Lilian Jackson Braun readers have been eagerly anticipating James Mackintosh Qwilleran's collection of tales ever since the protagonist of the bestselling The Cat Who… series announced (in 1997's The Cat Who Tailed a Thief) that he planned to write a book showcasing the many strange and wonderful legends of Moose County.
We've seen samples of these tales throughout the series, and now the fruits of "Qwill's" efforts have been collected in a charming volume. These 27 eclectic stories -- recounting strange happenings, mysterious occurrences, good works, chicanery, ghostly visitations, crooks, and heroes -- share some classic anecdotes (each introduced by Qwilleran and told with varying degrees of embellishment) from Moose County history. Readers may miss tales of Qwill's own feline companions, Koko and Yum Yum (understandably absent from this volume since, like Qwill, the cats are not natives of Moose County), but all cat lovers may rest assured that Qwill has not failed to pay tribute to the role of cats in local history.
We asked Lilian Jackson Braun to talk about her The Cat Who… mysteries, James Qwilleran's perspective on Moose County history, and this delightful collection of Short and Tall Tales. Find out what she had to say in our exclusive author essay.
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Short and Tall Tales Moose County Legends Collected by James Mackintosh Qwilleran
By Lilian Jackson Braun
Thorndike Press Copyright © 2003 Lilian Jackson Braun
All right reserved.
The Legend of the Rubbish Heap
A Chronicle of Two Pioneer Families
In the mid-nineteenth century, when Moose County was beginning to boom, it was a Gold Rush without the gold. There were veins of coal to be mined, forests to be lumbered, granite to be quarried, land to be developed, fortunes to be made. It would become the richest county in the state.
In 1859 two penniless youths from Germany arrived by schooner, by way of Canada. On setting foot on the foreign soil, they looked this way and that to get their bearings, and both saw it at the same time! A piece of paper money in a rubbish heap! Without stopping to inquire its value, they tore it in half to signify their partnership. It would be share and share alike from then on. Their names were Otto Wilhelm Limburger and Karl Gustav Klingenschoen. They were fifteen years old.
Labor was needed. They hired on as carpenters, worked long hours, obeyed orders, learned everything they could, used their wits, watched for opportunities, took chances, borrowed wisely, cheated a little, and finally launched a venture of their own.
By the time they were in their thirties, Otto and Karl dominated the food and shelterindustry. They owned all the rooming houses, eating places, and travelers' inns along the shoreline. Only then did they marry: Otto, a God-fearing woman named Gretchen; Karl, a fun-loving woman nicknamed Minnie. At the double wedding the friends pledged to name their children after each other. They hoped for boys, but girls could be named Karla and Wilhelmina. Thus the two families became even more entwined...until rumors about Karl's wife started drifting back from the waterfront. When Karl denied the slander, Otto trusted him.
But there was more! One day Karl approached his partner with an idea for expanding their empire. They would add saloons, dance halls, and female entertainment of various kinds. Otto was outraged! The two men argued. They traded insults. They even traded a few blows and, with noses bleeding, tore up the fragments of currency that had been in their pockets since the miracle of the rubbish heap.
Karl proceeded on his own and did extremely well, financially. To prove it, he built a fine fieldstone mansion in Pickax City, across from the courthouse. In retaliation Otto imported masons and woodworkers from Europe to build a brick palace in the town of Black Creek. How the community reacted to the two architectural wonders should be mentioned. The elite of the county vied for invitations to sip tea and view Otto's black walnut woodwork; Karl and Minnie sent out invitations to a party and no one came.
When it was known that the brick mansion would be the scene of a wedding, the best families could talk of nothing else. The bride was Otto's only daughter; he had arranged for her to marry a suitable young man from the Goodwinter family; the date was set. Who would be invited? Was it true that Otto had taken his daughter before a magistrate and legally changed her name from Karla to Elsa? It was true. Elsa's dower chest was filled with fine household linens and intimate wedding finery. Gifts were being delivered in the best carriages in town. Seamstresses were working overtime on costumes for the wedding guests. Gowns for the bridal party were being shipped from Germany. Suppose there was a storm at sea! Suppose they did not arrive in time!
Then, on the very eve of the nuptials, Otto's daughter eloped with the youngest son of Karl Klingenschoen!
Shock, embarrassment, sheer horror, and the maddening suspicion that Karl and Minnie had promoted the defection-all these emotions combined to affect Otto's mind.
As for the young couple, there were rumors that they had gone to San Francisco. When the news came, a few years later, that the young couple had lost their lives in the earthquake, Elsa's father had no idea who they were.
Karl and Minnie lived out their lives in the most splendid house in Pickax, ignored by everyone of social standing. Karl never knew that his immense fortune was wiped out, following the financial crash of 1929.
Toward the end of the century, Otto's sole descendant was an eccentric who sat on the porch of the brick palace and threw stones at dogs.
Karl's sole descendant was Fanny Klingenschoen, who recovered her grandfather's wealth ten times over.
Eventually the saga of the two families took a curious twist. The Klingenschoen Foundation has purchased two properties from the Limburger estate: the mansion in Black Creek and the hotel in Pickax. The former has become the Nutcracker Inn; the latter is now the Mackintosh Inn. The "legend of the rubbish heap" has come full circle.
Excerpted from Short and Tall Tales by Lilian Jackson Braun Copyright © 2003 by Lilian Jackson Braun. Excerpted by permission.
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