Thursday, June 2, 2016

"I Am Afraid the Poor Boy Must Be Killed"

"The Affair of the Corridor Express."
By Victor L. Whitechurch (1868-1933).
First appearance: Pearson’s Weekly, April 22, 1899.
Collected in Thrilling Stories of the Railway (1912).
Short story (27 pages).
Online at Project Gutenberg Australia HERE.
"Thorpe Hazell stood in his study in his London flat. On the opposite wall he had pinned a bit of paper, about an inch square, at the height of his eye, and was now going through the most extraordinary contortions."
Eccentric he may be, but when it comes to mysterious problems relating to the railways, Thorpe Hazell's experience and reasoning ability make him the one to consult in this case of a little boy, a millionaire's son, who has disappeared from a moving train without a trace.

Main characters:
~ Mr. F. W. Wingrave, M.A., B.Sc.:
   "I have just been through a very trying experience. A boy I was in charge of has just mysteriously disappeared, and I want you to find him for me . . ."
~ Horace Carr-Mathers, the missing item:
   "I tried to kick and shout, but it was no go. They got me into the compartment, stuffed a handkerchief into my mouth, and tied it in. It was just beastly."
~ Thorpe Hazell:
   "You will understand that I am going to work upon the theory that the boy has been kidnapped and that the original intention has been carried out, in spite of the accident of your presence in the train. How the boy was disposed of meanwhile is what baffles me; but that is a detail—though it will be interesting to know how it was done. Now, I don't want to raise any false hopes, because I may very likely be wrong, but we are going to take action upon a very feasible assumption, and if I am at all correct, I hope to put you definitely on the track. Mind, I don't promise to do so, and, at best, I don't promise to do more than put you on a track."
~ Mr. Mills:
   "It's your duty to warn off strangers. How long have you been stationed here?"
~ A "big, strong-looking man":
   "I ain't so much to blame as them as employed me."
~ Mr. Carr-Mathers:
   "I understand you are not an ordinary detective."

Typo: "my eard"
Resources:
- Victor L. Whitechurch is mostly known for his railway mysteries featuring Thorpe Hazell; for more about those stories, the author, and his principal character, go HERE (Mike Grost), HERE (the GAD Wiki), HERE (Pretty Sinister Books), HERE (Wikipedia), and HERE (ONTOS).
- For a true life railway crime, go to the Journal of Victorian Culture Online article HERE; apropos of our story, the article informs us:
Compartment style carriages had been employed in Britain since the beginning of passenger railways in the 1830s, being a natural development of the horse-drawn carriage. Following the Briggs murder [in 1865], ‘Muller Lights’, a small glazed porthole between adjoining compartments, were installed by some rail companies, but this ‘safety’ feature was double edged as passengers complain-ed that they allowed prying eyes into private compartments. The American preference for open-plan carriages, with transverse seats set either side of a central passageway, only spread to Europe in the 1870s, although British pas-sengers still valued their privacy, leading to the retention of compartments, but with a corridor along one side of the carriage. Flexible gangways linked individ-ual carriages, allowing free movement to lavatories and dining cars. Compart-ment carriages were still being commissioned into the 1960s and only fell out of favour with British Rail in the 1980s when crime levels, particularly in the South East, rose sharply. Nevertheless, the affection of the British public for the private compartment, more likely the scene of a romantic interlude than a brutal crime, remained and they are now a staple feature of preserved railway travel.

The bottom line: "I once asked this literary agent what kind of writing paid the best. He said, 'Ransom notes'."
Harry Zimm

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