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The pinks and oranges of dawn sparkled on the bay beyond Marsh Point, off a stretch of southern Maine that was still quiet, still undiscovered by tourists. Hannah Marsh stood on a boulder above the rocky coastline. The wind blew raw and cold, although the calendar said spring had arrived. In defiance of the weather, daffodils bloomed in the little garden outside her cottage.
In Boston the tulips would be out, perhaps even a few leaves budded. It wouldn't be so bad.
"You're going," a gruff voice said behind her.
She turned and smiled at Thackeray Marsh, aged seventy-nine, owner of Marsh Point, fellow historian and her cousin several times removed. He was a stout, fair-skinned, fair-haired man, although not as fair as herself, and kept in shape with dawn and dusk walks along a loop-shaped route that took in most of Marsh Point.
"I have no choice," Hannah said. "Most of the documents I need to examine are in Boston, and anything new on Priscilla Marsh will be there. It's where she lived and died, Thackeray. I have to go."
He snorted. "The Harlings catch you, they'll string you up."
"You said yourself there's only one Harling left in Boston, and he's even older than you are. I'll be fine."
Her elderly cousin squinted his emerald eyes at her. He was wearing an old tweed jacket patched at the elbows and rubber boots that had to be older than she was. His frugality, Hannah had learned in her five years in Maine, was legendary in the region.
"The Harlings and the Marshes haven't had much of anything to do with each other in a hundred years," he said. "Why rock the boat?"
"I'm not rocking the boat. I'm going on a perfectly ordinary, honorable research expedition." She tried not to sound defensive or impatient, but she had gone over her position—over and over it—with Cousin Thackeray. "It's not as if Priscilla Marsh died yesterday, you know."
Judge Cotton Harling had sentenced Priscilla Marsh to death by hanging three hundred years ago. Hannah hoped to have her biography of her ancestor in bookstores by the anniversary of the execution. Not only would it be good business, but it would pay a nice tribute to a woman who had defied the restrictions of Puritan America—of the Harlings of Boston.
And paid the price, of course. Hannah couldn't forget that.
The wind picked up, and she hugged her oversize sweatshirt closer to her body. Her long, fine, straight blond hair was, fortunately, held back in a hastily tied ponytail. Otherwise it would have tangled badly. Cousin Thackeray barely seemed to notice the cold.
"Hannah, the Harlings resent that we won't let them forget it was a Harling who had Priscilla hanged. We, of course, say they shouldn't ever forget. The feud has been going on like this for three hundred years."
She refused to let his dark mood dampen her enthusiasm for what was, after all, a necessary trip—and no doubt would prove boring and routine, involving nothing more than musty books and documents and hours and hours in badly lit archives.
He made her trip sound like some kind of espionage assignment. "At least," her cousin went on, "don't let anyone in Boston know you're a Marsh. It's just too dangerous. If Jonathan Harling finds out—"
"That's the name of the last Harling in Boston?"
Cousin Thackeray nodded somberly. "Jonathan Win-throp Harling."
She grinned. "I look at it this way. What could one little old man who happens to be a Harling do to me?"
J. Winthrop Harling climbed the sloping lawn of the golddomed Massachusetts State House above Boston Common with a sense of purpose. He had come to look at the statue of the infamous Priscilla Marsh. Her tragic death three hundred years ago at the hands of a Harling still colored his family's reputation. It was a part of what being a Harling in Boston was all about.
The wind off the harbor was brisk, even chilly, but he didn't feel it, though he was only wearing the dark gray suit he'd worn to the office.
Although he'd been born and raised in New York and had lived in Boston only a year, he was a stereotypical Harling in one sense: he made one hell of a lot of money. Sometimes the size of his income, his growing net worth, staggered him. But the Harlings had always been good at making money.
Priscilla Marsh's smooth marble face stared at him in the waning sunlight. She looked very young and very wronged, more innocent, no doubt, than she had been in fact. The sculptor had managed to capture the legendary beauty of her hair, supposedly an unusual shock of pale blond, fine and very straight. She had been hanged on the orders of Cotton Harling when she was just thirty years old.
"Good going, Cotton," Win muttered.
But had she lived and died an ordinary life, Pris-cilla Marsh would never have inspired an oft-quoted Longfellow poem or a famous 1952 play. Nor would her statue have stood on the lawn of the Massachusetts State House, either.
Win brushed his fingers across the cool stone hair and felt the tragedy of the young Puritan's death. She had been dead less than a day when evidence of her innocence had arrived. Priscilla Marsh hadn't been teaching the young ladies of her neighborhood witchcraft, but how to cure earaches.
Her death should have been a lesson to future Har-lings.
A lesson in patience, humility, faith in one's fellow human beings. A warning against arrogance and pride. Against believing in one's own infallibility.
But, Win thought, it hadn't.
Hannah arrived in Boston without incident and set up housekeeping in a cramped apartment on Beacon Hill. She had traded with a friend, who would get two weeks in Hannah's Maine cottage come summer. The friend, a teacher, was off to Paris with her French class. Things, Hannah decided, were just meant to work out.
Her first stop, bright and early the next morning, was the New England Athenaeum on Beacon Street, across from the Boston Public Garden. It was a private library, supported by just four hundred members and founded in 1892 by, of course, a Harling.
Hannah indicated she was a professional historian and would like to use the library, a renowned repository of New England historical documents.
Preston Fowler, the director, a formal man who appeared to be in his mid-fifties, informed her that the New England Athenaeum was a private institution. Accordingly, she would be permitted into its stacks and rare book room only when she had exhausted all other possibilities and could prove it was the only place that had what she needed. And even then she would be carefully watched.
Hannah resisted the impulse to tell him other private institutions had opened their doors to her in her career. Arguing wouldn't get her anywhere. She needed something that would work. She sighed and said, "But Uncle Jonathan said I wouldn't have any trouble with you."
"Who?" Preston Fowler asked sharply.
"My uncle." She paused more for dramatic effect than to reconsider what she was doing. Then she added, "Jonathan Winthrop Harling."
Fowler cleared his throat, and Hannah was amused at how rigid his spine went. Ahh, the Harling factor. "You—your name is ?"
"Hannah," she said, not feeling even a twinge of guilt. "Hannah Harling."
Win settled back in his soft leather chair and took the call from the elderly uncle whose name he bore. "Hey, there, Uncle Jonathan, what's up?"
Jonathan Harling, who had just turned eighty, got straight to the point. "You going to the New England Athenaeum dinner on Saturday?"
"Wild horses couldn't drag me. Why?"
"Friend of mine says he saw a Harling on the guest list."
"Well, it wasn't me," Win said emphatically. "I haven't even been inside that snooty old place. Your friend must have been mistaken. What about you? You aren't going, are you?"
Uncle Jonathan grunted. "Some of us don't have unlimited budgets, you know."
"I would be happy to buy you a ticket—"
"Damned if I'll accept charity from my own nephew!" the old man bellowed hotly. "Why don't you go, meet a nice woman who'll inspire you to part with some of that booty of yours? How much you worth these days? A million? Ten? More?"
Win laughed. "It's more fun to keep you guessing."
Still grumbling, his uncle hung up. Win turned his chair so that he could see the spectacular view of Boston Harbor from his fourteenth-floor window. He watched a few planes take off from Logan Airport across the water. It was a clear, warm, beautiful May afternoon, the kind that made him wonder if he shouldn't call up the New England Athenaeum and get a ticket to its fund-raising dinner, just to see who showed up.
But meeting women was not a problem for him. Contrary to his uncle's belief, Win did not live the life of a monk. No, he had no trouble at all finding women to go out on the town with him, occasionally to share his bed. It was finding the right woman .
"Romantic nonsense," he muttered.
By her fourth day in Boston, Hannah had settled into a pleasant routine of research. Preston Fowler himself had invited her to the New England Athenaeum's fund-raising dinner and she'd accepted, despite the rather steep price. But she was supposed to be a Harling and therefore have money. Besides, Fowler himself had begun to help her ferret out information on the Harlings; she had told him she was researching one of her ancestors, Cotton Har-ling. No point in stirring up trouble by mentioning Pris-cilla Marsh or the truth about her own identity. She was enjoying the perks of being a Harling.
"Is this your first trip to Boston?" Fowler asked on a cool, rainy morning. He had brought a couple of books to the second-floor table he had reserved for her at a window overlooking the Public Garden.
"Yes," Hannah lied, not without regret. He was being helpful, after all.
"Are you a member of the New York Harlings?"
The New York Harlings? Fowler's eagerness was impossible to miss—the New York Harlings must be rich, she thought—but she had never heard of them. She would have to remember to ask Cousin Thackeray, who still didn't know she was running around Boston claiming to be a Harling. But he had been the one to tell her not to reveal she was a Marsh.
She shook her head. "The Ohio Harlings."
"I see," the New England Athenaeum's director said. He was dressed in a Brooks Brothers suit today, a white on white shirt, wing tip shoes. There was never a hair out of place.
Hannah had invested in a couple of Harling-like outfits in an hour of rushing around on Newbury Street. Now she was afraid to dig out her charge-card receipts to see how much she'd spent. Would the IRS accept them as a business deduction? Preston Fowler would never believe she was a Harling if she kept showing up in her collection of jeans and vintage T-shirts. Once or twice she might get away with it, but not every day.
As for any real Harlings well, there was only one in Boston, and she wasn't worried about him. Jonathan Winthrop Harling would be old, knobby-kneed and nasal-voiced, with a wardrobe of worn tweeds and holey deck shoes that he would be too cheap to replace. He would have bony hands with a slight tremble, and he'd wear thick glasses with finger smudges on the lenses.
She had him all pictured.
Fowler told her about a painting at the Museum of Fine Arts that she must see, a portrait of Benjamin Harling, the eighteenth-century shipbuilder. Hannah promised to have a look.
Finally he left.
She resumed her scan of a late-nineteenth-century newspaper account of a fistfight between some Har-ling or other and Andrew Marsh, Cousin Thackeray's grandfather. It involved their divergent opinions about the Longfellow poem on Priscilla Marsh, the Harling insisting it clearly romanticized her, the Marsh insisting it did not. A big mess.
Half paying attention, Hannah suddenly sat up straight. "What's this?"
She went back and reread a blurred, yellowed paragraph toward the end of the article.
In a long-winded way, it said that the Marsh had challenged the Harling to open up "the Harling Collection" to public inspection.
The Harling Collection?
Hannah's researcher's heart jumped in excitement. Now this was news. Something worth checking out. She read further.
Apparently Anne Harling, deceased in 1892, had gathered the family papers from the past three centuries, since the Harlings' arrival in Boston in 1630, into a collection.
What Hannah wouldn't give to get her hands on it! She carefully copied the information into her notebook and sat looking out at the rain-soaked tulips and budding trees of the Public Garden, wondering what her life had come to that locating a bunch of old documents excited her.
Win looked up from his computer and sighed. His young administrative assistant, fresh out of college, was clearly determined to shape him into her idea of a suitable executive. He wasn't sure just what his failings were. "You can call me Win, Paula," he said, not for the first time. "What's up?"
"It's the impostor again."
"The Museum of Fine Arts."
"Uncle Jonathan called?"
"While you were in a meeting," Paula confirmed, all business. Win wondered if it had been a good idea to tell her about the unknown Harling who was supposedly attending the New England Athenaeum's fund-raising dinner. She had been convinced right from the start that they were dealing with an impostor. "He said to ask you if you had signed up for the lecture series on seventeenth-century American painting that is being offered by the museum. A friend of his knows the instructor and—"
"Yes, I understand. Uncle Jonathan knows everyone." Win tilted back in his chair. "He doesn't think it's a practical joke?"
"No." From her look, neither did Paula. She was tawny-haired and twenty-two and very good at what she did. "It's a woman, Mr. Harling. Trust me."
"Why would a woman pose as a Harling?"
Paula made a face that said what she wanted to do was groan, but groaning didn't fit her code of conduct. "May I speak freely?"
"What is this, a pirate ship? Of course you may."
She took a step closer to his desk, a black modern thing his decorator had picked out. "Mr. Harling, if you don't mind my saying so, I've been with you almost a year now, and it seems to me you don't have much of a clue as to how people around here view your family."
"The Harlings, you mean," he said.
"That's right." She was very serious. "Lots of people, given the chance, would like to take advantage of your wealth and reputation, your position in the financial community. You have breeding—"
"Breeding? Paula, I'm not a horse."
She was too sincere to be embarrassed. "As I said, you don't have a clue."
"Okay, suppose you're right. Suppose someone is trying to take advantage of me. First, why me and not my uncle? Second, why a woman?"
"In answer to your first question," she said, obviously disgusted by his ignorance, "because you are thirty-three and single and your uncle is eighty. Ditto that for the answer to your second question."
"Why can't there be a third Harling in Boston?"
Win glanced at his computer; his work was beckoning. "So, a supposed Harling signed up for a class at the MFA and plans to attend a fund-raising dinner. That doesn't make a conspiracy."
"You wait," Paula said confidently, heading for the door. "There'll be another."
Posted December 30, 2014
I am a Carla Neggars Fan but that aside, this is a fun read. Both leads seem ready for something different and find it in each other. Their uncles are great characters. This is vintage Carla M.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 6, 2013
No text was provided for this review.