Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, December 31, 2010


I am so happy that the marvelous ladies (and their merry minions) over at The Lipstick Chronicles have decided to fix all of our problems in 2011:

I think their program is a pretty good one and, with that in place, I'm looking forward to a great new year.

There's nothing left to say except to wish you all a happy, prosperous, and healthy new year and to hope that Paris Hilton finally decides to move to Alvin, Texas!


Zacherley (real name John Zacherle) was the host of a Philadelphia horror movie television program.  There was a time when you couldn't throw a rock on television without hitting Zacherly or someone like him.  It seemed every television station had their own local version of Zacherley, usually made up to look like a "host" from one of the old EC horror comics.  (Then there was Elvira, Mistress of the Dark -- but she's in her own catagory.)  Bad puns, cheap sets, cheesy movies -- a formula that kids ate up, myself among them.  I can't remember the name of the guy who hosted this type of show in the Boston area, but I remember watching him faithfully.

     Zacherley (who I never saw and had never heard of until then) was different.  This guy knew horror, knew it so well that he had two anthologies published by Ballantine that helped warp a generation.  Both books blew me away, givng me my first introduction to Theodore Sturgeon, James Blish, A. E. van Vogt, Anthony Boucher, Richard Matheson, and many more.    Here is where I first encountered Henry Kuttner's fabulous Hogben family, still one of my most memorable reading experiences.  (Looking back today, I'm only surprised that he did not include a Robert Bloch story -- surely a natural for an anthology of this type and quality.)

Here's the line-up:

Zacherley's Midnight Snacks (Ballantine, 1960)

  • Richard Matheson, Sorry, Right Number (from Beyond Fantasy Fiction, November, 1953)
  • Jerome Bixby & Joe E. Dean, Share Alike (from Beyond Fantasy Fiction, July, 1953)
  • Theodore Sturgeon, Talent (from Beyond Fantasy Fiction, September, 1953)
  • Wallace West, Listen, Children, Listen (from Fantastic Universe, October-November, 1953)
  • William F. Temple, The Whispering Gallery (from Fantastic Universe, October-November, 1953)
  • Robert Moore Williams, The Piping Death (from Unknown, May, 1939)
  • A. E. van Vogt, The Ghost (from Unknown Worlds, August, 1942
  • "Philip James" (Lester del Rey & James H. Beard), Carillon of Skulls (from Unknown Fantasy Fiction, February, 1941)
  • Henry Kuttner, Pile of Trouble (from Thrilling Wonder Stories, April, 1948)

Zacherley's Vulture Stew (Ballantine, 1960)
  • L. Ron Hubbard, He Didn't Like Cats (from Unknown Worlds, February, 1942)
  • Mindret Lord, Dr. Jacobus Meliflore's Last Patient (from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction , November, 1953)
  • Manly Wade Wellman, The Devil Is Not Mocked (from Unknown Worlds, June, 1943)
  • Donald A. Wollheim, Bones (from Stirring Science Fiction, February, 1941)
  • Charles R. Tanner, Out of the Jar (from Stirring Science Fiction, February, 1941)
  • A. E. van Vogt, The Witch (from Unknown Worlds, February, 1943)
  • Anthony Boucher, They Bite (from Unknnown Worlds, August, 1943)
  • E. Everett Evans, The Shed (from Avon Science Fiction and Fantasy Reader, January, 1953)
  • James Blish, There Shall Be No Darkness (from Thrilling Wonder Stories, April, 1950)

     Surprisingly, nothing from Weird Tales.  And, sadly for me, only these two anthologies.  I wished the series had gone on forever.

     And did I mention, two great cover paintings by Richard Powers?

Thursday, December 30, 2010


Cisco Houston was one of the authentic voices of folk music, along with Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger.  Cisco died of cancer in 1961 at age 42, and now he's basically forgotten.  That shouldn't be.  Here he is singing Woody Guthrie's Pastures of Plenty:

And St. James Infirmary:

And The Cat Came Back:

And, here he's with Sonny Terry, Woody Guthrie, and someone named Alek (yeah, no one knows who the hell Alek was), Glory:

I thought I'd close with Tom Paxton's tribute song Fare The Well, Cisco, but I couldn't find one, but here is a pretty good cover (and please ignore the dangling guitar strings):

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Thomas Burke (1886-1945) was a noted novelist, essayist and short story writer.  His most enduring legacy is the stories he wrote about the Limehouse section of London and its Chinese residents.  His story The Hands of Mr. Ottermole is a classic in the mystery field.  This poem is taken from his book The Song Book of Quong Lee of Limehouse (1920).

I climbed the other day up to the roof
Of the commanding and palatial Home for Asiatics,
And looked across this city at the hour of no-light.
Across the great space of dark I looked,
But the skirt of darkness had a hundred rents
Made by the lights of many people's homes.

My life is a great skirt of darkness,
But human kindliness has torn it through,
So that it shows ten thousand gaping rents
Where the light comes in.


Books that came in this past week:

  •  Marvin Albert, The Reformed Gun
  • "Gordon Ashe"  (John Creasey), The Crime-Haters
  • William Donaldson, Rogues, Villains and Eccentrics:  An A-Z of Rougish Britons Through the Ages
  • C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia (all seven of 'em)
  • Brian Lumley, Necroscope III:  The Source
  • Gene Wolfe, Lake of the Long Sun
  • Gene Wolfe, The Urth of the New Sun


Patti Abbott, on her excellent blog, recently had a discussion that, in part, included the subject of obituaries.  I myself read them not because I'm fascinated with death, but because I'm fascinated with lives.

     This is also the time of year for lists of  notables who have died during the year.  (The two main conversions these lists bring up : "I forgot he died this year,"  [that's almost everyone on the list, for me]  and, "Gee, I thought he died years ago"  [I'm looking at you, Mitch Miller.])

     The Washington Post Magazine did not do a list this past Sunday.  Instead, they ran eight two-page appreciations of people in the area who passed away in 2010.  The article was titled "People You'd Have Enjoyed Knowing And Whose Lives Made a Mark".  These are the ones they picked:

  • Lt. Brendan Looney, 1981-2010.  A graduate of the Naval Academy, Looney was training to be a Navy SEAL when his best friend and Academy roommate was killed by a sniper.  In his friend's honor, Looney finished his SEAL training and was voted Honor Man of his class.  Looney died three months ago in a helicopter crash.  His young widow, Amy, wanted Looney to be buried next to his friend at Arlington National Cemetery.  His friend, however, had been buried near the family home in Pennsylvania.  Arrangements were made and Looney's best friend, Travis Manion, was reinterred in Arlington, where they now lay side by side, "brothers forever".
  • Ronald Walters, 1938-2010.  A civil rights leader who once dared to sit at a Woolrich lunch counter in 1958 Wichita, and wondered why a one's dignity had to be questioned because of a simple lunch.  Walters organized over three dozen students for a sit-in at the lunch counter at Dockum drugstore.  (Dockum was chosen over Woolworth's because it sat at a main intersection.)  It took only four weeks for the sit-in to have an effect.  Some two years later, Woolworth's lunch counter became integrated.  Walters went on to a distinquished career in academia and becoming a go-to guy on questions of race and politics.
  • Michelle Arene, 1952-2010.  Arene worked for the Human Rights Commission of El Salvador during the bloody, murderous years in that country thirty-some years ago.  Many of her co-workers were killed and she herself was tortured in 1983.  The documentation she had compiled of the atrocities in El Salvador helped support the truth of more than 30,000 civilians deaths in 1980 and 1981.  Arene and her son came to Washington in 1989.  In later years, she would help young Salvadorans cope with their families' tragedies and would tell her story to sixth-graders at St. Anselm's boys school.
  • Jay Youngquist, 1947-2010.  Youngquist loved baseball.  A starting pitcher for the top-ranked UMinnesota team, his chance at the majors was derailed by an injury.  His curveball was amazing.  His love of baseball followed him through his life.  After retiring from a management job, Youngquist enrolled in a tough five-week course to become a professional umpire; as an umpire, he worked his way from Little League to high school to college games.  A private pilot, he would spend $700 for fuel to get to a game that paid $125.  This past April, after logging more that 2000 hours without incident as a pilot, something misfunctioned and Youngquist was killed in the crash.
  • Natasha Pettigrew, 1980-2010.  Pettigrew welcomed challenges.  The child of a single, black mother, she left law school to run for the U.S. Senate.  She walked into the office of the Maryland Green Party and asked for their support.  "Her values lined up with theirs:  social justice, environmental issues, feminism and grass-roots democracy."  The office she was running for was held by Barbara Mikulski, a popular and effective senator with many of the same values, but Pettigrew wanted to provide an option to incumbancy.   Before the election, however, while Pettigrew was bicycling, she was hit and killed by a car.  With Pettigrew's death, her mother stepped into the election in her place and garnered over 1 percent of the vote.
  • Donald Woodruff, 1946-2010.  A 1964 head-on collision with another drunk driver ended Woodruff's partying days and left him paralyzed from the neck down.  As part of his rehabilitation he received a paint by number kit.  He was able to make slight left-to-right and up-and-down motions with his right arm.  Painting and drawing became a passion for him.  From 1974 to 1984, he worked as an insurance adjuster, while selling his work locally.  He fathered a daughter, got married, and continued his art.  He spent the last six years painting a mural on a fence while also doing commission work.  He died before finishing the last scene on the fence, and with him he took a secret.  He never told anyone about the scenes on this mural until they were completed, thus the final scene will remain a mystery.
  • Joan Shih Carducci, 1933-2010.  She started her own cooking school at age 41.  She published a cookbook at age 67.  It was a long time coming.  She was cut off by her family because she married a non-Asian, non-doctor from Rochester, New York.  After she had children, she reached out once again to her parents, and they finally responded.  Wanting to be able to cook and prepare feasts for her family, she enrolled in a cooking school in Taiwan.  She returned to the D.C. area to begin teaching adult education courses.  She later put herself through MIT, paying the tuition with her cooking school earnings.  Her family grown, she went to work for the National Institutes of Health, retiring to return to teaching cooking.  Her daughter said that Carducci was "indomitable".  She was that, and determined.
  • Manute Bol, 1962-2010.  Bol, probably the best-known of the eight persons the Post profiled, was one of the best blockers in professional basketball.  His 7' 7" frame made it near impossible for an opponent to throw a ball past him.  The rest of his basketball game was mediocre, but his blocking was superb.  He was the only professional basketball player to block more points than he scored.  After his retirement in 1994, Bol devoted himself to improving conditions in his native Sudan.  He raised money (and spent much of his own) to feed refugees and to build schools.  He died after contracting a skin disease while visiting Sudan.

     In addition to publishing these reminences, the magazine's advertising department published a four-page In Memorium, many of which included pictures.  Some of the ones that struck me were Cynthia Webster Fitts, aged 39, looking strong and confident in a police officer's uniform, and Anna Marie Price, 94, beaming with her lavender church hat, and Theodore B. Johnson, 78, who -- from the expression in his picture -- is looking down from Heaven to make sure you are toeing the straight and narrow.  And there's Col. George Juskalian, 96, who served in World War II, Korea, and Viet Nam, and had two Silver Star Medals, The Legion of Merit, four Bronze Star Medals, the Air Medal, the POW Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Combat Infantryman's Badge with star, and the Parachutists Badge.  The pictures in this section show so many smiling faces, serious faces, pensive faces...and all of them special and loved.

     All of these are people I would have enjoyed knowing -- people I wish I had known.  I honor their lives, every one of them.

     Your assignment for today:  Read the obituary page and pick one person you would like to have known, and think how much better you life might have been if you had known him or her.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Ok.  This has been bothering me for some time.  I know it's not a big deal, but...

     When has it become de rigueur to cut the crusts off sandwiches for kids?  My grandchildren want it done all the time.  If the crusts are not cut off, they will eat the middle of a sandwich and leave the crusts.  Evidently all their friends do the same.

     I don't remember my children going through this, and I know darned well neither my siblings nor
I would have dared to do this.  Is this just a generational thing?  Or is it confined just to Southern Maryland?  Do  kids learn it from their playmates; I mean, if you trace it back, does it all come down to some alpha kid with a phobia about bread crusts?  Or do they learn it from TV?  (It would satisfying if I could blame it on Nickelodeon or MTV or Jerry Springer or Oprah.)

     I am a loss.  Any ideas?  Inquiring minds want to know?

     Oh, and -- by the way -- do you cut the sandwiches vertically, horizontally, or diagonally?

Monday, December 27, 2010


It's time for another look at some of Roger Elwood's many anthologies.

THE HUMAN ZERO AND OTHER SCIENCE-FICTION MASTERPIECES, edited by Sam Moskowitz and Roger Elwood, Tower Books, 1967.

  • Isaac Asimov - The Imaginary (from Super Science Stories, November, 1942)
  • Robert Bloch - The Proxy Head (from Science-Fiction Plus, May, 1953)
  • Ray Bradbury - I, Rocket (from Amazing Stories, May, 1944)
  • Arthur C. Clarke - The Man Who Ploughed the Sea (from Tales of the White Hart, Ballantine, 1957)
  • Erle Stanley Gardner - The Human Zero (from Argosy, December 19, 1931)
  • Chad Oliver - Hands Across Space (from Science-Fiction Plus, August, 1953; the story was also published as Scientific Method)
  • Eric Frank Russell - The Cosmic Relic (first appeared under the title Relic in Fantasy No. 2, April, 1947)
  • A. E. van Vogt - Itself (first appeared under the title Itself! in Scientific American, January, 1963)

     Comments:  It's easy see why Sam Moskowitz got top billing on this one; three of the stories (Bradbury, Gardner, and Russell) had been chosen by him to be reprinted in Fantastic and Amazing as "classic" stories; two were from the Hugo Gernsback-edited Science-Fiction Plus, where Moskowitz had a book review column (and probably did some editorial work); and one (Asimov) was originally published in an Alden Norton-edited magazine (Moskowitz collaborated with Norton on a number of anthologies).  This is a solid collection, but only in Moskowitz's mind could the stories by called "masterpieces".

THE TIME CURVE, edited by Sam Moskowitz and Roger Elwood, Towere Books, 1968

  • Robert Bloch - Time Wounds All Heels (a Lefty Feep story from Fantastic Adventures, April, 1942)
  • L. Sprague de Camp - A Gun for Dinosaur (a Reginald Rivers story from Galaxy Science Fiction, March, 1956)
  • Lester del Rey - Unto Him That Hath (originally published as by "Philip St. John" in Space Science Fiction, November 1952)
  • Fritz Leiber - Nice Girl With 5 Husbands (originally published under the title Nice Girl With Five Husbands in Galaxy Science Fiction, April, 1951)
  • Sam Moskowitz - Death of a Dinosaur (from Amazing Stories, August, 1956)
  • Andre Norton - The Gifts of Asti (originally published as by "Andrew North" in Fantasy Book, Vol. 1, No. 1, July, 1948; the story has also been published as Gifts of Asti)
  • Clifford D. Simak - Over the River and Through the Woods (from Amazing, May, 1965; the story was a nominated for a Nebula Award)
  • A. E. van Vogt - The Great Judge (from Fantasy Book, Vol. 1, No. 3, July, 1948; this story formed the core of van Vogt's novel The Mind Cage)
  • Jack Williamson - The Terror Out of Time (from Astounding Stories, December, 1933)
  • John Wyndham - Operation Peep (this story appeared in an earlier form in Suspense Magazine, Summer, 1951, and in this form as Pawley's Peepholes in Science-Fantasy, Vol. 1, #3, Winter, 1951)

     Comments:  Another solid anthology with many "name" writers.  The only weak story is the Moskowitz.

THE LITTLE MONSTERS, edited by Roger Elwood and Vic Ghidalia, Macfadden-Bartell, 1969

  • Cynthia Asquith - The Playfellow (first appeared in Asquith's anthology Shudders, Scribner, 1929)
  • E. F. Benson - How Fear Departed From the Long Gallery ( from The Windsor Magazine, December, 1911)
  • Algernon Blackwood - Old Clothes (from The Lost Valley and Other Stories, Nash, 1910)
  • Ray Bradbury - Let's Play "Poison" (from Weird Tales, November, 1946)
  • August Derleth - The Metronome (from Terror by Night, edited by Christine Campbell Thomson, Selwyn & Blount, 1934)
  • Rudyard Kipling - "They" (from Scribner's Magazine, August, 1904)
  • Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore - Mimsy Were the Borogoves (originally published as by "Lewis Padgett" in Astounding Science Fiction, February, 1943; the story is also known as The Last Mimzy)
  • Greye La Spina - The Antimacassar (from Weird Tales, May, 1949)

     Comments:  This was the first of several anthologies Elwood did with Ghidalia.  Don't judge the Kuttner/Moore story by the recent disasterous movie.  A solid collection, even though many of the stories are now readily available elsewhere.  Recommended.


     More to come.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


It's early Sunday morning on Boxing Day.  I don't box, so I'm sitting at the computer.  As I write this, the snow is beginning to gently fall.  I'm facing the front window and the woods across the street are quiet; the trees and the brush are delicately laced in white.  There are no cars on  the road; no people walking their dogs; no kids carrying snow shovels yet.  It's beautiful and serene.

     The development I live in is very deceptive.  It's a large development with over 4000 homes, but many of the homes are spread out, and hills trees and woods abound, as do deer, fox, and many types of birds.  There's a large lake, two active beaches on the Chesapeake Bay, an airport, stables, community gardens -- there's a zillion people living here, but with the layout of the development, it just doesn't feel like it.

     If there's a flaw to all this, it's in the name.  The development is called Chesapeake Ranch Estates and someone -- way back -- decided it would be cool to give the streets western/cowboy-indian  names.  We have streets named Tomahawk, Six-Gun, Rattlesnake, Kiowa, Gunsmoke, Indian Ridge.  There's Bowie and Dillon and Santa Fe and Thunderbird and Mesa and Skeleton Ridge and Cemetery Lane and Bootstrap and Silverado -- you get the idea.  But...

     We're in Southern Maryland, folks!  Home of watermen and tobacco farms!  Cowboy names?  Really?  I can see naming the streets nautical names (Mainmast Drive, Cove Street, Fishing Net Lane) or tobacco names (Black Lung Promenade, Hacking Cough Road, Emphysema Alley) or even pirate names (Shiver Me Timbers Street, Arrgh Matey Way, Blackbeard Lane), but a western theme?  WTH?

     But watching the snow fall reminds of my childhood, when we sit in wonder, watching the snowfall out of our window over Christmas school vacation, while we stayed safe and warm inside.  And the cowboy street names also remind me of my childhood, where I grew up western on a small New England farm.

     When I was young, my loyalty was very fickle.  One day my western hero would be Hopalong Cassiday, the next it would be Lash Larue, and the next, Johnny Mack Brown.  Davy Crockett and Zorro were right up there, too, although I wasn't sure if they counted because they weren't really cowboys.

    At night, in my dreams, I would wear a mask and ride a silver horse with a faithful Indian companion by my side.  Or someone would be yelling, "Hey, Ceesco!", upon which I would deliver the inevitable reply, "Hey, Pancho!"  I'd walk down the street, spinning my short-nosed rifle a la Lucas McCain.  I even bought the Dell paperback Poker According to Maverick and tried to memorize its contents.

     Roy versus Gene?  I was in the Roy camp.  Not that there was nothing the matter with Gene.  He would do in a pinch, but Roy was my man.

     While young, I was never much of a John Wayne man, but as a teenager I never missed one of his movies.  His westerns were the best.  I didn't truly appreciate certain western movies when I was young; Shane, High Noon and The Ox-Bow Incident were entertaining, but it was not unitl I was older that I realized how great they were.

     I suppose Sky King was an "modern" western, but he seemed kind of wimpy, but his niece Penny...hubba hubba!  Fury never did much for me either; it seemed like Lassie with a horse.

     Range Rider, Wild Bill Hickok, Tales of Wells Fargo, Annie Oakley, Judge Roy Bean, Cheyenne, Sugarfoot...I watched them all.  I crossed the plains with Wagon Train.  I laughed with Hop Sing on Bonanza.  In my mind's eye, I could throw a knife as swiftly as Pahoo-Ka-Te-Wah.  I watched Jayce Pearson ride the old west in Tales of the Texas Rangers one week, and wondered how he got to modern west the next week.

     Disney jumped into the fray in a big way with Frontierland:  not only Davy and Zorro, but Texas John Slaughter, Andy Burnett, Elfego Baca, Mike Fink (not really western, but what the heck), and probably others I can't remember.

    And there were the comic books. Roy and Gene and Gabby -- even Dale and Champion and Silver and Trigger had their own books.  The Rawhide Kid and the Two-Gun Kid (didn't I read lately that one of them was proably gay?) and Jonah Hex.  What was the one where two native Americans were lost in a prehistoric world?  (I think it might be Turok, Son of Stone.)  They were hunting and climbed (or fell -- I can't remember) into a canyon and couldn't get out and this canyon was the biggest honkin' canyon in the world and contained all sorts of dinosaurs -- didn't make a lick of sense, but I loved it.

     Shotgun Slade, anyone remember him?  The one-armed gunslinger created by Frank Gruber.

     I was not much of one for western fiction, though; that came much later.  They only westerns I remember reading as a kid was a Roy Rogers story from Whitman books about a gang of neer-do-wells who had a hidden hideout (that really narrows it down, doesn't it?) and the first Lone Ranger book by Fran Striker.

      I had the toy guns, and the cap guns and the holsters and the hat.  I don't remember, but I probably also had the red (maybe polka dotted) neckerchief that all the real cowboys had. 

     I consider myself very lucky.  I grew up at the right time.  Cop shows, doctor show, lawyer shows all were fairly rare on television back in those days when you could only get three or four channels on television.  Westerns, however, were king.  And I was lucky to be there.

     Who were your western heroes?

Saturday, December 25, 2010


If you have put off planning your holiday dinner, it is still not too late!  Thank my sister who included the following recipe in her holiday newsletter:

                                                      Delicacy of Diamondback

1 Western diamondback rattlesnake
1 cup of flour
1/2 cup cracker meal
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder

Find and kill a Western rattlesnake.  (Eastern should do just as well.)  Cut into edible potions.  Combine other ingredients for coating mixture -- more may be required, depending on the length of the snake.  Coat the pieces, and fry in deep fat until golden brown.

(Original source:  The Ranch Cookbook by the Ladies of the Ranch)

Me again:  You're own your own for a recipe for stuffing.  Have a great holiday!

Friday, December 24, 2010


What's the day before Christmas without Santa Bloody Claus?


Ben Grant has spent seven long years in prison for killing a man while protecting his cattle herd.  His partner, Pete Cooley, has used that time to build the business.  Grant visits Cooley to regain his partnership, but Cooley rebuffs him, giving him only half of what the business was worth seven years before to settle Grant's claim.  Grant is not happy about the offer, but he accepts it.

     Grant manages to land an Army contract for a year's worth of beef.  His plan is to use Cooley's money to finance the catching and taming of wild horses to sell in Montana to get the full amount of money he needs to buy the cattle he needs to resell to the army.  But Cooley aims to stop Grant and has hired thugs and gunslingers to help him.

     Knowing Cooley is after him, Grant takes his family and his friend Mendoza to Mexico, where he begins to amass his herd with the help of hired vaqueros.  He realizes that his hopes of raising the herd before Cooley and his gang find him are likely not to happen.

      Meanwhile Concho Reynolds has reached a crossroads in his life.  Orphaned young, he had roamed the West and somehow had drifted into gunfighting.  He has seen his life go steadily downhill and, in a what-the-hell moment agreed to help a friend rob a bank.  The plan, his friend assured him, was fool-proof; no one would get hurt, no guns would be fired, and the money would be theirs.  The plan was not fool-proof, however, and Concho's friend was dead and Concho himself was wounded and on the run from a determined posse.  Concho manages to elude the posse, but his horse dies and he is lying alone in the desert dying.

     Grant finds Concho barely alive and takes him to his camp.  Grant's young sister, Julie, is attraced to the young gunfighter and they get close during his recuperation -- something Grant opposes.  Knowing that he would have no future with Julie, Concho rides out as soon as he is able.  He drifts into a small town and meets Shep Hooker, another gunfighter, who tells him that he had been recognized during the bank robbery and was wanted in Texas; Concho can never go back to the States  Hooker also recruits him for a gang that was being assembled by Pete Cooley to kill Ben Grant.  A Mexican whose brother had been hired as a vaquero by Grant was willing to show Cooley where Grant was encamped.

     Concho kidnaps the Mexican and takes him to Grant, warning him that Grant that Cooley is near and has about eight men -- many of them hired killers -- in his gang.  The stage is now set for a bloody climax.

     Marvin H. Albert was an entertaining storyteller and his paperback originals always delivered.  In The Reformed Gun, his powers are in full force.  Strong characterization, a solid plot, authentic detail, good guys and bad guys, blazing guns, flying fists, thrusting knifes, honor and pride, seemingly impossible situations, and the redeeming power of romance -- it's all here.  And few did it better than Albert.

    (Marvin H. Albert, The Reformed Gun, Fawcett Gold Medal, 1959)


     Patti Abbott is taking a well-deserved two-week break from Friday's Forgotten Books.  When she gets back, she may (or may not) post a round-up of Forgotten Book reviews published today and next Friday.

UPDATE:  The ever-vigilant Todd Mason has posted a round-up on his  blog, Sweet Freedom.  Go to

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


It was the biggest shark the world had ever seen; indeed, the biggest fish the world had ever seen.  The term super-predator doesn't seem to do it justice.  It snacked on large whales.  It was the magalodon shark and it had a bite force of 41,000 pounds.

     The megalodon is shrouded in myth and mystery.  Because sharks consisted of mostly cartilage, the fossil evidence has been sketchy:  teeth, a few vertabrae, and not much else.  Evidence points to this monster arising in the Oligene Era, about 25,000,000 year ago -- it was much more common during the Pleistocene, about 20,000,000 years ago -- and it died out perhaps 2,000,000 to 1,500,000 years ago. A few say that megalodon may have lived to about 10,000 years ago.  SyFi Channel movies and some works of fiction claim they still exist.

     The name megalodon (large tooth) was given to the shark by Louis Agassiz in 1835.  It was not until 1909 that a replica of the shark's dentition was made by Bashford Dean of New York's Museum of Natural History.  Dean's research proved to be faulty, however, and most modern scientists feel megalodon was about 70% of the size he estimated.  Michael D. Gottfreid, after years of study, created the first reconstruction of a megalodon skeleton in the mid 1980's.  This careful reconstruction is now on exhibit at the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, Maryland.  In recent years, the scientists at the Calvert Marine Museum painstakenly created another replica for display at a museum in Cape Town, South Africa.  These are the only two full megalodon skeletons in existence.

     So what does this skeleton look like?  I can tell you this sucker is big.  The skeleton is that of a juvenile meg, only 37.5 feet long.  Fossilized megalodon teeth found along the Calvert Cliffs in Southern Maryland measure about 1.5 inches to 4 inches in length, indicating that the megalodons these teeth came from were usually some 12 to 30 feet long.  (It's felt that the shallow waters of the then-Calvert Sea was most suitable to young megs.)  The skull is huge; its teeth intimidating; its eye sockets are comically large, giving one a giant bug-eyed impression -- but there is nothing comical about this shark's predatory ways.  The ribs are gigantic and seem to go in every direction.  The skeleton is suspended in a large room, the megalodon seems to go on forever, dwarfing the large pterodactyl-like skeletons sharing the room.  On the opposite side of the room, a fossilized jaw of a prehistoric crocodile is puny in comparison.

     How big would an adult, mature meg be?  Some estimates give a maximum length of 82 feet, although most expert feel a maximum length would more likely have been about 67 feet.  After years of study, Gottfreid and his colleagues published a paper showing how to determine length by the size of the shark's teeth.  A 7 inch megalodon tooth, for example, would indicate a shark of nearly 60 feet in length -- that's three times the size of the largest great white.  A 67 foot long megalodon would weight about 228,000 ponds.  The line from Jaws, "we're going to need a bigger boat", would be an understatement.

    Despite the SyFi movies and Steve Alten's Meg novels, the megalodon is a creature of the past.  When you watch Shark Attack 3: Megalodon or Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus or whatever other cheesy movie they come up with, breathe easy.  Also please note that megalodon is not 70,000,000+ years old (which would put it contemporary with some of the dinosaurs) despite what some of those movies (and Steve Alten's boooks) say.  In fact, the author of one book on the subject sued the distributor of   Shark Attack 3 because the movie added pages of false information to his book, showing the phony pages onscreen!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Laurie Powers is giving away a copy of Beat to a Pulp, Round 1 over at her blog.  Beat to a Pulp is a critically acclaimed collection of pulp-oriented stories and includes a never before published story by Laurie's grandfather, pulp writer Paul Powers, as well as stories by some of the best writers around today.

    Stop by her blog and find out how you could be the lucky winner.  (Since I've entered and hope to winner, you could also be just an unlucky loser; you won't know which unless you try.)  While you are there, check out her blog -- it's a good one!

     I should also mention that most of the stories come from David Cranmer and Elaine Ash's fantastic Beat to a Pulp blog, featuring a new short story/punch/jab each week:


It happened in the wee hours of the morning.  A total eclipse of the moon during the winter solstice!  The first time in hundreds of years!

     I slept through it.  Figure I'll catch it next time.


Dr. Taverner is an occult master, the Senior of the Seven, a key figure in the world's psychic fraternities.  His practice combined psychiatry with his very specialized knowledge.  Since every occult detective needs a Watson, the narrator of these episodes is  Dr. Rhodes, who has recently returned from World War I with emotional wounds.  Rhodes, who knows nothing of mysticism, soon wholeheartedly accepts the occult as he assists Taverner in fighting the supernatural.  For his part, Taverner is a sometimes laid-back hero, often biding his time to allow his patients to find their own way to overcome evil psychic influences.  He often relies on horoscopes and on the Akashic Records -- reachable only through trance and where every human thought and movment is recorded.

     Every age seems to have its popular movement involving secret masters of the universe sharing their divine knowledge with a select few.  In the last quarter of the 19th century, Theosophy was born, a belief that had been cobbled together by H. P. Blavatsky, but supposedly given her by the Seven Brothers who knew the secret history or the world -- or something like that.  Shortly after Blavatsky founded Theosophy, three Englishmen founded the Golden Dawn, another occult organization that drew together ancient Jewish mysticism, alchemy, and Rosicrucianism.  (There are times in human history when you couldn't throw a cat without hitting one mystic order or another.)  Members of the Golden Dawn (at various times) included Alistair Crowley, the poet Yeats, Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen, Constance Lloyd (Oscar Wilde's wife), and Violet Firth.  (Not members, but connected to Golden Dawn, were the writers Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, Sax Rohmer, and E. Nesbit.)

     Firth shifted from Golden Dawn to Theosophy and became a major figure in that order until she split off and formed her own occult group, the Fraternity of the Inner Light.  Under her own name, Firth produced a number of works combining psychology and the occult, and wrote occult fiction as "Dion Fortune".  It was as Fortune that she created Dr. Taverner.

     The Taverner stories are surprisingly readable today.  Many are fairly simplistic and involve commonplace themes; although some go much deeper.  "A Daughter of Pan" reads at times like an amalgram of Blackwood and Machen.  "Recalled" is laced with feminine fury as it relates the story of an English officer who impregnates and casts out a fifteen year old native girl in India.  Of course, some of the stories press modern day buttons:  Rhodes freely admits that he abhors "defectives", the White race is supreme and English attitudes of xenophobia seem to be commendable.

     In the end, however, the purpose of this book is to express the author's beliefs.  Dr. Taverner (under a different name) is a real person, his clinic actually exists, and the stories are based on actual experiences, albeit toned down so as not to offend the reader -- or so Fortune writes in her forward to the book.

     From the blurb on the back cover:

     "Perhaps no occultist in the 20th Century has so fully combined a practical knowledge of Magick with a deep understanding as Dion Fortune, unless it be Israel Regardie.

     "Dion Fortune used fiction as the vehicle for presenting this synthesis of Magick and Psychology in terms relevant to everyday living and the problems that serious students will inevitably meet.

     "Here, in this one book, she presents eleven case studies of actual super-normal happenings in the form of exciting stories.  Written as fiction, yet these tales are a serious study in the psychology of ultra-consciousness.

     "'Dr. Taverner' was a real person and his mysterious nursing home an actual fact.  The happenings chronicled here are not as uncommon as you might imagine; they are real cases, and far from being written up to make exciting fiction, they had to be toned down to make them fit for print."

     (No, I have no idea who Israel Regardie [surely an inspired name!] is, and I had no interest in finding out.)   

     THE SECRETS OF DR. TAVERNER was originally published in 1926.  The copy I read was the 1962 Llewellyn paperback, which added a long introduction by Gareth Knight, "The Work of a Modern Occult Fraternity".  Again, from the back blurb:

     "Here you will learn the reality behind such Occult Experiences as 'facing the Dweller on the threshold,' the building of a Group Mind, after-death contacts, the Planetary Spirit, etc."

     The Llewellyn edition also has a neat cover painting by Hannes Bok, who also dabbled in mysticism..

     Taken with a grain (or several grains) of salt, this is a interesting book.

A hat tip to Clute and Grant's The Encyclopedia of Fantasy for some of the background material.


Only two books this week, both by Fred Saberhagen:


Just two books.  I must be getting better.  Or worse.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


L. T. Meade (Elizabeth Thomasina Meade Smith)  was a noted author of girl's stories in the late 19th and early 20th Century.  Among her more than 330 books, were a handful of early, classic dtective and mystery stories.  With Robert Eustace (who was also named as a collaborator on one of Dorothy L. Sayers' books) she produced such well-known books as THE BROTHERHOOD OF SEVEN KINGS number 27 on Queen's Quorum, a chronological list of the most importnt mystery and crime fiction books ever published), A MASTER OF MYSTERIES, and THE SORCERESS OF THE STRAND.  As far as I can tell, she wrote over 180 stories in the genre.

With Clifford Halifax, M.D., she wrote STORIES FROM THE DIARY OF A DOCTOR (number 15 on Queen's Quorum), first published in THE STRAND MAGAZINE, then released in book form in 1894.  A second series appeared in 1896. 

The first story in the series contains a mystery and a crime has definitely been committed, but no detective is necessary; the solution to the mystery naturally unfolds within the story.  The use of a doctor as narrator is timeless and medical mysteries still remain popular.  Let's take an interesting look back in time with

                                                           MY FIRST PATIENT

By a strange coincidence I was busily engaged studying a chapter on neurotic poisons in Taylor's "Practice of Medical Jurisprudence" when a knock came to my door, and my landlady's daughter entered and handed me a note.

     "The messenger is waiting, sir," she said.  "He has just come over from the hospital, and he wants to know if there is any answer."

     I had just completed my year as house physician at St. Savior's Hospital, East London, and was now occupying lodgings not two minutes off.

     I opened the note hastily -- it contained a few words: --

     "MY DEAR HALIFAX, -- Come over at once, if you can.  You will find me in B Ward.  I have just heard of something which I think will suit you exactly. -- Yours, JOHN RAY."

     "Tell the messenger I will attend to this immediately," I said to the girl.

     She withrew, and putting the note into my pocket I quickly slipped into my great-suit, for the night was a bitterly cold one, and ran across to St. Saviour's."

     Ray was the resident surgeon.  During my time at the hospital we had always been special friends.  I found him, as usual, at his post.  He was in the surgical ward, busily engaged in setting a broken leg, when I put in an appearance.

     "I'll speak to you in one moment, Halifax," he said; "just hand me that bandage,  there's a good fellow.  Now, then, dear boy," he continued, bending over his patient, a lad of fourteen, "you will soon be much easier.  Where is the nurse?  Nurse, I shall look in again later, and inject a little morphia before we settle him for the night.  Now, then, Halifax, come into the corridor with me."

     "What do you want me for?" I asked, as I stood by his side in the long corridor which ran from east to west across the great hospital, and into which all the wards on the first floor opened.  "'Why this sudden message; what can I do to help you, Ray?"

     "You have not made up your mind as to your future?" answered Ray.

     "Not quite," I replied.  "I may buy a practice, or try to work my way up as a specialist -- I have a leaning to the latter course; but there is no special hurry anyway."

     "You are not adverse to a job in the meantime, I presume?"

     "That depends on what it is," I answered.

      "Well, see here. I have just had an frantic telegram from a man in the country.  His name is Olgivie -- I used to know him years ago, but have lost sight of him lately.  His telegram recalls him to my memory -- he is a clever fellow, and bought himself a large practice at a place called Saltmarsh.  He has wired to ask if I could send him a locum tenes in a great hurry.  This is what he says."

     Ray began to read from the telegram: --

     "'Wife ill -- can't attend to practice.  Send someone with a brain in his head down to-night, if possible.'

     "There, Halifax.  Put this into your pocket if you mean to attend to it.  You have nothing special to do just now.  Will you go?"

     "How far off is Saltmarsh?" I asked.

     "I have an 'A B C' in my room; come and we'll look the place up."

     Ray pulled me along with him.  We entered his rooms at the corner of the wing, and the next moment had ascertained that it would be possible to reach Saltmarsh by the Great Eastern line in two hours and a half.

     "Will you go?" he asked; "it may be an opening for you.  In your state of indecision, it is well to take any chance of seeing medical life.  Ogilvie will probably only require your services for two or three days, and  -- in short --"

     "Would it oblige you if I went?" I interrupted. "That settles the matter."

     "No, no.  You must not labour under a false impression.  Ogilvie was never a friend of mine; I just knew him in the ordinary course, and never took to him in any special way.   Will you go, Halifax, just for the chance of seeing lilfe, and helping some poor beggars in the country?  If you say no, I must cudgel my brains for someone else, and there is no time to be lost."

     I looked at the telegram again.

     "Yes, I will go," I said.  "I can catch the nine train from Liverpool Street without difficulty.  This will bring bring me to Saltmarsh at 11.45.  Will you wire to Ogilvie, or shall I do so, Ray?"

     "I'll take that trouble off your hands, my dear fellow.  I am awfully obliged,  Now, then, good-night, and good luck.  Look me up when you return."

     Ray rushed back to his ward, and I went to my lodgings to pack up my portmanteau and get ready for my sudden journey.  I caught the train in comfortable time, and all in due course, without hitch or hindrance of any kind, arrived at Saltmarsh, not more than five minutes after the time mentioned in the time-table.

     A servant in livery was standing on the platform.  The moment he saw me he came up and touched his hat.

     "Are you from Dr. Ogilvie's, sir?" he asked.  "Are you the doctor who is expected from London?"

     "Yes," I replied.

     "My master's brougham is outside," continued the man.  'Will you come this way, sir?"
     I followed him at once, seated myself in the brougham, which was drawn by a pair of horses, and ten minutes later had alighted from the comfortable carriage and found myself standing in a wide, handsomely furnished and brightly lighted hall.  A man-servant opened the door to me.

     "The doctor from London?" he queried, even before I had time to speak.

     "Yes'" I answered, "I am Dr. Halifax; have the goodness to take this card to your master."

     "Come this way, sir.  Oh, good Lord," he muttered under his breath, "ain't this a relief!"

     There was a sort of terrified expression about the man's face which I had already perceived faintly reflected on the countenance of the servant who had met me at the station.

     "I'll let my master know you've some, sir," he said, and he noiselessly shut the door and left me to myself.

     I found myself standing in a room which any London physician would have considered palatial.  It was lofty and very large.  The floor was almost covered with the softest of Turkey carpets; the walls were hung with good pictures; and the furniture was handsome, modern, and in excellent taste.

     I went and stood with my back to the glowing fire.  I could not account for my sensations, but the words I heard the servant utter gave me a distinct sense of  nervousness.  I knew that a doctor ought to know nothing of such feelings, and I was ashamed of myself for owning to them, and made a great effort to pull myself together.

     The next moment the door of the room was opened, and a gentlemanly man with silver hair and a long, soft beard entered.

      "Mr. Halifax," he said, bowing to me, "I must introduce myself as Dr. Roper.  I am an old resident of Saltmarsh, and have known the Ogilvies for years.  M"Is Ogilvie is seriously -- I may add, alarmingly ill, and I am attending to her."

     "Is Dr. Ogilvie at home?" I asked.

     "Pray sit down, Dr. Halifax; Dr. Ogilvie is out at the present moment.  He expected you, and sent the carriage to the station.  He was most anxious for your arrival, and will, I am sure, be in directly.  In the meantime, will you allow me to do all I can for your comfort?  You would like to come to your room; let me show you the way."

     'I think I should prefer to wait for Dr. Ogilvie," I said.  "You are much too occuipied with your patient, and I must not trespass upon a moment of your time.  I am very comfortable here, and can wait for my host if he is not long.  I understood from his telegram that he wants someone to look after his patients."

     "He does -- he has an immense practice, quite the largest in Saltmarsh.  His wife's sudden illness has upset him frightfully, and he cannot collect his thoughts.  I suugested to him to wire to Ray, and I am truly glad that you have able to respond so quickly."

     "Thank you," I replied; "please do not trouble yourself about me.  I am sorry to learn that Mrs. Ogilvie is so ill."

     "She is very ill, indeed; it is a strange seizure.  She is a young woman, and up to the present has always been healthy.  She is suffering from embolism.  This is a strange disease to attack the brain of a young  woman.  Well, I must return to her; I will send the servant to attend to you and get you refreshment."

     He went out of the room, closing the door as noiselessly as he had entered.  The man-servant who had admitted me to the house came into the consulting room bearing a tray, which contained a plentiful cold supper.

     "My master will, I am sure, be back in a moment," he said; "he was a good deal flurried over the missis's sudden illness, and has gone for a ride on the mare.  We expect him back each minute, for he knew the train you'd arrive by."

     "When he comes in, tell him that I am here," I answered.

     "Yes, sir; I won't fail to."

     The man looked at me intently -- his face had not the wooden expression which characterizes most of his class:  it showed marked agitation and uneasiness -- he opened his lips as if about to make a confidence, then thinking better of it, closed them again and withdrew.

     I ate some supper and then, sinking back in a comfortable chair, took up a book and tried to read.

     Perhaps I had sunk into a doze unawares.  I cannot tell.  I only know that I suddenly found myself standing up; that I knew the nervous sensations of that earlier part of the evening had returned with greater force than ever; that the little clock on the mantlepiece was chiming in a silvery note the hour of one, and the fire was burning low on the hearth.

       "Good heavens!" I said to myself, "I must have had a sleep.  Has not that man returned yet from his ride?  One o'clock -- I wonder if the servants had forgotten me and gone to bed."

     I pressed the button of an electric bell in the wall, and waited for the result.  The answer came quickly.  The man-servant, looking more disturbed and uneasy than ever, entered the room.

     "I'm sorry to say, sir," he began, not waiting for me to speak, "that my master has not yet returned.  We can none of us account for his absence."

     "You don't fear an accident?" I asked.

     "Oh, no, sir, that's scarcely likely.  Dr. Ogilvie is the best rider in the country round, and though the mare is a bit skittish, she's like a lamb always when he sits on her.  Dr. Ogilvie may have ridden over as far as Tewsbury, which is a matter of eighteen miles from here; he has patients there, I know, and he may be detained for the night."

     "Scarely likely," I said, "with Mrs. Ogilvie so ill."

     "She is that, sir; she's mortal bad, and we all think --"  He stopped and forced back some words.  I can't you why my master isn't home, Dr. Halifax; but as there has been no call from any special patients this evening, perhaps you'd like me to take you to your room, sir?"

      "There does not seem any use in staying up longer," I said.  "If you are going to sit up for Dr. Ogilvie, you can tell him that I am here, and can be disturbed at any moment if necessary.  Now I will follow you upstairs."

    I was shown into a comfortable room, furnished as handsomely as all the rest of the spacious house.  A fire, newly made up, burned on the hearth, and several tall candles helped to make the apartment cheerful.  I was dead tired, and did not take long tumbling into bed.  I had scarcely laid my head on my pillow before I sank into a profound and dreamless sleep.

     It seemed only to last a moment, although in reality I must have been bed a couple of hours, when I was awakened by someone shaking me and flashing a light in my eyes.

     "I wish you would get up, Dr. Halifax, and come with me," said Dr. Roper.  "I cannot account for Dr. Ogilvie's prolonged absence.  He has not yet returned, and Mrs. Ogilvie's condition is so unsatisfactory that I should like you to see her."

     "I will come at once," I replied.

     I was not three minutes getting into my clothes, and an instant later found me in the sick chamber.  It did not bear the ordinary appearance of a room of illness  -- the darkness and the enforced quiet of such chambers were both absent.

     A merry fire burned on the hearth; candles were shedding cheerful rays over the room.  A young woman who wore a nurse's cap and apron leaned over the railat the foot of the bed; a middle-aged woman, with a somewhat unpleasant face, was standing by the fire and occasionally bending forward to watch the contents of a saucepan which was heating on the flames.  There was a strong smell of coffee in the apartment, and I did not doubt that the nurse and the attendant were going to prepare themselves cups of this beverage.

     On entering the room my attention was primarily attracted by these two women, but when I turned to the bed I forgot all about them.

     Seated upright in the bed was a little boy of from four to five years of age.  He had a quantity of tumbled hair of a light shade, which glistened in the candlelight.  His eyes were preternaturally wide open; his lips were shut, so as to make a small straight line.

     He glanced at me not in alarm but in defiance, and stretching out one dimpled hand, laid it with a caressing motion on the head of the sick woman.

     "That child ought to go to bed," I said to Dr. Roper.

     "Oh, no, never mind him," he replied, quickly.  "He is perfectly happy here, and determined to stay.  He will make a noise if you disturb him."

     I said nothing further, but bending over the bed prepared to examine the patient.

     She was a young woman of not more than two or three and twenty.  Her hair was abundant and of the same colour as the child's.  Her eyes were partly closed -- her face had a grey and ghastly appearance.  In health she may have been pretty, but there was a look about her now which gave me again that queer sensation which I had experienced once or twice before during the evening.

     I preceded at once to make the usual examination.  I found the skin of the patient warm and bathed in perspiration -- the breathing was low and had a stertorous sound.  The pulse was very low.

     I raised the lid of the eyes and looked into them.  The pupils, as I expected, were considerably contracted.  I took up a candle and passed it backwards and forwards before the pale face.  The sick woman was, as I knew beforehand, absolutely insensible to light.

     Dr. Roper began to speak to me in a hurried, anxious way.

     "I heartily wish her husband were home," he said.  'I have done all that is possible to arouse her, but in vain; each hour, each moment the heavy stupor in which she is lying increases -- in short, I have every reason to apprehend the worst consequences."

     While the docotr was speaking some of Taylor's opinions with regard to neurotic poisons flashed before my mind.

     "I should like to speak to you in another room," I said; "come with me at once."

     We went into the dressing-room.

     Dr. Roper saw by my manner that I was disturbed, and his own uneasiness became manifest.

     "It is an awful responsibility to have a woman in this condition, and her husband unaccountably absent," he repeated.

     "Never mind about her husband now," I said.  "The thing is to restore her, and there is not an instant to lose."

     "What do you mean? What more can we do?"

     "You believe her to be suffering from embolism?" I said.

     "Undoubtedly.  All the symptoms point to it.  There is a clot of blood in one of the arteries of the brain."

     "Nothing of the kind," I said.  "Your patient is suffering from the effects of an overdose of opium -- not the faintest doubt on the subject."

     To say that Dr. Roper turned pale is to give but a very faint idea of his appearance when I pronounced my verdict.

     "Nonsense, nonsense," he said, with a sort of gasp; "who would give Mrs. Ogilvie opium?  She was a perfectly strong woman -- she suffered no pain of any sort.  There was nothing to tempt her to administer it to herself; and as for her husband, he is devoted to her.  For goodness' sake, young sir, don't come down to a quiet place like this and set such a scandal afloat."

     "I don't want to set any scandal going," I replied.  "It is nothing to me what anyone thinks.  You have called me in to see the patient.  I pronounce the case one of opium poisoning, and I insist on immediately using restoratives.  We must make use of the stomach-pump and see what electricity will do."

     My manner was so firm, and I carried my convictions so plainly written on my face, that Dr. Roper began to be convinced against his will.

     "There is not a moment to lose," I said.  "Is there an electric battery in the house?  I suppose Dr. Ogilvie has everything necessary for our purpose in his surgery."

     Dr. Roper interrupted me.

     "I wish to say," he began, in a hesitating voice, "that my friend, Ogilvie, and I consulted together over this case.  Our opinions are absolutely unanimous.  All the symptoms point to a cerebral clot."

     "Excuse me," I said.  "The state of the pupils of the eyes, the warmth of the patient's skin, the slow and yet stertorous breathing, can all be accounted for by an overdose of opium.  If nothing else is done to restore this young woman she will certainly die, and if she dies in my presence I shall think it my duty to see that some investigations take place.  It will then rest with the post-mortem examination to prove the truth of my diagnosis or not."

     "I wish Dr.Ogilvie were home," murmured the old physician, perspiration breaking out on his brow, and his eyes growing troubled.  "But, on my soul, I believe you are right with regard to one point, and that poor young creature, so full of life and beauty only twenty-four hours ago, is really drifting into the other world.  In that case it cannot be wrong to use any means for her restoration.  I will fetch what you require, Dr. Halifax, and join you in the sick room in a moment."

     He ran downstairs and I quickly returned to my patient.

     I was relieved to find that the beautiful child was no longer seated on the bed; his anxious vigil had probably proved too much for his tender years, and he was now doubtless calmly asleep in his cot in another room.  i bent over my patient -- I felt she was my patient now -- and I determined not to leave a stone unturned to bring her back to life.  I wanted to discover if there were any odour of opium in her breathing.

     I could not find any, but the more I looked at her, the more sure I was that this illness was an unnatural one, and that the poor young woman who lay before me had been poisoned by either accident or design.

     I felt myself growing hot with indignation.  What kind of man was Dr. Ogilvie?  Why was he absent at such a critical moment?  Why did the servants look so queer and troubled; and last, but not least, why was I myself for the first time in all my medical experience actually suffering from an attack of nerves?

     I felt convinced that something horrible had been done in this room, and I much wondered whether the strong restoratives which I meant to employ would be in time to be of the least use.

     Dr. Roper entered the room, and we began our task.  The first thing was to remove what portion of the poison still remained in the patient's stomach.  The electric battery was then brought into force and artificial respiration resorted to.  For a long time we worked without any apparant result.

     One glance of the contents of the stomach-pump had caused Dr. Roper to turn so white that I thought he would have to be helped out of the room, but he speedily recovered himself and assisted me with a will and determination which showed that his opinion now fully coincided with my own.

     The two nurses were like trained automatons in our hands.

     There was a strange silence about our doings.  We made little or no noise as we fought through the long hours of the night that awful fight with Death.

     Towards morning a noise in the silent street caused Dr. Roper to utter a hurried, thankful exclamation , and to my unbounded delight had an effect on my patient.

     She opened her eyes, gave a faint smile, looked full at the old doctor, and murmuring her husband's name, closed them again.

     "Ogilvie has returned," said Dr. Roper, glancing at me.  "Thank Heaven!  Whatever detained him can now be explained.  Those were his horse's footsteps which you heard just now clattering up to the door."

     'And Mrs. Ogilvie is better," I said.  "I have every hope that she will do now.  I dare not leave her for a little, but you might go down and acquaint Dr. Ogilvie with what has occured during his absence."

     "With what we have found?" began Dr. Roper.  "No, no, he is an old friend -- that must be another man's task."

     "Hush," I said, "Mrs. Ogilvie is becoming more conscious each minute.  We must be careful; she is very weak."  I looked towars the bed as I spoke.

     My patient now lay with her eyes wide open.  They were still dim from the effect of the drug, but the unnatural ghastly colour had left her cheeks, and her breathing was quicker and more regular.

     "Stay with her," I whispered to the old doctor.  "You have but to administer restoratives at short intervals; I will see Dr. Ogilvie myself, and quickly return."

     I left the room.  I expected to see my host mounting the stairs, and hurrying with what speed he could to his wife's sick room.

     Instead of that there was commotion and alarm.  Alarm on the faces of some maid-servants who, with hot haste, were hurrying downstairs.  Voices raised to a shrill pitch of terror and distress sounded from the hall.  There were hurrying steps, the confusion caused by doors being opened hastily and banged again regardless of sound.  Dr. Ogilvie was nowhere to be seen.  What was he doing?  Why had he remained absent so long and at such a critical time, and, above all things, why had he returned now to turn the quiet house into noise and confusion?

     Mrs. Ogilvie was better, certainly, but her heart had undergone a severe strain, and any undue agitation might undo all our night's work, and cause the feeble, fluttering breath to cease. 

     I ran downstairs quickly.

     "Hush! hush!" I said, "I must beg of you all to be quiet!  Where is Dr. Ogilvie?  I must speak to him immediately."

     The servant who had let me into the house the day before now came forward.  He was onluy half-dressed, and his hair stood wildly on his head.  "Will you step into this room, Dr. Halifax?" he said.  "An awful thing has happened, sir.  The mare has come home riderless!"

     "Dr. Ogilvie's mare?"  I exclaimed.

     "Yes, sir.  There's no sign of my poor master, and we all fear a bad accident.  The brute was that trembling as never when it got to the door.  Here's the groom -- he'll tell you himself the state we found the mare in, all in a lather, and shivering from head to foot.  You step in, Williams, and talk to the gentleman."

     "It's true what he says," remarked Williams, who had been listenig to our conversation from the open doorway.  "I never see a critter in such a taking as that mare.  She shook like a leaf, and whinnied like a baby.  I can't think as the mare 'ud throw the doctor, for though she is a skittish piece, she was always like a lamb when he rode her.  It's an awful business, and I can't make head nor tail of it.  Perhaps he went to see some patient and tied her up, as he do at times, to a railing or anything handy, and then she made off.  But if so her bridle would have broken, and it isn't.  Well, well, George and me, we don't know what to do."

     "What would you advise, sir?" asked the footman, who went by the name of George.  "I suppose we must start a search party; but how are we to get them together, and it still dark night, is more than I can make out."

     "Does the coachman live on the premises?" I asked.

     "No, sir; his house is at the other end of the town."

     "You had better go and wake him," I said.  "You, of course, know two or three men who will help you in an emergency of this sort.  By the way, is there not snow on the ground?"

     "Yes, sir," replied George; "a light sprinkling.  The snow has been falling for an hour or so, and is now resting."

     "The snow will help you," I said.  "The day is already beginning to break, and you will easily be able to trace the mare's footsteps over the fresh snow.  We none of us can tell what has happened, but the probabilities point to Dr. Ogilvie having been thrown from his horse.  I must go back at once to your mistress, who is better, but not out of danger."

     "Thank the Lord she is better!" ejaculated George, while a look of relief swept over the groom's face.

     "She is better," I replied; "and now I trust to you, George, and to you, William, to start a search party with the least possible delay."

     "Thank you, sir," the two men said. "There ain't no doubt that we'll do our very best."

     They looked relieved, as people always do when they get definite and explicit directions.  The men left the house immediately.  I found it necessary, on re-entering the hall, to say a few words to the agitated women-servants.

     "Get the house lighted up and well warmed," I said, "and do this with the least possible delay.  Dr. Ogilvie is most probably hurt, and may be brought home before long.  It will be well to get a bed made up in one of the downstairs rooms, in case he is too much injured to be carried upstairs."

     The maids were also pleased at being given work to do, and having restored a certain amount of order, I returned to my patient.

     The  moment I entered the room and looked at her, my heart gave a thankful bound.  Whatever had happened, whatever dark cloud was hanging over the house, her young life was saved.  The natural look of returning health was reviving more and more each moment on her face.  She turned her head when I entered the room and asked me a question.

     "Is my husband in the house?" she asked.

     "No," I replied, using that latitude with regard to truth  which I considered in her case absolutely necessary.  "He has been called out suddenly."

     "I wonder he did not come to see me first," she answered, gently.

     "He had not a moment -- the case was urgent.  It will be nice for him to find you so much better."

     "Oh, yes, I am nearly well," she said, with a smile, and then she closed her eyes peacefully and sank into a gentle sleep.

     I motioned Dr. Roper out of the room, and told him as well as I could what had occured.

     The circumstances of the night, the appalling discovery we had made with regard to Mrs. Ogilvie's illness, had unmanned him a good deal, and now the grave facts which we were forced to share with regard to Dr. Ogilvie's fate completely prostrated the poor old man.

     "I feel dazed, Halifax," he said.  "I cannot realize what all this means.  There isn't a better fellow living than Ogilvie; he is devoted to his wife; and she -- well, pretty dear, I have known her from a baby.  Who could have given her that opium?"

     "The thing now is to find Dr. Ogilvie," I said.  "We will assume that he has been thrown from his horse."

     "Why do you say we will assume it?  Of course the mare threw him -- nasty thing she always was.  I often warned him about her.  Why do you say we will assume that Dr. Ogilvie has met with an accident, Halifax?"

     I made now reply, but the old doctor read my thoughts in my face.

     "No, no," he said, "it isn't that; it can't be that.  Well, I'll go myself and help to look for him."

     He went downstairs, trembling and tottering.

     "I will take care of Mrs. Ogilvie," I said, calling after him as he reached the lower landing.  "Make your mind easy on that score, and have some wine before you start."

     I then went back to the sick room.  The patient still slept, and the nurses were softly moving about, putting the chamber in order, and removing all traces of the disorder which had reigned there while Death and the doctors were having their fight.

     I sat down in an easy chair and, being very weary, dropped into a doze.  I am sure I did not sleep long.  When I awoke I observed that Mrs. Ogilvie was looking at me with a puzzled but gentle expression.

     "I wish I knew your name," she said.  "I have seen you in my dreams all night, but I don't know who you are."

     "My name is Halifax," I said.

     "Halifax," she repeated; "we don't know anyone called Halifax."

     "You are unlikely to know me:  I am a doctor from London; I have come down to help your husband with his patients, and as you were very ill last night, and Dr. Ogilvie was away, I helped to look after you."

     "Was I very ill?" she repeated.  "I don't seem to remember anything, only that I was drowsy and hated to be disturbed.  I had neuralgia yesterday morning, and my husband gave me something to drink.  Soon afterwards the pain went, and I felt very sleepy, nothing more.  How could I have been ill if I felt no pain?"

     "People are often ill without suffering pain," I replied.  "Be thankful that you are much better this morning.  I am going to order some breakfast for you now."  Here I raised my voice.  "Nurse," I said, "will you, please, get some strong tea for Mrs. Ogilvie?"

     The hospital nurse left the room, but the older woman still sat keeping guard by the fire; her face was very black and ominous.

     "Are you there, Jenkins?" called Mrs. Ogilvie.

     "Yes, my dear," she replied, the she came over to the bedside, bent suddenly over the young wife and kissed her.

     I was amazed at the change in her face when she did this.  The sullenness gave place to a hungry sort of tenderness, as if a partly starved heart had been suddenly fed.

     "You'll excuse me, sir," she said, turning to me, and I noticed that her eyes were full of tears; "but I have nursed Mrs. Ogilvie since she was a baby, and she's not twenty-three yet, poor dear."

     She suddenly left the room, and I noticed for the first time how child-like, how younger even than her years, were the outlines of my patient's pretty face.

     She was getting better each moment, but I dreaded the moment when she would begin to make definite inquiries about her husband.

     The nurse came back with the tea, and I was leaving the room to go to my own to have a wash and dress, when one of the maid-servants came up to me and spoke hastily.

     "If you please, sir," she said, "there's a woman downstairs.  She has asked for Dr. Ogilvie.  She says she's one of his patients, and won't believe me when I say that he's not in and not likely to be.  I showed her into the consulting-room, and I thought maybe you'd come down and see her, sir."

     "Yes," I said, "I will be down immediately."

     I rushed into my room, made a hasty toilet, and went downstairs.  The daylight was now shedding a sickly gleam over everything, but the large consulting-room had a neglected appearance, for the shutters were only partly removed from the windows, and the ashes of last night's fire lay grey and cheerless on the hearth.

     Standing in the middle of the room was a tall, middle-aged woman with a florid face.  She had a defiant sort of appearance, and when she saw me she gave her head a toss.  She did not look like an invalid, and my heart gave a fresh beat of alarm as though I knew, even before she spoke, that a fresh leaf in the Book of Tragedy was about to be turned.

     "Sit down," I said; "I am sorry Dr. Ogilvie is out."

     "Oh," she replied, "as if I'm likely to believe that little game!  He doesn't want to see me; but you tell him, young man, that Flora's mother is here, and that here Flora's mother will stay until he comes to her."

     "I don't understand you," I said.  "Dr. Ogilvie has been absent all night -- we are terribly anxious about him; we fear that his horse has thrown him, as it came back riderless this morning.  If you will go away now and come later, I may have some tidings for you."

     There was a vague hope in my mind that the woman might be a lunatic; the best thing was to get her quietly out of the house and warn the servants on no account to re-admit her.

     "Dr. Ogilvie is out," I repeated; "I have no object in keeping the truth from you."

     She looked startled for a moment when I spoke of a possible accident, but soon the toss of the head re-asserted itself.

     "You nearly took me in," she said, "but I'm too old to be gulled.  I'll wait here for Dr. Ogilvie until he comes back.  I gave him forty-eight hours, and the time's up:  he was expecting me this morning.  You send someone in to light the fire, young man, and I wouldn't object to a bit of breakfast."

     There was nothing whatever for it but to humour the woman.  Whether mad or sane, she would not leave the house without making a disturbance.  She was strong enough to fight, and she certainly seemed to have sufficient nerve to offer physical resistance if necessary.

     "Very well," I said, after a pause, "if you won't go, I can but leave you here."

     I went back into the hall, where one of the maid-servants was hovering restlessly about.

     "Do you think you can get her to go, sir?"  she asked.

     "No," I replied; "she insists upon waiting to see your master."

     "She hints very queer things, sir," continued the servant.

     "I don't want to hear them," I answered.   "It is more than probable that the woman is deranged.  Has she been here before?"

     "Two days ago, sir, and just about this hour, too.  She was shut up with my master in his consulting-room for a long time.  We all noticed how changed Dr. Ogilvie looked after that.  He seemed to turn old all of a sudden.  We all saw it."

     "Well," I said, "you had better take the woman some breakfast.  And, please, don't listen to a word she says, for I don't think she is accountable."

     These remarks has scarcely passed my lips, and the servant had not attempted to obey my directions, before a sound of heavy footsteps in the street caused us both to start.  I rushed to the hall door and opened it.

     Several men bearing a burden on a shutter were ascending the steps.  A motionless figure, covered with a sheet, lay on the shutter.  The men, without uttering a word, brought it straight into the house.

     Dr. Roper accompanied them.

     "Come into this room," he said; they carried their burden into the spacious dining-room, and laid it on the centre table.

     "Make  no noise," whispered the doctor, hoarsely, to them; "go quietly away."

     Then he turned to me.

     "Come in here with me, Halifax," he said.

     He pointed to a little conservatory which opened out of the dining-room.  His manner had altered; it was now composed and quiet.  I perceived that the shock he had received had the strange effect of absolutely steadying his nerves for the time.

     "We found him," he began at once -- "we found him several miles from home.  The mare's footsteps were distinctly visible in the snow, and we had no difficulty in tracing them to the spot on the borders of a wood where the act was commited."

     "He killed himself, then?" I whispered.

     "Yes, yes; my friend!  my poor, poor friend!  I found him myself, Halifax --"

     Dr. Roper took out a handkerchief and wiped the damp from his brow as he spoke.

     "I found him quite cold.  The bottle that had contained the poison which he had swallowed was tightly clutched in his right hand.  Poor, poor Ogilvie! -- oh, my God, that I should live to see this day!"

     "Can you account for it?" I asked.

     "Oh, yes, Halifax -- yes -- I can account for it -- yes -- that accounts for it."

     He took a letter out of his pocket and thrust it into my hand.

     "Read it," he said.  "It is right you should now the truth.  I found it in his breast pocket -- it was addressed to me."

     Dr. Roper turned to leave the conservaroty -- I opened the letter.

     The words it contained were concise and calm.  No trace of emotion was allowed to appear.

     "MY DEAR ROPER, -- When you receive this I shall have died by my own hand.  Life has become intolerable to me -- I will tell you why.

     "Two days ago there were few happier men than I.  I had all, more than I ever dreamed I could possess of happiness and the good things of life.  Above and over all else, I was the husband of the sweetest wife in the world.  I don't believe any two people were more devoted to each other than Letty and I.  Two days ago the storm which wrecks us broke us both.  I often told you that I had spent the early years of my medical life in Australia.  But I never mentioned either to you or Letty that I was married when there.  I married a handsome girl, who turned out to be a verigo -- one of the cruelest, the most heartless, the wickedest woman who ever polluted God's earth.

     "After two years of absolute misery, which no words of mine can possibly describe, my wretched wife died suddenly when I was engaged on business up the country.  I was given the certificate of death, and, relieved beyond measure, I returned to England, bought a practice here, and fell in love with my sweet Letty and married her.  We have been husband and wife for nearly six years; we have one beautiful child; no people could have been happier than we were.

     "Two days ago a woman called to see me.  To my horror I quickly recognized her as my first wife's mother.  She told me at once that her daughter had never died.  She gave reasons, which I need not enter into here, for the trick which had been played on me.  Since then tidings of my properity had reached the wretched pair, and they came to England determined to make me acknowledge my real wife and reinstate her in the place occupied by my beloved Letty.

     "Of course, I offered money, but all in vain -- my real wife must have her rights or nothing.  If I did not immediately reinstate her she would denounce me for bigamy.  Finally, I asked for two days' grace to decide what steps to take.  This was unwillingly conceded to me.  During twenty-four hours I thought the whole thing over.  One does not take long to make up one's mind when one is in despair.

     "I resolved not to bribe the women, nor argue with them, but by one fell stroke to cut the ground under their cruel feet.  Roper, I resolved to kill both myself and Letty.  Letty should never live to hear of the disgrace which would more than break her heart.  She should go first, by easy and painless steps, into the other world.  There I would quickly meet her.  I made my resolve, and this morning began to carry it into effect.  I gave my dear and only true wife a portion of a certain drug which resembles morphia in its effects, but leaves no smell, and might easily make those not really acquainted with its peculiar power suppose the victim to be suffering from embolism.  I made the acquaintance of this drug in Australia, and had a small quantity with me.  I do not know its name, but it is much used by the Australian aborigines.  When taken in certain quantities it causes slow and painless death.

     "I have watched Letty during the whole of this awful day; there is now no chance of her recovering to a life of misery.  I am going out on the mare; I shall ride a considerable distance, and then send the horse home.  I have a large dose of the same poison in my pocket.   I will kill me, Roper -- I am good riddance.  Farewell."

     I had scarcely finished reading this miserable letter before Dr. Roper, his eyes blazing with excitement, rushed into the conservatory.

     "For God's sake, Halifax, come at once!" he gasped.  "That awful woman has found her way into the room where the body is.  nerves have given away completely at sight of it.  She has confessed that the whole abominable story is a lie -- that her daughter, poor Ogilvie's first wife, has really been dead for years, and that she only invented her horrible fiction for purposes of blackmail."

     "Then -- then," I said with a sudden shout,  which I could not repress, "we have a try for it!"

      "A try for what?  Are you mad?"

     "Why, Roper, don't you see?" I exclaimed.  "Don't you see that if  the woman's story is false, Ogilvie has nothing to die for?  The drug he has taken is slow in its effects.  He may only be in a state of stupor.  We saved his wife -- we'll have a try for his recovery, too."

     I ran from the room, and Roper, looking as if his senses had deserted him, followed me.  We turned everyone else out of the dining-room and locked the door.  I flung the cloth off the dead man's face, and, seizing a looking-glass, held it to his lips.

     "Thank God!" I exclaimed, turning to the old doctor, and pointing to a faint dimess on its polished surface.

     That is the story, for of course we did save Ogilvie.  We had a harder fight than even that of the night before, but in the end the grim King of Terrors withdrew, and we, the humble instruments who had brought back life almost to the dead, fell on our knees in thankfulness.  And Olgilvie's wife was never told the real story of that night.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Police officers Highsmith and Danson (Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson) are the top cops in the city (think manic Crockett and Tubbs or Riggs and Murtaugh on speed) until they jump to their deaths from the 20th floor while in pursuit of a suspect, leaving an opportunity for another pair to become the top cops.  Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg) wants that spot filled by his partner, Allan Gamble (Will Ferrell), and himself.  The problem is that Hoist's career has been sidelined because he shot Derek Jeter and Gamble is basically an accountant who does not want to be put on the street.

     Gamble has discovered that David Ershon, one of the wealthiest men in the city, has not applied for some permits needed for the construction of several of his buldings.  Unknown to Hoitz and Gamble, Ershon has been playing fast and loose with other people's money.  After being arrested by the two for minor infractions, Ershon is kidnapped.  Things go downhill from there for Hoitz and Gamble.

     I've read that, while filming the mega-bomb ISHTAR, the stars and the director -- Dustin Hoffman, Warren Beatty and Elaine May -- were convinced that the film would be a mega-success.  They had laughed all through the production, so it had to be good, then -- right?  I think somehow the same thing happened with THE OTHER GUYS.  I could see where it was supposed to be funny and I could see where I was supposed to laugh.  In other circumstances, I probably would have laughed.  But...

     The direction was sloppy, there was no sense of continuity to the characters, side jokes threw the pacing off, the editing was terrible, everything superfluous stayed in the final cut, Will Ferrell put in a flat performance and Mark Wahlberg a completely unconvincing one.  The thing is:  the funny was there, but no one bothered to bring it out.  This could have been a contender.  Thumbs down.

Friday, December 17, 2010


Just read on this morning's SF SITE post that the Periodic Table of Elements is being changed; specifically, the atomic weights of ten elements are being altered.  Let me announce clearly that any weight gain that I have had must be  the direct result of some of those elements in my body and is no fault of my own!  Alas and alack, though, if any of those ten elements had a drop in atomic weight, it it obvious that those elements are not present in my body.  Just wanted to get that clarified.

Okay, you can go back to your morning coffee and daily routines now.