Too Soon for Flowersby Margaret Miles
Lust, deceit, and murder bloom in old New England....
Spring, 1764. While the specter of smallpox stalks colonial Boston, much of the city seeks refuge in the burgeoning countryside. Restful, bucolic Bracebridge is one such haven, and young widow Charlotte Willett and her neighbor Richard Longfellow, scientist and gentleman farmer, host a handful of guests… See more details below
Lust, deceit, and murder bloom in old New England....
Spring, 1764. While the specter of smallpox stalks colonial Boston, much of the city seeks refuge in the burgeoning countryside. Restful, bucolic Bracebridge is one such haven, and young widow Charlotte Willett and her neighbor Richard Longfellow, scientist and gentleman farmer, host a handful of guests undergoing the generally accepted procedure of inoculation.
Yet shortly after the quarantine begins, one of the patients is found dead and Charlotte and Richard are thrust into a whirl of rumor, conjecture, and fear. What, if not smallpox, caused the patient's untimely demise? Has the distraught physician in charge something to conceal? And who might have risked contagion to commit murder? Before these questions can be answered, another shocking death occurs.
Now, as some superstitious townsfolk blame both the Pox and the Devil, Charlotte and Richard are determined to follow logic and reason to the all too human source of the problem. But can they arrive at the truth before another victim is claimed?
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Late that evening, Charlotte Willett sat in her borrowed chamber, between those of Dr. Tucker and Cicero, where she and her faithful dog kept each other company. Orpheus sensed that something unusual had happened, and was full of concern for his mistress. While she walked about, he watched her carefully, moving out of her way when she forgot he was there, looking into the hallway as steps came and went, or when the front door banged below. He watched, too, as Charlotte sat motionless in the Windsor chair next to her bed, still recalling the events of her exhausting day.
First she had discovered Phoebe, and had gone for help. After the initial investigation, she'd stayed to do what she could for Diana and Hannah, while Lem, pressed into a window seat, watched for passersby along the road, wishing, Charlotte imagined, that his friend Will Sloan would suddenly reappear.
Later, Reverend Rowe had paid them all an unwanted visit. Before he left, he had scared Hannah half to death with his questions and suspicions, anxious to pin blame to someone, though he had no proof. Fortunately, Diana had been more than a match for him, and her chilly manner soon drove the reverend to the door. They might have welcomed him had he anything useful to say, or any comfort to give. But as far as Charlotte could determine, Reverend Rowe brought nothing to the situation that helped settle matters. Though of course, thus far, neither had anyone else.
After that, Richard Longfellow and Phineas Wise came in with two others who carried a pine box. When the constable had seen Phoebe for himself, from a distance, the young men carried her away to a cellar in Longfellow's barn, where she wouldawait her eventual interment. Then Longfellow and Wise went outside to examine the areas beneath the windows of the house, but found nothing beyond a wealth of spring grass, nor any further indication of what might have happened during the night.
Tears now came to Charlotte's eyes, as she remembered Phoebe whirling with joy only days before, when the path of her young life had seemed clear. How she wished she'd been more inquisitive while the girl was still alive! Hannah, too, had obvious regrets--though she was as yet unable to weep for one who would soon have become her daughter. She could not even speak Phoebe's name; rather, she seemed to be brooding, enough so that Mrs. Willett feared for her well-being, and suggested a dose of valerian from her simples chest, for sleep. The idea had frozen the distraught woman further, as if she somehow dreaded the prospect. Yet sleep would be needed, Mrs. Willett knew, before any of them could begin to forget. Time must pass: there was no other hope. For Phoebe had left them, never to return.
A short while later, seeking comfort in her own bed, Charlotte lay grateful under a warm quilt. But as she felt the clarity of the day fade, she continued to think. Lem said he'd been awakened, he supposed by moonlight, long after he'd gone to bed. Something had lifted him from sleep--a noise, or the light, or a moving shadow. And well out of hearing, she had been roused at the same time, for she had heard a different clock strike three.
Could it possibly be, she wondered, tingling at the thought, as it was with Aaron? For years there had been that occasional brush of a hand on her cheek, with no one there; the echo of soft steps, which Orpheus, too, seemed sometimes to hear; a recurring scent of horehound. Lately, such impressions had lessened, but Aaron Willett was with her still. Now, could there be another? Last night--could Lem have heard a life end, while she woke to sense a new beginning?
She hardly liked the idea, which went against her faith in Nature, and her trust in Reason. If others were to suspect such a thing, it could certainly give encouragement to those who accused her of being willful and dangerous--including Christian Rowe--even though spirits had long been a part of religious belief. In fact, she knew some of her most pious neighbors feared the walking dead. When the day ended, and fires burned low, there was more than entertainment, she felt sure, in the ghostly tales they continued to tell their children.
But were not even the most learned inclined to believe in such things, given a proper incentive? Who was not moved by the shade of Hamlet's father, or Banquo's ghost? Charlotte hardly knew what others might believe, but she suspected it was probably more than most would be willing to admit.
At any rate, she decided, she would continue to keep her own counsel in this, for she had, after all, grown used to discovering things for herself. Unnatural or not, death required a sorting out, before life could move on. In that, she might help. She would start by sifting quietly, employing her intelligence. Soon she might ask a few more questions.
After that, thought Mrs. Willett, she might, perhaps, go just a little farther.
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