Friday, March 11, 2016

"As Guiltless As the Babe Unborn"

"A Circumstantial Puzzle."
By R. E. Francillon (1841-1919).
First appearance: Unknown.
First collected in Romances of the Law (1889; online HERE).
Reprinted in Victorian Tales of Mystery and Detection (1992; dis-cussed HERE and for sale HERE).
Novelette (25 pages).
Online at SFFAudio HERE (PDF), Forgotten Books HERE, and Hathi Trust HERE (slow load).
"This story is not a sentimental one."
There is skulduggery afoot in Redport, but the victim refuses to believe the truth—and the person trying to sort it all out winds up in gaol:
The almost insuperable difficulty of telling a story with even a grain of truth in it is this—or, I should rather say, the two insuperable difficulties are these: firstly, there is never the faintest dramatic point about really true stories; secondly, if they are worth telling at all, they are almost always incredible. And the truer they are, the more pointless and the more incredible they are. The story I am going to tell is neither dramatic nor probable. And yet it seems to me worth telling . . .
Principal characters:
~ Charles Standish, a solicitor: Enmeshed.
~ John Buller, a businessman: Unpredictable.
~ Adam Brown, a financial clerk: Untrustworthy.
~ George Richards, a bank manager: Duty-bound.

Comment: A 20th- or 21st-century mystery author could have given this story a neat twist, but Francillon has chosen to be prosaic and disappointingly predictable; the characterization, which is good, alone carries the narrative weight.
- When the author says "very few men indeed are Timons," see HERE and HERE for what is meant; the plot hinges on a case of monomania, detailed HERE.
- The Early Office Museum has information about 19th-century check protection measures HERE.
- We can't find very much about R. E. Francillon, the most being bibliographical at FictionMags HERE.
- One of Francillon's most enduring works has been Gods and Heroes (1894), a children's mythology book that's still in print, online HERE and HERE.

The bottom line: "The handwriting on the wall may be a forgery."
Ralph Hodgson

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