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Death of a Dyer

Death of a Dyer

4.0 2
by Eleanor Kuhns

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Will Rees feels at home. It's been a long time since he last felt this way—not since before his wife died years ago and he took to the road as a traveling weaver. Now, in 1796, Rees is back on his Maine farm, living with his teenaged son, David, and his housekeeper, Lydia—whose presence contributes more towards his happiness than he's ready to admit. But


Will Rees feels at home. It's been a long time since he last felt this way—not since before his wife died years ago and he took to the road as a traveling weaver. Now, in 1796, Rees is back on his Maine farm, living with his teenaged son, David, and his housekeeper, Lydia—whose presence contributes more towards his happiness than he's ready to admit. But his domestic bliss is shattered the morning a visitor brings news of an old friend's murder.

Nate Bowditch and Rees hadn't spoken in many long years, but as children they were closer than brothers, and Rees feels his loss acutely. Asked to look into the circumstances surrounding Nate's death, Rees simply can't refuse. At the Bowditch farmstead, Rees quickly discovers that everyone—from Nate's frosty wife to his missing son to the shy serving girl—is hiding something. But are any of them actually capable of murder? Or does the answer lie elsewhere, behind stones no one even knew needed unturning?

Death of a Dyer once again proves Eleanor Kuhns's remarkable ability to spin a captivating story of a fascinating era and capture the light and darker sides of human nature on the page.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Farmer Will Rees, the hero of Kuhn’s well-constructed second mystery set in late 18th-century Maine (after 2012’s A Simple Murder), is dumbfounded to learn that childhood friend Nate Bowditch, one of the county’s richest landowners, was beaten to death with a scutching knife—and that Bowditch’s 17-year-old son, Richard, is believed responsible. George Potter, the old friend and neighbor of Rees’s who conveys this tragic news, persuades the reluctant Rees, who broke with the victim years before, to leave his farm work and visit Bowditch’s widow that very day. Richard implicates himself by fleeing the area, but Rees, who developed his sleuthing skills while serving with the Continental Army, soon finds others with motives for the murder. Kuhns does a good job integrating the political developments of the time into the storyline, especially the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, and delivers a logical and surprising solution to this traditional whodunit. (June)
From the Publisher

“What is fascinating here is watching how Rees' motivation increases with the difficulty of the investigation…Finding excuses and opportunities to investigate reveals the admirably flinty character of this sometime sleuth. Kuhns creates a marvelously chilly atmosphere throughout this suspense tale about seemingly upright people guarding evil secrets. Rees, the weaver, is a wonderful creation.” —Booklist (starred)

“Kuhns' follow-up to Will's debut offers a sensitive look into matters of the heart woven into a nifty puzzle.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Well-constructed…Kuhns does a good job integrating the political developments of the time into the storyline, especially the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, and delivers a logical and surprising solution to this traditional whodunit.” —Publishers Weekly

“Absorbing…[Kuhns's] finely done historical makes frontier Maine come alive.” —Library Journal

“Kuhns' intimate voice and all-seeing eye make [the Shaker community] seem an exotic world indeed. But she also shows that greed, envy, and materialistic values are nothing if not universal.” —Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review on A Simple Murder

“Refreshingly original . . . Kuhns weaves together disparate threads into a beautiful finished piece.” —Library Journal (starred, Debut of the Month) on A Simple Murder

“Superb . . . A Simple Murder works as an intense historical but also a heartfelt story about families . . . Kuhns' affinity for showing the complicated relationships that drive people shines in this strong debut.” —Oline Cogdill, Kansas City Star on A Simple Murder

Kirkus Reviews
Weaver Will Rees copes with family woes while investigating the murder of his childhood friend Nate Bowditch. Life may have been simpler in 18th-century Maine, as citizens of the newly minted republic sought to make their way in the still largely undeveloped United States. But families are always complicated. Will, a longtime widower, aches to be close to his teenage son David. But his relationship with Lydia, a refugee from a Shaker settlement, disrupts his path. His feelings toward his late wife Dolly still unresolved, he refuses to make Lydia his bride, choosing instead to hire her as his housekeeper. An urgent message from Molly Bowditch upsets Rees' life further. Her husband, Nate, whose passion for dyes matched Will's obsession with cloth, has been bludgeoned to death with a scutching knife. Local constable Caldwell suspects Nate's son Richard, though Augustus, the illegitimate son Nate's serving maid, Rachel, bore him, seems an equally likely candidate. Molly hires Will to clear Richard's name. But the more Will probes Molly's odd relationship with the local medic, Dr. Wrothman, and Richard's attachment to Elizabeth, daughter of land baron James Carleton, the murkier matters appear. Add a pair of slave catchers, a fire at Caldwell's jail and a cache of love letters in Nate's trunk, and this tale of simple country life turns into anything but. Kuhns' follow-up to Will's debut (A Simple Murder, 2012) offers a sensitive look into matters of the heart woven into a nifty puzzle.
Library Journal
Will Rees is stunned to learn that his childhood friend and fellow weaver Nate Bowditch has been killed. Nate's widow, Molly, wants Will to ensure their son, Richard (the prime suspect), is not convicted of the crime. Will's memories of his youth don't necessarily jibe with the adults who now run the town. While Nate was dedicated to his trade, he also had secret success as a gambler, acquiring quite a bit of property. Will wonders if gambling debts might have motivated the murderer. Though a good investigator (skills he developed during the Revolutionary War), widower Will is naive about human behavior, often more comfortable being on the road as a traveling weaver than staying put on his farm. He is still regaining his teen son's trust and trying to understand his feelings for Lydia Jane, his Shaker friend. VERDICT Building on the success of her superb debut (A Simple Murder), Kuhns's second entry, while absorbing, occasionally falters because of her protagonist's inability to make a life. Her finely done historical makes frontier Maine come alive, but readers should start with the first title so as to appreciate Will's story.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Will Rees Mysteries Series , #2
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.94(w) x 8.34(h) x 1.16(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

“Dead?” Rees repeated, staring at George Potter in shock. “Dead?” A spasm of unexpected grief shot through him. Although he hadn’t seen Nate Bowditch for eighteen years, not since Rees had marched away with the Continental Army in 1777, as boys they’d been closer than brothers. “Are you sure?”
Potter put down his cup with a clink. “Of course I’m sure. His wife herself told me of his death.”
“I’ve never met her,” Rees said.
“After almost twenty years? He lives—lived on the other side of Dugard, not the Atlantic Ocean. What happened? You were such good friends.”
Rees shrugged; that story was too long to tell. “We … went in different directions.”
“Nate has children, too, did you know? Two sons and a daughter,” Potter continued, his expression stern. “I’m sure they’d like to know what happened to their father.”
Rees expelled his breath as Lydia Jane entered with more coffee and cake. Potter cast her a glance, his eyes lighting curiously upon the square linen cap covering her dark red hair. Rees did not introduce her, although his eyes involuntarily lingered upon her face. He didn’t know what to say. He’d met Lydia, a former Shaker, when he’d pursued his runaway son to the Shaker village of Zion this past summer. Although Rees had fallen in love with her, he was reluctant to marry again, but he hadn’t wanted to give her up either. When she had nowhere else to go, he’d invited her to stay with him—as his housekeeper—just until they sorted out their feelings.
Potter turned his attention back to Rees. “It looks like he was beaten to death with a scutching knife, Will. It’s murder. And the constable believes Nate’s eldest son is the murderer.”
“His son,” Rees repeated. He was still struggling to digest the news of Nate’s death. Nate remained in Rees’s memory as the laughing dark-haired boy of his youth, not a middle-aged man with a wife and family. “Why does he suspect Nate’s son?”
“They were always at loggerheads, those two,” Potter said. “Nothing serious, I’m sure. But everyone knew. And Caldwell, with Richard in his sights, won’t look at anyone else. The constable is a drunken lout and the crew he hires to help him is worse, tavern rats from the Bull.” He paused and when Rees said nothing, went on in a rush. “You know Caldwell will take the easy way, Will. Is that what you want for Nate’s son?”
Rees sighed. “And what if he’s guilty? Have you thought of that? It won’t be the first time a son murdered his father.”
Now Potter lapsed into a thoughtful silence, staring off into the distance for several moments. “Yes, I know,” he said at last. “But if he is, I would prefer knowing you were the one to come to that conclusion.”
“If I look into this, secrets—secrets kept by anyone with the slightest connection to Nate—will come into the light,” Rees warned. “You live here, George. Do you want to know everyone’s dirty laundry? Know all the little ugly things about the people you love? Including Nate?”
“Nate was my friend. I want his son cleared if he’s innocent and the guilty man punished. Besides,” Potter added “we have no secrets in Dugard. We’re too boring and know each other too well to have secrets.”
Rees shot his friend a scornful look. “Everyone has secrets, George, large and small. Illuminating them will bring out anger and fear.”
Potter shook his head. “I’ll risk it.” After a short silence, he said, “Please, Will. You’ll work impartially. I know that. Please. I’d look upon it as a favor.”
Now, although Rees thought to refuse, he couldn’t. Without Potter, Rees wouldn’t have been able to recover his farm from his sister Caroline and her husband, Sam. And he’d loved Nate once.
“Very well,” he said. “But not tomorrow nor the next day. We’re still bringing in the hay, or what there is of it after Caroline’s and Sam’s poor stewardship.” Potter nodded, and the two friends sat again in silence. Rees recalled the expulsion of his sister and her family from the farm a month back. An ugly experience. He hadn’t seen Caro since then, but he thought of her every day with regret.
“You had to recover your property,” Potter said, reading his old friend’s expression without difficulty. “You had no choice. You had to do it for your future and for David’s.” Rees said nothing. After a pause Potter said, “So, you never visited Nate?”
Rees shook his head. “I wish I had,” he said. But the break between them had been so abrupt, he could never figure out how to bridge the chasm. “Didn’t he inherit the Bowditch family farm?”
“Yes, but he didn’t live there. Thomas farms that one. You remember Nate’s brother?”
“Yes,” Rees said. Thomas, a paler and younger version of his brother, had tagged after them like a shadow.
“Nate may still own it.…” Potter stopped and thought. “Well, no matter. Besides working the farm, Nate served as our local weaver and kept ten to fifteen of the local housewives spinning for him. He required a larger place with a separate cottage.”
Rees heard Potter’s reproof, but knew that settled life would not suit him. As soon as good weather arrived with the spring, the road would sing its siren song and he would pack his wagon and head out again. Born under the traveling foot, that’s what his mother always said.
“Good for Nate,” he said.
“Do you know where it is?” Potter asked, extracting a piece of paper from his waistcoat pocket and handing it over. “I’ve written out the directions. I suggest you drive out first thing tomorrow; Molly is waiting on you and will not bury Nate’s body until you’ve taken a look at it.”
“Your confidence in my acquiescence astounds me,” Rees said, not entirely joking.
“Your passion for justice, if for no other reason, assures your compliance,” Potter said, clapping his friend upon the shoulder. “Besides, you loved Nate once. You’ll want to do right by him.”
Rees inclined his head in acquiescence. Guilt and regret could be powerful spurs. “Yes, all right.”
“Good.” Rising to his feet, Potter added, “David can manage the harvest. Hire help if you must. Molly will pay a goodly sum to save her son from hanging.”
“Wait,” Rees cried, gesturing at Potter to resume his seat. “I need more information.”
“I don’t want to influence you with my opinions,” Potter said, remaining upright.
“How old is the boy? Tell me about Nate’s wife. I don’t remember anyone named Molly.”
Potter sighed. “I have an appointment, so I must leave you. Quickly, then. Molly is Margaret Brown. You must remember her older brother, Billy? She was the little tagalong, always at his heels, copying everything he did.”
Rees cast his mind back into the past, recalling Billy and the sister who rode and fought as skillfully as any boy. “The bootmaker’s children. Nate married her, that little rooster in a hen’s body?”
“Yes. You’ll scarcely recognize her now. She grew into a lovely and very feminine woman. And Richard, who is just seventeen, was born a few months early, if you catch my meaning, when his mother was but sixteen.” Potter grinned at Rees, who nodded. Many girls stepped up to the altar, pregnant, at fifteen or sixteen. Potter clapped his tall hat upon his head. Despite the day’s heat, he wore a cutaway swallow-tailed jacket over his pantaloons and glossy riding boots.
Rees, also standing, suddenly felt self-conscious in his rough tow shirt and loose breeches. At least he’d dropped his old shoes with the stink of the barnyard clinging to them on the porch. Called in from the fields and fearing an emergency, he’d raced in without stopping even to wash his face and hands. He followed Potter out to the porch and watched him mount his fine bay gelding. The law had proved a successful career for Rees’s old friend.
“You’ll do this for Nate,” Potter said from his elevated seat on horseback. “And you need this puzzle. Admit it, you crave a challenge. The four walls of this farmhouse must already be pressing in upon you.” Without waiting for Rees’s response, he wheeled his mount in a circle and galloped down the drive. Dust rose behind him in a cloud.
Rees remained upon the porch, staring into the distance until his friend was long out of sight and the dust had fallen back to earth. He still could hardly believe that Nate was dead.
“Will you do it?” Lydia asked, coming up behind him.
Rees turned and looked at her. She’d left her home with the Shakers to follow him here and seemed to be struggling with the adjustment. She’d been unusually subdued of late. “Of course,” he said. “It’s the final favor I can offer an old friend.”
“You loved him, and when you love you’re loyal,” she said. “Once you knew about your friend’s death, Mr. Potter did not need to ask. And I think he’s right about you. You’ve been a bear with a sore head lately.” Rees frowned in disagreement. “Yes, you have. Don’t worry. You won’t be abandoning us. You’ll still be able to help David with chores in the mornings and evenings.”
“Potter said Mrs. Bowditch promises to pay me enough to hire help.”
Her smile illuminated her face. “Both David and I can use some extra hands,” she said.
Rees looked at her. “I haven’t been that terrible, have I?” He was embarrassed.
“You don’t enjoy farming and make your feelings very clear.”
Rees longed to reach out and touch her, but he didn’t know if she would welcome it. He wanted her and prayed she wouldn’t return to the Shakers, but he wasn’t ready to propose marriage and anyway he didn’t think she was ready to accept. He suspected she thought of her deceased Shaker lover every day. Well, he often thought of his former wife, Dolly.
“And I’ll help you,” she said now, gazing up at him with expectant eyes.
“Not this time,” he said. No, he wouldn’t allow that to happen here. Unlike in Zion, where she’d served as his assistant, in Dugard she knew no one. The excitement in her face drained away. Turning abruptly from her disappointment, he slipped his feet into his old shoes and clumped down the stairs, heading back to his interrupted chores.
No opportunity to speak to David presented itself until suppertime. Then, as Rees sat down to a meal of leftover chicken and a ragout of cucumbers, he took his chance. “I’ll be … in town … for a time,” he said. “You’ve heard me speak of Nate Bowditch. Well, he passed away and his wife asked me to look into the death.”
“We’re approaching a busy time,” David said with an angry frown. “We’ve got the rest of the hay to bring in and both wheat and the corn. And then there’ll be the oats and pumpkins.…”
Rees took a moment to respond, holding his temper in check. He knew he would spend a long time making amends after abandoning his son to the rough care of his sister Caroline and her husband, Sam. “Mrs. Bowditch will pay me,” he said. “We can hire some help. You’ve wanted to take a few hands on anyway.”
“But that included you,” David said, only slightly mollified.
“Of course he must go,” Lydia said from her position by the hearth. “God gave him a gift for untangling such snarls. He must use that gift. And the victim was his friend.”
David scowled at her.
“If there is even an unnatural death in this case,” Rees said.
“Mr. Potter must be fairly certain, else he would not have driven all the way out here to ask such a favor of you,” Lydia said, turning around to look at him. “And, if there isn’t one, why, you’ll be back in the fields all the sooner.”
Rees tried to pretend that the thought of returning to farmwork did not depress him.
“David and I will gladly relinquish your company for a little while. Won’t we, David?” Now she stared pointedly at Rees’s unhappy son.
“I suppose,” he said. He did not sound enthusiastic and he never looked at Lydia.
“It’s just for a little while and then I’ll be back,” Rees said.
“Yes, and for how long, then? I know you’ll pack up your wagon and leave as soon as spring arrives,” David said.
Rees expelled a short impatient breath. “Weaving is how I make my living,” he said. “Weaving brings cash to the farm.” He never knew when David would explode. Not that Rees entirely blamed him, but sometimes it seemed the boy would never accept his father’s apologies. And David, like Dolly, loved the farm, loved the work. He just couldn’t believe his father would never settle to it. “And I’ve promised.” Although he dreaded the prospect of uncovering all the secrets, large and small, of those he’d known since boyhood, he had to admit that the anticipation of escaping the farm’s drudgery even for a little while excited him. “I’ll ride out tomorrow,” he said. “Speak to Mrs. Bowditch and take a look at the body.” Nate’s body. Rees suppressed a shiver.
David sighed. “Daniel Freeman asked if I had work,” he said. “It’s a large family; he could use some extra pennies.”
“Does he have a sister?” Lydia asked, only half-joking.
David threw his father a quick look and said, “I believe so.”
Rees, who didn’t want anyone in the house observing his irregular relationship with Lydia, said firmly,. “Outside work first,” he said. Her mouth drooped in disappointment. “Chores,” Rees said, and fled.
Thunderstorms blew in during the night but did not diminish the unseasonable heat. Although the clouds continued to spit rain the next morning, Rees hitched Bessie to the wagon and set out for Dugard and the Bowditch farm west of town. The shops were opening as he passed through the village. A few men nodded to him. Rees did not recognize them and wondered if he’d known them as boys.
Once out of Dugard, he did not turn left down the dirt lane that led to the Bowditch homestead he recalled from his childhood. Instead he continued straight. According to Potter’s notes, all the property visible from here belonged to Nate. Rees stared around in amazement, noting the lush fields of wheat, corn, and rye as well as pastures of cattle, horses, and sheep.
“Nate did very well for himself,” Rees muttered. Not envious, exactly, as he did not want such responsibility. And the farmhouse! Far larger than the rough clapboard in which Nate had grown up, this structure was built of brick. A long low porch ran the length of the front, littered with discarded boots and a whip and stacks of baskets. The red barn lay across the road with stables and other outbuildings behind it, and Rees realized he’d driven up to the back. Rather than ride out and circle around to the front, he thumped up the steps and tapped upon the wooden door.
A thunderous deep-throated barking greeted his knock. Rees waited a few minutes. Finally, a black man flung open the door. A large brown mastiff leaped at Rees, barking. He held himself still, offering his hand for inspection.
“Leave him, Munch,” the servant commanded. Munch sniffed but did not trot away. “Mr. Rees? I’m Marsh.”
The black man stood as tall as Rees and they stared at each other eye to eye. Rees was so used to being the tallest man in a crowd that he found their equal height disconcerting. An apron spotted with dirty water and bright dye spots protected Marsh’s nankeen breeches and waistcoat. His sleeves were rolled high above his elbows, and a strange bluish cast tinted the coppery brown of his hands and wrists. Since only a few strands of gray glittered in Marsh’s curly black hair, Rees thought they were probably near the same age, mid-thirties.
“Mrs. Bowditch is expecting you,” Marsh said. His precise phrasing, and the very faint singing cadence underneath, betrayed an accent that was still present despite all attempts to erase it. Probably Southern, Rees thought, although it was not a drawl he heard underneath the careful enunciation.
“Come in.” Stepping aside, he motioned Rees through the door. Munch fell into step behind them, his nails clicking on the wooden floor.
Inside the house and out of the sun, the temperature dropped slightly. Rees looked around. The wooden floors, although frequently swept, were scuffed and worn. A hall ran across the width of the back, offering access to the rooms on left and right and to the narrow servants’ stair that rose to the second level.
“You entered through the servants’ door,” Marsh said, taking off his apron and hanging it over the stair rail. Rees said nothing. Since when did farming folk have a servants’ entrance?
They circled around to the east side, passing a small dining room with white walls and a scatter of silverware on a cloth over the table. Some of the cutlery glowed, polished to a shine, evidence of Marsh’s recent activity. A door, propped open to catch any breeze, revealed stairs going down to the lower level. When they crossed to the front of the house, they entered elegance and wealth; polished wooden floors covered with Chinese carpets, a formal dining room painted in the fashionable emerald green, and a large front hall with wide curving stairs rising to the second floor.
Marsh crossed the hall and guided Rees to a small plain room with a battered wooden desk and a few chairs. Stacks of bills and a pile of folios told Rees this was Nate’s office. “I’ll inform Mrs. Bowditch of your arrival,” Marsh said with a bow. Rees sat down on a chair to wait. He dared not put the backside that had so recently warmed a wagon seat upon the one upholstered couch.
“Mr. Rees.” A woman several years younger than Rees swept into the room. He rose to his feet as Munch rushed to Molly’s side and tried to leap upon her. She swatted the dog away. “How good of you to come. Nate spoke of you often and I always regretted not knowing you.”
Rees murmured a polite response, unable to control his staring eyes. Her dark brown hair was cut à la victime, a style he’d seen adopted by a few of the more adventurous ladies in Philadelphia and New York. But in Maine? A tall woman and slender, she wore a filmy pale blue gown with long sleeves ending in ruffles. She looked more like a young girl than like a mother of three. Rees thought in surprise that he would never have expected Nate to choose such a fashion plate as a wife. But a closer look revealed the marks of discontent and unhappiness creasing the corners of her eyes and forming a permanent pleat between her brows. “Please, sit down.”
“I dare not, not with the dirt of travel upon me,” Rees said.
She smiled without warmth. “You are a considerate gentleman, Mr. Rees. My husband would never hesitate.” Rees said nothing. “Please, sit where you choose, then,” she said. “Marsh will bring refreshments. I understand from George Potter’s letter that coffee is the drink you prefer.”
“I changed from tea to coffee during the War, in the spirit of patriotism,” Rees said, “and now find it a habit I cannot break.” He wondered what else Potter had divulged.
“I do hope you can help us,” she said, clasping her hands in entreaty. When the ruffles fell back from her wrists, Rees saw long scratches marring the white skin of her right forearm, from dog nails.
“I will attempt my poor best,” he said.
Marsh entered the room carrying a silver tray with a coffee pot, delicate porcelain cups, cream in a silver jug, a bowl of sugar chunks and a plate of small cakes. Mrs. Bowditch poured Rees a cup and then took one of her own.
“Where is your son now?” Rees asked as he added cream to his beverage.
Mrs. Bowditch put down her cup without tasting her coffee. “Working somewhere on the farm,” she replied. “I’ve been trying to keep Richard working elsewhere. That drunken constable is on the verge of jailing him.”
“I’ll need to speak with him,” Rees said.
“He would never kill anyone,” Mrs. Bowditch said emphatically. “I know my son.” When Rees did not respond, she burst into hasty speech. “The constable points to the quarrels between Richard and his father, but, well, it’s common for father and son to disagree, isn’t it?”
Rees recalled arguments with David. “Sometimes,” he said. Some of the tension went out of her. “And what did they argue about?”
“Well, Richard and Nate, they’ve never gotten along, and now Richard is courting a girl of whom Nate did not approve.…” Her words trailed off.
Rees, who remembered Nate’s own conflicts with his own father, dipped his head in agreement. But, watching her carefully composed expression, he noted the trembling of her eyelids and wondered, what did she hide from him? “So you’re saying Constable Caldwell suspects Richard on the basis of a lifelong rebellion demonstrated toward his father?” Rees asked.
Mrs. Bowditch nodded, leaning forward and stretching out an eager hand. “It’s foolish, I know. As though Richard would ever harm his father.” She uttered a quick laugh, tinny in its falsity, and those betraying eyelids flickered again. This time Rees clearly identified fear behind her girlish manner.
“Does Caldwell have anything other than that to suggest Richard’s involvement?” Rees asked. The constable might have additional evidence. Molly’s opinion of her son, Rees discounted completely. A mother always saw her child through a rosy mist of love and hope.
“No,” she said so vehemently, he jumped.
“If you know something, tell me now. Others will talk,” he warned. “I’ll hear everything about Richard’s life, every childhood prank, every quarrel.” Molly did not choose this opportunity to unburden herself, although her eyelids fluttered again. “Caldwell will hear everything as well, and he will use it.”
Mrs. Bowditch hesitated, contemplating her clasped hands. “I don’t know,” she admitted at last. “Nate spent much of his time in the weaving house. Not weaving,” she added, meeting Rees’s gaze. He and Nate had apprenticed together many years ago. “He lost his enthusiasm for weaving long ago. He’s working with dyes now. Nate is—was obsessed with it.” The sudden realization of the past tense brought tears into her eyes. She wiped them away with a dainty handkerchief.
“To what end?” Rees asked. “Did he sell dyed cloth?”
She nodded. “Some. He also dyed yarns for women who wove on their own. But he usually sold his dyes at market. He was looking for dyes he could extract from the plants and flowers that grew around here—that would be less expensive than indigo or Spanish red. And he wanted to know why certain plants yielded a dye and others did not. Why do iron pots fix some dyes and copper pots work with others?” Molly sighed. “Nate didn’t care about the money either. He tasked Marsh with the selling of his dyes.”
Rees digested this. He had never wanted to do other than weave; he found the repetitive movement of the shuttle relaxing.
“He was working on a substitute for that fashionable green now.…” Her hand clutched convulsively at her throat and she closed her eyes.
“I know this is difficult for you,” Rees said. He paused for a beat and asked, “What happened?”
“A field hand heard raised voices. Richard admits to visiting his father that night and arguing with him. But that was before supper and he came home. We all saw him. Someone must have visited Nate afterwards. Next day when the girl went down with the breakfast tray, she found Nate’s body. He’d been bludgeoned to death.” All the blood leached away from her cheeks, leaving them ashen.
“Was there blood upon Richard’s person?” Rees asked.
“Of course not,” she snapped.
Rees eyed her. One lie after another. “I’ll need to speak to the hand.”
“His name is Fred Salley,” she said. “And George told me you would want to see Nate’s body. Dr. Wrothman moved the body into the root cellar for you.” She shuddered, a deep bone-shaking palsy that shook her entire body. Rees thought it the first truly genuine reaction he’d seen from her. “Please forgive me,” she whispered, pressing a handkerchief to her face. Rees waited while she struggled to regain her composure. He was glad to see this evidence of grief.
“Mama,” cried a piping voice.
Mrs. Bowditch quickly scrubbed away her tears and turned, her arms outstretched. “Ben, my little man. Come to Mama.”
The little boy—so young, he still wore skirts, and with a mop of blond curls any girl would envy—rushed to her. From the circle of his mother’s arms, he regarded Rees with his mother’s sky blue eyes.
“A very pretty boy,” Rees said. “He resembles you.”
The young girl who pursued Ben into the room was the spitting image of Nate, down to the dimple in her chin and the dark curl hanging over her forehead. “I’m sorry, Mama. I know you are entertaining company.” Rees swallowed past a sudden lump in his throat. Laughing gleefully, Ben ran behind Rees’s chair. “He got away from me,” the girl continued. She was on the cusp of her teens, with her hair still in two dark plaits down her back.
“He’s not your responsibility, Grace,” Mrs. Bowditch scolded. “Where is that lazy Kate? I hope she isn’t weeping in her room again.” A tide of revealing scarlet swept into the girl’s cheeks. I do wish you wouldn’t befriend the help.” Grace didn’t roll her eyes, but Rees saw the effort it cost her. “Come and meet Mr. Rees. He was an old friend of your father’s.”
Grace quickly moved forward and curtsied, her lanky body all lean angles, and looked at him curiously from Nate’s dark blue eyes. “Mr. Rees,” she murmured. He bowed over her hand.
“Cake,” Ben said.
Mrs. Bowditch offered him one from the plate. “I shall have to speak to that lazy wench. Again.” She pushed the little boy toward her daughter. “Take Ben outside. And remind Kate I employ her to watch him.” Ben clung to his mother’s arm. “Please, Ben, you’re tearing my sleeve.” As Grace dragged Ben from the room, Mrs. Bowditch said apologetically, “Forgive me, Mr. Rees, for exposing you to this domestic drama.”
“Such beautiful children,” Rees said. They were beautiful, but he sounded false.
“Thank you.” Mrs. Bowditch smiled at him. “My children are my world.” Both heard the clatter of buggy wheels and Munch’s loud barking. “I daresay Dr. Wrothman has arrived.” A faint flush tinted her cheeks; she looked like a young girl caught in the first blush of love. “More coffee?” Lifting the silver coffeepot, she poured, her excited hands spilling the liquid upon the tray.
Rees murmured his thanks, shocked by her attachment to another man so soon after Nate’s death.
Munch’s barking stuttered into silence, his recognition of the visitor proclaiming him a regular caller. “Down, Munch,” commanded a resonant male voice. A gray-haired balding gentleman strode into the room, the dog at his heels. Rees rose to his feet and extended his hand.
“Dr. Wrothman, Mr. Rees,” Mrs. Bowditch said, smiling warmly at the doctor. Rees looked hard at the other man. Portly and barely an inch taller than Molly, the doctor was at least fifteen years senior to her. He bent over her hand. Rees noted the furtive caress of her palm and the easy manner between them; their connection was long-standing, then. A spasm of pity and anger in Nate’s behalf swept through Rees, leaving him very sad.
Wrothman turned intelligent gray eyes upon Rees. “Ah, the weaver who will prove Richard’s innocence.” His jovial tone didn’t quite mask the mockery in his voice.
“Only if he is innocent,” Rees said quietly. “In that case, I will do my very best.” He met the doctor’s gaze, and after a moment Wrothman’s expression relaxed.
“You will find Richard troublesome,” he predicted.
“But a good lad nonetheless,” Mrs. Bowditch cried with quick intensity.
The doctor glanced at her and said to Rees, “I know Mrs. Bowditch will find your efforts a comfort.”
Rees bowed. No love lost between him and Nate’s son, then, he thought.
“Will you escort Mr. Rees to the root cellar?” Molly asked, a touch of acid in her voice.
“Of course.” Wrothman turned. “Are you ready?” Rees nodded and reluctantly deposited his cup on the table. The doctor threw him a quick mocking glance. “I find such examinations easier on an empty stomach.”
“I’ve seen my share of the dead,” Rees replied shortly.
“Oh yes, you were a soldier in the Continental Army, weren’t you?” Wrothman motioned Rees to his feet.
“Yes,” Rees said. Although the War for Independence was twenty years and more in the past, for the men who’d fought in it, the War might have happened yesterday.
“You must have been just a boy,” Wrothman said. “I served with General Washington at Trenton.”
Rees looked at him with more interest. “Did you, now?…”
“Gentlemen,” Molly cried with an impatient clap of her white hands. Wrothman bowed apologetically to her.
“And Mr. Rees.” Molly held out a small leather bag that jingled. “Something upon my account.”
Rees took it with a bow. David and Lydia would be glad to see it.

Copyright © 2013 by Eleanor Kuhns

Meet the Author

ELEANOR KUHNS is the 2011 winner of the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel competition. She lives in Campbell Hall, New York, received her master's in Library Science from Columbia University, and is currently the Assistant Director at the Goshen Public Library in Orange County, New York. Death of a Dyer is her second novel.

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