It is winter in London, and the coal is running short. The chill on Fleet Street is so severe that the men who run the presses for Youth’s Companion are too cold to work. Despite the freeze, their editor—the vile Mr. Bassett—will not spare a shilling for coal. He is behind on paying his employees, has been accused of stealing his writers’ ideas, and refuses to hire any up-and-coming literary talent, be it Oscar Wilde or Arthur Conan Doyle. It is no surprise when the editor is found murdered. The question is, which of his enemies got to him first?
Doyle enlists Charles Dodgson—better known as Lewis Carroll—to look into the murder. When the police try to pin the killing on the slighted Mr. Wilde, it is up to Doyle and Dodgson to clear Wilde’s name and find the true killer of the cruelest man on Fleet Street.
|Series:||The Charles Dodgson and Arthur Conan Doyle Mysteries , #4|
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About the Author
Rogow’s most recent novel is Murders in Manatas (2013). She is also a musician who has been playing sci-fi-inspired folk music since the 1970s.
Roberta Rogow (b. 1942) is an author of speculative fiction. A professional children’s librarian, she began writing fan fiction in 1973 after a love of Star Trek lured her to her first science fiction convention. After several years publishing stories in fanzines, she founded Grip, a multimedia zine focusing on Star Trek and other science fiction, in 1978. After retiring the zine in 1996, Rogow published her first novel, The Problem of the Missing Miss (1998), which began the four-volume Charles Dodgson and Arthur Conan Doyle Mysteries.
Rogow’s most recent novel is Murders in Manatas (2013). She is also a musician who has been playing sci-fi-inspired folk music since the 1970s.
Read an Excerpt
The Problem of the Evil Editor
A Charles Dodgson and Arthur Conan Doyle Mystery
By Roberta Rogow
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2000 Roberta Rogow
All rights reserved.
'Workers of London! Listen to my words!' The man on the wooden box that still gave off the aroma of its previous contents, disinfectant soap, waved his arms at the crowd and shouted into the rising wind.
'England is in dire straits! The forces of labour have been ground down by the capitalists!'
Indeed, the people filling Fleet Street were aware that the previous three months had seen weather the likes of which had not been met in England since the reign of Charles II, when the Thames froze solid enough to hold a fair on the ice. The Gulf Stream had unaccountably been derelict in its duty to provide moderating warm winds that would keep the British Isles green, resulting in a disastrously cold winter. From Christmas of 1885 to Candlemas of 1886, the temperatures had been well below freezing all over England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
The fall in the temperature had resulted in a decline in the working place. The ground froze hard as iron, leaving agricultural workers unable to break ground. Road construction was impossible under the severe conditions, which left the gangs of casual labourers without labour to do. Coal mining came to a halt, and coal became more and more expensive. Those men who were out of work could no longer afford to heat their shanties, shacks or hovels, and even the fortunate few who could find work had to make do with scraps of wood gleaned from rubbish heaps.
'My brothers, have you heard the results of the debates? Do you know that the division has resulted in the complete defeat of the Poor Aid Bill?' The speaker on the soapbox waved his arms, causing his black cloak to flap in the quickening wind and nearly losing his high black hat in the process.
If the crowd on Fleet Street had not heard the news, they were now informed. Already, cabs were pulling into the narrow street with reporters scrambling to give their hastily scribbled notes to their city editors to be worked into the late editions. There had been more heat than light in the words of the honourable gentlemen of the House of Commons, and what it amounted to was the information that the poor are always with us, that the House had no control of the weather, and that there would be no national alleviation of the general misery. Any assistance given to the destitute would have to come from the parish, town, borough or village in which said paupers abided. In the case of London, that meant the Lord Mayor's Fund, which, according to the reporters coming from the eastern end of Fleet Street, was at an all-time low. Clearly, the good people of London had been dilatory in their consideration of those less fortunate than themselves in this year of disasters.
Even as the reporters were bringing their stories in, the news had got out through the greater medium of gossip. The cleaners and porters at Westminster were more vociferous than the gentlemen of the Press. The version of the goings-on in Parliament that filtered down the chain from Whitehall through the Strand and into the back alleys of Soho and Seven Dials was far more inflammatory than anything that would ever be printed.
The speaker drew a crudely printed handbill out of his cloak and waved it at the crowd. 'My brothers, the Fair Trade League has organized a meeting tonight in Trafalgar Square to demand work for those willing to do it. I tell you, friends and brothers in labour, this is not enough! We must unite and throw off the chains of oppression! The time is now!'
The time was nearly three o'clock, and the men of Fleet Street had better things on their collective minds than the words of radicals like Henry Hyndman on his soapbox. The afternoon editions had to be printed so that every literate Londoner could be informed of the latest news. Huge wagons with rolls of paper took up most of the space in the road, blocking omnibuses and cabs, while the horses whinnied and the drivers vented their displeasure in language that turned the air about them blue. Brawny men in knitted jerseys wrestled the rolls into the cellar printing plants, where compositors had already set the type and the steam was up, firing the rotary presses that would eventually spew out the afternoon editions of the London newspapers.
'Workers of London!' Hyndman shouted into the rapidly increasing crowd. 'Do not be led by those who would compromise with your oppressors. Do not follow the Fair Trade League, who would delay the inevitable. Today, London; tomorrow, the world!'
Hyndman's words were faintly heard in the offices of Youth's Companion, in the building just opposite his stand. It was a tall, narrow brick building that had been built at the time of the present queen's coronation, when gas lighting, water mains, and basic chimneys had been considered adequate amenities for the workers therein. A panelled door surmounted by an elaborately carved lintel led to the upper three floors devoted to the business of the publication, while the ground floor held a small bookshop.
At the moment, only one of the upper floors was occupied, since the only fires lit in the building were those in the offices of Mr Basset and his assistant, Mr Andrew Levin. One writer, two copy editors, and an artist huddled around Mr Levin's fire, warming their hands and effectively shielding anyone else from getting the benefit of what little heat the fire provided.
Mr Levin, a darkly handsome young man, whose classic profile belied his less-than-classic accent, tried to move the others out of the way, but the bulk of Chief Writer David Peterson was considerable, and Staff Artist Edgar Roberts was too tall to be easily removed. The two copy editors, Roberto Monteverde and Winslow Howarth, had squeezed in next to the others, soaking in what comfort they could.
Mr Levin looked around the office at the two men waiting to see Mr Basset and sighed. It was not an office conducive to waiting. Mr Basset preferred to conduct his business by mail rather than in person, and Mr Levin had to agree that this was probably better for all concerned. If the full force of Mr Basset's personality were felt, potential contributors might never return, let alone send in stories or drawings for Youth's Companion. Mr Levin felt that while Mr Peterson could undoubtedly provide enough material from his fertile imagination to propel the magazine into the next century, subscribers might be attracted to the idea of buying Youth's Companion in hopes of finding a story or poem by some well-known author. Mr Levin was especially proud of having solicited and received several puzzles and conundrums as 'filler' from the well-known children's author, Mr Lewis Carroll. He hoped that a few more would answer his requests for material suitable for children.
He glanced at the elderly gentleman and his more youthful companion, who had been sitting on the wooden settle (the only seating in the anteroom other than Mr Levin's own chair, behind Mr Levin's rolltop desk). The elderly gentleman, a tall man in clerical black, had laid aside his old- fashioned high silk hat but had retained his long ulster against the cold. The other man, a stalwart redheaded young man with a bristling moustache, sported a dashing balbriggan plaid with a cape collar, and a tweed cap of the double-billed deerstalker variety.
The older man had apparently had enough of the punishment dealt out by the settle. He marched over to Mr Levin's desk and stood over it with an accusing glare at the unfortunate young man. He fished out a large pocket watch from under his coat and consulted it, then addressed Mr Levin. 'Sir,' he said, carefully controlling his tendency to stammer in moments of stress, 'I have been waiting for forty minutes to see Mr Basset. Is he or is he not in?'
From the sounds emerging from the closed door at the end of the office opposite the stairs, it would appear that Mr Basset was in. Mr Levin smiled weakly. 'If you would give me your card, sir ...'
'I have given you my card. I am Mr Dodgson of Christ Church, Oxford. Mr Basset sent me a kind note stating that anytime I found myself in London, he would be pleased to see me. I have the note here.'
'Are you sure you have it with you?' murmured the man next to him.
The older man fumbled in his pocket. Out came an astonishing pile of oddities to be laid on Levin's desk: a brightly coloured silk handkerchief, a length of string, a paper bag of lemon drops, and finally, a much-folded letter.
'Here it is,' Mr Dodgson said, waving the letter under Levin's nose. 'As you see, it is a request for a small contribution to the magazine, originally addressed to my representative at Macmillan Press. They sent it on to me, and I sent the requested material, with the stipulation that it be used without payment and that the magazine be sent to charitable organizations free of charge.' He frowned at the assistant, who picked up the letter carefully as if it might explode in his hands.
Mr Levin examined the letter and returned it to the scholar with a condescending smile. 'This, sir, is the letter I send all prospective contributors. It is a formality, not an introduction. I did not know that we had a contributor by the name of Dodgson.'
The younger man spoke up for his friend, who was rendered speechless with mortification. 'Mr Dodgson is also known by the name of Lewis Carroll,' he told Mr Levin.
'But I do not usually acknowledge letters sent in that name,' Mr Dodgson added. 'In this case, since Mr Macmillan vouched for the authenticity of the publication, I made an exception.'
The men huddled around the fire turned around at the sound of the name 'Lewis Carroll'. Mr Peterson, the rotund and balding chief writer, stared at the older man. He ran a hand over the stringy remnants of his hair in a vain attempt to make himself presentable and uttered the words Alice in Wonderland in a voice of mingled awe and admiration. He buttoned his gaping waistcoat over his shirt and approached Mr Dodgson with the reverence of one who is in the presence of a master of the craft.
'The precise title is Alice's Adventures in Wonderland,' Mr Dodgson corrected him. 'But I am the author of that work.'
Mr Howarth and Mr Monteverde acknowledged the genius in their midst by bowing. The two men were both slight and bearded, and could have been mistaken for brothers, save that Mr Howarth was dressed neatly in a tweed sack suit of dittos, while Mr Monteverde sported a frock coat, dark trousers, and dandified embroidered waistcoat. The tall artist, Mr Roberts, dressed in artistic velveteen trousers and jacket, with a woollen scarf around his neck in lieu of cravat, said nothing, but shook his mane of chestnut hair out of his eyes and sketched on his ever-present drawing pad.
As soon as he heard the name, Mr Levin's face, so bland and superior, crumbled. 'Oh, dear,' he whispered, a guilty flush reddening his cheeks. 'I had no idea you would actually come ... very few of our outside contributors take the time ...'
'I thought I might introduce my friend Dr Arthur Conan Doyle to Mr Basset,' Mr Dodgson said carefully. 'He has written several stories that I consider worthy of publication in this magazine. His works have been published in Cornhill and The Boy's Own Paper. And he's Dicky Doyle's nephew, you know.'
The last recommendation was offered as a final sop to Mr Levin's conscience. Mr Levin tried to soothe the agitated scholar. 'Mr Basset is occupied and may not be available for some time. He is, after all, a very busy man.'
'Perhaps we should come back at another time,' Dr Doyle murmured with a rueful smile.
Mr Levin had thoughts of the notable author escaping, disparaging Youth's Companion, and refusing to offer any more of his works to the publication. He rose, displaying a dashing checked waistcoat under his impeccably tailored frock coat. 'I shall tell Mr Basset that you are here,' he said, approaching the inner office door with an air of trepidation. 'He rarely sees anyone without an appointment, but in your case, sir, I am sure he will make an exception.'
'And if he doesn't, we will,' Mr Peterson added. 'If nothing else, sir, we will stand you to a drink at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese down the street. Mr Lewis Carroll, sir, you have been my inspiration! I just read The Hunting of the Snark for the third time. It's a masterpiece! And my oldest girl is just the right age for Alice.
Before Mr Dodgson could cope with his admirer, a young woman entered the office carrying a box tied with twine. Her high cheek-bones and long sharp nose were flushed with her exertions, giving her features a rosy glow that was echoed in her red woollen hat and mittens. Her shabby but serviceable grey cloak covered a drab dress with only a token bustle instead of the enormous gathering of fabric at the base of the spine demanded by fashion.
'Good afternoon, Mr Levin,' she said, setting the box precariously on top of the front of the desk.
'Miss Harvey!' Mr Levin rescued the box and placed it on the desk itself. 'Manuscripts typed already? How efficient of you.'
'Well, sir, if I must earn my living, I must do it well,' she said with a rueful smile that revealed a dimple at the corner of her mouth. 'And I can do the typing at home, where I can be within call of Mama.'
'How is your mother?' Mr Levin asked, as he untied the string and opened the box of typed manuscript.
'As always. Some days she is quite well enough to go out, but with this dreadful cold, she has not been outside the house for nearly a month.' Miss Harvey looked over the top of the desk. 'Are the pages all right? There were a few small errors, but I think I corrected them all....'
Mr Levin smiled weakly. 'I shall inform Mr Basset,' he said, rising and moving to the door to the office as he did so.
'And inform Mr Basset that we are waiting,' Mr Dodgson added.
A tall man in worn and patched trousers and knitted jersey sweater covered with an ink-stained apron stamped into the anteroom. His hands, covered in fingerless woollen gloves, were smeared with ink, and a paper cap covered his curling red hair. He advanced on the shrinking Levin and thrust his jaw out pugnaciously.
'I want a word with His Lordship,' he stated in a ripe Irish brogue.
'O'Casey!' Mr Levin looked shocked. 'How many times have you been told that you are not to appear on this floor unless you are called?'
'Well, I have been called.' O'Casey looked around the room for supporters and found only an interested audience. 'Me men have called me to speak up for them. Is Mr Basset in, or has he gone off to tea with the friend of his bosom?'
Mr Levin tried to regain control of the situation. 'Mr Basset is occupied,' he said primly.
A muffled roar from the inner office made that obvious.
'Occupied with what? He sits in his office, warm as toast, and me and me men freeze our ...'
'O'Casey!' Mr Peterson nodded in the direction of Miss Harvey.
'Sorry, Miss, I didn't see you.' O'Casey nodded at the young woman, then turned back to Levin. 'How am I supposed to print when the ink's frozen in its jars? How's Monahan supposed to set type, with his fingers sticking to the very pans? Not a coal for the fire, not even a few sticks of wood, and not a man of us don't have the cough.' He sniffled into a large bandanna for emphasis.
'I am a doctor,' Dr Doyle announced. 'I would be glad to ...'
O'Casey was not seeking treatment. 'When can we get a fire?'
'You were given an allowance for coals at the beginning of the year,' Levin reminded him.
'Aye, and we've used it up,' O'Casey countered. 'And what we want to know is, when do we get more?' He advanced upon the helpless secretary.
Mr Peterson interposed his considerable bulk between the printer and the secretary. 'Steady on, O'Casey,' he said firmly. 'There's no point in beating up poor old Levin here. He's not the one who won't spend the shilling or two on coal. He's just the errand boy.'
'He keeps the books, don't he?' O'Casey was not to be mollified. 'Tis his hand doles out the pay packets. He could cook the books for a few extra pounds of coal if he wished, and why not?'
'Because it would not be right,' Mr Dodgson said, but his clerical whisper went unheard in the general mumble of agreement.
'Mr Levin,' Miss Harvey said, adding her voice to the din, 'I really must have my payment. Mama is waiting for me, and it was beginning to snow when I got off the Underground.'
Excerpted from The Problem of the Evil Editor by Roberta Rogow. Copyright © 2000 Roberta Rogow. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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