Mary Russell’s War (twenty-eight): advice in the stables


9 February 1915

My blessed solitude, broken only by the occasional presence of Mrs Mark inside and the sounds of Patrick Mason out, could not last. Indeed, I was fortunate to be granted as many days as I was. But in the end, my aunt descended upon Sussex, bringing with her many trunks and much complaint. Unfortunately, her arrival happened to coincide with the end of a string of fair, dry days. Gales and occasional hard showers ended my freedom to wander the countryside, or as much of it as I could manage at a time before my various ill-healed injuries demanded rest. With the change of weather, I have taken instead to my room, well supplied with reading material from the shelves of the sitting room. The books here are old, but entertaining—and my mind has balked at anything resembling work.

While on the topic of light reading, I must say that I found this month’s instalment of Valley of Fear oddly disturbing. Not, I hasten to say, because of the accumulations of plot, although the tale does seem to be going in many different directions at once. No, what troubles me is the passivity of the heroine. This vivacious young woman has been assigned one suitor, whom she dislikes and fears, then falls beneath the spell of a hot-tempered and troublingly pushy young newcomer.   Stories such as this seem designed to encourage a reader to contemplate herself and her future, but I must say, the thought of coming under the influence of a handsome young man with a good singing voice and “pretty, coaxing ways” causes me to feel uneasy. I may be more intelligent than many girls my age, but I’m afraid that does not mean I will be immune to love’s stupidity.

A day or two after reading The Strand, I made my way down to the stables to have a conversation with Patrick. Mother’s farm manager—my farm manager—is a man with little formal schooling and a great deal of what Father called “hard sense”. I sat on a bench with my back to the stables door, his old mare dozing at my shoulder, and told him about my concerns. He may have been embarrassed at the unwonted intimacy of my questions, but since he was working on some piece of machinery, he could bury his face in its gears and pretend not to hear me. Until I asked him directly if he thought I should worry about the danger of marrying a man with pretty ways.

He made a sound very like one of his horses when it gets straw dust in its nose, and told me that I was too sensible for that. But I persisted, asking him what a person could do to ensure they were not in a position of idiotic vulnerability.

He shoved his face even further into the innards of the machine, and mumbled something. “Pardon?” I asked. “I said,” he replied, “seems to me that it’s the girls without interests in life what gets into trouble.”

Interests in life. It is true: a lack of goal leaves a person as directionless as a sailing ship without wind. What I need is a goal: to enable me to overlook the caustic presence of my aunt, and to take me beyond my present state of emptiness.

Mother and Father both expected me to go to University. I am fifteen years old, and with every week of idleness, I fall further behind my peers. This must stop. Time to by-pass the sections of book-shelf that hold the pretty novels and essays, and turn to the meat of the matter.

It seems to me I saw a Latin grammar there, somewhere.

*  *

Read the rest of Mary Russell’s War here.


  1. Merrily Taylor on February 9, 2015 at 7:05 am

    Well, I knew that Patrick was a sensible man! Funny that Russell is fearful of losing her good sense to a man with “pretty ways.” We know that even when she does fall in love, she’s reluctant to admit it (and certainly not swept away by a man with Pretty Ways – well, not in the usual sense, anyway!). I’m just loving this series – the next time I read BEEK, all this “backstory” will be firmly in my head.

  2. Roger Webster on February 9, 2015 at 7:21 am

    Looks as if Mary’s memory isn’t functioning properly yet, as she’s dated this diary entry 9 February1914?

    • Laurie r king on February 9, 2015 at 8:02 am

      Oops, sorry Mary, your literary agent made another typo…
      Thanks for catching it, Roger!

  3. Diotima Mantineia on February 9, 2015 at 7:59 am

    Merrily, my thoughts exactly. I just recently re-read the entire series, and I’m sure I will do so again in a few years. I’m hopeful that by then Mary Russell’s War will be in book form, but I’m saving all the posts, just in case…

    • Merrily Taylor on February 9, 2015 at 8:10 am

      Diotima, it is indeed a great addition to Kanon. I can’t wait for the moment that Mary goes out for her April morning walk….

  4. Libby Dodd on February 9, 2015 at 9:51 am

    We all need someone with “hard sense” on our side!

  5. Mary Garrett on February 9, 2015 at 10:09 am

    Wonderful advice! . . . and clever of her to seek out a source of common sense.

  6. Linda Hay on February 11, 2015 at 8:04 pm

    I wonder how many of us were warned off “pretty men” by novels at about that age. Edna Ferber’s Showboat , I think, was my warning.

    I just re-read Beekeepers Apprentice last night and was thinking about how the short stories, flashbacks, and now this wartime diary could beget a time line to which Russellonians may someday refer, replete with footnotes and arguments about hidden messages.

    • Merrily Taylor on February 12, 2015 at 6:35 am


      I love that idea, I can see learned articles about how the whole story probably REALLY took place in 1914 (did Miss Russell’s literary agent deliberately obfuscate the dates because Holmes was elsewhere doing something important?) I know I’ve said this before, but I do hope this is preserved in print. Perhaps the next editon of BEEK should have this as a prequel….

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