Excellent People by Anton Chekhov

“Once upon a time there lived in Moscow a man called Vladimir Semyonitch Liadovsky.”

Wow, Chekhov was in fine form with this short story!  A narrator relates a story of a literary man trained at law, Vladimir Semyonitch Liadovsky, and his sister, Vera Semyonovna, a listless woman who has been disappointed in life.  At the start of the story, Vladimir has compassion and love for his sister, who had her new husband die, survived a suicide attempt, and now is living with him, quietly revering his talents.

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The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

(Warning:  There are spoilers galore in this review, but the story itself is quite obvious, not to mention the title, so I spoiled away!)

A few decades ago, I read this short story as an elementary school student.  From what I can remember from a fuzzy recollection is that the tale creeped me completely out and the image of a beating heart under the floorboards thumped around in my consciousness for weeks after.  However, for some reason I remembered the heart being in a box, which is not in the story.  Why, I wonder?  Was it some illustration I’d seen that had left that impression or simply my mind supplying details?

The Tell Tale Heart (1919)
Harry Clarke
source Wikipedia

In any case, The Tell Tale Heart was first published in the literary journal, The Pioneer, in 1843.  It is told in a first person narrative, with the narrator describing a helpless old man whose rheumy blue eye drives him to contemplate the murder of this vulnerable creature.  Although he claims to love the man and have nothing personal against him, the filmy eye is his main focus.  Each night at midnight, he attempts to shine a light on the eye, but each night it does not open and therefore, he claims, he cannot complete his homicidal deed.  Every day, he is kinder to the old man, but on the eighth night, the man calls out before the narrator is able to shine the light, however with patience our murder awaits our terrified victim and when he is able light up the eye, a sense of rage grows within him and he snuffs out the man’s life.  Dismembering him, he hides the body parts beneath the floorboards.  Soon after, a knocking is heard and the narrator opens the door to the police who have heard reports of a shriek and have come to investigate.  Elated with his perceived clever deed, the narrator invites them in and they converse right in the room where the murder occurred, the evildoer supposing the police will never discover his crime.  However ……. ka-thump, ka-thump, ka-thump …… a noise begins ….. a noise that comes from directly under the floorboards.  The tell tale heart …….  The pounding echoes the pounding in the murder’s head until he is convinced that the police now know all, and bleats out a wild cry:  “Villains!  Dissemble no more!  I admit the deed! —- tear up the planks!  —- here, here! — it is the beating of his hideous heart!”

The Veiled Heart (1932)
Salvador Dali
source Wikiart

Well, well!  And so I reveal the whole story.  Why?  Well, because at first, honestly, it was a huge disappointment.  It’s an interesting story, certainly, but a classic?  Bah!  It’s simply an implied scary story that is mildly shivery, and then soon forgotten.  What a disappointment! But not trusting my own judgement, I looked around to see what others had made of it.  It seemed like no one could draw any sort of deeper meaning from the tale.  There is talk of the unreliable narrator, who is obviously paranoid and psychotic right from the beginning. There is no explanation of the relationship of the narrator to the old man, or really even why he loves him but hates his eye.  So I let the story sit with me a day or two.  When I returned, I had a vague idea ……….. in the beginning the narrator is fixated on the eye of the man; we never are told why but it absorbs all his thoughts until it becomes an obsession.  He murders the old man because he’s convinced that he hates it.  Yet in the end, it is the heart of the man that gives the murderer away.  Could it be a commentary on the outside appearance of a person vs. their inner nature, the eye versus the heart?  We see and react to what is seen on the surface, yet is the heart of a person that is their true character, what will eventually “give them away” so to speak.

My conclusion still seems rather elusive and I’m grasping at a possible meaning that is still out of my reach.  Does anyone else have any thoughts on this or any other interpretations that you’ve discovered?  If so I’d love to hear them!

There is also the theme of the psychosis of the murder, which is rather fascinating.  He continually emphasizes the fact he is NOT crazy, and incessantly accentuates his clever machinations.  And notice in his final words, he calls the police, “villains”. Everything is backwards in his twisted mind.

My next Deal Me In Challenge choice will be the essay, Doodles in the Dictionary by Aldous Huxley.

Week 9 – Deal Me In Challenge – Five of Clubs

A Haunted House by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf is both predictable and unpredictable.  First, with any of her works she is not a writer that is easily deciphered or labelled, and conversely, one never knows when reading her works, precisely what one is going to discover.  In the short story, A Haunted House, Woolf delivers a narrative that is only 10 paragraphs long, yet manages not only to convey a story, but make it perplexingly obscure and delightfully poetic.

The story begins, “Whatever hour you woke, there was a door shutting.”  A rather conventional beginning for a ghost story, but Woolf soon begins to weave other nebulous possibilities into its framework.  Two old ghosts appear to be moving through this house, searching for something.  Hundreds of years ago, the woman had died and the husband had left the house only to return to it later.  A young couple sleeps while they hunt always for the treasure that appears either to be lost or just out of their grasp. The ghosts visit the narrator and her husband sleeping in their room and appear to find the treasure in their quiet repose, in their love, and all is “Safe, Safe, Safe.” ……..

The Haunted House
source ArtUK

Most analyses of this short story categorize it as juxtaposition between the dead and living couple, the dead couples’ loss of the “treasure” and their apparent finding of it again in the living couple, as the reader finally realizes the theme of love threaded throughout the story.  Well, yes, I’m certain that’s an accurate analysis, but I had another less discernible thought flit through my mind while I was reading:  some of the descriptions and tone reminded me of an author’s search for words or meaning to imbue their writing with a sense of life.  The ghostly couple could have represented the writer and the rooms of the house compartments in the mind.  Here’s an example:

“….. “They’re looking for it; they’re drawing the curtain,” one might say, and so read on a page or two. “Now they’ve found it,” one would be certain, stopping the pencil on the margin. And then, tired of reading, one might rise and see for oneself, the house all empty, the doors standing open, only the wood pigeons bubbling with content and the hum of the threshing machine sounding from the farm. “What did I come in here for? What did I want to find?” My hands were empty. “Perhaps it’s upstairs then?” The apples were in the loft. And so down again, the garden still as ever, only the book had slipped into the grass.”

The allusions to reading, pencil, margin, and book, and the references to the house being empty and the doors open and the search, reminded me of a writer struggling to find the precise words to bring his/her story to vivid life, to make something living from something dead.  Am I crazy?  Perhaps, but with Woolf, the very act of writing always seems to be a part of the writing itself, so closely incorporated that it is difficult to separate the two.  In any case, it was an interesting story, as only Woolf could make a story a page long.  The complete text of the story can be found HERE.

Next week, I’ve drawn a short story by Edgar Allen Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart.  I remember reading this one in elementary school and being quite scared by it.  We’ll see how effective it remains from an adult reading.

Week 8 – Deal Me In Challenge – Nine of Clubs

The Life You Save May Just Be Your Own by Flannery O’Connor

Farmhouse and Car (1933)
Prudence Hayward
source Wikiart
Imagine a small town in the southern United States on a hot day.  An old woman and her daughter sit on the front porch of their house, the woman suddenly alert while the daughter plays vacantly with her fingers. Down the road, a man materializes, a young man but by his appearance obviously a drifter.  He has “a look of composed dissatisfaction as if he understood life thoroughly.” The woman and man greet each other, each eyeing the other with a hesitant speculation and a mutually concealed distrust.  After an introduction, the woman tries to find out more about Mr. Shiftlet but the man adeptly avoids answering, speaking of cars, hearts, lying and the definition of man. With more talk, it becomes clearer that the man is interested in the old car in the yard that had belonged to the woman’s deceased husband, and the woman is interested in a suitor for her mentally disabled daughter. Agreeing to stay on for board and food, the man begins to spruce the place up and soon it looks much improved.

As time passes, the woman continues to subtly bargain for a husband for her daughter, as Shiftlet counters, bargaining for the car.  Finally a deal is struck, the two marry and the car becomes his. Yet the material desire of his heart is at war with the obligation to his new unwanted wife.  Shiftlet finds himself with a choice and the struggle within himself is powerfully displayed.

This story was perplexing, and although I haven’t read any of O’Connor’s other works, I have a feeling that she regularly creates confusion with readers.  While reading The Life You Save May Just Be Your Own, I was struck with impressions rather than feelings, as if I was following an incohesive story.  The story is there, but O’Connor inserts so many phrases that are pregnant with meaning, that you simply can’t help analyzing them, wondering if there is some sort of secondary communication.  Let’s see what I can make of it.

The Farmer’s Daughter (1945)
Prudence Heward
source Wikiart

First of all, does Mr. Shiftlet’s name imply that he is a “shifty” character, or does it indicate a possibility of shift or change within him?  Or both?  Initially, he is presented swinging “both his whole and his short arm up slowly so that they indicated an expanse of sky and his figure formed a crooked cross.”  There is definitely religious connotations here, but notice the “crooked cross.”  There is certainly something very imperfect about this man.  He is also a carpenter, which was the profession of Jesus — does that mean anything or not?  When the woman tells him that he must sleep in the car, Shiftlet answers, “Lady, the monks of old slept in their coffins.”  Here is another allusion to religion and death (although monks slept in their coffins so they would get used to not fearing death, but that’s another story).

O’Connor also employs colour imagery in profusion, from the bright colours around Lucynell, the daughter, indicating innocence, purity and happiness, to the black, brown and grey colours worn by the man and woman, from the sun shining forth at the beginning of the story, only to be covered by a cloud at the end.

Portrait of a Man (1911)
Albert Bloch
source Wikiart

There is much speculation as to what O’Connor wanted to convey with this story, and there certainly appears to be deeply imbedded layered meaning.  When writing, O’Connor applied a type of analogical technique that allowed to reader “to see different levels of reality in one image or situation ….. (having) to do with the Divine life and our participation in it ….. was also an attitude towards all creation, and a way of reading nature which included most possibilities and I think that it is this enlarged view of the human scene that the fiction writer has to cultivate if he is every going to write stories that have any chance of becoming a permanent part of our literature.”

For me, the impression that stood out was the subtle change in the man.  Initially, he is a tramp, someone who is disconnected to the material, content to wander and take odd jobs.  His exchange with the woman borders on the philosophical on his side and he is likened to a Christ-like figure.  Yet as soon as he espies the car, a possessive desire begins to simmer inside him, causing him to abandon his ideals, and he is satisfied to barter with the mother for Lucynell as if she were an animal or possession.  Because his attention is fixed on a worldly goal, Shiftlet becomes blind to simple pleasures and human empathy.

Portrait of a Boy
Albert Bloch
source Wikiart

If nothing else, O’Connor gives the reader a multitude of possibilities and honestly, this short story was a compelling and intriguing experience.

Next week, for my Deal Me In Challenge, I’ll be reading the short story by Virginia Woolf, A Haunted House.

Week 7 – Deal Me In Challenge – Six of Clubs

Le Horla by Guy de Maupassant

“What a wonderful day! – Quelle journée admirable!”

What a lovely start to the story.  The narrator describes himself reclining on the lush grass of his yard under a gorgeous plane tree.  He loves his house and the region of his forebearers close to Rouen. The Seine flows lazily alongside his garden and in early afternoon he spots a parade of ships drawn by a tugboat, including an impressive Brazilian three-mast ship, gleaming white and he is filled with such joy at the sight that he salutes the magnificent vessel.

Five days later, he claims that he has been seized by a fever, a mysterious force that makes him feel rather sad more than sick.  His despair grows and in spite of seeing a doctor, it continues to worsen.  Finally, he decides to take a short trip to set him aright, visiting Monte St. Michel, and while he does return refreshed and certain that he is cured of his malady, he relates a curious experience that he had at the monastery.

While being guided by a resident monk, the monk tells him that at night the local folk often hear two goats bleating, one with a strong voice and one with a weak voice, and while some people discount the tale, fishermen have seen a faceless shepherd leading two arguing goats, one with the head of a man and one with the head of a woman.

Monte St. Michel
source Wikipedia

Our narrator is perplexed.  Surely if rational beings other than ourselves existed we would have encountered them by now.  The monk, however, gives a perceptive reply:

“Do we see even the hundred-thousandth part of what exists?  Take the wind, for example, which is the greatest force in nature, which knocks men down, demolishes buildings, uproots trees, sends up the sea in mountains of water, wrecks cliffs, and throws mighty ships against the shoals, the wind that kills, that whistles, that moans, that groans —- have you ever seen it, and can you see it?  It exists, regardless.”

With the sickness coming back upon him, the man agonizes with nightmares, and the unexplained consumption of water and milk from his carafes in the morning.  Escaping to Paris, he has an unsettling experience with a doctor, a clairivoyant, which further cements his mental exploration of other-worldly phenomenon.  Yet again when he returns home he experiences an increasing unease and a consciousness of an entity which has invaded his home, apparently from the Brazilian schooner that he glimpsed months ago.  He is distaught, deranged and we can only guess at the outcome as he attempts to dispose of this being who has not only penetrated his home but his soul.

“Woe to us!  Woe to man!  He has come, the … the … what is his name … the .. it seems as if he’s calling out his name to me, and I can’t hear it … the … yes … he’s calling it out … I’m listening … I cannot … say it again … the … Horla … I heard it … the Horla … it is he … the Horla … he has arrived!”

It may sound odd to say, but this was one of the more delightfully suspenseful short stories that I’ve read in awhile.  While I believe that we cannot control what happens to us in life, we can control our reactions to it, yet in this story, the man’s self will is appropriated to an extent that he loses part of who he is.  His mind, while not necessarily possessed, is subjugated by a force that is able to manipulate his thinking and apprehending.  What could be more terrifying? Complete loss of control.  It makes an extraordinarily creepy tale.

Next week, I have a children’s classic on slate, The Tanglewood Secret by Patricia St. John.  With my unexpectedly busy life that has left me little time for reading, I just hope I can finish it and review it in time!

*** Note:  I did read ¼ of this short story in French before my brain gave out and time began to run away from me.  An accomplishment nonetheless, but it made me realize that I need much more practice with this excellent language!

Week 3 – Deal Me In Challenge – Four of Clubs

A Little Woman by Franz Kafka

Young Woman Drawing (1801)
Maria-Denis Villers
source Wikiart

I can’t believe I have never read Kafka.  So with this surprising fact in mind I dived into this short story for my Deal-Me-In Challenge.  Perhaps I expected too much …

The narrator immediately makes the reader acquainted with his challenges with this “little woman”.  She has complete contempt for him and his life, and his perceptions appear wrapped up in her treatment of him.  However, he reveals that she is almost a stranger to him, yet nevertheless, she disparages and demeans him incessantly and with impunity.  She even goes as far as to ellict people’s compassion for her struggles to tolerate him, not by revealing them, but by exhibiting a demeanour of quiet suffering.

Landlady (1886)
Konstantin Makovsky
source Wikiart

I did not understand this story at all, nor did I find it the slightest bit compelling.  Given that the narrator reveals that the woman is nearly a stranger to him, one cannot even imagine her as a wife or sister or mother and so there it ends.  How can one be interested in a relationship that is not one, nor experience annoyance that is based on nothing tangible?  Apparently Kafka based the little woman on his landlady when he lived in Berlin-Steglitz.

In spite of this less than inspiring story, I am looking forward to reading more of Kafka with hopefully a different reaction to his works.

Next week, I’ll be reading the short story Le Horla by Guy Maupassant.  I’ll attempt to read it in French but it’s rather long so I’ll have to see if my skills are up to it.  Stay tuned …..

Week 2 – Deal Me In Challenge – Nine of Clubs

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

“Inside the great building of the Law Courts, during the interval in the hearing of the Melvinsky case, the members of the judicial council and the public prosecutor were gathered together in the private room of Ivan Yegorovitch Shebek, and the conversation turned upon the celebrated Krasovsky case.”

Wow!  My last Tolstoy novel read was War and Peace over two years ago and I’d forgotten the depth that Tolstoy could create within his stories with a clear, straight-forward narrative.  The Death of Ivan Ilyich appears to be merely a tale of the last days of a Russian court judge, yet Tolstoy brings the human condition into vivid and startling colours.

Ivan Ilyich has a typical Russian childhood, becomes a respected and accomplished young adult who manages to climb the social strata with aplomb and an admirable acuity.  He takes a wife who, though a nag, through his very avoidance of her, manages to give him a sharper focus to his work, and therefore her very shrewishness assists him in his social ascension.  They have the average and respectable number of two children, a girl and a boy, along with the typical infant deaths of that period, and Ilyich’s life is complete.  Except for one problem.  He is dying.

With Tolstoy’s astute and penetrating acumen, the reader shares Ivan Ilyich’s last days as he slowly sinks into the realization of his approaching demise.  In life, Ilyich was able to focus on the impermanent: his career, the appearance of a normal family life, his status in the community.  All his worth was embodied in these transient things, but suddenly in illness, these symbols fade into obscurity and death forces him, almost against his will, to view his life in stark reality.

Initially, Ivan is confused, and cries out to a God whom he had previously seen only as a inconvenient afterthought:

“Why has Thou done all this?  What brought me to this?  Why, why torture me so horribly?”

Yet slowly a “strange idea” begins to form in his mind.  He does not want to suffer, yet live.  But how does he wish to live?

“As you used to live before — happily and pleasantly?” queried the voice.  And he began going over in his imagination the best moments of his pleasant life.  But strange to say, all these best moments of his pleasant life seemed now not at all what they had seemed then.  All — except the first memories of his childhood …..  As soon as he reached the beginning of what had resulted in him as he was now, Ivan Ilyitch, all that had seemed joys to him then now melted away before his eyes and were transformed into something trivial, and often disgusting ……..  And the further he went from childhood, the nearer to the actual present, the more worthless and uncertain were the joys …..  

He was living ….

“…. as though I had been going steadily downhill, imagining that I was going uphill.  So it was in fact.  In public opinion I was going uphill and steadily as I got up it life was ebbing away from me …..  Can it be I have not lived as one ought?”

Death brings echoes of truth to him, but instead of accepting this burgeoning enlightenment, Ivan chooses to hang on to the mirage of the life he has lived and dismisses the idea.  The reader wonders if Ivan will die as he’d lived, merely existing, and if the true meaning of life itself will elude his grasp?

Death and Life (1908-16)
Gustav Klimt
source Wikiart

In spite of the title, much of the story is about Ivan’s life and through his life, we view his death.  With each sentence Tolstoy drives home the futility and meaninglessness of Ilyich’s daily actions, that brought material success but failed to feed the soul within the man.  It is only at the very end, with the touch of his son’s hand and a kiss, that Ivan experiences an epiphany that expands his whole world.

The universality of the story echoes with a profound yet practical resonance.  Drawing from the narrative, Ivan’s life, though complete with success in business, a (on the surface) contented family life, and respect of his peers, it is really bereft of human relationship in all areas.  Tolstoy himself says Ivan’s previous life “was the simplest, the most ordinary, and the most awful.”   Ivan could be you or I and with his novella, Tolstoy prods us to examine the purpose of our existence.  We need to evaluate our lives ….. not only just skate on the surface, but to dig deeply.  What is truly important in life? What genuinely gives us life as soulful beings and not simply as materialistic creatures who live only for pleasure and business?  And a question that has been on my mind often lately:  How do we struggle against societal pressure to conform to the latter and find a meaningful existence, to live in the “now” yet reach beyond it?

The Runaway by Anton Chekhov

I’m trying to get back on track with my Deal-Me-In Challenge, and I finally drew the first short story of the year, The Runaway by Anton Chekhov.

Science and Charity (1897)
Pablo Picasso
source Wikiart

After a long journey, young Pashka and his mother wait at the hospital to see the doctor. Pashka has a boil on his elbow, but the mother has waited too long and the doctor scolds her, declaring that the wound is infected and the boy may lose his arm.  A stay is required, about which Pashka is not thrilled but he is lured by the doctor’s promises of seeing a live fox and eating sugar-candy.  After a sumptuous dinner of soup, roast beef and bread, the boy awaits the doctor to honour his commitment but when he doesn’t come, he explores the wards, finally returning to his own where he hears the patient, Mikhailo, coughing and wheezing.  When he wakes late in the night, he finds three people at the dead Mikhailo’s bed, yet when they leave, the old man’s chest wheezes again.  Terrified, Pashka screams for his mother, leaps out of bed and tears through the wards and into the yard, intending to run home but a graveyard looms ahead, and Pashka is intensely relieve to spot the kind doctor through a window in a building.  When he burst inside the doctor’s words echo:  “You’re a donkey, Pashka!  Now aren’t you a donkey?  You ought to be whipped ….”

The Runaway (1958)
Norman Rockwell
source Wikiart



Well, what to make of that?  There is the danger of infection, the tension of being separated from his mother, the doctor’s promises that manipulate (for good or ill, who knows) yet come to nought, the wards of sick people and the boy’s terror, perhaps at hearing a dead man who appears to still live.  It’s curious, especially since Pashka’s condition appears serious, yet the reader never has a whisper as to its outcome.  Chekhov himself spent most of his life in the medical profession, so one wonders if he is also exploring the psychological methods physicians might use on their patients.  Through the boy’s eyes the doctor is “kind” but is he really?  The boy has a serious medical condition yet no one seems to be rushing him to surgery, and the doctor has promised many delights for Pashka and is delivering none of them.  What is behind Chekhov’s tale?  Is it a simple tale or a story with a deeper meaning?

Birthhouse of Anton Chekhov
source Wikipedia

Deal Me In Challenge #11

 

 

The Club of Queer Trades by G.K. Chesterton

The Club of Queer Trades is a “society consisting exclusively of people who have invented some new and curious way of making money,” and Chesterton’s delightful collection of fantastical tales give us a view of these entrepreneurs who ply their trades in perhaps an unorthodox manner and often with surprising results.

The Tremendous Adventures of Major Brown: The subject of this title seeks out Rupert Grant, an amateur detective, and with the help of Swinburne, the narrator, and Grant’s brother, Basil, a former “mad” judge, they proceed to cleverly solve his dilemma.  Retired and living comfortably and quietly in a tiny picturesque villa, Major Brown has a mania for pansies.  One day while strolling down a lane, he meets a man pushing flowers in a wheelbarrow and is convinced to purchase the pansies among them.  Yet before departing, the man whispers that if the Major will only climb the garden wall, he will see the most admired pansies in the whole of England.  Against his nature, Major Brown accepts a boost up and is flabbergasted by what he sees.  It is not the pansies themselves that catch his attention but the arrangement of them, spelling out “Death to Major Brown.” Never one to quail in any situation, Brown introduces himself to the gardener of the house who takes him inside to meet a peculiar lady who is staring out the window, but he remembers to warn him beforehand not to mention the “jackal.”   They begin to converse but suddenly their conversation is cut short by a blood-curdling screech, “Major Brown, Major Brown, where does the jackal dwell?”  When the Major runs outside, he spies a coal-black decapitated head on the sidewalk, where apparently the screams are coming from.  What is going on?  Who is trying to kill the Major?  And why does idiosyncratic Basil seem unconcerned?   Chesterton ties up his story with his usual aplomb, and yet still leaves you wondering.  There is also a neat contrast between Basil and Rupert, the former using his intellect and the latter acting on impulse.  A very fun tale!

The Painful Fall of a Great Reputation:  Charles Swinburne, the narrator of the last tale, and Basil Grant are travelling on the top of a deserted tramcar, speaking philosophically about the plight of the poor and the perception of them.  Basil declares that in spite of their circumstances, the majority of the poor are good people and that “the very vileness of life of these ordered plebeian places bears witness to the victory of the human soul.”  No sooner has he uttered these words than he spies a man on the street and his astonishment is palpable.  He announces that he’s observing the most wicked man in the world.  When Swinburne requests to know the man’s sins, Grant admits that he has never seen him before this moment.  Swinburne is startlingly perplexed.  How has Basil made his assumption?  But there is no time to question as his friend grabs him and they are off on a chase after the most wicked man in the world.  In a world of fact versus impression and appearance versus reality, how are they to know whom to trust?

The Awful Reason of the Vicar’s Visit:  Swinburne is dressing to meet Basil Grant at a dinner party when suddenly the sound of the doorbell resounds through the house.  It is the Reverend Ellis Shorter who has heard of his friend, Major Brown’s adventures and has come to seek help.  Swinburne, impatient to be off to his engagement, gets impatient with the Vicar’s dodderings and prevaricating whereupon the Vicar gives him leave to go, but states if he does not hear him out before he does, a man will be dead!  He relates a queer story of being kidnapped by a women’s sewing club, and a subsequent photograph of himself that had never been taken.  Swinburne is perplexed and takes the vicar to Basil to sort out the mystery!

Reverend Oliver Maron, Vicar of Lancaster
George Romney 

The Singular Speculation of the House Agent:  Lieutenant Keith Drummond manages to excite Rupert’s suspicions and barely concealed contempt with his larger-than-life stories and exaggerated claims.  Upon Drummond requesting a loan from Basil and claiming a visit to a house-agent, Rupert near demands to accompany him in hopes of exposing sinister purposes.  All four men set off together, and after a curiously unintelligible conversation between the odd little house agent and Drummond, in which the agent presents a ferret, some lizards and a spider, Drummond escapes before the rest.  When they follow him, they come upon a commotion and find that there has been a brawl. Drummond has been part of it, with his clothes torn and his sword, which he commonly carries with him, drawn.  The police get his address, yet Swinburne, Basil and Rupert discover the next day that the address was a fake.  Rupert is exultant with the proof of his suspicions of Drummond’s disreputable character, but Basil merely laughs, claiming that Drummond his one of the most honest men and that truth can be stranger than fiction.  How can this be?  Is some of the mad judge’s madness finally showing through?  The truth will be discovered at the address that doesn’t exist.

Purley, Surrey (now south London)
source Wikipedia Commons

The Noticeable Conduct of Professor Chadd:  Basil Grant doesn’t have many friends, but the ones he does have are a motley collection of idiosyncratic characters.  One day, he is discussing with his friend, Professor Chadd, an eminent ethnologist and expert on the relation of language to savages, the impact of science on the observable knowledge of Zulus versus the knowledge gained by living like a Zulu.  Chadd, a stuffy academic, who has recently been appointed as curator of the Asiatic manuscripts at the British Museum, answers in stuffy, didactic prose.  The next morning, Basil receives a telegram from one of Chadd’s three sisters: Chadd has suffered a mental breakdown and Basil is entreated to come at once.  Upon his arrival, Basil discovers that the Professor will not communicate with anyone and, instead, will only move his legs in a kind of rigid, hopping dance.  The doctor is with him and when Basil approaches, he asks for a moment with his friend.  The observers are surprised to see the respectable Mr. Grant with a paper and pencil, following Chadd about and jotting notes as he goes.  They are further astounded when he begins to hop around in a parody of Chadd.  The situation is further complicated with the arrival of Mr. Bingham of the British Museum. Great Scots!  How can a lunatic be curator of the Asiatic manuscripts?!!  Yet Basil declares to Bingham that they need to pay Chadd £800 per year until he stops dancing.  What?  Has Basil gone mad as well?  Are there two lunatics, one or none?

Bedford Gardens, Bloomsbury
source Wikimedia Commons

The Eccentric Seclusion of the Old Lady:  Swinburne is walking with his friend, Rupert Grant, the amateur detective, when Grant spots a milkman walking ahead of them.  Suspicious because of the careless way the man carries his milk can, Grant swears that if they follow him, they will find a mystery at the end of the trail.  When the milkman disappears down area steps to a basement, Grant follows and emerges triumphant.  He has heard a cry for help in the downstairs room, repeating, “When shall I get out?  Will they ever let me out?”.  Determined to rescue the imprisoned lady, they enlist Basil’s help and with his usual aplomb, Basil gains entry to the house but when he emerges, he claims that the men inside are good chaps.  Incensed, both Rupert and Swinburne insist on entering the house themselves to find the victim.  The “chaps” allow them in but a fight ensues in which our three rescuers are pinned.  Will they get free to release the poor woman who’s been detained?  Yet with Basil Grant, nothing is every as it seems.

Milkman and cart 1900s
source Wikimedia Commons

In Basil Grant, Chesterton creates, not a scientifically brilliant detective like Sherlock Holmes, but one who is astute in the workings of human nature, which makes for truly fascinating cases.  Another fantastic effort by Chesterton who keeps the reader guessing, and never quite sure whether up is down or down is up in The Club of Queer Trades.

Father Brown: The Worst Crime in the World by G.K. Chesterton

Father Brown has plans to meet his niece in a picture gallery, but before he finds her, he encounters lawyer Granby who wants his opinion.  Should he trust a certain Captain Musgrove enough to advance him money on his father’s estate?  The estate is not entitled and it is not conclusive that Musgrove Jr. will be the heir.  Upon the arrival of his niece, Father Brown learns that she is planning to marry the same Musgrove and meets the young man himself.  Musgrove invites both Father Brown and Granby to his father’s castle, but then bows out of the trip at the last moment due to an arrival of a couple of shady characters in the background, but encourages the men to make the trip without him.

After they arrive at the castle (having to leap the moat due to a rusty, disabled drawbridge), they meet Old Musgrove, who assures them that his son will inherit, yet he will never speak to him again, due to the fact that he perpetrated the worst crime in the world.  Granby returns to town, secure in his knowledge, but Father Brown remains in the village, determined to discover the details of this dastardly crime.  Will he be able to discover the truth in time to save his niece from the clutches of a villain, or is the old man merely playing with him and there is nothing sinister about his son?  You will only find out, if you read the full story which can be found here:  The Worst Crime in the World – G.K. Chesterton

source Wikimedia Commons

I love Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries and this one does not disappoint.

Deal Me In Challenge #12 – Seven of Clubs