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Previously on the Carding Chronicles: Town librarian, Jane Twitchell, has discovered a trove of stories hidden in books scattered throughout the library. They were written by Hanson Willis, a noted 19th-century author, but only privately published during his lifetime because of their potentially scandalous nature. Unsure what to do with them, Jane seeks advice from the wisest woman in Carding, Edie Wolfe.
“So you see,” Jane said as she spread the falling-apart copy of Charles Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewitt across Edie Wolfe’s kitchen table, “it’s quite a mess. There are field notes here,” she gingerly extracted a large, crackly envelope, “but they don’t make a lot of sense because they’re so scattered.”
Edie picked the envelope up, and peered closely at its stamp. “Did you notice this?” she said, pointing. “This envelope, at least, went through the English postal system.” She extracted some of the paper scraps. “I wonder if Hanson Willis did some of his research over there.”
“Oh, I think so,” Jane said. “There are quite a number of notes that have to do with the Cooper family before they came to this country, especially about the family matriarch, Margaret.”
“Hmmm,” Edie murmured, her eyes already moving across Hanson’s inky musings. “I wonder if he discovered the reason why the women in that family have such a strong relationship to crows.”
Jane started so hard, her knees hit the underside of the table. “Do you mean to tell me you think that is true?”
Now it was Edie’s turn to look surprised. “Why, yes. Don’t you?”
The librarian hesitated in her answer. Her sister, Isabel, often lectured about the failure of humans to distinguish between truth and myth, fact and legend. Because of that, Jane made sure to purge her bookshelves of her fantasy novels whenever Isabel was scheduled to visit.
Isabel never conceded there was anything to the persistent beliefs in Carding about crows and Cooper women, about the ghostly blue boy who wandered near the old railroad bridge or the ethereal figure of a former bootlegger who was said to inhabit the basement of Cooper’s General Store.
If left to herself, Jane was sure she’d enjoy all of these spirits and more but Isabel…well…Isabel was Isabel.
Edie waited, enjoying the play of play of shade and light across Jane’s face. Without asking, she knew that the source of the shade was Isabel. “It’s all right not to believe,” she finally said.
Jane sighed, and laughed a little. “Oh, I know. It’s just that I’d like to…you know…”
“Cross the line?” Edie asked.
Jane nodded. “Maybe some day.”
“In the meantime, why don’t we spread this material out so that we can see what we have here,” Edie said. “My grandparents used to talk about Hanson and Emily Willis with such affection that I feel as if I know them. And my father once told me that it was my grandparents who published Hanson’s ‘fairy stories and romances’ as Dad called them. I’ve always wondered what happened to them.”
As Edie cleared the table, Jane carefully lifted more and more loose pages from the cloth sack she’d been clutching when she first arrived. Some sheets were obviously torn from notebooks. Others were squares, now yellowed, of elegant calling cards along with a wide variety of envelopes. Judging by the great number of them, envelope backs were Hanson Willis’s preferred writing material.
Once the notes were cleared from the bag, Jane slid a short stack of typed pages into the center of it all, and looked at Edie in triumph.
“Have you read them?” Edie asked, pointing.
“Oh yes,” Jane said, practically wiggling in her chair. “You know what I think?”
“I think they are caricatures of the people that the Willises mixed with in New York,” Jane said.
Edie’s eyebrows made a pair of fine arches over her eyes as she edged the stack toward her. “I never met Hanson in person,” she said. “He died not too long after I was born. But I do have vague memories of Emily coming here to visit when I was a little girl.” She gently stroked the pages.
“I remember once telling my grandmother how I envied Mrs. Willis because she was so rich and lived in New York,” Edie continued. “Grandma laughed and told me that Emily envied me because I got to live in Carding and run around barefoot on the Green in summer. It took me a long time to understand how restricted Emily—and probably Hanson—felt in New York society. So I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that these are be satires.”
“They’re disguised as fairy tales,” Jane said.
“Really?” Edie said. Then she gave the librarian a thorough look. “Would you feel all right leaving these with me for a while?”
A smile flittered across Jane’s lips. “I’m hoping you’ll help me edit all of this, and put it in a book,” she said. “It would make a fine fundraiser for the library, don’t you think?”
The two women looked over their glasses at one another, barely holding their glee in check.
“How far have you gotten in your search for more of Hanson’s stories in the library?” Edie asked.
“I’ve just begun,” Jane said. “I think we’ll have plenty.”
The next installment of the Carding Chronicles will be published on December 11. If you are enjoying these stories (they’re a great break from politics, eh?) please encourage your friends to subscribe.