For once things seem to be running smoothly for knitting enthusiast Lia Geiger. Her daughter is living on her own and happy with her new job on the alpaca farm. Plus, Lia and her Ninth Street Knitters have been knitting for the Civil War reenactment being held on the grounds next to the Crandalsburg Craft Fair. It’s all fun and battle games until one of the “injured soldiers” turns out to be the very real victim of a murder, and Lia’s friend and neighbor falls under deep suspicion.
Suddenly, the good folks of Crandalsburg are spinning all kinds of yarns and pointing fingers at one another. Lucky for Lia, she has the combined wits of the Ninth Street Knitters to help her ply the truth from this crafty killer.
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Let's hope for the best."
Lia turned to her petite next-door neighbor, Sharon, and shot her a look of sympathy, aware of all Sharon's husband had been dealing with lately. As they began their stroll of the Schumacher grounds together, however, Lia couldn't help feeling excited. The long-awaited day of the annual Battle of Crandalsburg reenactment had arrived.
As a relative newcomer to the town, this would be Lia's first experience with the event, and as a vendor with the Crandalsburg Craft Fair she would be a participant of sorts, not just an onlooker.
The Schumacher barn, owned by the family for generations and the regular home for the craft fair, was historical, having been used as a hospital during the actual Civil War battle. Each year that scenario was re-created inside, and vendors' booths, including Lia's Ninth Street Knits, had been moved outdoors, a short distance away.
In addition, all the vendors had added Civil War-era items to their usual fare. For Lia and her fellow Ninth Street Knitters, that had meant weeks of knitting woolen socks and scarves from patterns followed by women of that period. Most would be worn that day by many of the reenactors, while some socks would be available to buy at Lia's booth.
"I feel like I should be wearing a hoopskirt while I'm making these," Maureen had said at their last meeting, with the others agreeing. Lia herself had often felt transported back in time as she knitted at her home, the cozy pre-Civil War house she'd moved to after her husband Tom's untimely death.
That feeling returned as she and Sharon entered the living history section of the grounds. A woman stirred porridge in a large pot that hung over an open fire. She looked up and smiled at them. No hoopskirt for her. She wore a plain, long cotton dress with an apron. A kerchief held back her hair.
A young man dressed in suspendered Union blue pants and gray shirt sat outside a tent playing a whistle-like instrument that reminded Lia of the recorder her daughter, Hayley, had learned to play in fourth grade. A second man whittled at a piece of wood nearby. Lia and Sharon paused to listen to the high-pitched notes, Lia recognizing "Tenting on the Old Camp Ground."
"I'm glad the weather is cool enough for those woolen shirts and jackets the men have to wear," she said.
"Yes, lucky for them that the battle occurred in October," Sharon said. "They'll have to do a lot of running in those heavy uniforms."
"And the women have to work in those long dresses over campfires. And in the sun."
"Makes you wonder how they all managed back then, doesn't it?" Sharon asked. "But it's been kept as historically accurate as possible, that is, until Sprouse took over."
Lia nodded. She knew about the shift in leadership of the reenactors that had caused disruption lately. Sharon's husband, Jack, had been involved with the group for years after discovering that an ancestor, Captain Josiah Kuhn, had played an important part in the battle. As group leader, Jack had been a stickler for absolute accuracy, down to the underwear worn by the soldiers and the food they ate during the two-day event. No burgers or Cokes would be seen in the campgrounds, or even wristwatches worn while in uniform.
Arden Sprouse, on the other hand, had dismissed such details as unimportant. With the significant financial contribution he brought to the reenactment himself and from donors he'd rounded up, his opinions ruled, much to Jack's dismay. Jack stayed in the group but had been demoted from captain to an unnamed sergeant, while Sprouse took the role of Captain Anderson, a person whose connection to the battle appeared iffy but whom Sprouse claimed as a newly discovered forebear.
Continuing their stroll, Lia and Sharon came upon Olivia Byrd, the young mother who sold her homemade soaps and essential oils each weekend next to Lia's craft fair booth. For living history, she had volunteered to demonstrate soapmaking as done in the mid-1800s. Dressed in period costume, the sleeves of her calico dress rolled up, Olivia definitely looked the part, especially standing next to a huge black pot hanging over the makings of a campfire. Her normally anxious expression was glowing for a change. It brightened even more when she saw Lia.
Lia marveled at the difference in historic Olivia. The woman Lia saw each weekend was reserved-sweet, but often fretful. Today's Olivia was energized and clearly enjoying herself to the hilt. For the first time, Lia fully understood why Olivia did what she did. Her friend absolutely loved making soap, and that included even the crudest form of it.
"Looks like you're ready to go," Lia said. The event would start admitting spectators within half an hour.
"I can't wait," Olivia said. "Soap wouldn't normally have been made near a battlefield. But I'll be able to demonstrate how it was done back then, from simple wood ashes that every house collected and animal fats. Lye from the ashes and fat, the two basic ingredients. Isn't it amazing? A formula that was stumbled upon who knows how long ago, and we still use it today-with certain refinements, of course."
"Of course." Lia thought of the lovely scents that floated over from Olivia's booth from her own soaps, as well as the various oils she used in place of animal fat.
"You'll be a good teacher," Sharon said, which brought a pleased flush to Olivia's cheeks.
Lia seconded the thought, then noticed a crowd gathering in a field off to the left. "What's going on there?"
"Oh! That must be the bayonet fencing demo," Sharon said. "Come, you have to see this."
They bid good-bye to Olivia and hustled over to the area as Sharon explained what Lia was about to watch. "Our soldiers can't have bayonets on their rifles during the reenactment. It's much too dangerous, even with dull ones. So every year, two volunteers demonstrate how they might have been used during a battle. But they do it very carefully."
Lia and Sharon made it to the roped-off area and joined the crowd gathered around the large circle. In the center were two uniformed reenactors, one in blue, the other in gray. Each held a long rifle with a menacing-looking bayonet at the end. A third man off to the left explained what they were about to do and how it would be done in slow motion for safety's sake.
Lia watched, fascinated but at the same time disturbed to think that this was once done in real life, person to person, in deadly fashion. Seeing the glint of the steel edges, she also worried about a current, accidental injury.
"They practice this for hours," Sharon said softly, perhaps sensing Lia's fears. "It's all carefully choreographed."
Lia nodded. The demonstration was impressive, and when it ended the crowd showed its appreciation with enthusiastic applause. The two uniformed soldiers acknowledged them, then turned to each other and shook hands.
"That's Jack's rifle," Sharon said, indicating the one held by the gray-uniformed fellow. "It's a reproduction, but still cost him a pretty penny."
"Good of him to lend it." Lia glanced around but didn't see him. "I hope it'll be carefully looked after."
"Oh, yes," Sharon assured her. "They'll do one more fencing demo, but in between they'll hand both rifles over to Jack. The other one belongs to Lucas Hall."
She said it with a sniff, prompting Lia to ask who that was.
"Arden Sprouse's son-in-law. His is an actual antique. He probably bought it just to show off, pretty much like his father-in-law."
Lia thought it best not to stay on the subject and instead said, "I'll need to be at my booth in a few minutes. I'd love to take a peek at the hospital setup first."
Sharon also wanted to see it, and they headed toward the barn. As they passed by the living history area again, Lia noticed a woman sitting at a spinning wheel some distance away and asked about her.
"That's Ronna Dickens," Sharon said. "She's spinning flax, not wool, in case you wondered. A friend of hers weaves it into linen, which is then made into clothes for some of the reenactors."
As they reached the barn and walked in, Lia barely recognized it. Craft booths had been replaced with lines of cots occupied by life-sized bandaged mannequins. There was also a surgery of sorts, which consisted of a wooden table covered with several instruments.
Most were tools for amputations, the most common treatment of the time, doctors having little knowledge of how to treat bullet wounds. Lacking antibiotics, more patients died from infection and disease than on the battlefield. As a former surgical nurse, Lia shuddered at the thought of what the soldiers must have gone through.
"I'm glad we were born when we were," Sharon said, looking over the grim display.
"Amen to that," Lia said. "But thank goodness at least for Florence Nightingale."
"Why? She wasn't here, was she?"
"She was a British nurse who worked during the Crimean War, once they actually allowed her to, that is. It wasn't considered seemly at the time. The first thing she and her nurses did was scrub down the field hospitals, which apparently were filthy. She saw the survival difference in patients who were bathed from those who weren't and argued for better hygiene. This carried over to our Civil War practices and probably saved lots of lives. Soldiers were ordered to bathe regularly, something many weren't in the habit of doing, and it helped keep down the spread of disease, at least to some extent."
"Wow." Sharon shook her head. "You could be running this part of the living history, Lia."
Lia shook her head, smiling. "I've had my fill of surgery," she said, having worked several years in the field. "I'm happy to stick to knitting. Which reminds me, I'd better get over to my booth."
"I'm going to look for Jack," Sharon said. "See how he's doing. I'll catch you later."
They split up, and Lia headed over to the vendors' booths-separated from the living history and battle reenactment areas but close enough for spectators to wander over to. The booths were gathered under a large canopy, essential protection from possible rain, but remained open on all sides to the currently lovely fresh air. Jen Beasley, who hosted the weekly Ninth Street Knitters meetings at her home in York, had driven over with her husband, Bob, to help move the groups' sweaters, afghans, and shawls to the new setting as well as deliver the mounds of soldiers' socks and scarves. Pretty much everything, therefore, was in order, and all Lia had to do was handle the sales, as she'd done each weekend for the group for the last several months.
Lia greeted her fellow vendors as she walked by but didn't stop to chat, as all were busily readying their booths. Having much less to do, thanks to Jen and Bob, Lia had time to relax and look over her new surroundings once she made it to her own spot.
"We lucked out with the weather," a voice said, and Lia turned to her left to see her friend and craft fair manager, Belinda, approaching.
"Wow, didn't we?" Lia said. "The storms they predicted for last night didn't materialize, thank goodness."
"Would have been a soggy mess in these fields," Belinda said, her gaze taking in the mowed acres surrounding them.
"I know one person who might not have minded," Lia said. "My neighbor Jack Kuhn. From what I understand, the actual battle was fought in mud. Jack is big on historical accuracy."
"That's fine for him and his soldiers," Belinda said. "Our craft vendors prefer dry, tidy land. I heard about the kerfuffle in the reenactment group. So that was your neighbor?"
Lia nodded. "It was a bit of a power struggle between him and the new guy, Arden Sprouse. Sprouse won out. I don't know anything about Sprouse, but Jack's a great guy and I understand he's put a lot of time and effort into the reenactments."
"He has." Maggie Wood said from her quilt booth, which had been set next to Lia's. "And it's a darned shame how Sprouse treated him. I fault the others, too, who should have stood up for Jack. But Sprouse's money apparently spoke louder than loyalty."
"So who is Arden Sprouse?" Lia asked. "Has he lived in Crandalsburg a while? If so, why has he just now become so involved?"
"He and his family showed up after he bought the Hubbard Hotel a few months ago," Maggie said. "He has some other businesses, but what those are, exactly, I have no idea." Her lips curled derisively. "I don't mind newcomers joining in. But I don't much care for people who show up in our town and decide to start running things their own way." Maggie's already florid complexion had reddened close to the shade of her long, curly hair. The quilter was never one for soft-pedaling her opinions.
"Guys," Nicole warned from her booth to Lia's left. "That's Mrs. Sprouse heading over right now."
Heads turned toward the figure Nicole indicated with a head jerk, Lia's included. She watched as the stout fifty-something woman made her way gradually toward them, dressed in period costume that indicated participation in the day's event. She paused for a few moments at Gilbert Bowen's candle booth, where she chatted briefly before moving on.
Lia's group turned their gazes away from the woman as she approached, except for Lia, who continued to watch. When their eyes met, Mrs. Sprouse smiled an open, dimpled smile. Lia returned it.
"You must be Lia Geiger!" Arden Sprouse's wife said. "I've heard so many good things about your wonderful knits. I'm Heidi Sprouse."
"I'm glad to meet you," Lia said. "Have you met our craft fair manager?" Lia introduced Belinda, who had turned back, and the two took in Heidi's compliments on the fair's offerings.
"I haven't managed to visit before, but I intend to make up for that," she said. Heidi talked enthusiastically about the craft booth items she'd already seen. "Arden would love the metal sculptures, I know."
At Heidi's mention of her husband, Lia felt a twinge of guilt on Jack's behalf, though she wasn't chatting with his nemesis. She supposed Jack would forgive her for being amiable with Arden's wife, who couldn't be blamed for her husband's actions. At least so far.
"I see you're dressed in costume," Lia said. "Are you playing a role in the activities?"
"Oh!" Heidi said, flapping a hand dismissively. "A very minor one." She tucked a stray gray-brown lock back into her cotton bonnet. "I like to look after our young men-you know, just making sure everyone has what they need. My son-in-law is one of them, you know. I guess you could say I play a Civil War mother. Or maybe the mother those poor soldiers would have liked to have close by."