The Parish Magazine
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
The Parish Magazine is a short story written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Strand Magazine in august 1930.
- in The Strand Magazine (august 1930 [UK]) 2 illustrations by S. Abbey
- in A Century of Humour (september 1934, Hutchinson & Co. [UK])
- in A Century of Humour (december 1934, Hutchinson & Co. 2nd imp. [UK])
The Parish Magazine
It was six o'clock on a winter evening. Mr. Pomeroy, the printer, was on the point of leaving his office, which was his back room, for his home, which was his front room, when young Murphy entered. Murphy was an imperturbable youth with a fat face and sleepy eyes, who had the rare quality of always doing without question whatever he was told. It is usually a great virtue —but there are exceptions.
"There are two folk to see you," said Murphy, laying two cards upon the table.
Mr. Pomeroy glanced at them.
"Mr. Robert Anderson. Miss Julia Duncan. I don't know the names. Well, show them in."
A long, sad-faced youth entered, accompanied by a mournful young lady, clad in black. Their appearance was respectable, but depressing.
"I dare say you know this," said the youth, holding up a small, grey-covered volume, the outer cover of which was ornamented with the picture of a church. "It's the St. Olivia's Church Magazine. What I mean, it's the Parish Magazine. This lady and I are what you might call the editors. It has been printed by—"
"Elliot and Dark, in the City," said the lady, as her companion seemed to stumble. "But they have suddenly closed down their works. We have the month's issue all ready, but we want to add to it."
"A Supplement, if you get my meaning," said the youth. "That's the word —supplement. The thing has become too dam'—"
"What he is trying to say," cried the girl, "is that the magazine wants lighting up on the social side."
"That's it," said the youth. "Just a bit of ginger, so to speak. So we arranged a Supplement. We will put it in as a loose leaf, if you follow my meaning. It's all typewritten and clear"—here he drew a folded paper from his pocket—"and it needs no reading or correcting. Just rush it through, five hundred copies, as quickly as you can do it."
"The issue is overdue," said the lady. "We must have it out by midday to-morrow. They tell me Ferguson and Co. could easily have it ready in the time, and if you won't guarantee it, we must take it to them."
"Absolutely," said the youth.
Mr. Pomeroy picked up the typed copy and glanced at it. His eyes fell upon the words, "Our beloved Vicar, Mr. Ffolliott-Sharp, B.A." There was some allusion to a bishopric. Pomeroy threw the paper across to his assistant. "Get on with it!" he said.
"We should like to pay at once," said Miss Duncan, opening her bag. "Here is a five-pound note, and you can account for it afterwards. Of course, you don't know us, and might not trust us."
"Well, if one did not trust the Parish Magazine—" said Pomeroy, smiling.
"Absolutely," cried the youth. "But what I mean is that we want to pay now. You'll send the stuff round to me at 16 Colgrove Road. Got it? Not later than twelve. Rush it through. What?"
"It shall be there," said Pomeroy.
The pair were leaving the room when the girl turned back.
"Put your name as printer at the bottom," she said. "It's the law. Besides, you may get the printing of the Magazine in the future."
"Certainly. We always print our name."
The couple passed out, and hugged each other in the passage.
"I think we put it across," said he.
"Marvellous!" said she.
"That fiver was my idea."
"Incredible!" she cried. "We've got him."
"Absolutely!" said he, and they passed out into the night.
The stolid Murphy wrought long and hard, and the Pomeroy Press was working till unconscionable hours. The assistant found the matter less dull than most which he handled, and a smile spread itself occasionally over his fat face. Surely some of this was rather unusual stuff. He had never read anything quite like it. However, "his not to reason why". He had been well drilled to do exactly what he was told. The packet was ready next morning, and before twelve o'clock it had been duly dispatched to the house mentioned. Murphy carried it himself and was surprised to find their client waiting for it at the garden gate. It took some energy, apparently, to be the editor of a Parish Magazine.
It was twenty-four hours before the bomb burst, which blew Mr. Pomeroy and his household into fragments. The first intimation of trouble was the following letter:
"We can hardly Imagine that you have read the contents of the so-called Supplement to the Parish Magazine which has been distributed to the members of the congregation of St. Olivia's Church. If you had you would hardly have dared to make yourself responsible by putting your name to it. I need not say that you are likely to hear a good deal more of the matter. As to my teeth, I may say that they are remarkably sound, and that I have never been to a dentist in my life.
There was a second letter upon the breakfast table. The dazed printer picked it up. It was in a feminine hand, and read thus:
"With regard to the infamous paragraph in the new issue of the Parish Magazine, I may say that if I have bought a new car it is no business of anyone else, and the remarks about my private affairs are most unkind and uncalled for. I understand that as you are the printer you are legally responsible. You will hear in the course of a few days from my legal advisers.
"14, Elton Square."
"What the devil does it mean?" cried Pomeroy, staring wildly at his wife and daughter. "Murphy! Murphy!"
His assistant entered from the office.
"Have you a copy of that Supplement, which you printed for the Parish Magazine?"
"Yes, sir. I delivered five hundred, but there are a few in the office."
"Bring it in! Bring it in! Quick!"
Then Mr. Pomeroy began to read aloud, and apoplexy grew nearer and nearer. The document was headed Social Notes, and began with several dates and allusions to services which might give confidence to the superficial and rapid reader. Then it opened out in this way:
"'Our beloved Vicar (Mr. Ffolliott-Sharp, B.A.) is still busy trying to wangle a bishopric. This time he says in his breezy way that it is 'a perfect sitter', but we have our doubts. It is notorious that he has pulled strings in the past, and that the said strings broke. However, he has a cousin in the Lord Chancellor's office, so there is always hope.'
"Gracious!" cried Pomeroy. "In the Parish Magazine too!"
"'In the last fortnight sixteen hymn books have disappeared from the church. There is no need for public scandal so if Mr. James Bagshaw, Junior, of 113 Lower Cheltenhan Place, will call upon the Churchwardens, all will be arranged.'
"That's the son of old Bagshaw, of the bank," cried Pomeroy, "What can they have been dreaming of?
"'The Vicar (the Rev. Ffolliott-Sharp, B.A.) would take this opportunity to beg the younger Miss Ormerod to desisist from her present tactics. Delicacy forbids the Vicar from saying what those tactics are. It is not necessary for a young lady to attend every service, and to push herself into the front pew, which is already owned (though not paid for) by the Dawson-Braggs family. The Vicar has asked us to send marked copies of this paragraph to Mrs. Deknar, Miss Featherstone, and Miss Poppy Crewe.'"
Pomeroy wiped his forehead. "This is pretty awful!" said he. Then:
"'Some of these Sundays Major Wilson's false teeth will drop into the collecting bag. Let him either get a new set, or else take off that smile when he walks round with the bag. With lips firmly compressed there is no reason why the present set may not last for years.'
"That's where the answer comes in," said Pomeroy, glancing at the open letter upon his table. "I expect he'll be round with a stick presently. What's this?
"'We don't know if Miss Cissy Dufour and Captain Copperley are secretly married or not. If not, they should be. He could then enter Laburnum Villa instead of wearing out the garden gate by leaning on it!'
"Good heavens, listen to this one! 'Mr. Malceby, the grocer, is back from Hythe. But why the bag of sand among his luggage? Surely sugar gives a sufficient profit at its present price. As we are on the subject, we cannot but remark upon the increased water rate paid last quarter by the Silverside Dairy Company. What do they do with all this water? The public has a right to know.'
"Good Lord, listen to this! 'It is very wrong to say that our popular member, Sir James Tender, was drunk at the garden party of the Mayor. It is true that he tripped over his own leg when he tried to dance the tango, but that can fairly be attributed to his own obvious physical disabilities. As a matter of fact, several guests who only drank one glass of the Mayor's champagne (natural 1928) were very ill in consequence, so that it is most unfair to put so uncharitable an interpretation upon our member's faux pas.'
"That's worth a thousand pounds in any Court," groaned Porneroy. "My dear, Rothschild couldn't stand the actions that this paper will bring on us."
The ladies of the family had shown a regrettable inclination to laugh, but his words made them properly solemn. He continued his reading.
"'Mrs. Peddigrew has started a six-cylinder which is listed at seven hundred and fifty pounds. How she does it nobody knows. Her late husband was a little rat of a man who did odd jobs down in the City. He could not have left so much. This matter wants looking into.'
"Why, he was the vice-chairman of the Baltic," said Pomeroy. "These people are stark, staring mad. Listen to this.
"'Evensong will be at six-thirty. Yes, Mrs. Mould, at six-thirty sharp. And Mr. King will be on the left-hand seat well within view. We can count on your attendance. If you are not a pillar of the church, you are generally sneaking behind one!' Oh, Lord, here's another.
"'If Mr. Goldbury, of 7 Cheesman Place, will call at the Vicarage he will receive back the trouser-button which he put in the bag last Sunday. It is useless to the Vicar, whereas in its right place it might be most important to Mr. Goldbury!' There's no use laughing, you two. You won't laugh when you see the lawyer's letters. Listen to this.
"'"Prithee why so pale, fond lover? Prithee why so pale?" The question is addressed to William Briggs, our dentist friend of Hope Street. Has the lady in pink chiffon turned you down, or is it merely that you are behind with your rent, as usual? Cheer up, William. You have our best wishes.'
"Good gracious! They grow worse and worse. Just listen to this.
"'If any motorists get into trouble, my advice to them is to see Chief Constable Walton in his private room at the Town Hall. Cheques will, of course, not be received. But surely it is far better to pay a small sum across the table in ready cash—asking for no receipt—than to have the trouble and expense of proceedings in the Court.'
"My word, we shall have some proceedings in the Court before we are through. Here is a tit-bit which will keep the lawyers busy: 'The Voyd-Merriman wedding was a most interesting affair and we wish the young couple every happiness. We say "young" out of courtesy, for it is an open secret that the bride will never see thirty-five again. The groom also is, we should say, getting rather long in the tooth. By the way, why did he start and look over his shoulder when the clergyman spoke of "any just cause or impediment"? No doubt it was perfectly harmless, but it gave rise to some ill-natured gossip. We had pleasure in attending the reception afterwards. There was a detective to guard the presents. We really think that his services could have been dispensed with, for they would never have been in danger. Major Wilson's two brass napkin rings were the pick of the bunch. There was a cheque in an envelope from the bride's father. We have heard what the exact figure was, and we quite appreciate the need for an envelope. However, it will pay for the cab to the station. It is understood that the happy couple will get as far as Margate for their honeymoon, and if the money holds out they may extend their travels to Ramsgate. Address: the Red Cow public house, near the Station.'
"Why, these are the richest people in Rotherheath," said Pomeroy, wiping his forehead.
"There is a lot more, but that is enough to settle our hash. I think we had best sell up for what we can get and clear out of the town. My gosh, those two folk must have got out of an asylum. Anyhow, my first job must be to see them. Maybe they are millionaires who can afford to pay for their little jokes."
His mission proved, however, to be fruitless. On inquiry at the address given he found that it was an empty house. The caretaker from next door knew nothing of the matter. It was clear now why the young man had waited at the gate for his parcel. What was Pomeroy to do next? Apparently he could only sit and wait for the arrival of the writs. However, it was a very different document which was handed in at his door two evenings later, It was headed
and ran thus:
"A special meeting of the R.S.B.Y.P. will be held at 16 Stanmore Terrace, in the billiards-room of John Anderson, J.P., to-night at 9 p.m. The presence of Mr. James Pomeroy, printer, is urgently needed. The matter under discussion is his liability for certain scandalous statements recently printed in the Parish Magazine."
It may well be imagined that Mr. Pomeroy was punctual at the appointment.
"Mr. Anderson is not at home himself," said the footman, "but young Mr. Robert Anderson and his friends are receiving." There was a humorous twinkle in the footman's eyes.
The printer was shown into a small waiting-room, where two men, one a postman and the other apparently a small tradesman, were seated. He could not help observing that they were both as harassed and miserable as he was himself. They looked at him with dull, lack-lustre eyes, but were too dispirited to talk, nor did he feel sufficient energy to break the silence.. Presently one of them and then the other was called out. Finally the footman came for him, and threw wide a door.
"Mr. James Pomeroy," cried the footman.
At the end of a large music-room, which was further adorned by a billiards-table, was sitting a semicircle of young people, all very serious, and all with writing materials before them. None was above twenty-one years of age, and they were about equally divided as to sex. Among them were the two customers who had lured him to his doom. They both smiled at him most affectionately, in spite of his angry stare.
"Pray sit down, Mr. Pomeroy," said a very young man in evening dress, who acted as Chairman. "There are one or two questions which, as President of the R.S.B.Y.P., it is my duty to put to you. I believe that you have been somewhat alarmed by this incident of the Parish Magazine?"
"Of course I have," said Pomeroy, in a surly voice.
"May I ask if your sleep has been affected?"
"I have not closed my eyes since it happened."
There was a subdued murmur of applause, and several members leaned across to shake hands with Mr. Robert Anderson.
"Did it affect your future plans?"
"I had thought of leaving the town."
"Excellent! I think, fellow-members, that there is no doubt that the monthly gold medal should be awarded to Mr. Anderson and Miss Duncan for their very meritorious performance, which has been well conceived and cleverly carried out. To relieve your natural anxiety, we must tell you at once, Mr. Pomeroy, that you have been the victim of a joke."
"It's likely to be a pretty costly one," said the printer.
"Not at all. No harm has been done. No leaflets have been sent out. The letters which have reached you emanate from ourselves. We are, Mr. Pomeroy, the Rotherheath Society of Bright Young People, who endeavour to make the world a merrier and more lively place by the exercise of our wit. Upon this occasion a prize was offered for whichever member or members could most effectually put the wind up some resident in this suburb. There have been several candidates, but on the whole the prize must be awarded as already said."
"But—but—it's unjustifiable!" stammered Pomeroy.
"Entirely," said the Chairman, cheerfully. "I think that all our proceedings may come under that head. On the other hand, we remind our victims that they have unselfishly sacrificed themselves for the general hilarity of the community. A special silver medal, which I will now affix to your coat, will be your souvenir of the occasion."
"And I'll speak to my father when he comes back," said Anderson. "What I mean is, there is printing and what not to be done for the firm."
"And my father really edits the Parish Magazine. That's what put it into our heads," said Miss Duncan. "Maybe we can get you the printing after all."
"And there is whisky-and-soda on the sideboard, and a good cigar," said the President.
So Mr. Pomeroy eventually went out into the night, thinking that after all youth will be served, and it would be a dull world without it.