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Mischief in the Snow [NOOK Book]

Overview

A winter of discontent...

January 1766. A dangerous mishap brings young widow Charlotte Willett unexpectedly to bleak and marshy Boar Island, a few miles from the village of Bracebridge and home to two eccentric elderly women. Some say that arrogant, unpopular Alexander Godwin — the only villager to regularly call upon the island's two residents — hopes to inherit the ...
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Mischief in the Snow

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Overview

A winter of discontent...

January 1766. A dangerous mishap brings young widow Charlotte Willett unexpectedly to bleak and marshy Boar Island, a few miles from the village of Bracebridge and home to two eccentric elderly women. Some say that arrogant, unpopular Alexander Godwin — the only villager to regularly call upon the island's two residents — hopes to inherit the cavernous house when its owner finally passes on.

But when Alexander is brutally murdered after the town's annual winter fête, Charlotte and her neighbor Richard Longfellow can't help but wonder who among Alexander's detractors might be responsible. Is his death connected to his activities on Boar Island — or to the unearthly trickery rumored to take place there? Could the rivalry over a beautiful young woman have sparked a more dangerous passion? And will the answers reveal themselves before death strikes Boar Island again?


From the Paperback edition.
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Editorial Reviews

From The Critics
In the winter of 1766 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Charlotte Willet goes ice skating on the nearby Musketaquid River. All by herself, Charlotte enjoys her time gliding on the frozen river until a thin section of ice cracks sending her into the freezing water. She manages to pull herself out of the icy water. However, Charlotte realizes that Boar Island, the home of two female hermits, is much closer than her house in Braceville. Realizing that only teenager Alexander Godwin visits the ladies when he delivers items to the isolated females, Charlotte prudently pays a visit on wealthy Catherine Knowles and her companion Magdalena. Charlotte finds her host strange, but kind.Not too long after that, Charlotte's employee Lem Wainwright gets into a public spat with the obnoxious Alex, but nothing except threats occurs. However, soon Lem finds the murdered body of Alex. Lem is the obvious suspect having just had a fight with the victim just before his death and also having conveniently found the corpse. Charlotte, with the help of her neighbor Richard Longfellow, begins investigating who killed Alex.The fourth entry in the Willet colonial mystery series, A Mischief In The Snow, is an entertaining entry that lives up to its well-written predecessors. The story line provides readers with an engaging who-done-it, several enchanting characters especially Charlotte, and a deep look into Colonial America outside the Boston area. Margaret Miles makes Massachusetts circa 1760s a fun place for readers to visit.
From the Publisher
Also by Margaret Miles:

No Rest for the Dove
Too Soon for Flowers
A Wicked Way to Burn

Available wherever Bantam Books are sold

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307488305
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/24/2008
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 869,204
  • File size: 482 KB

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Finished with a hearty dinner of beef stew and brown bread, Charlotte Willett sat by the fire in the low-beamed kitchen of her farmhouse. Carefully, she inserted her stockinged feet into slippers double-cut from discarded silk, stuffed with a layer of feathers. These she covered with another pair of woolen stockings. With both feet well protected, she pulled on her stoutest leather boots, and laced them tight.

At the opposite side of the hearth, Lem Wainwright had barely lifted his face from a worn volume of Gulliver's Travels. While he attempted to hide his concern, he could hardly imagine any other woman of the village following Mrs. Willett's lonely example that afternoon — if conditions did seem perfect for her plan.

"You'll take care?" he finally asked, as the dappled dog at his feet raised his head to watch.

"I will," she replied with good cheer. She clomped across the sanded pine floorboards, to find mittens in a woven basket full of winter apparel.

"How far do you mean to go?"

"Well — I don't know."

"You'll be back before dark?"

Now it was Charlotte's turn to worry, for she'd again heard a note that had lately begun to grate. Lem's new inquiries into her actions seemed to have started in August when he'd returned from Boston, where he'd been tutored for a first term at Harvard College. For a number of reasons he'd abandoned his plans to attend. Instead, he'd come home.

She knew she could hardly expect him to speak to her as he had at the age of twelve — it was then that his parents, whose house on the road to Concord was still full of children, had sent him to help in her dairy. Today her small herd and barn were largely Lem's responsibility, an arrangement that freed Charlotte to follow other pursuits. But if that gave him a new privilege to question her plans, why was it that her growing curiosity about his affairs so often went unsatisfied? Still, young men deserved an additional degree of privacy, she'd decided, and this, she was determined to give.

"Sunset must be three hours away," she said now, after taking a peek through to the large room with south-facing windows. "I suppose," she continued, moving toward the back door, "that by then I'll have had enough. If I haven't quite managed to freeze my toes and fingers." She bent briefly to pat Orpheus, giving him soft instructions to return to the hearth, for he could not come with her.

Lem seemed about to give a further warning, but seeing one of her strange new looks, he reconsidered and retreated into his storybook.

Charlotte tied a linen cap over her head and ears. She drew on a hooded cloak, and picked up a long muff of spotted lynx, something her mother had been given years before by her new husband, and had cherished. It was still as useful as it was beautiful. Yet how sad, Charlotte reflected, that none saw such beauty alive today, roaming the remaining acres of transparent winter wood near the village. It was often remarked that old ways disappeared with the trees. Yet others insisted new ideas so improved their lives that the future was bound to be a great deal better than the past. She doubted either statement was entirely true. But the world did revolve swiftly, and with that thought in mind, she set the muff over one mittened hand. With the other she took up two joined objects made of wood, leather, and steel.

Minutes later, Charlotte accepted a ride on a neighbor's passing sleigh. It then continued on along hard-packed snow, down the hill that led to the village. They first passed between Richard Longfellow's impressive house and the Bracebridge Inn across the way. After a few hundred yards of open fields, the sleigh reached tree-lined lanes, and came to the closely huddled dwellings of the village proper.

At the stone bridge over the Musketaquid River, Charlotte gave the driver her thanks, and hopped down. For a moment she stood gazing at the milky surface below. What current still flowed was covered, she supposed, by several inches of ice, and two would be sufficient. For weeks she'd missed her usual walks, and was not about to spend the entire winter inside. Ice, bare and beautiful, gave her a rare chance to glide like a swallow into a part of the countryside that was usually inaccessible, to see what she could see.

By the river's edge she sat and attached two wooden plates filleted with leather straps to her boot soles — plates set with curl-fronted, sharp-backed blades. Rising, she tested her work, maneuvering away from the shore. Soon leaving the houses behind, she flew through the bright winter sunlight, under an azure sky. Nothing in the bleached stalks on either side of the ice distracted her; no reflection but her own came from a sparkling surface. Though numerous avenues branched off into barely glimpsed pockets, she avoided them, keeping to the good sense of the broadest path. Lulled by the singing of her skates, she let her mind, instead, wander.

She had come out hoping to relieve a sadness that had settled within her. Recalling the painful news once more, Charlotte felt a wave of sympathy. She willed it away. Diana would not be comforted by her sighs.

Grief! How much of it she'd felt in her own short life. First, her parents had gone; then illness had taken her sister Eleanor, soon to have become the wife of their new neighbor. And in the same dreadful week, six years ago, her own husband, Aaron....

Then, she and Richard Longfellow had mourned together. He, too, must now be remembering that terrible time, having learned only the week before that Diana's child had died. Two days after the letter reached them, his sister was brought to Bracebridge by a coachman, accompanied by a small coffin, without her husband, Edmund Montagu. She requested they bury the boy among Charlotte's family, atop a knoll on the Howard farm bordering her brother's own. Diana knew that Richard and Charlotte often visited the graves there. She told them Captain Montagu spoke increasingly of taking her to London. Should they go, she feared a Boston burial might mean their child would lie forgotten. And that was a thing she could not bear to imagine.

The morning after Diana's arrival, Richard, with Lem's help, had carried the coffin up the snowy slope of the knoll, as Charlotte and Diana followed. At the top they covered the small box with a layer of balsam, and then a cairn of stones. As soon as the earth could be broken in the spring, the coffin would be lowered into a permanent grave.

The child's death was tragic — yet they'd known from the first that Charles Douglas had come into the world too early, and was not strong. Dr. Warren warned them the boy might fall prey to a winter fever, a malady that gave cherubic faces a heavenly touch of blue, even while their mothers rocked them before high fires. Such women were frequently reminded new life can never be certain, and that they bore no blame. But the six weeks of life allotted to the boy had made his parents grow ever fonder, so they felt his passing most keenly. At least, Diana assured them with marked coldness, this was true for one.

She told them, too, that Edmund refused to allow himself to share her grief, no doubt for the sake of his duties. The captain was a King's officer, of course. But could this have hardened him to the death of his firstborn son and heir? Considering his respect for his own noble family, and his love for Diana, Charlotte could not bring herself to believe it. Though she had no way of knowing the real reason for his absence, she did know that heartlessness was not a part of Edmund Montagu's character.

At the moment, there was a great deal in Boston to distract him. Bales of Parliament's new revenue stamps had arrived; still, they sat unopened in Castle William, out in the bay. These blank paper sheets of several denominations, their corners variously stamped with figures of red ink, were ready for sale and use, and were now required for the printing of newspapers, as well as for documents including deeds, degrees and licenses, court writs, manifests, and port clearances. The main objection to the stamps (beyond their added cost to business) was that for generations the colonial assemblies had raised royal revenues themselves. This new order given by a distant body — one that lately seemed to ignore the pleas of America's own popular houses — was not only an insult, but a threat to liberties long enjoyed in all the provinces. The people of Boston had made it clear enough that any official attempting to support or sell the stamps would be sorry for it — which was why Governor Bernard had gone to sit in his castle as well, comforted by two British men-of-war anchored nearby. Meanwhile, trade and legal business had come to a halt.

Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson had closed civil and admiralty courts, and promised he would keep them closed, as long as the stubborn colonists prevented the implimentation of the new law. While more distant counties might choose to ignore his wishes, Suffolk County could not. In Boston, without properly stamped and filed papers, it became increasingly difficult to borrow, and shipping languished; without the civil courts, merchants could no longer legally enforce the collection of debts. And with trade disrupted, the price of flour, which was usually imported from the colonies to the south, shot up like a rocket. There was good reason to fear that more riots, resembling the one that had destroyed Hutchinson's home the previous August, were in store for the new year. This much Charlotte knew from her glances at Longfellow's weekly copies of the Boston Gazette.

But who in Boston, she wondered, could predict what might happen next? Surely not Governor Bernard, nor Mr. Hutchinson; each had incorrectly gauged the feelings of the town before. Yet did Sam Adams, John Hancock, or Joseph Warren know better? She imagined that this time there was likely to be a long, stubborn stand-to, before all arms were grudgingly lowered.

On the other hand, each year brought times of trouble, set between more encouraging days. In every season, she reminded herself, some would suffer under clouds of sorrow, while others celebrated the rebirth of hope and happiness. Diana and Edmund had experienced their loss as a storm that had driven them apart. But one day soon, they might begin to drift back together again — especially if they had help.

Bringing herself to a halt, Charlotte looked about the blank ice. She took a deep breath of the chill air, feeling it sear its way into her chest. Perhaps she and Richard could find some way to restore Diana's tranquillity. Then, they might recover their own.

For it seemed they, too, had grown apart. Frequently she expected to hear footsteps at her kitchen door, as before. Lately, they rarely came. Out on a solitary walk, she sometimes glimpsed her neighbor approaching; more than once, he had then turned away. Now, she hesitated to set her feet on the path between their houses.

No more did they picnic on the grass, or walk together through the fields, nor did they often spend quiet evenings before a fire. Instead, after the summer visit of his friend Signor Lahte, they seemed uneasy with one another. Lately, she even imagined a hint of suspicion in her neighbor's inquisitive gaze.

Had her admitted interest in the musico offended him? It had certainly done her little good. But it might be that the winter's tedium, its lack of immediate employment, was to blame for Richard's inattention. She knew he tended to black moods; perhaps this was an unusually long and gray one. At least he had extended an invitation to visit this evening, so that they might cheer Diana.

Charlotte stamped her feet onto the ice, attempting to loosen her stiffening limbs. This caused her hood to fall. In a burst of exasperation, she pulled at her cap, freeing a pinned knot of hair to glint like clear cider.

Why bother to think about trouble? Freedom was what she'd come out to find today! And was it not all around her? Nature was an anodyne, always ready to offer comfort if one would only look around. Full of beauty and surprises, it wove life into patterns, maintained its own balances, followed observable laws. Richard often impressed the last idea upon her. Charlotte knew she had an ample sense of life's harmony, while his interests tended to be a bit more precise.

For instance, he would have noted that there, surrounded by marsh, stood a group of elms resembling frozen fountains. They had lost not only their leaves, but most of their outer bark. Each had dropped several branches, too, now embedded in ice. All were dead, surely. What in the Great Design had doomed them? She skated closer to find out.

Looking up, she was surprised to see a red hawk seated on a high branch. She squinted to see it more clearly. It appeared to watch her as well. The heavy bird lowered its head and raised its tail, cocking its thick, powerful body. She wondered if they might be acquainted. She'd frequently seen one like him in the white oak of her barnyard, watching her chickens. Cap in hand, she glided on, warmed by the feeling that she was somehow welcome in the silent grove.

Unfortunately, her curiosity caused her to forget her footing, and disaster then found its chance. In the next instant, Charlotte felt herself sink abruptly, even as she heard a brittle crack. At once she knew she'd skated over ice too thin to support her. Instinctively, she threw her lynx muff far away, so that this, at least, would stay dry. While the air beneath her skirts buoyed her momentarily, she realized she would have little time to escape.

She'd encountered a deep pool, created by a wandering spring — something from which the elms might have saved her, had she heeded their warning. The subterranean water's heat had made the ice about her rotten. She drew off her mittens, then tried to kick and claw her way onto a sustaining shelf — bit by bit, the ice continued to break away under her weight.

There was no use calling for help; she knew no creature but the hawk could see her. Then the bird gave a piercing cry, flapped its wings, and lifted up. With long, regular strokes it flew away in silence, leaving Charlotte utterly alone. She began to gasp, her heart sinking further as she felt her chest tighten with the cold.

Sodden wool skirts now began to work against her, pulling her down. Her feet found no bottom. Already, her aching legs seemed unwilling to help, though she knew they must. A cry welled within her, as she imagined an inevitable end to her folly. And yet — ?

Gathering her remaining strength, she forced her feet to kick vigorously, while she leaned back to clasp one knee. She tried to wrench a skate from her booted foot, bobbing under the water through three attempts, coming up to gasp for air as loose hair floated about her face. Then, by twisting, she had what she wanted. She readjusted the long leather strap and hurtled the wooden plate before her, in an arc above the ice. It landed a yard away; the pointed blade seemed to bite. She pulled, and found she'd won a small amount of purchase.

By repeating her earlier motions she made the second skate ready. This she sent out to the side of the first. It, too, bit. Pulling gently as she kicked, she gained a foot, then another, and yet another. The shelf of ice sagged and sighed, but held. It was nearly enough. She tried to re-plant the blades, but found that now, while the slab ahead promised to bear more of her weight, it was also better able to repel the metal points. Suddenly the ice groaned, and she found herself sinking back into the freezing marsh.

Just out of reach was a thick branch, partly submerged. With a last inspiration, Charlotte knotted both of her skates together, and threw one of them. As she'd hoped, it entangled itself in the dead wood. Slowly she pulled herself forward, until at last she knelt on soft plates of fungus, and could crawl to further safety.

She was again able to stand upright, but she knew she must find some way to warm herself, and quickly. Her muscles were cramped, her legs nearly crippled. She'd skated for half an hour from the village bridge to come to her present position. It would take even longer, in her new situation, to return. Would she be able to complete the journey? Exercise promised some relief, but with wet boots, her toes might yet freeze. The thought frightened her — but at least, she told herself, she was alive! Taking another precious moment she threw back her head, and sent silent thanks toward the sky.

Someone nearby began to laugh; a moment later, she knew she had heard the sound of her own voice. Had the shock of the water affected her mind, too? Spinning about, she looked desperately for help.

Through the elms, she recognized Boar Island. She knew its house, closer than her own, sheltered two women. They would have a fire, and could surely offer her cups of hot tea, while she had the chance to dry. Neither had a friend in the village, but Charlotte recalled meeting old Catherine Knowles some years before. Even a recluse who guarded her privacy would not refuse another in such desperate need.

There was, however, a further danger worth considering. What of the boars? It would be a long climb to the house, with no one to protect her from the savage creatures. But then she recalled that for a year at least, a youth had made lone visits to the island. And she'd not heard that Alexander Godwin had ever been injured.

Beggars could not be choosers, she decided at last. With slow fingers, she'd managed to re-attach both skates to her soggy boots. Regaining her feet, she imagined her friends in Bracebridge would be less likely to learn of her accident if she did visit Mrs. Knowles and her companion, for then she might return home in a more presentable state. What would the future hold if Lem, Richard, or even Christian Rowe, the village minister who seemed overly fond of watching her, found further cause to worry?

She might tell Hannah of her adventure, though, after swearing her to secrecy. For years her helper had repeated strange tales of things said to have occurred on Boar Island, told by those living nearby. Lately, these stories had become more frequent, so that Charlotte wondered if they might not have some basis in fact after all. But ghosts, she thought, would be the least of her problems this afternoon.

Shuddering, she skated back and circled carefully, until she'd retrieved the lynx muff. Thrusting her hands into its glossy fur, she took a final look at the spot where she'd nearly drawn a last breath of black water.

Then she forced her quaking legs to take her off in long, smooth glides, toward the dark rock that loomed ahead.


From the Paperback edition.
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Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 3, 2014

    Just Okay

    I started reading with great anticipation but this book just isn't my cup of tea. I didn't read more than a few chapters before stopping.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2001

    This Series Just Keeps Getting Better and Better!

    This Series Just Keeps Getting Better and Better! Each Bracebridge Mystery has taken place at a different time of year, enabling Margaret Miles to embellish her fictional village of Bracebridge, Massachusetts with delightful seasonal highlights. The most recent of her four books, 'A Mischief in the Snow', wraps a most fascinating account of village life in the winter of 1766 around the intrigue of a breath-taking murder plot. From cover to cover, this book thoroughly entertained me. As I have found with all of these books, one part of me wanted to read quickly to follow the exciting and intriguing story line, while another part wanted to slow down and thoroughly soak up cozy old kitchens with freshly baked brown bread and warming fires. I absolutely loved Chapter 6, where she describes villagers gathering to watch blocks of ice being cut out of a frozen pond and loaded onto horse drawn wagons for delivery to ice houses. Women and children who have arrived on foot or by sleigh are setting out food and jugs of liquid refreshments. A young man is playing his violin for a group of villagers sitting by a roaring bonfire while skaters are racing by on blades of steel, antler or bone. But of course, in the wintry woods nearby, an event of a much more sinister nature is occurring and it isn't by any means the only evil or dishonest act that will occur in this village, where deception is in the air. And this is what keeps the reader turning those pages late into the night. I highly recommend 'A Mischief in the Snow' to everyone. I also think that it would be an excellent addition to any reading list for students of American history. While Miles' books are extremely entertaining and readable, they are also very well written and historically accurate, making them perfect material for the classroom.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent colonial mystery

    In the winter of 1766 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Charlotte Willet goes ice skating on the nearby Musketaquid River. All by herself, Charlotte enjoys her time gliding on the frozen river until a thin section of ice cracks sending her into the freezing water. She manages to pull herself out of the icy water. However, Charlotte realizes that Boar Island, the home of two female hermits, is much closer than her house in Braceville. Realizing that only teenager Alexander Godwin visits the ladies when he delivers items to the isolated females, Charlotte prudently pays a visit on wealthy Catherine Knowles and her companion Magdalena. Charlotte finds her host strange, but kind. <P> Not too long after that, Charlotte¿s employee Lem Wainwright gets into a public spat with the obnoxious Alex, but nothing except threats occurs. However, soon Lem finds the murdered body of Alex. Lem is the obvious suspect having just had a fight with the victim just before his death and also having conveniently found the corpse. Charlotte, with the help of her neighbor Richard Longfellow, begins investigating who killed Alex. <P>The fourth entry in the Willet colonial mystery series, A MISCHIEF IN THE SNOW, is an entertaining entry that lives up to its well-written predecessors. The story line provides readers with an engaging who-done-it, several enchanting characters especially Charlotte, and a deep look into Colonial America outside the Boston area. Margaret Miles makes Massachusetts circa 1760s a fun place for readers to visit. <P>Harriet Klausner

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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