drawl is habitual to him; and he is probably the laziest walker that ever stepped. In his most fluent and vivacious moods he has never been known to disgorge more than ten words per minute; and the saunter of Walt Whitman is a race-horse pace compared with his snail-like progress over the ground.

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The Adventure of the Table Foot (Victorian Sherlock parody)

Little is known of Allan Ramsay, who published the Victorian Sherlock parody “The Adventure of the Table Foot” in The Bohemian magazine (January 1894) under the pen name “Zero.” His father and mother moved from Scotland to Constantinople, where he was employed by the sultan in the naval arsenal. Ramsay was born there and lived there many years, eventually becoming director of the state tobacco company. His work apparently pleased the sultan, for in 1904 Ramsay sought permission from King Edward VII to accept several decorations from him. He put his knowledge of Turkish to good use by writing “Told in the Coffee House, Turkish Tales” (1898) with Cyrus Adler. One of the stories, “What Happened to Hadji, a Merchant of the Bezestan,” was retold by short-story writer Katherine Anne Porter as “The Adventures of Hadji: A Tale of a Turkish Coffee House.”

The complete list of stories from the 223B casebook — parodies and pastiches published during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lifetime (plus later ones I liked) — can be found here.

Victorian Sherlock parodyI called one morning — a crisp cold wintry December day — on my friend Thinlock Bones, for the purpose of keeping him company at breakfast, and, as usual about this time of the morning, I found him running over the agony columns of the different newspapers, quietly smiling at the egotistical private-detective advertisements. He looked up and greeted me as I entered.

“Ah, Whatsoname, how d’you do? You have not had breakfast yet. And you must be hungry. I suppose that is why you drove, and in a hansom too. Yet you had time to stay and look at your barometer. You look surprised. I can easily see — any fool would see it — that you’ve not breakfasted, as your teeth and mouth are absolutely clean, not a crumb about. I noticed it as you smiled on your entry. You drove — it’s a muddy morning and your boots are quite clean. In a hansom — don’t I know what time you rise? How then could you get here so quickly without doing it in a hansom? A bus or four-wheeler couldn’t do it in the time. Oh! The barometer business. Why, it’s as plain as a pikestaff. It’s a glorious morning, yet you’ve brought an umbrella thinking that it would rain. And why should you think it would rain unless the barometer told you so? I see, too, some laborer pushed up against you as you came along. The mud on your shoulder, you know.”

“It was a lamppost that did it,” I answered.

“It was a laborer,” quietly said Bones.

At that moment a young man was shown in. He was as pale as death and trembling in every limb. Thinlock Bones settled himself for business, and, as was the usual habit with him when he was about to think, he put his two long tapered hands to his nose.

“What can I do for you, sir?” asked Bones. “Surely a young swell like you, with plenty of money, a brougham, living in the fashionable part of the West End, and the son of a Peer, can’t be in trouble.”

“Good God, you’re right, how do you know it all?” cried the youth.

“I deduct it,” said Thinlock, “you tell me it all yourself. But proceed.”

“My name is St. Timon —”

“Robert St. Timon,” put in Bones.

“Yes, that is so, but —”

“I saw it in your hat,” said Bones.

“I am Robert St. Timon, son of Lord St. Timon, of Grosvenor Square, and am —”

“Private Secretary to him,” continued Thinlock. “I see a letter marked Private and Confidential addressed to your father sticking out of your pocket.”

“Quite correct,” went on St. Timon, “thus it was that in my confidential capacity I heard one day from my father of an attachment, an infatuation that someone had for him, an elderly —”

“Lady,” said Thinlock Bones, from the depths of his chair, showing how keenly he was following the depths of the plot as it was unfolded to him by his peculiar habit of holding his bloodless hands to his nose.

“Right again,” said the young man. “Mr. Bones, you are simply marvelous. How do you manage it?”

“It is very simple,” Bones replied, “but I will not stop to explain. Whatsoname here understands my little methods quite well now. He will tell you by-and-by.”

“It was an elderly and immensely wealthy lady, then,” Robert St. Timon continued, “named the Honorable Mrs. Coran —”

“A widow,” Bones interrupted.

“Wonderful,” said St. Timon, “the Honorable Mrs. Coran, a widow. It was she who was simply head over ears in love with my father, Lord St. Timon. He, although a widower, cared little for her but —!’

“A lot for her money,” said the quick-witted detective.

“How do you divine these things? You guess my innermost thoughts, the words before they are out of my mouth. How did you know it?” St. Timon asked.

“I know the human race,” Thinlock Bones answered.

“Well, if he could manage he wanted to inherit her money without marrying her. Would she leave him her riches if he did not propose, was the question? How to find out? He was a comparatively young man and did not unnecessarily wish to tie himself to an octogenarian, although a millionairess. But he mustn’t lose her wealth. If when she died he was not her husband, would he get the money? If the worst came to the worst he must marry her sooner than let the gold slip out of his grasp. But he must not espouse the old lady needlessly. How was he to find out? A project struck him, and the means offered itself. We were both asked to a dinner party at the Countess Plein de Beer’s where we knew the Honorable Mrs. Coran would be present, and —”

“You both accepted,” interrupted Bones. “Oh,” he went on before the other could ask the reasons of his swift and accurate deductions, “oh, it’s very simple. I saw it in The Daily Telegraph’s ‘London Day by Day.’”

“Yes, we accepted,” continued St. Timon, “and this was our plan of campaign: I was to take the old doting lady down to dinner and to insinuate myself into her confidence — aided by good wine, of which she was a devoted admirer — in a subtle fashion and thus to extract the secret out of her. I was to find out — by the time she had arrived at the Countess’s old port — whether my father was her heir or not. Whether she had left him her money without being his wife. Time was short, and if she had not my father was to propose that very night after dinner. The signal agreed on between my father and me was that if he was her heir without being her husband I was to kick him under the table and he would not propose — otherwise he would. Oh! Mr. Bones,” he sobbed, turning his piteous white face to Thinlock, “this is where I want your great intellect to help me, to aid me and explain this mystery.

“The plan worked admirably,” he went on, “I gleaned every fact about the disposition of her money after her death from her when she was in her cups — or rather her wineglasses. My father was her absolute and sole heir, and I thanked the heavens with all my heart that I was spared such a stepmother. I kicked, as arranged, my father under the table, but oh! Mr. Bones, immediately after dinner my father went to her and asked her to be his wife and she has accepted him! What does it all mean, what does it all mean!!”

“That you kicked the foot of the table instead!” quietly replied the greatest detective of modern times as he unraveled the intricate plot and added another success to his brilliant career.

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