Thursday, 16 January 2014

I: The Meeting at Cragside, March 16th 1897.

The Manor at Cragside: a sprawling country mansion set in 400 hectares of gardens, forests, and trees, a short distance from the town of Rothbury. Recently inherited by the Reverend Gerald Foxworth from his deceased great-uncle, Sir Upton Foxworth, it has an extensive staff and is in excellent condition - all except for the chapel, which has fallen into disrepair.

You are gathered in Sir Upton's billiards room, at the top of the house. As well as housing a billiards table, it is where Sir Upton liked to retire of an evening and it is well-stocked with brandy, port and sherry, as well as smoking materials and a small library.


  1. I am the Reverend Gerald Foxworth (Anglican, but secret atheist) 42 years of age, with grey streaks around the temples.

    I peer at you over the top of the overly-generous shot of whisky that I have just poured and begin to tell you the story I heard recently of Isabel Segovia, the daughter of Baron Charles Segovia.

    "It appears that young Miss Segovia has become quite entranced by a painting she purchased recently. Entranced to the point of near catatonia. She spends many long hours staring in to the painting in a state of total silence. Her uncle the Baron is quite beside himself. Of course this is all off-the-record, but being a devout man he asked me to look into the matter, from a pastoral perspective."

  2. "A filly in trouble, eh? And quality, too. It sounds like that requires immediate attention!" Wilmot bristles and puffs himself up importantly. When he relaxes he still looks a little over-inflated.

    "Also most disturbing - some lad at the college has got himself killed after asking questions about the joo-joo men of New Guinea. Or possibly it was gambling debts. But the college isn't pursuing the matter and it all smells like a hush-up. In any event, curious that the college of Physical Sciences is concerning itself with primitive magics. Plenty of superstition to be found right here."

    Wilmot is the sort of person who has his service bars embroidered onto his smoking jacket. He is never seen without a copy of the Financial Times, which he uses for swatting flies and sleeping under at the club. He'll have a whisky, thanks. No, just a bit more, thankye.

  3. Francis Kitson, early forties. Beady, piercing eyes. Long jaw, small mouth, strong nose. Does not wear military signs or refer to himself as 'Colonel'.


    "A woman staring at a painting is not a matter for invesigation, send the woman to the workhouse and the painting to a dump.

    The club has informed me of a case of theft, an entire shelf from the metaphysics section has gone missing, which shows admirable logisitcal ability, if nothing else.

    And of course old Fitzmaurice has gone made and says he's made of glass. Won't leave his bed.

    A _murder_ sounds much more interesting. I can assure you Wilmot that these 'joo joo men' are no joke. No joke at all. Their capacities are quite real, quite....."

    Tails off, stares into reflection in window, for a second looks as if he has seen somthing and is about to mention it, then clenches his pipe in his teeth and falls silent.

  4. "A theft from the club? Unthinkable! Are the servants all accounted for? Nay we must start here. We must at least know what's been pilfered. I take this quite personally. As a member. In good standing.

    "Ho there - yes, yes, another whisky certainly, but tell me, who is the librarian here, who looks after the books and when did they go missing?"

  5. (Point of order: The books have disappeared from the Literary & Philosophical Society, which is a private library in Newcastle - it isn't directly connected to The Grey Society, although there is likely to be a lot of overlap in membership.)

    You will all know that the Chief Librarian at the Lit & Phil is a man called Armstrong Brown.

  6. "As to the means of locating books. A few possibilities resent themselves.

    Search for someone selling the unneeded books. There cannot be many shops for that kind of thing in Newcastle.

    Look for someone who would actually understand the books stolen. Again, our list may be short.

    Recover a list of the books stolen from Mr Brown, eliminate those which could be obtained any way other (that is to say, through the use of a library) than theft, and by a process of elimination, find the books sought.

    Look for illiterate and missing servants. Anyone who desired a book of that sort would certainly know enough to know *which* book they were looking for. The theft of the whole shelf suggests an illiterate or incompetent thief. Or, perhaps an attempt to disguise the real target of the theft. But from who?

    In any case we must visit the club, speak to Brown, and canvas the servants. I would recommend we also speak to all the antiquarian book dealers in the area and offer them a reward if necessary."

  7. The door creaks open, revealing Jacob Hodgkiss.

    "Unseasonable weather chaps, sorry, I was, er, detained."

    He steps in carefully, not quite leaning on his cane.

    "I couldn't help but overhear, while the valet was taking my coat, about book thefts and suchlike. Now, as you know, I am quite familiar with all manner of books - and have an avid interest in crime to boot - but this seems to me to be a matter best left to the constabulary..."

    Hodgkiss pauses to take a sip from his glass, frowns at the taste and then continues.

    "...although, perhaps there are clues that have been overlooked as well at the scene of the crime. Whenever I encounter situations that seem inexplicable I think 'What would Harrison Bentley do?'"

    "Why, just the other day I heard tell of a prof over at Durham - clever chap, he'll be a Fellow of the Royal Society some day I'm sure - but I was quite bemused when my acquaintance was telling me of this prof's theory at there being a planet out beyond Neptune. My acquaintance was relaying all manner of nonsense regarding 'momentous perturbances in the aether' that this Ninth Planet might cause. He was getting very excited and so I thought 'What would Harrison Bentley do?'"

    Hodgkiss smiles: "I changed the subject and told him all about this fascinating account I found in a journal of folklore - well, it was right here in the library. Some old fisherman - I forget the chap's name - up by Farne, who saw strange lights and people on the deserted isles up there. The account is twenty years old now, but I imagine it would be quite fun to go up there. Plenty of sights to see and inspiration to strike."

    "But don't let me monopolise the conversation. I believe you mentioned the local book dealers, and I think I know one or two who might be willing to talk openly to me."

  8. All those ideas of Hodkiss and Kitson are eminently workable. Hodgkiss knows of at least three eminent book dealers in the city - Walter Stone, Henrick Dillon and, most unusually, a woman called Elizabeth Eastham. If Kitson thinks hard enough he knows a man at the Grey Society universally referred to as The Venerable Charles, who is an antiquarian book collector.

  9. "Very good - sounds like you chaps have the book problem in hand - we need to know which titles are missing and which would be hardest to replace and whatnot... but what about the lady? It's a gentleman's part to help, eh?

    1. David M, does the telegraph exist yet?

    2. Yes. I know people were sending telegraphs during the Boer War.

    3. And also, there is no telegraph machine at Cragside but there might be one in Rothbury.

    4. And also, there is no telegraph machine at Cragside but there might be one in Rothbury.

  10. Kiston turns sharply, almost as if he had spoken and the comment had not been heard. Eaten by some kind of invisible daemon made of numbers. He pauses and goes on.

    "With your permission gentlemen I will telegraph Brown at the Lit and Phil and request a list of the missing books. We may at least, compare them to whatever we have available in the library, we can do that without leaving the house.

    I worry that we may spread ourselves too thin, running off harum scarum over the moorlands looking for clues about any range of odd things.

    But, Wilmot, if the fate of this 'innocent girl' worries you so much, we may as well look in. (ruling out morphine would be a good idea)

    Foxworth do you know the name of the artist, the nature of the painting or the means of its acquisition? Or must we go running around in god-dammn _galleries_, asking questions of a bunch I-don't-know-whats in silk shirts?"

  11. "Hmm no, I don't believe I do. I did tell the good Baron that I'd drop by to check in on the poor girl. Perhaps later this afternoon, if you'd care to accompany me"

  12. [Feel free to keep discussing options and arriving at a decision. Because this is PBP and things need to move forward, I'll probably impose actions by dictat tomorrowish. Also, I'm working on changing the blog settings so we can post via G+.]

    1. Yo is Zak it this beause I thought he was? (He probably missed the kickoff as he was away)

  13. [The change of blog settings for G+ would be welcome!]

    "I'll be happy to accompany the good Reverend."

    1. "I will go with the Reverend (once I have that list of books)"

  14. I SAY! DREADfully apologetic on all fronts, my good fellows!

    Which one of you ordered the placebone with spinnaker sauce? Also: feeling ghastly cooperative today--eager to aid anyone in any such endeavor as they might see fit to engage in, what?

  15. [Okay. The way things will play out is as follows: You are going to go into Rothbury to the post office so you can telegraph Armstrong Brown to ask for the list of lost books. The way telegraphs work (somebody at a telegraph relay station in Newcastle is going to have to physically go to Brown to give him the telegraph, etc....), it's going to take at least a day to have a reply, so in the meantime you can get on the train to Newcastle to go and visit the Baron Segovia's extensive rooms there. Sound good? Will put up a new blog post for these events, which will hopefully mesh with G+ this time.]