Mary Russell’s War (twenty-six): The war touches home

Today’s Dreaming Spies Countdown post is another bunch of pictures over on the Pinterest page: peruse the sailing life of Russell & Holmes, over here.

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26 January 1915

It is difficult not to believe that the current state of the world was designed specifically to thwart the intentions of one Mary J. Russell. I fully realise how utterly absurd, and insensitive, and childish that statement is, but since October, when I began to come out of the misery that settled over me, the only thing I wished—the only thing that gave me any glimmer of light in a very dark tunnel—was the thought of listening to a kettle come to boil in my mother’s kitchen in Sussex. And now…

I know that innocent people have died. A small child was killed in her bed. I have no right to raise a voice in complaint at how the Kaiser has inconvenienced me.

But why could he not have waited, just a day?

Hours before I was to board the southbound train with my reluctant aunt in tow, bombs fell on England. At first, the belief was that these had been aeroplanes, although now the reports are of Zeppelins. Whether or not they were intending to hit London (as the Germans have been threatening) and were blown by the strong winds up into Norfolk, or whether they chose a lesser target for a trial run—or even if, as many say, they were attempting to destroy Sandringham, from which the King returned only yesterday—is of course the topic of huge debate. But however it happened, England has now joined with her European sisters in feeling the blow of explosives, and English civilians have now died along with those of France, Belgium, and the rest. In the wee hours of the morning, bombs and incendiary devices rained down on Yarmouth and King’s Lynn.

My aunt is convinced—ridiculously—that the Kaiser’s next goal will be the South Coast, one supposes with Zeppelins working their way across the empty farmland from Dover to Portsmouth, scattering incendiaries as they go. I have told her that in fact, London is sure to receive its share sooner or later, and we shall be much safer buried down in the country. She, no country person, is not convinced. She dithers.

So, I have written at last to Mr Mason, my mother’s farm manager, telling him in no uncertain terms that he may expect me to arrive in Eastbourne as close to midday tomorrow as the erratic schedule of the trains permits. (Whenever there is a particularly harsh battle in northern France, within a few days there will be trains diverted to the coast, to receive the surviving wounded and transport them to hospitals. I am not alone, in being inconvenienced by this War.) My letter to Mr Mason did not say specifically that my aunt should be with me. In truth, she will not. Still, I fear that she will follow on my heels before long. Certainly once the Zeppelins come into view over London town.

And if tomorrow morning Victoria Station receives a direct blow from one of these dropped bombs, well, that at least shall settle matters nicely.


  1. Teresa on January 26, 2015 at 6:39 am

    An enfant terrible, non? This post smacks of the posturing inflation of a 14 year old. Very effective. Mary never does lose much of that pig-headedness later either, does she. Nicely done,


  2. ann on January 26, 2015 at 10:24 am

    … that cursed self realization ” I fully realise how utterly absurd, and insensitive, and childish that statement is,” which mark Mary’s complaint as different from that of the enfant terrible. I love her persistence what I am sure others including her aunt are experiencing as stubbornness. She knows what she needs, to be wrapped in the warm memories of a happy family, the healing of more natural surroundings and surroundings in which she will have much more freedom to be herself. It is an enviable thing this maturity and self-knowing at such a young age, if it were not also such a burden. But perhaps I have only projected upon dear Mary my own mind’s rubbish…

  3. ann on January 26, 2015 at 10:46 am

    The last two Mary Russell adventures Pirate King and Garment of Shadows did not excite me and I grew weary of them as I struggled to finish them. I feared I had grown tired of Russell and her adventures. But this little series has renewed my love for her and my interest in her adventures. I do look forward to Monday’s e-mail. Thank You! I also look forward to the day that a more mature Russell (now widowed) will begin to have her own adventures in the world, perhaps less swash-buckling and more reliant on the powers of the mind and the network of relationships forged around the world. Mostly a network of brilliant women I am sure, but including friends, male and female formed through adventures/travels of the past. Blessings!

    • Sherrie Mevis on January 26, 2015 at 2:08 pm

      Mary Russell is *not* a widow! I checked the Obits myself, and there was no indication of her husband’s passing. Not that I wouldn’t enjoy reading her individual adventures, and I would *love* to hear about the heir mentioned in the early editor’s notes….

      • Laurie King on January 26, 2015 at 2:10 pm

        Here here!

      • Lenore on January 29, 2015 at 8:53 pm

        Heir? What heir? Did I miss something?

  4. Sherrie Mevis on February 19, 2015 at 12:48 pm

    You sent me scrambling back to my books, but I found the reference. At the end of “A Letter of Mary” MRH states that she had agreed not to release the document in question until at least 10 years after her death, then she mentions that confronting the ramifications of the letter would be left to her heir, and that she (Mary) did not envy her (as in female heir) that task.

    Mrs. King, did I read that incorrectly?

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