Mary Russell’s War (thirty-one): the moated house


2 March 1915

Today is the second day of March, and there has been no sign of the month’s Strand. February’s issue did not come until the third of the month, and the post seems only to be getting slower. Perhaps the magazine should forswear the serialisation of its pieces for the duration of War, in consideration for the frustration of its readers.

Similarly, I received two letters from Lieutenant Saunders on the same day, although they had been written a week apart. I found it difficult to decide whether I should read both at once, or whether I should wait a week for the second, so as to duplicate his chronology across the Channel. In the end, I compromised and waited but a day to read the second one—by which time a third had arrived.

I shall probably now receive nothing more from him for a month.

(I wonder if the post office could be to blame for my lack of correspondence from Dr Ginsberg? I know that she wrote to me every week, after I left California, although again they arrived in fits and starts. However, I have had nothing since one brief letter that was dated on my birthday, 2 January. That one I did answer—although I fear that she may have taken offence at my previous lack of a reply, since nothing has come since then. Three weeks ago, it occurred to me that that one of the ships sunk by the Germans could have held my piece of Royal mail, so I wrote again. Perhaps I will send a third one, just to be certain that one of them reaches San Francisco? After that, if there is no reply, I shall have to accept that ours was not the friendship I had thought, and that her affection for Mother, followed by her professional care of me after the accident, does not make a sufficient call on her time. She is, after all, a busy woman.)

That would not be the only ship to have gone down. Submarines prowl the waters off Beachy Head, and in the last week have sunk four or five steamers. It must be terrifying to look over the rails and see a periscope sticking up from the waters, followed by the track of a torpedo coming at the hull. One of the ships—the Thordis—claims to have made a run directly at the U-boat and damaged it, but either it sank or it limped off because it did not wash up on our shores.

Not that I would know. I have avoided the coast since my one time there, not wishing to see doomed ships or hear the sound of the guns. Instead, when the weather permits, I go northerly out of the Downs and into the Weald, where the trees shelter one from the distant rumbles. Last week the weather took a turn for the better, Thursday dawning surprisingly mild beneath a cloudless sky. I slid my book in one pocket and some bread and cheese in another, and before midday I reached the Michelham Priory.

I had come across mention of this ancient moated house, formerly monastic and now private, in one of Mother’s histories of Sussex. It reminded me of the moat that surrounds the house in Valley of Fear, and I took a fancy to see it.   As I drew near, I saw that the resemblance was thin, since the moat is some distance from the walls of the house, not directly below its windows as in the story. Nonetheless, the place looks intriguing, and perhaps another time I shall knock at the door.

Is it a sign of maturity that I noticed restoration on portions of the structure? Or the preoccupation that comes in being responsible for the fabric of a house?  I doubt that last summer I should have noticed such a thing.   My parents attended a Christmas party at Michelham one year, and I remember Father’s concern over the heavy hands of the restorers. Today, this seems a frivolous sort of worry, when a million men are at each other’s throats just over the horizon, but a person grasps what small piece of normality she can, in these days.

So, I agree with my father: I hope the Priory’s restoring hands are gentle.

*  *

Read about the Michelham Priory, here.  Previous entries of Mary Russell’s War diary are here.


  1. Judith Laske on March 2, 2015 at 8:01 am

    Laurie, this diary is so fine. I would love to buy a printed copy. Will there (or is) there one?

    Judith Lasker

    • Laurie King on March 2, 2015 at 8:42 am

      Hi Judith, I’m glad you’re enjoying Russell’s War! Yes, when I finish–which heaven knows when–I’ll go over it rather heavily to make it a more structured story, then publish it in some fashion or other. However, don’t hold your breath, it was a long war…

      • Mary Achor on March 2, 2015 at 4:10 pm


        • Judith M on March 8, 2015 at 5:00 pm

          Second that! This is an intriguing window on the young Mary, and I too will look forward to having it in printed form. Thank you so much.

  2. Tim H. on March 2, 2015 at 8:49 am

    Mary Russell is such an effective way to remind us of what was up when our Grandparents were young. Thanks.

  3. Lenore Garon on March 2, 2015 at 10:09 am

    I got such a shiver reading about Dr. Ginsberg’s failure to write back! We know why; poor Russell does not, thus feeling even more abandoned.

    Is Russell misspelling the doctor’s name in the diary, or did the publishers misspell it in “Locked Rooms” (Ginsberg/Ginzberg)?

  4. Sabrina Flynn on March 2, 2015 at 11:58 am

    Loving this! We are getting to see a side of Mary Russell that she brushes over as an 80 year old writing her memoirs.

  5. Merrily Taylor on March 2, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    As I read this, I thought “It won’t be too long until she stumbles over Holmes – hang in there, Mary!” And I too got a shiver at her speculations about why she hasn’t had a letter from Dr. Ginsberg. We are so spoiled in this day and age, where we have so many ways of keeping in touch with our friends and loved ones far away – how hard it was back in the day when all you could do was wait for a letter!
    This also makes me wish I could back and walk on the downs sooner rather than later!
    Thrilled to know that ultimately we’ll see this as a short story/novella in print!

  6. Nora on March 2, 2015 at 12:43 pm

    I was wondering the same thing – I’m so hoping that these writings will be printed in book form too! I had the same feeling when reading Dr. Ginsberg’s name! If she only knew what had really happened to her and why she wasn’t replying to her letters!

  7. karen on March 3, 2015 at 2:51 am

    it wouldn’t go thru on getting blog by email, add me

  8. Linda Hay on March 8, 2015 at 7:47 pm

    Checked out the “moated house” and added it to my ” places to see next fall” list.

    With the various tours of London to see “Sherlock” and “Holmes” sites, sounding too commercial, I think I may put together my own “South Downs with Mary Russell” jaunt to keep me in joyous anticipation until I’m on the plane. I can revert to my “academic” nature and start re-reading along with my best maps. Yum.

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