Tuesday, August 31, 2021

"You Didn't Expect To See Me"

R. AUSTIN FREEMAN is justifiably remembered for Dr. Thorndyke, his genius medico who solved knotty problems with the greatest of ease. The brilliant Thorndyke, however, is absent from today's story, one in which an overconfident criminal imagines that he can get what he wants with the aid of . . .

"The Ebb Tide."
By R. Austin Freeman (1862-1943).
Illustrations by R. B. M. Paxton.
First appearance: Cassell's Magazine, February 1903.
Short short story (5 pages; 2 illos).
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).
     "Do you mean to tell me that if I was to tumble overboard here you could make sure of finding my body to-night on the mud at Warden?"

"Floaters," they call them, corpses found in water. Usually they're the result of misfortune, but now and then a floater washes ashore that didn't get there by accident, one that has previously experienced a rough push followed by a big splash . . . .

Main characters:
~ Jonathan Lurcher:
  ". . . a gentleman of antecedents so remarkable that a grateful and appreciative country had for some time past taken upon itself the entire cost of his maintenance
 . . ."
~ Clementina Porpers:
  ". . . another passenger, of the feminine gender, whom he had watched with no little interest as she stood on the pier waiting for the boat."
~ The bargee:
  "By gum, but the tide do run down jest 'ere."
~ The bearded stranger:
  "Feel bad?"

References and resources:
- "The Ebb Tide": It makes a good metaphor:
  "An ebb tide occurs when a tidal current moves away from land. Tidal currents moving toward land are called floods. Ebbs and floods are categorized as reversing currents" (Reference.com HERE).
- "oakum picking": Hardly a pleasant pastime:
  "Oakum was at one time recycled from old tarry ropes and cordage, which were painstakingly unravelled and reduced to fibre, termed 'picking.' The task of picking and preparation was a common occupation in prisons and workhouses, where the young or the old and infirm were put to work picking oakum if they were unsuited for heavier labour. Sailors undergoing naval punishment were also frequently sentenced to pick oakum, with each man made to pick 1 pound (450 g) of oakum a day. The work was tedious, slow and taxing on the worker's thumbs and fingers" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "a simple process of inductive reasoning": Sherlock did a lot more of this than he would like to admit:
  "Inductive reasoning is a method of reasoning in which the premises are viewed as supplying some evidence, but not full assurance, of the truth of the conclusion. It is also described as a method where one's experiences and observations, including what is learned from others, are synthesized to come up with a general truth. Inductive reasoning is distinct from deductive reasoning" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "on the Isle of Sheppey": It has a storied past:
  "The Isle of Sheppey is an island off the northern coast of Kent, England, neigh-bouring the Thames Estuary, centred 42 miles (68 km) from central London. It has an area of 36 square miles (93 km2). The island forms part of the local government district of Swale. Sheppey is derived from Old English Sceapig, meaning 'Sheep Island'" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "The bargee": "(Nautical Terms) a person employed on or in charge of a barge" (The Free Dictionary HERE).
- "the funnel": They come in all shapes and sizes:
  "A funnel is the smokestack or chimney on a ship used to expel boiler steam and smoke or engine exhaust. They are also commonly referred to as stacks" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "sponson": When  a ship is in motion it needs help to stay upright:
  "On watercraft, a sponson is a projection that extends outward (usually from the hull, but sometimes other parts of the vessel) to improve stability while floating, or to act as a securing point for other equipment" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "windlasses rattled": Anchor's away:
  "Windlasses are sometimes used on boats to raise the anchor as an alternative to a vertical capstan" (Wikipedia HERE).
- We were last in touch with R. Austin Freeman with his brain-strainer "The Blue Sequin" (HERE). As for Dr. Thorndyke's multi-media portrayals, see "The Three Dr. Thorndykes" (HERE).


  1. I love nautical mysteries.

    The only non-Dr Thorndyke stories that I've read by Freeman have been his very early Romney Pringle stories. Which are simply delightful - Romney Pringle is oner of the great literary rogues.

    1. I accidentally came across this one-off crime tale by Freeman. He seemed to favor series stories and characters. And in Thorndyke he devised a worthy rival for the great Sherlock, not an easy task.