The Fine Uses of Gossip

SH-crow beliefsCarding, Vermont, located on the Corvus River, was founded in 1779. It’s a little out of the way if you’re traveling by interstate but lots of creative types have found its combination of waters and mountains an inspirational place to live.

Late in the 19th century, a writer named Hanson Willis, his wife Emily, and their children started summering in this small Vermont town.

Hanson was one of the most popular novelists of his time, and his fame drew many other people to this part of Vermont to enjoy the cool summer air.

So imagine librarian Jane Twitchell’s excitement when she discovered an unpublished Hanson Willis novel tucked among the volumes in the library’s original collection of books.

Right now, she’s at Edie Wolfe’s house and the two women are just beginning to appreciate the meaning of this Willis archive.

Why don’t we join them?

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Edie picked up the envelope that had been hidden in the hollowed-out copy of Martin Chuzzlewitt, and peered closely at its stamp. “Did you notice this?” she said, pointing. “This went through the English postal  system. I wonder if Hanson did some of his research over there.”

“Oh, I think so,” Jane said. “I’ve found a number of references to the Cooper family before they came to this country, especially about the family matriarch, Margaret, and he could have found that only in England. I believe her people were from Cornwall.”

“Hmmm,” Edie murmured, her eyes already moving across Hanson’s inky musings. “I wonder if he discovered the reason why the women in the Cooper family have such a strong affinity for crows.”

Jane started so hard, her knees hit the underside of the kitchen table. “Do you really think that’s true?”

Now it was Edie’s turn to look surprised. “Of course it’s true. I’ve seen the evidence of it with my own eyes. Don’t tell me you have doubts.”

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 personal bookshelves of her beloved fantasy novels whenever Isabel was scheduled to visit.

No matter the evidence, Isabel Twitchell refused to concede that there was anything to the persistent beliefs in Carding about crows and Cooper women, about a 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 dark and light across Jane’s face. Without asking, she knew that the source of the shadows was Isabel. The older Twitchell woman’s rigidity in these matters was well-known.

“It’s all right if you don’t want to believe,” Edie 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,” Edie said. “My grandparents used to talk about Hanson and Emily Willis with such affection. They were the ones who originally published Hanson’s scandalous Oona Lovejoy books back when they owned the printing shop here in town.”

As Edie cleared her kitchen 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 accompanied by a wide variety of envelopes. Judging by the great number of them, envelope backs were Hanson Willis’s preferred writing material.

Last but not least, Jane gently pulled a stack of typeset pages from the bag, laid them in the center of the table, and looked at Edie in triumph.

Edie rose to her feet. “Those look like proofs from a hand platen press. Could it be?”

“I think this is what Hanson was working on when he died. As far as I can tell, there are two books here. There’s a collection of gossip and tittle tattle disguised as fairy stories,” Jane said, practically wiggling in her seat. “I’m pretty sure they’re about the hoi polloi that the Willises mixed with in New York.”

“Oooh, that should be interesting. The city was a pretty juicy place back then,” Edie said. “And the other?”

“An unpublished Oona Lovejoy story.”

Edie’s eyebrows made a pair of fine arches over her eyes as she edged the stack of paper toward her. “Hanson died before I was born but I met Emily Willis a few times when I was very young. I remember once telling my grandmother how I envied her because she was rich and lived in New York. Grandma laughed and said 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.”

“And then there were the rumors that Oona Lovejoy was a thinly disguised version of Emily. Do you think that could be true?” Jane asked.

Edie gave the librarian a searching look. “Have you ever wondered how Carding ended up with a theater teacher in our high school named Oona Lovejoy?”

Edie and the librarian stared at one another for a long moment, and then Edie finally said: “Would you feel all right about leaving this archive with me for a while?”

A smile flittered across Jane’s lips. “Oh, I’m hoping you’ll do more than that. I’m hoping you’ll help me publish whatever this turns out to be,” 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.

“Oh, this is going to be such fun,” Edie said.

——————————–

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 from 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.

LiWD cover 5

 

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