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Hattie Davish is delighted to be ably assisting her wealthy employer, Sir Arthur Windom-Greene, an English scholar who is fluent in Civil War history and hard at work putting together a definitive biography of General Cornelius Starrett. Their research takes them to Galena, Illinois, where they ...
Hattie Davish is delighted to be ably assisting her wealthy employer, Sir Arthur Windom-Greene, an English scholar who is fluent in Civil War history and hard at work putting together a definitive biography of General Cornelius Starrett. Their research takes them to Galena, Illinois, where they quickly learn that time has done little to heal old battle wounds. Distrust and betrayal seem to linger in everyone's minds, none more so than the General's pompous son Henry. And Hattie is certain he has something to do with a string of bizarre incidents in town--especially when he turns up dead. . .
Between her work for Sir Arthur, preparing for Christmas, and unscheduled visitors from her past, Hattie hardly has time to investigate a murder, but soon she is lost in a labyrinth of secrets and deceit that leads to more questions than answers. Henry had a knack for finding trouble and making enemies, and there's no shortage of suspects--including Sir Arthur. Now, Hattie must uncover the truth while maintaining her civility in a most uncivil situation. . .
Praise For A Lack Of Temperance
"Delightful. . .cozy fans will eagerly await Hattie's next adventure." --Publishers Weekly
"This historical cozy debut showcases the author's superb research. Readers will be fascinated. . .this is a warm beginning." --Library Journal
"Is he dead?"
"Yes," I said, knowing he wouldn't like the answer.
Sir Arthur paused for a moment from his pacing, lifted his cigar again, and after a long inhale blew several rings of smoke, that floated toward me like dissipating halos. I sat poised with my finger on the brittle, yellow paper waiting for his word.
"Read me the details, Hattie."
I glanced down to the paragraph detailing the officer's demise and read, "'The rebels have lately been playing a sharp game in front of a part of our line, near Appomattox. At this point there is a small creek in front of our works, across which they have built a dam, which has threatened to force back our picket line to a dangerous extent. To counteract this, Lieutenant Colonel Regan had devised works which he superintended personally. On visiting a part of the line, a rebel sharpshooter succeeded, after several attempts, in fatally wounding him, the ball entering the right side of the neck.'"
"What's the date on that newspaper?"
"The fifteenth of November 1864," I said. I made a few notes in my book, checked Lieutenant Colonel Regan from the list, and then returned the newspaper scrapbook to the shelf, lining it carefully up with the others.
"Bloody hell!" Sir Arthur plopped down into the leather sofa and slapped his knee sharply. "I would've bet a pint Regan was at Appomattox. No wonder we haven't been able to track him down. The man's dead. Well, check him off the list, Hattie. Ah, General Starrett." The last remark Sir Arthur directed to the elderly gentleman who appeared in the doorway. I rose from my chair as Sir Arthur jumped up to meet the man, shaking his hand vigorously. The old man winced in pain. "Good to finally meet you, General."
"Is it? Well, I'm glad to be of service."
Despite the roaring fire and the almost-stifling heat of the room, General Cornelius Starrett was dressed in layers, evident from the bulk beneath the charcoal gray velvet smoking jacket he wore. His eyes, slightly sunken, were bright blue and his skin taut and pale. The only hair on his head was a wreath of dark gray wisps. He stood slightly bent at the waist, leaning on a cane. The general closed the door behind him and motioned for Sir Arthur to return to the comfort of the sofa, which he did, puffing again from his cigar.
Tap, tap, tap. His cane marked the old man's slow, methodical shuffle as it connected with the bare wooden floor at the edge of the Persian area rug, centered in the middle of the room. I unconsciously leaned toward him, ready to assist him if he faltered.
"Oh, do sit down, young lady." His voice, husky and deep, boomed, its vibrant command at odds with the feeble body that housed it. I immediately complied with the general's order, dropping quickly onto the chair.
"My secretary and I were availing ourselves of your newspaper clippings while we waited," Sir Arthur said without a hint of apology in his voice.
Both us had been at our wit's end waiting. Sir Arthur had paced the floor and smoked two cigars. I'd straightened every book on the shelf, read a chapter from three separate intriguing books on gardening I'd come across, and counted to one hundred in French. If this interview, our third attempt, wasn't pivotal to Sir Arthur's work, we wouldn't have waited. And then Sir Arthur had found the scrapbooks of newspaper clippings.
"You don't mind, do you, old boy?" I winced at Sir Arthur's familiarity, but the general, either slightly deaf or being diplomatic, appeared not to notice.
"Of course not, of course not, Sir Arthur. That's what you're here for, isn't it? To pick my brain? Why not my library as well? My wife, Lavinia, put those scrapbooks together. Hope they were useful."
"I guess you could say so," Sir Arthur said, reminded of his disappointment in finding Regan had died five months too early.
"You have quite a diverse collection," I said. "I noticed a number of botanical books. Are you interested in botany, General?"
Sir Arthur frowned at me. I'd done it again. My job was to record the conversation and not divert it with my own questions. Yet I was forgetting this more and more lately.
What's gotten into me?
"That's Fred's department. So you've had time to look around. Am I late for our appointment then?" the general asked, settling himself into an overstuffed leather chair across from Sir Arthur and setting his cane across his lap. "We did say two o'clock, didn't we? What time is it now?" Instead of looking at the clock on the large marble fireplace mantel, General Starrett looked at me.
"Half past three, sir," I said.
"Oh, well, nothing could be done." He kneaded his bony thigh. The skin on his hand was almost transparent. "These legs aren't worth a damn these days. Pardon my language, young lady." I fought the urge to smile. Sir Arthur had sworn a dozen times while waiting without giving it a thought.
"Nothing is, the legs, the eyesight, the hearing (so it was deafness and not diplomacy after all), nothing. But don't you worry, Sir Arthur," the general said, tapping his head with his index finger. "Everything's all right in here. Now, what is it you want to know?"
He reached into the breast pocket of his jacket and retrieved a sterling silver engraved pocket cigar case. He opened the case, chose a cigar, ran the length of the cigar under his nose, and rolled it between his thumb and index finger before closing the case with a snap. He snipped the tip off the cigar.
"Don't mind, do you, young lady?"
"Of course she doesn't," Sir Arthur replied, brandishing his own cigar. "Miss Davish is far too professional to object to a man's guilty pleasures." He tipped his head in my direction. "Working for me, she probably doesn't even smell the smoke anymore. Do you, Hattie?"
"No, of course I don't mind," I said, avoiding the question of smoke. I could've enlightened them on the nights spent laundering my suits and dresses since starting again in Sir Arthur's employ. But I enjoyed working for Sir Arthur, and wanting to stay in his employ, I instead glanced at the bison head mounted on the wall above the built-in bookcases across from me. Then, repressing the urge to inquire about the procurement of the bison and distract the old man further, I studied a pair of silver table lighters, both in the shape of a ship's lantern, one with green-colored glass, the other with red, sitting on the table. The general reached for the one with the red glass.
The general chuckled, lit the cigar, and took a series of quick inhales, then coughed.
"My, my. A woman who doesn't object to smoking. You've found a gem in this one, Sir Arthur. Now if only Adella would agree. My library or not, the girl won't even enter the room if I've been smoking. And the irony is ..." A laugh gurgled up from his chest and exploded through his nose, followed by a series of deep, dry hacking coughs. He pulled the handkerchief from his breast pocket, one silver star stitched into the corner, and held it tightly to his lips. "Damn, old age! Pardon my language, young lady, but I can't even have a good laugh anymore without having a fit. Should've died on the battlefield."
"What's so ironic?" Sir Arthur said.
"That Adella, my granddaughter, objects to my smoking cigars, but has no objection to Frederick making them." He dabbed the handkerchief at the corners of his lips and frowned, looking at the puzzled expression on our faces. "Oh, never mind," he said gruffly. "What do you want to know?"
As Sir Arthur explained our presence and need, as he had countless times before, I pushed aside the brown velvet curtain and glanced out at the lengthening shadows, stretching across the leaf-strewn yard, the dusting of snow that had fallen this morning all but a memory.
We may not have a white Christmas after all, I thought.
The narrow Galena River, once twice as wide and thronging with Mississippi River steamboats, was still and silent, filmed over with a thin sheen of ice, bits of which reflected brightly in the afternoon sun. Somewhere out of sight a horse snorted.
"Now if you're ready, General," Sir Arthur said. "We'll get started." I let the curtain fall and turned back to the task at hand.
I dipped my pen in ink and marked in longhand at the top of the page: December 17, 1892, 3:38 p.m., Brigadier General Cornelius Starrett, Union Army of the Cumberland. I propped my notebook in my lap and prepared to take dictation.
"Eeee!" someone squealed. The chandelier bounced up and down, the glass prisms jingling, as something thumped on the floorboards above us.
"What the devil was that?" Sir Arthur exclaimed as we both stared up at the ceiling.
"Oh, never mind that." General Starrett chuckled. "It's just Adella's children romping around upstairs. Now what were you saying?"
"As I said in my letter," Sir Arthur began, glancing at the swaying chandelier, "I'm writing a book about the men at Appomattox Court House the day of April ninth, 1865, you, of course, being one. I've spent the better part of a month researching those men, only to find by chance that one of the officers on my list wasn't even there. Before you begin your personal account, General Starrett, would you be able to recall those present?"
"Of course! Does a skunk stink? Seventeen soldiers were in the room," the general said without hesitation, "us boys from Galena, some of Grant's men, and of course Lee and his aide. I remember because it was my lucky number. I started out with the Seventeenth Illinois Infantry and married Lavinia on the seventeenth of June." As General Starrett counted off the names on his fingers, I wrote them down to compare to our list later.
1. Ulysses S. Grant
2. John Rawlins
3. Ely Parker
4. Cornelius Starrett
5. Robert E. Lee
6 ANNA LOAN-WILSEY
6. Orville Babcock
7. Horace Porter
8. Robert Lincoln
9. Theodore Bowers
10. Phillip Sheridan
11. Rufus Ingalls
12. Adam Badeau
13. George Sharpe
14. Michael Morgan
15. Seth Williams
16. Charles Marshall
17. Edward Ord
"Of course, men milled about in other parts of the house and in the yard then and over the next day or two; Lee's man Longstreet was one of them. Chamberlain was in charge for the formal surrender. I don't remember the others."
"Very good, thank you, General," Sir Arthur said when I indicated with a nod that I had all the names. He beamed at the old man. We were finally getting the information Sir Arthur needed. "Now in your own words, please describe everything you can from that day."
The general sat back a little more in his chair, his cigar dangling from his mouth. "Reveille was at 0500 hours," the general began. "Grant was already up and complaining of a terrible headache—"
And that's when the brawl erupted.
"You're a swine, Henry!" another man bellowed.
The general, startled by the shouting, stopped mid-sentence, almost dropping his cigar.
"Copperhead! Traitor!" Henry answered.
Sir Arthur rushed over to the window as I drew back the curtain. A one-horse buggy, its wheels sliding sideways in the mud, stopped abruptly in the middle of the street. Its owner, a tall, lean man with white bushy eyebrows and a salt-and-pepper beard wearing a brown derby, stood up and shook a clenched fist at a man standing with his back to us on the edge of General Starrett's lawn.
A single train engine, with one bar of the cowcatcher bent in, rumbled past less than twenty yards beyond the house. Its wheels clanking and its motor hissing made the men's shouts inaudible until it chugged down the tracks that ran along the riverbank toward the depot and the railroad yard down the hill.
"—should've seen you and your rebel friends hang!" Henry, the tall, rotund man on the lawn, was shouting.
"You're a relic, Henry!" the man in the buggy shouted. "The war ended over twenty-five years ago. You should've gone down with one your ships."
"Y-y-you ... I'll," Henry stammered with rage. "You're gonna regret that, Jamison."
"Ambrose, Ambrose!" the housekeeper cried from somewhere inside the house. "Get the mistress. Go get Mrs. Reynard. Now!"
The general, looking slightly disoriented, frowned and inched to the edge of his chair.
"What's all the shouting?" he said. "What's going on out there?" He pointed his cane toward the window and shook it as hard as his weak hands would allow. His face was red with anger. "Go see what all the fuss is about." I knew the order wasn't for Sir Arthur and so I rose to investigate.
"Spineless traitor!" Henry yelled.
"Bloody hell," Sir Arthur said before I took more than two steps toward the door.
Someone screeched in pain. A neighborhood dog barked, another followed, and soon a cacophony of yelping and howling arose. I rushed back to the window in time to see the large man, Henry, punch the driver of the buggy, wrench him from his seat with both hands, and drag him onto the dirt. Fists and gravel flew as the two men grappled on the ground. The horse, spooked by the commotion, reared slightly and then bolted down the street, the bells strapped around his neck jingling a frantic tune. A red and blue plaid heavy wool lap blanket, twisted into one of the buggy's wheels, flapped with every turn. The horse barely missed running over the men struggling in the street. Henry, having the upper hand, landed several calculated jabs to the other's head before standing up, leaving the man lying groaning on the ground. He delivered one last kick to his victim's side before brushing the dirt from the road off his coat, turning his back on his victim, and walking toward the house. I gasped.
Henry was Santa Claus, albeit slightly younger; his girth, his white beard and mustache, and the plump rosy cheeks matched the image of the rotund, jolly Saint Nick on the displays I'd seen lately in shop windows and in advertisements printed in the newspaper. He was dressed in a brown sealskin overcoat trimmed at the collar and the cuffs in black fur, a shaggy brown fur cap, and tall brown boots. And I'd watched him force a man from his carriage and pummel him senseless in the street.
I hope there aren't children about, I thought.
"Is he okay?" I wondered aloud while watching people from neighboring homes converge and stare down on the prostrate figure in the street.
"I don't know," Sir Arthur said. Three men lifted the unconscious figure, his head flopping, and carried him away.
"At least the dogs have quieted down," I said.
We turned away when the door to the library burst open and the culprit of the grisly scene stood in the doorway. Instead of the traditional sack over his back, this Saint Nick carried his gloves and a large valise in one hand and with the other pulled his hat off his head. A bleeding scratch above his left eye and a purple bruise on his left cheek marked where his victim had struck a blow. The housekeeper, Mrs. Becker, hovering behind him, the keys at her waist jingling inharmoniously, was unable to enter the room as long as he was blocking the door. He laughed heartily at her distress and again upon seeing the startled expressions on our faces. He dropped his valise down with a thud.
"Well, Merry Christmas, General!" Henry, the Santa Claus look-alike, declared. "Surprised to see me?"
"Come with me, you rabble-rouser," Mrs. Becker said from the hallway. "How dare you burst in here uninvited." She grabbed the man's arm, attempting to pull him back toward the hall. She was a large, tall woman but no match for the stranger, and sensing her efforts were in vain, she appealed to the general.
"I'm so sorry, sir. He pushed right past me. I've sent Ambrose for the mistress. Should I send for the police?" Her comment elicited another hearty laugh from the intruder.
"The police? Now that's a good one. I know it's been a while but—"
Mrs. Becker reached beyond him and confiscated the man's valise. "I don't know who you think you are, but either you leave right now or I am calling the police."
Excerpted from ANYTHING BUT CIVIL by ANNA LOAN-WILSEY. Copyright © 2013 Anna Loan-Wilsey. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted September 15, 2013
Anything But Civil
I usually am not a fan of historical mysteries, so was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. Hattie is a strong young lady who not only takes on a secretarial job to Sir Arthur, but also proves herself quite a heroine when she rescues a young girl from certain drowning. I generally picture women of the era to be wishy, washy and under the thumb of the men in their lives. Hattie is an exception to that thought. When a man is found beaten and then shot to death, Hattie is right in there, with the local police, to try to solve this case. She proves her worth again when Sir Arthur is accused and arrested for the murder.
The Galena, Illinois setting is a beautiful setting for this post Cvil War mystery. Galena gave us many strong men in that era, Ulysses S. Grant being just one of them. But together a strong woman, a lovely town, several murder suspects and you have a great read!