Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, July 27, 2021


 "The Robbery on the 'Stormy Petrel' " by Richard Marsh (from his collection The Seen and the Unseen, 1900; any earlier publication unknown)

The Hon, Augustus Champnell is a detective of sorts -- or, at least, a solver of problems; his exact status is unclear -- and on this one morning he is engaged by three different persons for three different tasks, all of which were resolved without any due strain on either Champnell nor his abilities.

First, two messengers enter his dwelling carrying a large chest, with the compliments of the Marguis of Bewley, who requested that the chest be drowned in a cistern of water until the Marquis should appear.  Champnell declines the request and a few moments later the Marquis shows up, somewhat amazed that Champnell did not obey his request.  The chest (the Marquis said) could well contain an "infernal device" (a term once used to describe a thing that goes boom!).  The Marquis was a member of a certain secret society and, over the years, the Marquis had broken just about every rule and regulation of the society; the perhaps-soon-to-be-exploded chest might well be the society's way of reprimanding the Marquis.  Champnell carefully opens the chest.  It did not explode, but inside were thirteen small boxes that could possibly explode.  The Marquis offers Champnell 150 guineas if he could discover the origin of th chest -- 200 if he could definitely prove that is did not come from the secret society.

Shortly after the Marquis leaves, Golden, the junior partner of a famous firm of jewelers, Mssrs. Ruby and Golden, appears with his personal tale of woe.  A long-time customer of the firm, Lord Hardaway, has not been paying on his account and owes the firm a large sum of money to the point where Golden infomed Hardaway that his acount would be closed until the monies due are paid.  Hardaway, it seems, is engaged to the daughter of a very wealthy soap manufacturer.  Once wed, Hardaway would have more than enough money to pay off his account.  Hardaway is planning on taking his fiancee on a cruise abord his ship, the "Stormy Petrel."  He has asked Golden to deliver a number of precious items to the yacht so that he might choose one to give to the lady.  If Golden agrees, Hardaway's account will paid in full; if not, Mssrs. Ruby and Golden would have to "whistle."  Golden does not want to go along with this but the senior partner, Ruby, overrules him, so Golden goes out to the docks with 20,000 pounds of jewels for Hardaway's inspection.  It is a cold, windy, stormy night as Golden (and his sea-sick stomach) is rowed out to the ship.  There he seems to pass out, wakening to find that the case with the valuable is missing.  Hardaway points to a man rowing from the ship, telling Golden that this man stol the jewels.  Hardaway gives chase, only to find that the man was an innocent fisherman.  In the meantime, Hardaway sails away.  Golden asks Champnell to either recover the jewels or to get Hardaway to pay for them.  Because of the firm's reputation (and Mr. Ruby's aversion to publicity) it was decided to go to Champnell rather than the police.

After Golden left, Champnell detects s light motion from on of the thirteen boxes from the chest that the Marquis had left.  The box explodes, covering Champnell with noxious sea water, and there in the remains of the box was a necklace -- one of the items stolen from Golden several days before.  As if on a synchronized timer, the remaining boxes explode, revealing all of the remaining missing jewels, as well as turning Champnell's lodging into an odorous mess. 

Champnell gathers up the jewels and heads off to Ruby and Golden's office.  On the way he spots a familiar figure.  It's Lord Hardaway.  Hardaway tells Champnell that yes, he did take the jewels and bnox them up and sent them to the Marquis.  A ripping good joke, eh?  Champnell explains that, although it was a ripping good joke, it was also illegal and Lord Hardaway could well be prosecuted -- something that Hardaway had overlooked.  English aristocracy can be somewhat dense and English police can be somewhat unforgiving of a ripping good joke.  Hardaway then engages Champnell to save his bacon.

Champnell then goes on to the jewelers, getting a promise from them that, if the jewels were to be returned, Ruby and Golden would accept them no questions asked and with no prosecution forthcoming.  They agree and Champnell gives the unsuspecting duo the jewels.  

It was a fortuitous morning.  Champnell received three commisions totalling 500 guineas without doing any real work.  Jewells were returned.  The Marquis was satisfied that the secret society was not targeting him.  Hardaway avoided any potential prosectution and was set to marry the soap czar's daughter almost immediatelly and could pay off his debts.  And Champnell ended up propping his feet on the mantle-shelf and relaxing with a cigar.

Richard Marsh (born Richard Bernard Heldmann, 1857-1915) was a very popular and prolific english writer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  He was best known for the supernatural thriller The Beetle, published in the same year as Bram Stoker's Dracula, 1897, outselling Dracula six times over.  Marsh published almost eighty books in vrious fields -- horror, crime, romance, and humor (Whoops!  I mean humour).  He began his writing carrer as Heldmann, and was brief the co-editor of the well-known boys' weekly newspaper Union Jack, suddenly departing after eight or nine months.  Since that time, he published under the Richard Marsh pseudonym.

His abrupt departure from Union Jack remained a mystery until recently when it was dicovered that he had been sentenced in 1884 to eighteen months hard labor (Sorry...labour) for passing forged checks (Sorry again...cheques); when he was arrested, he had another man's watch and a second man's overcoat.  Upon his release, he began publishing stories inder the Marsh name and had his first novels published in 1893.

Among Marsh's best-selling books were the horror novels The Goddess:  A Demon (1900) and Joss:  A Revertion (1901), crime novels Philip Bennion's Death (1897) and The Datchet Diamonds (1898), the proto-science fiction novel A Spoiler of Men (1905), and the fantasy novel A Second Coming (1900).  Among his other short stories collections -- each providing a mix of genres -- are Marvels and Mysteries (1900), Both Sides of the Veil (1901), and Between the Dark and the Daylight (1902).  His 1898 collection Curios concerns two rival collectors who pass on to each other items of a strange and disturbing nature.  among Marsh's more popular characters are Miss Judith Lee, a lip-reading detective, and Sam Briggs, one-time office clerk who becomes a soldier in World War I.

Marsh has been described as " a writer with a good sense of the literary market but who often transcended the ideological and aesthetic boundaries that his contemporaries established."

It should be noted that Marsh was the grandfather of Robert Aickman (1914-1981), who many (including me) feel was the greatest writer of supernatural stories in the last half of the Twentieth century.

The Seen and the Unseen, along with many other of Marsh's books, is available to be read online.


  1. I thought of you when I was reading and reviewing Christopher Fowler's THE BOOK OF FORGOTTEN AUTHORS. And this week, my FFB is another book about forgotten writers. Plenty of material for you! Love your posts on these obscure writers!

  2. Marsh was a Very big deal back in the day...but I suppose even the writers he influenced are becoming less and less read...