The room was quite in order, despite those sounds of struggle. One or two odd matters met my eye. On the table stood a box from a florist in Bond Street. The lid had been removed and I saw that the box contained a number of white asters. Beside the box lay a scarf-pin—an emerald scarab. And not far from the captain's body lay what is known—owing to the German city where it is made—as a Homburg hat. I recalled that it is most important at such times that nothing be disturbed, and I turned to old Walters. His face was like this paper on which I write; his knees trembled beneath him…
observations: A kind reader called Kate Walker mentioned this book to me: the edition she read had illustrations, and she was interested in the idea that this was once common, and wondering when the custom had stopped. I have no idea, and it’s quite a difficult topic to research – but in the meantime I read and greatly enjoyed The Agony Column, which is really a novella, and can be downloaded free to a Kindle (sadly no illos though). The author is most famous for his Charlie Chan stories – he was a highly successful author, and apparently Chan was very popular in China.
This story is a throwaway idea, but great fun. The hero, visiting London, is fascinated by the Agony Column in British papers: the collection of small personal adverts about anything at all. He’s from the USA, where apparently the concept of the agony column doesn’t exist. The young man gets involved with a young woman who is equally intrigued, and then gets caught up in the investigation of a murder in the flat above his…. The story rattles along, and has an unexpected ending.
The messages in the column apparently cost 10 cents a word (more likely 10 d, given it was London) so some writers used what we can only describe as premature textspeak to save money:
‘—loveu dearly; wantocu; longing; missu --’The action of the book takes place in the week before the First World War breaks out, so July 1914, and there is a very funny section where the young heroine’s father suddenly starts talking about what will happen next:
His daughter stared at him. She was unaware that it was the bootblack at the Carlton [Hotel] he was now quoting. She began to think he knew more about foreign affairs than she had given him credit for….[later] Her father was bursting with new diplomatic secrets recently extracted from his bootblack adviser. Later, in Washington, he was destined to be a marked man because of his grasp of the situation abroad. No one suspected the bootblack, the power behind the throne…The whole story is full of the atmosphere of the time, and is clever and entertaining. Thanks to Ms Walker of Florida for the recommendation.
More about adverts and personal columns tomorrow.
The scarab is from the Smithsonian, the Homburg is from the National Media Museum.
The President's Hat, this entry, was also something of a Homburg: