Mary Russell’s War (fourteen): headlines and headaches

(From Mary Russell’s war journal, in the hand of Dr. Leah Ginsberg.)

3 November 1914

This past week saw a relapse in Mary’s state of mind. At first, I and her doctor both feared a return of the infections caused by the dirt in her injuries, and she did admit to headaches. However, when she showed no indication of fever, and she responded coherently to direct questions, I decided that these were not hallucinations, but agitation. As her body regains its strength, her mind is forced to deal with loss, and it is doing so in a manner typical of both Mary and her mother: ideas.

It began when I was re-reading aloud last month’s episode of The Valley of Fear, and she began to mutter under her breath. (As noted before, I do not consider this a proper piece of fiction for a young woman in her condition.) At first I thought she was troubled by the story and I stopped reading, but she insisted I continue. At the second interruption, I had the good sense to ask her what was wrong.

“This takes place before the final problem,” she said.

“Which final problem?” I asked.

“The story called ‘The Final Problem’. Surely that happens after this one? How could Watson have forgotten Moriarty in a few years?”

This was a conundrum for which I could summon no reply, so I read on. Moments later, she said, “They’re in conversation. That’s slander, not libel.”

Then after a bit, she protested at the series of numbers broken by the words DOUGLAS and BIRLSTONE: “Why bother with a cipher, if those names are freely given?”

At that point I suggested we go on to the next story in the magazine, but she would not have it, and she subsided, with only the occasional protest at some sequence or point of disagreement with some earlier tale.

This was irritation, not distress, and I took the return of intellect as a good sign. Less encouraging, however, was her sudden resumption of interest in a possible German spy ring in San Francisco, evident when I came in to find her hospital room half-buried in a month’s worth of back issues of the Chronicle, with articles circled and annotated.

“German Shops in London Destroyed” said one. “Germans claim the right to land troops to create a foothold in Canada” another. However, she seemed less than concerned with the enormous loss of life in the lengthy battle going on near Ypres in Flanders. Instead, a theme of her interests emerged:

OCT 26

That a European Government has commissioned an American girl to purchase firearms for its use along the battle front in Europe developed today, when it was learned that Miss Gladys A Lewis of Chicago is the mysterious “G. A. Lewis” who has been negotiating with the Standard Arms Manufacturing Company of Wilmington, Del. For all military rapid-fire guns that concern can make in the next two years, regardless of cost.


Oct 28


How They Were Found Out Though Disguised in Red Cross Uniforms.


British Seize Germans on an American Tug


Oct 29



Russians Execute German Girl Spy

Death Follows Discovery That Young Woman’s Clothes Were Lined With Plans of Forts.


Oct 31

Two Empires Plan to Seize Our Ports

Roosevelt Sounds Note of Warning

“I have seen deliberate plans prepared to take both San Francisco and New York and hold them for ransoms

that would cripple our country and give finds to the enemy for carrying on war.”


Nov 3


Mass Meeting Called for Next Friday to Launch Plan to Send Food.

Spies, the building threat to her mother’s homeland, and a reference to her mother’s war work of raising funds for the embattled countries.

At that point, I agreed with her attendants that a mild dose of bromide would be a relief for everyone.

*  *  *

The preceding entries in Mary Russell’s war journal are here.


  1. Merrily Taylor on November 3, 2014 at 6:15 am

    Mary Russell’s relentless intelligence (and her irritation with Watson) manifests itself early…

  2. Vicki Saunders on November 3, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    Are these newspaper quotes part of the fiction, or did you find them in archived issues from the period?

    • Laurie King on November 4, 2014 at 7:23 am

      Taken from the Chronicle, verbatim and with spelling and punctuation preserved. Some of them are amazing, aren’t they?

      • Vicki Saunders on November 4, 2014 at 10:11 am

        So now I’m wondering if the Chronicle was publishing hysterical fiction, or whether Roosevelt really did see plans to take NY and SF. If so, what kind of intelligence was going on that allowed him access to it.

  3. Sabrina Flynn on November 6, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    I wonder if Russell ever wrote a ‘fan’ letter to Watson voicing her complaints and pointing out his discrepancies…

  4. Lael Gilbert on April 22, 2022 at 12:13 pm

    Is Dr. Leah Ginsberg centered on in another book? Her character seems like good digging!

Leave a Comment