Jane Twitchell has been Carding’s librarian for so long, only the old-timers remember anyone else serving in that spot.
Ordinarily, she’s a pretty even-keeled type of woman, one not given to visible excitement.
But today is different. Jane is almost levitating above the sidewalk in front of Edie Wolfe’s house.
Let’s find out why in this first of two parts, shall we?
Thanks for stopping by.
Even if you never seek out the title, when you’re considered a wise woman, it becomes normal that people ask you for advice. Such is the case with Edie Wolfe, a woman we frequently visit in Carding.
At the time of this story, she is the latest in a long line of woman named Wolfe who have lived in this small town, and all of them have been held in high regard, even by people who didn’t like them.
The original Wolfes (should we write that as Wolves?) arrived in Carding on the crest of the Civil War. This original Wolfe family consisted of a widowed mother (the first Edith Wolfe), and her three sons, Rupert, William, and David. When they arrived in Carding, Rupert was an all-arms-and-legs fifteen year-old, William had just turned ten, and David was barely out of his toddling pants.
This original Edith chose Carding deliberately, expecting to find help raising her brood from the faithful who populated the area at the base of the Crow’s Head Falls known as the “Campgrounds.” This faith-based community (as we now call them) had a reputation for helping those in need so the Widow Wolfe had high hopes.
Now these congregants probably expected to—and planned to—help the Widow Wolfe and her children, and if soothing words and warm wishes had been enough, everyone would have been satisfied with the arrangement.
However, as the original Edith became fond of saying, “Good intentions make thin stew.”
I don’t know how many of you know this but in the decades before the Civil War, Vermont was a hotbed of abolition, the most anti-slavery state in the union, the only one with an original constitution that forbade the practice of human beings owning other human beings. So when the war started, most of the young men in the state volunteered for the Union Army.
Their absence for the good cause left plenty of room for the woman of Carding to grow unhindered in both skills and experience. Since the Widow Wolfe was not one to sit and bemoan her fate, it didn’t take long before she ran the best boarding house in the county, situated right on the town green.
In exchange for clean sheets and well-baked bread, her boarders—long-timers and transients alike—brought her gossip, news and stories from afar. And so the original Edith learned a lot about humanity without the bother of stirring from her seat at the head of her table.
People who are willing to listen to others are often taken for wise. The original Edith was an excellent listener, and before you knew it, folks in town were seeking out her advice.
Sometimes, they even took it.
This tradition of wise women stuck with the women of the Wolfe family through the generations up to the Edie Wolfe who is now sitting in the kitchen of her family home on Carding Green, watching the town librarian, Jane Twitchell, pace the sidewalk in front of her house.
It was obvious to Edie that Jane would eventually knock on her front door. But until that moment, she tried to imagine what in the world had rattled the poor woman.
Edie held the librarian in particularly high esteem. Jane was an energetic fundraiser. She was adept at treading the fine line between buying books of high quality to add to the library’s permanent collection while sprinkling in just enough lesser works to satisfy the town’s taste for trashy romances, scandalous mysteries, and rather shabby (though popular) fantasy novels.
And best of all, to Edie’s way of thinking, Jane had developed a way of suppressing the censorious tendencies of the town’s self-appointed moral watchdogs with nothing more than grim looks and steadfast stares. It was a talent that came in handy on many occasions.
But the Jane Twitchell pacing the sidewalk in front of Edie’s house was anything but steadfast. The librarian clutched and re-clutched a hefty cloth bag to her chest, now turning to walk back to the library then re-turning toward Edie’s house. Jane looked wretched, as if her mind wanted to come to two different decisions at the same time.
Jane needs cake, Edie suddenly realized, lemon pound cake and good, strong tea. If that doesn’t do the trick, nothing will. So she quickly filled the kettle, set it on her stove’s back burner, and hurried to open the front door.
“Jane,” she called, “I’m about to have my second cup of tea. Care to join me?”
The librarian jumped when she heard her name, hesitated for a moment but then stepped down the walk, feeling relieved. In a few moments, her burden would be placed in someone else’s hands.
“So what do you have in that bag?” Edie asked as she poured.
Silently, Jane spread a falling-apart copy of Charles Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewitt across Edie’s kitchen table.
“I made a New Year’s resolution to finally get through all of the old books from the library’s original collection,” Jane began. “I’ve been pecking at it, just a few volumes at a time, checking to see if we have anything good enough to sell.”
Edie frowned. “I’ve always liked Charles Dickens but Martin Chuzzlewitt is a tedious bore.”
Jane nodded. “I agree with you. But this is no ordinary copy of an old book.” She opened the volume to reveal a cavity carved out of the inside. It was filled with a sheaf of old papers covered with notes in a cramped hand. There was also a large, crackly envelope.
“It’s quite a jumble, as you can see,” Jane said.
Edie picked up some of the loose pages. “I’ve seen this handwriting before. Is this from Hanson Willis?”
Willis was one of the most popular American novelists of the late-19th/early 20th century, and he had summered with his family in Carding for many years.
“Yes, I believe it’s notes for those Oona Lovejoy books that scandalized so many people when they were first published,” Jane said.
Edie’s eyes lit up. “Really? Now that is a significant find.”
Jane pointed at the pile of loose pages. “Those are notes for the stories. Some of it’s pretty hot stuff,” she said as she giggled and blushed.
Then she patted the bag at her feet. “And there’s more that I found in a box tucked in the back of another shelf.”
Join us next week for part 2 of our wise women story.
You can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted,Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Light in Water, Dancing, will go on sale on June 15, 2018. And yes, it will be available on Amazon.com.
You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe button on my home page. When you do, my stories speed from my keyboard to your inbox every Thursday without any further effort on your part.
If you would like to get in touch, my email address is: Sonja@SonjaHakala.com.