|From The Journals &
Personal Correspondence of Jonathan
Carnahan: The War Years (1940-1945)
I apologize if my last letter ended abruptly. Emotions overwhelmed me as I recalled the death of Issac Rosenberg.
Upon first seeing the front-line conditions on my arrival in France, I nearly fainted. But I steeled my heart and immediately set to transporting the wounded. Days blended together and the shelling rang loud in my ears, even when the shelling halted briefly.
The harsh realities of any war are in black and white: there will be death on both sides. Trench warfare in the First War was carried out under the most horrific of conditions (reflecting, perhaps, the conditions of George Washington's ad-hoc army). Trench rot, malnourished soldiers, lack of clean bandages, and shortage of ammunition were rampant.
With the millions who perished in the First War, the chances were small that I would be acquainted with one of the soldiers whom I transported to hospital. I had not seen Issac Rosenberg for many years, as Issac, despite being undersize and in poor health, nevertheless enlisted in the War from his new home in South Africa.
For days after he died in my arms, I was shell-shocked as any front-line soldier in the trenches. No one had ever died in my arms before. I was young and witnessing the deaths of hundreds of soldiers every day and seeing where the poppies bloomed.
I cannot find the words to express my feelings upon finding copies of Issac's poetry. I never left his side until someone came to escort his body home. Issac was a talented artist as well, and I will ask that you remove the sketch of myself from the fireplace and hide it somewhere well. I do not want Issac's artistry to be destroyed.
Yet here we are in the year 1941, still at war and in this new year I find myself once again pressed into service. While I was saddened to spend the holiday away from you, my son Ian was overjoyed to spend his first Christmas as an adopted child.
We spent our Christmas in Dublin, at a small inn named E---, near the waterfront. Despite the War and the harsh blackout restrictions, Dubliners celebrated the Yuletide with enthusiasm, although the celebrations were held indoors for reasons well known. Someone managed to decorate the local theatre and during the day, the local population availed themselves of the holiday festivities there.
The locals pooled their money and set up a caroling contest for the children by age group. Ian won the caroling contest for his age group (he truly has the voice of an angel!), and for his efforts won the sum of ten pounds and a well-worn copy of Farmer Boy, a book by an American writer by the name of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Mrs Wilder is writing down her memories of living as a pioneer girl on the wild prairies of America during the latter part of the 19th century. Farmer Boy is about her husband's childhood on a farm in upstate New York. As Almanzo Wilder is portrayed at nine years old in Farmer Boy, Ian is quite excited. He carries on endlessly comparing his own life on the farm with those anecdotes of Almanzo Wilder's life on his family's farm.
You might be surprised, sister dear, to discover that you already know about Laura--for you hosted her daughter Rose for a weekend when Rose was travelling through London in 1920. You were on holiday from Egypt and Baronness S--- had asked you to host Ms Rose Wilder.
Ha! I well remember how brash you said Rose was, "But Jonathan! She doesn't hesitate to speak her mind at all. She didn't think twice before telling off Baronness S--- in front of Lord T---! I was mortified at her behavior. And that typewriter of hers seems to have a life of its own. Clack, clack, clack, I swear, I didn't get any sleep that weekend!"
I found Rose Wilder to be utterly charming, and well-written. She'd lent me some of her articles and stories and I was quite impressed when I read her book Young Pioneers.
Back to news of my son. Ian is in quite good health physically. He has lost that wan look he possessed upon arriving in Ireland. The air (and the absence of air-raid sirens and the absence of bombings) has done him well, as has steady access to food.
He chatters quite well in Gaelic, much better than my own. We were out in the countryside riding bicycles on Boxing Day and exercising one of the farm's new puppies, when the two of us happened by the ruins of what appear to be an old castle or perhaps a fortress. It was near noon, so we made a picnic lunch near the fallen wall.
There was bread and cheese, meat scraps for the puppy, half a dozen sugar cookies (the sugar was a treat from a Canadian soldier) and a few bottles of Coca-Cola (also from the Canadian soldier). The puppy, a corgi by the name of Molly, was sniffing alongside the wall then commenced to dig with great gusto. Ian laughed at her as the dirt clumps flew and I told him that young puppies like to dig for no reason at all.
But soon Molly barked sharply then dug with great determination. We went over to see what she had found and lo! Molly had discovered a small, rotted bag of ancient silver coins, tarnished darkly, no more than a dozen or so. She seemed quite proud of her find and wanted us to congratulate her. We did so, then gathered up the coins.
Ian immediately wanted to know everything about them: whose were they? Why were they there alongside the wall? Were they dropped when the castle's inhabitants were fleeing a war? (Sister, Ian's imagination ran the whole gamut!) I am secretly pleased Ian is showing an interest in archaeology.
I have to admit, I was curious as well. I have enclosed a sketch of the coins, so perhaps you could identify the era to which they belong and thus quench our curiosity.
During my travels, I have noted a curious character who frequently rides on the same train as I. Despite my efforts to uncover his identity, I have failed in all areas.
He is about my height and his stormy blue eyes and dark hair hint at a Celtic heritage. He (I have dubbed him Bruno) always wears the best in clothing and jewelery, and carries steamer trunks of superior quality. One one recent trip I noted Bruno ended up in Dublin with one set of luggage, and on the return trip to London he carried a different set of luggage.
I wouldn't have made much of him; rather I chalked it up to the particular predilections of his character and wealth (and perhaps he was escorting his personal effects out of England, for many people are doing just that).
But an afternote set me wishing I had Miss Marple on the case. I was sent off to Dublin again a few days later and what to my wondering eyes should appear: a well-heeled man carrying the same set of luggage as I had noted Bruno to carry. Upon closer inspection, the luggage even bore the same set of initials!
Taking my cue from Miss Marple, I had asked the man (Addison by name) as to where he had acquired his exquisite steamer trunk.
"Tis a family heirloom that I thought lost forever!" he said in a cheerful voice, removing his hat to reveal a head of wavy brown hair. He was dressed nattily, in a brown and cream suit, with a brown tweed coat, which he removed and placed on top of his steamer trunk.
I was piqued. "How so?" I watched Addison securing his luggage in the overhead rack.
"Stolen, this luggage was, from my own home. I thought spies did it on account of my home being quite close to Parliament. I advertised my loss in the Times and announced a reward for the return of my luggage." Addison sat down upon completing his explanation and he exhaled a sigh of satisfaction, his grayish-green eyes crinkling at the corners, so big was his smile.
"When was this?" I inquired casually, trying to hide the curiosity burning my brain. Sister! I had my suspicions by now!
"July it was, and up until the 7th of September I advertised in the Times on a daily basis for information on the whereabouts of the luggage." Addison leaned closer to me and whispered conspiratorily. "I had to advertise. See, the hidden compartment contained a bejewelled watch my great-grandfather owned. Tis worth over twelve thousand quid."
"Why didn't you hire a safe deposit box?" I asked him.
"The War," he replied plainly. "I had thought the fighting might extend to Britain. Then the banks could be destroyed."
"And a good way to cripple an enemy is to destroy their banking system," I commented.
"Exactly. If I had to evacuate London, it would have to be quickly."
I nodded. "And a quick evacuation might prevent you from getting to the bank."
"Yes," he replied. But Addison's explanation still didn't tell me how his luggage was returned.
"How did you find your luggage?" I inquired as a porter came round to take our tickets.
"Aye, but I am a lucky lad!" Addison said (and he was no more than 30 at most, sister). "A kind gentlemen visiting relatives in Dublin saw my luggage in a second hand shop. He remembered my advertisement, or rather he'd tucked a copy of the Times into his luggage then forgot about the copy until he was unpacking in Dublin. He immediately telegrammed me and asked for another description."
"And then he bought the luggage to return it to you," I finished somewhat dryly. By now I had my suspicions confirmed, for the person in question was no gentleman and he was certainly not kind.
"Quite right! I repaid him for the cost of the luggage, then gave him the reward." Addison seemed jolly enough and his relief at having his family heirloom returned to him when he thought it lost forever gave me satisfaction in knowing that one day, hopefully soon, our efforts to salvage valuables will result in reunions with their owners.
"Was the watch still hidden?" I asked him now. I knew the answer, sister dear, for Addison would not consider himself a lucky lad had his great-grandfather's watch gone missing from the luggage after the luggage had been returned.
"Yes, indeed! It's a well-hidden compartment and cleverly constructed. I was much relieved to discover the watch still safe."
"I would say so," I commented.
Well, sister dear. I was gob-smacked. Imagine finding another Jonathan Wild! Aside from Robin Hood, you were never interested much in the ancient thievery of our English folk. Young Jonathan Wild was a master thief-taker, during the time of the South Seas bubble to which I have alluded in an earlier letter.
The early 1700's was a time of lawlessness. High-ranking aristocrats were selling favors and offices. Law enforcement preferred to look the other way when crimes occurred.
In the ensuing chaos, robbers and smugglers gained in number and in popularity. Jonathan Wild was one of better known thieves.
His far-reaching and well organized theft ring around London was a variant of the Robin Hood theme: Jonathan fenced stolen items (usually lifted from the aristocracy).
Someone, either himself, or another thief, would arrange to rob houses. To avoid breaking the law, Jonathan rarely was in possession of the stolen goods. Rather, he'd obtain information about the goods stolen: the value, the date and place of theft.
Then, in good time, Jonathan would sell
the information about stolen goods back to their original owners. He took
a cut of the profits from the broker or thief, but he didn't take any profits from those robbed. Soon enough, Jonathan became bolder and those who had been robbed were required to apply to him for the information about their missing valuables. Receiving them in his office, Jonathan would hint, quite quietly, that a crown was to be paid for his advice and the nefarious lad would then enter the information into his books!
To ensure he had little competition, Jonathan often 'took
care' of his would-be competitors rather harshly, including cutting the ear off his own wife, who had introduced him to London's underworld. But 'kind' lad that he was, he offered his ex-wife a weekly pension for life.
Sister, am I sarcastic enough with that last sentence?
To ensure he had little competition, Jonathan often 'took care' of his would-be competitors rather harshly, including cutting the ear off his own wife, who had introduced him to London's underworld. But 'kind' lad that he was, he offered his ex-wife a weekly pension for life.
Sister, am I sarcastic enough with that last sentence?
His thievery didn't pay off--Jonathan Wild was executed in 1725 for his nefarious deeds. But his place in criminal history is well-assured.
And now in these dark days to find a man who is preying upon our fellow Englishmen! I did not voice my suspicions to Addison and the rest of our trip was spent chatting. He took special interest in the four children I was escorting and regaled them with stories. Addison missed his calling as a radio actor, for his voice impersonations had everyone in the train car in stitches.
But I kept my counsel, and, with the enthusiasm of Miss Marple and the determination of Poirot, I undertook to obtain as much information about Bruno as possible. Bruno travelled several more times on the train, always with different luggage and jewelry. After a few more such trips, I took my concerns to the Yard, where I was met first with skepticism, then with more respect as the information sunk in.
"Desperate times will breed these types who prey on anyone," I was told. "Tis like Jonathan Wild all over again."
I remarked that was my very thought. "It was the first thing went through my mind when Addison told me how his luggage was returned to him."
"I suppose our Bruno was looking for a merry time during these days, coming to and from Ireland, nattily dressed and freely spending the reward money."
"Well, he won't find any more merry times ahead."
"Aye," Inspector D--- chuckled. "Yep. No more merry times for him! But the information you provided clears up several unsolved theft cases we've had since early last year."
It appears that Bruno was an active thief, receiving fourteen rewards for 'returning' stolen property.
But sad news, sister dear. I have been informed that our dear Bruno caught on to the tail the Yard placed on him and he has disappeared, perhaps not to be found and brought to justice.
On the positive side, I am hoping Bruno left the country for good, although the authorities have been made aware to take note of any advertisements announcing a reward for the return of stolen property.
Knowing how you love folktales, sister, I asked the Lady of the pub B--- to spin a yarn or two. She happily obliged and related this Irish tale over Christmas Eve dinner.
So in this way Brannon made one son a priest, one son a doctor and the third son became a lawyer.
At the end of seven years, the Divil showed up to claim the old man's soul. The priest was with his father and when the Divil showed up, he prayed and begged and appealed for sparings for his father and in the heel of the hunt the priest got a few more years for his father.
When those years were up, once again the Divil comes to claim the old man. But the doctor was there and appealed for a few more years for his father and got them.
At the end of those years, the Divil appeared and demanded the old man's soul. The third son, the lawyer, was there and he says to the Divil, "You've given sparings to my father twice already and I know you can't be expected to do it again. But as a last request, will you give him sparings while that butt of a candle is there?" And there was a candle burning on the table.
The Divil laughs to himself and says, "I will, for it is only a butt of a candle and wouldn't be long in flame."
At those words, the lawyer picks up the butt of the candle and blows the flame out and puts it into his pocket. And the Divil fumed and ranted but a bargain is a bargain and the Divil had to leave without the old man for the lawyer held onto to the butt of the candle.
Trust in the lawyer to beat the Divil.
At Ian's prodding (the lad appears to enjoy a rollicking ghost story), the Lady of the pub related a ghost tale. I've recreated the tale as best I can remember.
The guests said she might take a journey having had such a dream.
But the next morning she told her guests and her husband that she had had the same dream about the same house! She'd spent hours in the dream house, and she related the placement of the furniture, how many settings of china. She knew the number of books in the library and the titles.
So it became a running joke in the family and around the small village. People would ask Mrs Butler if she'd been to her dream house the night before. And as always, she would reply that she had and she would relate the tiniest details of marvelous dinner parties and the guests in attendance and the conversation that flowed. She related all this information to her friends in London as well.
After a few years, the Butlers decided to move to England. Like their friends, the Butlers settled upon living in or around London and presently sent off for the house agents' lists of properties within an hour's ride to London.
Many weeks of searching brought the couple to a small London suburb. As they were riding down the avenue to the house, the neighbors were starting violently upon seeing Mrs Butler and they pointed and chattered, but she ignored them. To her husband Mrs Butler said, "Why, husband! That's my dream house!"
Mr Butler just smiled and said, "Yes, dear."
But Mrs Butler replied more insistently, "No. That is the house I've been telling you about these few years!"
So the Butlers arrived at the front door. Immediately they were greeted by the house agent, who also started violently upon seeing Mrs Butler but recovered himself.
Some of the neighbors had come inside the house and were staring at Mrs Butler. One asked Mrs Butler if she remembered a party thrown here a month prior and Mrs Butler related the details of the party. The neighbor gasped then ran out of the house yelling, "She's grown solid, she has!"
The house agent showed the Butlers around and then told them the price of the house.
"Why, that's a ridiculously small amount! Do you think we should take it?" Mrs Butler asked her husband. He agreed they should take the house for most likely the price would rise in the future and they'd have a tidy sum.
So in short time, the house was sold and the deeds signed. But Mrs Butler was curious, and she asked the house agent, "Why was the price so small?"
Seeing as how the deeds were signed, the house agent replied, "The house has a merry reputation for being haunted."
"A real haunted house?" asked Mrs Butler. "This is most delicious! Think of the gossip!"
"I daresay the house won't be haunted for very long," replied the house agent.
"How did you know that?" inquired Mrs Butler.
"Because the ghost is you."
And so with my ghost story written down, I have arrived at my destination. Time does fly when one has good company to share and although I am not with you in person, you are with me in my heart and I hope you, Rick and Alex are enjoying my company through my letters.