On Shifting Tenses

The time is out of joint: O cursèd spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!

Hamlet, Act I, Scene V

When I first received the battered trunk containing, among other things, the manuscripts of Mary Russell Holmes, I was inclined to consider the whole thing as some elaborate prank. A bizarre collection of odds and ends filled the trunk to the brim, most notably a valuable emerald necklace wrapped in a silk scarf and a pile of papers full of stories so strange that they had to be true.

Many of the objects in the trunk were directly mentioned or alluded to in Miss Russell's stories, such as a carved ivory chopstick and a delicate robe made of Kashmiri wool, but apart from a cursory examination when the trunk first arrived I paid them little attention. After all, I am a writer first, and the yellowing pages held far more attraction for me than a yellowing ivory brooch.

However, I did occasionally make the trip up the rickety stairs into the attic where the trunk, sans manuscripts, was stored in order to sift through the contents in the hopes that its origins and the reasons behind its arrival would be revealed. I usually gained little from these trips besides dust in my hair and perhaps a bruise on my shin from a box which had mysteriously shifted position.

I would have never found this story if not for those trips. I was digging for jewelled box which I had seen before, swearing that I would make an inventory one of these days when I came up with a pretentiously gaudy silver picture frame that looked as if it belonged in a Victorian parlour. The frame had always puzzled me, since it seemed to be at odds with the Russell I knew from her memoirs. I thought it might have been a gift from a casual friend or distant relative, and it amused me to think of Russell and Holmes' wedding photo in that incongruous frame.

I abandoned my search for the box and sat back on my heels to examine the thing. There was no picture in the frame now and as I looked I realized that the frame seemed rather thick. As I was contemplating this, I overbalanced and fell backwards with a curse, flinging the frame over my head. I cursed again, with greater heat, and went to retrieve the frame. Luckily the heavy wrought silver suffered no damage, but when I picked it up from the corner in which it had fallen part of the backing fell away.

There were two backings to the frame, an outer one to which the stand was attached and an inner one pressed against the glass. Sandwiched between the two was a sheaf of papers. I sat on the attic floor and read straight through, my heart pounding as I did so. A few of the pages were clearly torn from a notebook. They appeared to be covered in chemical notations. Time and mildew had damaged a portion of the notes, so that the professor I took them to could make neither heads nor tails of them. He would only say that it likely described an early electrical experiment.

But it was the manuscript which engrossed me. Not many years ago I would have dismissed it as a not entirely successful attempt at fiction. But to write fiction in the style of her memoirs was so entirely unlike Miss Russell that it seemed impossible, although knowing my subject perhaps I should not use that word. I could think of various things to explain this matter of fact description of fantastic events, everything from hallucination to allegory, but in the end I found myself thinking that the simplest solution really was correct. It was too strange not to be true.

It is with some reluctance that I send this tale out into the world. I do not know if Russell ever intended it to be read by any but herself. But, for good or ill, I feel that it is my duty as an editor to let the story stand on its own.


I'm baaaaack! Wheee!

Obligatory Disclaimer: I'm sure it doesn't need to be mentioned, but I don't have the rights to Mary Russell. She belongs to Ms. Laurie R. King. Holmes, of course, belongs to Russell.

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