|Perrier in the desert....|
Edith Wharton evidently did not think much of detective fiction (in her 1913 novel The Custom of the Country she uses the fact that a family has The Hound of the Baskervilles displayed to suggest the family's comparative illiteracy), yet she gave mystery and murder fans a corker of a story in "A Bottle of Perrier."
Medford is informed by Almodham's servant, Gosling, speaker of "a sort of palimpsest Cockney lined with Mediterranean tongues and desert dialects," that Almodham was suddenly called away by a friendly Arab chief to explore some ruins to the south, but will be back shortly; meanwhile, Medford is to make himself at home.
"Just a mineral water, then, sir?"
"Shall we say a bottle of Perrier?"
"Perrier in the desert! Medford smiled assentingly....
I've just taken you through the first three pages of the story; there are eighteen pages of beautifully-written, steadily-mounting tension to go.
After several days have passed, Wharton writes:
What happens over those days at the crumbling crusaders castle that looms up, in majestic isolation, out of the desert? If you're like I am, you will have to keep reading, because you will simply have to know.
Happily, "A Bottle of Perrier" is available on the net and also was reprinted by Scribner's in 1991 in The Selected Short Stories of Edith Wharton, which also includes some of the author's best ghost stories: "The Lady's Maid's Bell"; "The Eyes"; "Kerfol"; "Mr. Jones"; "Pomegranate Seed" and "All Souls'." It also appears in the 2002 collection The Ghost Feeler: Tales of Terror and the Supernatural (though it is not a supernatural story), along with an introduction by Peter Haining. See this review at darkecho.
Next up: a shipboard mystery--a very obscure one!--The Passing Tramp.