Spring is finally stirring as these lines are written, although we've yet to catch so much as a glimpse of Wordsworth's harbinger of the season, the pensive but venturesome snowdrop. Nor have we heard that other herald of the departure of winter, to wit, the honks of approaching geese winging it back from their southern sojourn.

Even so, we propose that, since US tax returns are due today, l5th April be renamed Goosedown Day given Jean Baptiste Colbert was of the opinion tax authorities should pluck the goose in such a way as to obtain the most feathers with the least hissing. Then too, given the nature of this annual penance, many taxpayers must feel akin to the unfortunate bird depicted on signs announcing public houses named the Goose and Gridiron.

Even if you don't care for the proposal, since Orphan Scrivener is a lot less taxing to read than the Form l040 instructions, now you've got this far you might as well take a gander at the rest of it. So read on, and hopefully this issue won't ruffle your feathers too much!


Yesterday I ate an egg salad sandwich and as I bit through the soft bread and crunched into the chopped celery in the egg and mayonnaise, I was transported back to a county law library in New Jersey. I worked there for 48 weeks and shortly after noon each day I sat at my desk and ate an egg salad sandwich. The first day on the job I ordered one from the cafeteria menu, and the second day as well. By the third day the lady at the counter seemed so pleased at being able to guess what I wanted the moment I came into view that I never thereafter had the heart to disappoint her.

As a kid I loved the library. I'd cart home tall stacks of picture books in the morning and return for a second stack in the afternoon. But I'd never considered being a librarian until rising tuition costs forced me to finish law school by going to night classes and finding a day job. The law library was not exactly like my home town library, although the endless rows of brown West reporters and the stolid jurisprudences contained things just as wacky as any Dr. Seus books, albeit they seemed to be from the Grinch's point of view. This particular law library was traditionally in the hands of a third year law student. It was suitable employment since it consisted mostly of sitting at the front desk, on call, studying.

I was the chief librarian and my staff consisted of myself. It had been made plain that the whole population of the county prison next door to the courthouse was at my beck and call should I need assistance in rearranging books or what-not but I was never keen to take advantage.

Because the library was only open to lawyers and district court judges (which is to say the clerks the judges sent to the library to fetch what they needed and do their research) I rarely had to explain to anyone how to use a publication and only occasionally had to locate one. My main duties were to make sure books were signed out, replace the toner in the photocopy machine, water the purple-leafed plant which served as the library mascot, refuse to purchase anything from the legal publishers' salesmen who called regularly, and avoid paying bills for materials which had already been obtained.

Although I was under orders to never purchase anything from the salesmen who showed up every week I was, from time to time, allowed to order an extra copy of a New Jersey reporter for a judge who had had one of his decisions reprinted. Even judges like to see their by-line. The only time I ever heard from the judges was around the turn of the year when a number of them called to make sure the salesmen had delivered the free legal calendars/planners on schedule.

Sometimes I fantasized about locking myself inside the library, putting the law beyond the reach of judges and lawyers, bringing the courts to a screeching halt. What I did was water my plant, and study, and put toner in the photocopy machine.

Once I did some legal research for a fellow my own age who was running for his late father's school board seat. He was fending off an attempt to move his name (familiar to the voters) from the first column on the ballot to the second. We won the case on the basis that he was already, irreparably, out of pocket $24 for campaign handouts showing the original ballot -- and he was duly elected.

When my time at the library was up, I became a legal editor instead of a lawyer. I took with me a cutting from the purple-leafed plant. Years later I would sit in my office at lunch time and contemplate my own purple-leafed plant while eating the sandwich I'd packed, usually Spam on toast. I avoided egg salad. It is only recently I have begun to eat egg salad again.

As for my purple-leafed plant, when I left the company I took it with me. Despite good care, it eventually died and thus was cut the last link on that particular chain.


The ticker was deathly quiet until two days before this issue was to be released upon an unsuspecting world. Then came a slew of news, so here's the skinny:


Editions, that is.

Poisoned Pen Press will issue their trade paperback edition of Four For A Boy on lst November 2005. To refresh your memory, Fourfer is the prequel to John's adventures and relates not only how he came to set his boots on the ladder to his current high office, but also (among other things) how he first met poet about town Anatolius, the Egyptian madam Isis, and Felix, then a rank and file excubitor.

The same date sees publication of Six For Gold in hardback as well as in a large type trade paperback edition for the visually impaired. Sixfer relates John's adventures in Egypt, whence Justinian inexplicably sends him to discover why sheep in a remote village are cutting their own throats -- and this at the very time John desperately needs to clear himself of accusations he murdered a senator in the Hippodrome.

Mehenopolis, a pilgrim destination thanks to its ancient shrine to a snake deity as well as the home of the late sheep, is nearly as Byzantine in its ways and undercurrents as Constantinople. Among suspicious characters John encounters are a pretentious local landowner battling a self-styled magician for control of the lucrative shrine, an exiled heretical cleric, an itinerant bee-keeper, and a disgraced charioteer. Meanwhile, in Constantinople, John's friend Anatolius does his best to trace the senator's murderer. At stake are not only John's honor and his head, but also the family with whom he recently reunited, now in danger of being broken apart -- or worse.


Perusing the colourless list of occupational codes in the 1040 instruction booklet, my attention began to wander and I started to think about jobs that were once common street sights.

Where now, I pondered, might be seen cats-meat men, organ grinders, jugglers and dancers, roving silhouette cutters or menders of umbrellas? Faded into history or at least gone indoors to ply their skill, it seems, along with most of their fellow open air tradesmen -- strolling sellers of bird cages, violets, pin cushions, broadsheets and stationery, matches, toys, and brooms, not to mention all manner of household necessaries ranging from rat poison, cigars, dolls, tea trays, ornaments and trinket boxes to combs, pipes, griddles, bootlaces, buttons, sponges, penknives, and crockery.

Peripatetic purveyors of packets of pornography containing only cut-up sheets of old newspaper -- secure in the knowledge few cheated customers would dare complain to the authorities -- no longer lurk in dark corners with a wink and a nod and a leer, having to a large degree moved online. Sweepers of crossings, pickers-over of ashes and dust heaps, and collectors of bones and offal are gone, and so are most of the mudlarks who scratched out a living from whatever they uncovered along river margins, including what remained in the pockets of the dead washed ashore. These and similar dangerous and dirty occupations have been largely taken over, if not actually destroyed, by intervention of local sanitary and public works departments.

Yet on reflection it occurred to me that a fair number of these old trades do in fact persist, albeit in modified forms. The busker loudly works a cinema queue or moves out of the rain to play in an Underground station corridor. One man bands are not completely unknown, and a friend reported seeing a girl dancing for money on a London street. Like those shifty customers who smilingly invite the unwary to spot the dried pea hidden under a particular thimble, sharp salesmen (often offering faux name brand watches as their stock in trade, another scam that is popular on the Web) linger on kerbs beside cunningly constructed suitcases-on-folding-legs, one eye alert for approaching constables and the other sizing up passersby for possible marks.

Outdoor byways everywhere host sellers of food and drink ranging from soup to nuts -- my favourite is a mobile fish and chip shop trading from a converted ice cream van, though I would not want to be aboard when taking sharp corners at a fair clip with a vat of boiling oil bubbling in the back. And of course there are hundreds of open air markets selling fruit, vegetables, antiques, old clothes, silverware, linen, china, flowers, and just about all of the commodities once hawked through the streets by footsore vendors. Even yet, the occasional rag and bone collector or sandwich man can be spied crossing the far distance, while a few Punch and Judy men continue squawking and dealing out puppet mayhem at seaside resorts and the occasional village fair.

It was a time ago, but a knife and scissor sharpener carting along his foot-driven grindstone occasionally passed down our street. However, before we obtained a steel poker-like cutlery sharpener my father always honed our carving knife on the back step so the unfortunate grinder got no custom from the Reed household. Bike-riding and beret-sporting onion sellers festooned with strings of their pungent wares are a familiar sight to this day. On the other hand, while it's been years since I heard a tinker shouting willingness to mend pots and pans as he drove his horse and cart past, there are still gypsy ladies who tap at the door now and then, selling hand-made clothes pegs or offering bunches of white heather for good luck.

If the last mentioned entrepreneurs were common in the US they'd do a fair trade in the white heather business at this time of year, seeing as large numbers of folk are about to peg out from exhaustion after wading through the dense prose of the tax booklets and then finding out, only a day or so before the l5th -- as happened to us this year -- that the IRS had omitted to send all the needed forms.


Talking about occupations brings to mind that in the last issue of Orphan Scrivener Eric set out our reasoning for presenting Cornelia and her daughter Europa as performing in recreations of the ancient art of bull leaping. We have just heard from Catfish Guru author Mark Terry that less than a fortnight after that newsletter appeared, USA Today ran a series about the ten worst jobs in sports. It included a piece about bullfighters (as rodeo clowns are now called) in which an interviewee said that occasionally bullfighters jump over the bull as part of their fun.

We rests our case, m'lud.

Friedrich Nietzsche characterised postmen as intermediaries for impolite surprises -- apparently he considered letters as unannounced visits. While we wouldn't wish to leap to hasty conclusions, this statement perhaps reveals more about the nature of his correspondence than he realised, but since it's not our intent to impolitely jump into your email in-box without due warning, let it be known the next Orphan Scrivener will be transmitted into the aether on l5th June. See you then!

Best wishes
Mary R and Eric

who invite you to visit their home page, hanging out on the virtual washing line at There you'll find the usual suspects, including more personal essays, a list of author freebies, Doom Cat (an interactive game written by Eric), and a jigsaw featuring the handsome cover of Five For Silver. There's also an Orphan Scrivener archive so don't say you weren't warned! Intrepid subscribers may also wish to pop over to visit Eric's blog at

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