A naive observer might not immediately see a connection between the newspaper accounts of a man found naked on a church steeple, a constable attacked from the sky, and a grocer assaulted by “balloon bandits.” But these stories are tied together by a single word: Tish, the nutty maid who has never let old age get in the way of a good time.
When her nephew announces a trip to England to write about the Coronation, Tish demands to come along. Fearing a diplomatic incident, her nephew refuses, but Tish resolves to find another way. It’s not long before she takes to the air—and the sky will never be the same.
In these stories, Tish and her friends advise young lovers on bad haircuts, contend with fish in Florida and bears in the far west, and narrowly avoid confrontation with the waxworks at Madame Tussaud’s. With her unwavering, destructive enthusiasm, this sprightly old spinster gives new meaning to the phrase “young at heart.”
About the Author
Among her dozens of novels are The Amazing Adventures of Letitia Carberry (1911), which began a six-book series, and The Bat (originally published in 1920 as a play), which was among the inspirations for Bob Kane’s Batman. Credited with inventing the phrase “The butler did it,” Rinehart is often called an American Agatha Christie, even though she began writing much earlier than Christie, and was much more popular during her heyday.
Read an Excerpt
Tish Marches On
By Mary Roberts Rinehart
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1937 Mary Roberts Rinehart
All rights reserved.
Recently I have been pasting up the album in which for some years I have kept the record of such of Letitia Carberry's achievements as have reached the public press. Among them, in a separate box and marked "Snark," I find three small pieces of paper as well as a number of newspaper cuttings, and it occurs to me that the two are closely related. Also that the general public, bewildered at the time by certain published articles, has never been told the facts behind such headlines as "Man Partly Nude On Church Steeple. Fire Engines To Rescue"; or that one in the London Times on page fourteen, where it hides most of the news, entitled: "Unusual Discovery On A Sussex Golf Course."
There is also no adequate explanation given for the picture of the constable with the bandage around his head, the line beneath merely saying: "Victim Of Attack From Air." As for the other one, showing Aggie's red flannel petticoat with the bullet hole through it, she has never seen it, and I hope she never will.
Nevertheless, these clippings in a way do form a record of that strange experience of ours last spring. Some of them have a degree of accuracy. Thus I find a small clipping from a local New Jersey paper which relates that a fisherman, going out one morning to his nets, had reported seeing a small dirigible balloon not far above the surface of the water and moving at what he estimated was one hundred miles an hour. And not only that. As he watched it he had seen it blown up and disappear. Being headed "A New Fisherman's Story" it probably attracted no attention, but it had a basis in fact.
On the other hand, there is no truth whatever in the one entitled: "Local resident shot in leg. Balloon bandits attack grocer." That was purely accidental, as I shall show, and we never even saw the man.
The three small pieces of paper already referred to are merely the clues from the Ostermaiers' hunt dinner, a charity party given each year for the Poor Fund, and at which one hunts his food by means of small verses of poetry. As Mr. Ostermaier is our clergyman, we always attend such functions, and I have included these clues since they form the real starting point of our adventure.
Or am I right? Did it not really begin earlier, when Charlie Sands, Tish's nephew, was preparing to report the Coronation in England for his paper and Tish expressed a desire to go with him?
Usually the most amiable of men, he refused this firmly.
"You're not going," he said. "I know you, and—well, you're not going."
"Don't be ridiculous," said Tish. "What harm could I do?"
"That," he said solemnly, "only you and your Creator can figure out. All I say is that these people want to crown a king, and that they have their hands full already."
"That is idiotic," said Tish irritably. "All I ask is to get inside the Abbey and—"
"Yeah?" he said. "And have me wake from a sweet dream of peace to see the Archbishop of Canterbury putting the crown on you! You're going to stay home, and that's flat."
I have seldom seen him so firm, and at last Tish reluctantly abandoned the project. He sailed soon after on the Crostic, and we saw him off, giving him a bottle of blackberry cordial as a remedy against seasickness; but he did not seem really easy until the ship moved out and he could look over the railing and observe us safe on the pier below.
How well I remember his last words, shouted from a distance but still clearly audible:
"Now remember," he called. "Don't try to pull anything or I'll—"
We did not hear the rest, but as people were looking at us strangely we at once left the dock.
Yes, I believe that the adventure began that day. Not that Tish bore any resentment, but that she had a very real sense of frustration. She was silent as we left New York and motored home again, speaking only once.
"I dare say the time has come," she said, "when I must settle down to my knitting and let the world go by."
"Well, thak goodess for that," said Aggie, who had her usual spring cold.
But I myself regard the words as more or less prophetic. The time was indeed coming when all any of us could do was to knit and let the world go by.
It was the next evening that the Ostermaiers gave their hunt dinner, which as I have explained is one where the guests, given various clues, are then obliged to search for their food. I have three of these clues before me as I write, and they look innocent in the extreme. Who could believe that they would lead to that awful moment when, helpless as we were, we were obliged to leave our poor Aggie in her terrible predicament? Or that discovering an entirely strange young man searching for soup under the Ostermaiers' guest-room bed would ultimately send us whirling to the far places of the world?
No one, I am certain....
I have reread all this material with varying emotions. The Snark moves through it, a pale gray ghost ultimately to die in a foreign land, and to be found to contain two fish, still alive. But through it all also moves Letitia Carberry, brave and indomitable. Even at the worst she never lost courage, and she should be, I think, an example to us all.
She was, I recall, strangely reluctant to go to the dinner; but as it is given for charity, we all three finally decided to attend. On the way there she commented on the staleness of life, and her extreme dislike of searching in people's closets for food which would not be fit to eat anyhow.
"I begin to feel my age, Lizzie," she said sadly. "With life consisting only of taxes, and government a racket, I long for a desert island and peace."
She was, however, somewhat more cheerful when we reached the party, even showing some of her old enthusiasm when she received the first clue. It read:
At certain times its feet are four
But sometimes they are six or more
The burglar's joy, the spinster's fear
You'll find your jellied soup is here.
Tish gave it one glance and started up the stairs.
"Too simple," she said. "Probably the whole parish is up there."
But when she led us into the Ostermaiers' guest room it was apparently empty. Only apparently, for in a moment we saw a pair of feet projecting from under the bed, and a second later a strange young man with his hair in a dreadful state sat up with a cup of cold soup in his hand and glared at us.
"Who the hell had this idea?" he demanded.
"You came to a hunt dinner, didn't you?" Tish inquired, with her usual dignity.
He looked at her queerly.
"But I thought—well, no matter what I thought," he added hastily. "Anyhow, here we are. Now what do we do?"
"You get first prize on soup."
He seemed slightly dazed.
"I see," he said. "First prize on soup. I've got a prize or two in my life, but never on soup. What do I get? A medal?"
"You can get some soup for us, if you don't mind," Tish observed, rather tartly.
He colored at that, said "Sorry!" and dived under the bed again. When he emerged he had torn his coat on a broken bedspring, but he was more cheerful.
"I begin to get the hang of it," he said. "Do we eat this now, or go after the next prize? You see, I'm a stranger here."
Well, he seemed rather a pleasant person. There was nothing, then or later, to warn us that he was to be our Nemesis; or that the last time we were to see him, some days later, he would be giving us a look of plain, unadulterated hatred. His name he said was Blane, Jefferson Blane, although mostly called Jeff, and that he was motoring through with a girl; but that as soon as they arrived at the house she had paired off with another man.
"That's my usual luck," he said. "I bring 'em. They take 'em. Well, what about the second course?"
We got the clue, and it read:
Be quick. The night air's cold and chill,
This runs both ways but yet stands still,
Beneath it, humble, is the dish
Which you will find contains your fish."
It was puzzling. Tish said the only thing she knew of that ran both ways but remained in the same place was Aggie's nose, she being given to attacks of hay fever. Mr. Blane said it was the stairs, which certainly ran both ways; but a search of the closet beneath them only producing some old rubbers, we at last went out to the kitchen steps, and he found the fish in a new garbage can under them.
"It gets into the blood, doesn't it?" he said, mopping his face. "Do I get first prize for the garbage can also?"
Here, however, he saw a very pretty girl with a tall blond youth, and breathed heavily.
"If I was as good at women as I am at food," he said despondently, "I would take that girl out and wallop her within an inch of her life. Well, forget it. What's next?"
The next clue, however, eluded him.
Above the ground, unlike the rabbit,
This creature rests, as is its habit.
A case of nerves will show the wise
To where it lays no more, but lies.
"Child's play," he said cheerfully. "Hens, hence chickens. No pun intended. But what's a case of nerves? Hysterics? Hip something. I've got it—hypochondria! By Jove, do you suppose that stout woman over there is sitting on it?"
It was Aggie who, having suffered from them, remembered shingles, and I then suggested the porch roof. This was correct, but it is a part of the inevitability of our catastrophe that a blond girl and a man were already on the way there, and that Mr. Blane shoved past them almost rudely.
"Sorry," he said. "But this chicken is going to be mine."
"Why, Jeff Blane!" said the girl. "How dare you?"
I dare say it was due to this haste that Mr. Blane slipped as he stepped out onto the roof, and the next thing we heard was a rending of cloth followed by a thump below. The girl screamed.
"Jeff!" she called anxiously. "Are you hurt?"
"What do you care?" he said with some bitterness.
She spoke again, but he did not reply; and it was some time later that, taking an early departure, we perceived a figure lurking in the bushes and saw it edging furtively toward us.
It was Mr. Blane.
"Listen," he said. "If you care to inspect that porch roof back there you will find a largish piece of cloth. And if you care to inquire—not investigate—it's the seat out of my trousers. I thought," he added plaintively, "that you might have some suggestions."
How simple, yet how inevitable! What was more obvious than that Tish with her customary kindness should take him to her apartment and there present him with a pair of trousers belonging to Charlie Sands? Yet before he left he had sowed the wind and we were to reap the whirlwind. I think he should remember this. Certainly to say, as he has said, that we deliberately left him on that church steeple a few days later is not only entirely false. It is most ungrateful.CHAPTER 2
It was after he was clothed and had had a glass or two of our blackberry cordial that the fatal incident occurred. He had, I remember, stated that he was a visitor to our city, and that he was not strong enough for our type of hunt dinners. Also that blondes were fickle and that he was entirely washed up—whatever that meant.
But it was when he walked over and inspected a large mounted tarpon which Tish had captured some years before that he really planted the seed of trouble.
"Where I come from," he said contemptuously, "we'd call that thing a minnow."
"What do you fish for?" Tish inquired coldly. "Whales?"
Well, it turned out that he fished for sharks, and that—of all things—from a small dirigible. He said that it was perfectly simple. You merely cruised until you saw a large one, and then dropped the hook and bait more or less in its mouth.
"Greatest sport in the world," he said. "Shoot them through the head, of course, before you pull them in."
Tish was so interested that Aggie gave me a look of pure agony and sneezed violently.
"Get hib away, Lizzie," she implored me. "Look at her!"
Certainly Tish was intensely interested. She had put down her knitting and was gazing at him thoughtfully.
"What bait do you use?" she inquired.
"A dead horse is good. White, if you can find one. But pork will do. They like pork."
He talked about it for some time and poor Aggie was quite pale when, after a final glass of cordial, he prepared to depart—in Charlie Sands' trousers.
If you ever want to try it, he said, just call up Johnnie Smith at Green Harbor. He'll fix you so you can go and have yourselves a time."
Yes, that was what he said. And my reply is that we did, and that we had!
I did not like the look in Tish's face after Mr. Blane had gone; and to make matters worse, Aggie had a return of her jaundice that night and itched violently until morning.
Nevertheless, for a day or so all was quiet. Tish received a radiogram from Charlie Sands in that interval: "On no account alter decision," which she resented somewhat; and both Aggie and I noticed that she had an absent look in her eyes. Also she complained of lumbago. But we were not suspicious until one evening Hannah, her maid, came to see us and reported a strange condition of affairs.
"I don't believe it, Hannah," I said severely.
"You ask the janitor," Hannah said tearfully. "She dropped one, and some of it fell on his head. It cost her twenty dollars to square him. And as for that policeman—"
"He put his motorcycle down below and the hook caught it. When he saw it crawling up the wall he yelled like anything. Then the line broke, and it as near as anything killed him, Miss Lizzie."
(I may interpolate here that this was an overstatement. The man was merely bruised. As for the city claiming damages for the motorcycle, that is ridiculous. Why do we pay taxes?)
It was some time before we got the entire story. Apparently Tish had been practicing hauling heavy weights up to her apartment, doing so at night when the courtyard was empty. For this purpose she had employed a pail filled with coal, fishing for the handle with a large hook on a line. Then—the night before—the motorcycle incident had occurred, and we gathered from Hannah that she had given up the idea.
"And what is she doing tonight, Hannah?" I inquired.
"That's what I came about," she said. "She's cleaning her rifle. That means trouble, Miss Lizzie. I know her."
We sent Hannah home after that, but we both spent a wretched evening. With Charlie Sands on the high seas we felt completely helpless, and when the next morning Tish sent for us we knew that protest would be useless.
We found her surprisingly cheerful, and the entire place seemed to be littered with fishing lines, ropes, chains, and enormous hooks. She put down a large hook when we entered.
"Lizzie," she said abruptly. "What do you know about sharks?"
It had come! But I pretended to ignore it.
"What sort of sharks?" I said. "Bridge sharks? Loan sharks? Or stock market sharks?"
"Don't be a fool," she observed. "Ordinary sharks."
"Only that they have teeth. Too many teeth."
"Do you know that their skins are valuable?" "So is mine, Tish," I said tartly. "And I don't intend to risk it. I go in no dirigible, and I dangle no piece of pork before a shark's nose. As far as I am concerned, there are no sharks."
I am glad that I made that protest, useless as it proved to be. For things had gone further than I had anticipated. Not only had she written to Mr. Smith. She had already engaged the Snark—which was the blimp: shall I ever forget it?—for the next day.
She eyed us both sternly.
"You have your choice," she said. "Either you come or I go alone."
What could we do? Never before had we deserted her, and so at last we agreed. But Aggie was in such an acute state of terror that evening that during the night I heard a crash and found that she had fallen out of bed. When I found her she was on the floor, apparently trying to swim in the water from an upset pitcher.
"Help!" she said, in a smothered voice. "Help! I'm drowdig!"
It was some time before I could convince her that she was still safe in her room, and not in the Atlantic Ocean.
Fortunately we were kept busy the next day. There was not only the matter of food to arrange. Tish had reminded us that the upper levels of the air were cool, which explains Aggie's red flannel petticoat later. We also purchased a small alcohol stove and a kettle for tea, a frying pan, and packed a substantial amount of food, including a quantity of eggs. This, with bottled water, some blackberry cordial, and Tish's rifle, completed our equipment; and we left late in the afternoon by car for Green Harbor.
The last thing we did was to purchase our bait, forty pounds of pork cut into two pound pieces, and Mr. Beilstein looked rather surprised.
"That's a lot of pork, Miss Carberry," he said. "What are you going to do? Start a barbecue stand?"
"We are going fishing," said Tish with her usual dignity, and he was still on the pavement staring after us as we drove away.
Tish was her optimistic self during the journey. She had already calculated that she could increase her income considerably, and that fish caught beyond the three-mile limit should not be taxable.
"It may be," she said, "that we have at last found a method of legal evasion which the Congress has not discovered. And there are millions of sharks in the sea."
Aggie, however, refused to be comforted.
"Thed let theb stay there," she said hollowly. "I dod't wadt ady."
Excerpted from Tish Marches On by Mary Roberts Rinehart. Copyright © 1937 Mary Roberts Rinehart. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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