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Authors: Jeanne Dams

Indigo Christmas

BOOK: Indigo Christmas
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Praise for
Crimson Snow
by Jeanne M. Dams

Agatha Award Winner

“Dams develops the plot with her usual attention to detail.… Regular series readers who enjoy the author's subtle observations on life at the turn of the twentieth century—religion, sexual mores, class structure—will not be disappointed. A typically good entry in the series.”


“Dams creates the atmosphere of that transitional time with newly flickering electric street lights and a factory switching from the manufacture of carriages to that of motor cars.… Casting an immigrant maid as heroine allows for much social observation across classes, and adds interest to this portrait of American society in a small city over a hundred years ago.”

The Historical Novels Review

“Dams brings the period alive as the captivating Hilda solves a murder and her own problems too.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Mystery and romance all wrapped up in one delicious story.… Cozy mystery fans will love this book, with characters that go right to your heart. It will have you clamoring for more!”

Cozy Library

“Beautifully researched and impeccably crafted. Highly recommended.”

Chicago Tribune

“Based on a real, unsolved case from 1904, the novel seamlessly integrates historical details with a suspenseful plot.”

Publishers Weekly















A l s o b y J e a n n e M . D a m s :


Death in Lacquer Red

Red, White, and Blue Murder

Green Grow the Victims

Silence Is Golden

Crimson Snow


The Body in the Transept

Trouble in the Town Hall

Holy Terror in the Hebrides

Malice in Miniature

The Victim in Victoria Station

Killing Cassidy

To Perish in Penzance

Sins Out of School

Winter of Discontent


ndigo Christmas

A Hilda Johansson Mystery

Jeanne M. Dams







/ J
/ M
, C







This is a work of fiction. Characters, places, and events are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to real people, companies, institutions, organizations, or incidents is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2008 by Jeanne M. Dams
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America

Published by John Daniel
A division of Daniel & Daniel, Publishers, Inc. Post office Box 2790
Mckinleyville, California 95519

Book design by Eric Larson, Studio E Books, Santa Barbara

Cover painting: Linda Weatherly S.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Dams, Jeanne M.

Indigo Christmas : a Hilda Johansson mystery / by Jeanne M. Dams. p. cm.

ISBN-13: 978-1-880284-95-7 (pbk. : alk. paper) ISBN-10: 1-880284-95-2 (pbk. : alk. paper)

1. Johansson, Hilda (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Women private investigators—Fiction. 3. South Bend (Ind.)—Fiction. 4. Swedish Americans—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3554.A498I63 2008







To the immigrants over the centuries
who have made this country what it is







The Louisiana Purchase Exposition, by general verdict
the greatest of all world's fairs, will close
with fitting ceremonials at midnight.

—South Bend
December 1, 1904




ILDA PUSHED ASIDE her breakfast plate and put down the South Bend
There was nothing very interesting in its pages. Back in her servant days in the Studebaker mansion, the butler had not allowed her to read the papers. of course she had done so any-way, behind his back, and the thrill of the illicit had lent glamour to even the most ordinary of stories. now that she was married and a lady, and there was no one to stop her reading anything she chose, she found the prose boring.

The fair in St. Louis was closing today. That wasn't news. The
was still exultant about the overwhelming Republican victory, nationally and statewide, some three weeks before. That wasn't news, either, nor did Hilda consider it cause for celebration, staunch Democrat that she was. A death in a barn fire a few weeks ago was probably a murder, according to the
, though the coroner had ruled it death by misadventure. Hilda had never heard of the dead man and found the details of the story uninteresting.

She sighed again and reached for her coffee cup. It was empty, and the pot—she felt its silver side—was cold. She pushed back her chair, picked up the pot, and headed for the kitchen.

Mrs. O'Rourke, the cook, looked up from her breadboard with a frown. “Is something wrong, ma'am?”

“Nothing, Mrs. O'Rourke. I need more coffee.”

The cook glanced at the signal box on the wall. “I didn't hear ye ring, ma'am.”

“Oh. Oh! Yes—well—this time I preferred to come to the kitchen. To remind you that there will be visitors for tea.”

The cook's face showed what she thought of that excuse. “Yes, ma'am. Four o'clock, tea and cakes for three. The coffee's all gone, ma'am. I'll make more and bring it in to ye.”

“Yes,” said Hilda firmly. “And don't forget the egg shells.”

The reminder, like that about the tea, was unnecessary, and the cook bridled. Mrs. O'Rourke never forgot the egg shells. She made superb coffee, once Hilda had taught her the Swedish way of doing it. She was a fine cook. Hilda could never complain about any meal that came out of Mrs. O'Rourke's kitchen. not that she would have dared complain, anyway. The cook kept Hilda firmly in her place—which was
of the kitchen. Her husband, the coachman/gardener/handyman, was nearly as tyrannical in his various realms as his wife in hers.

Hilda retreated to the dining room. It was a pleasant room, paneled in dark wood with a built-in sideboard. not as big as even the family dining room at the Studebakers' Tippecanoe Place, it was magnificent compared with Hilda's home back in Sweden. Hilda was still trying to get used to such opulence.

Upstairs she could hear water running, as little Eileen O'Hara cleaned the master bathroom. There was no real need to clean the other one, since Hilda and Patrick had had no guests in the eight months they had lived in the house, but doubtless Eileen, who was conscientious, would dust the fixtures and the window sill, shake out the curtains, mop the floor.

Hilda would have liked to go up and help Eileen, and have a good chat while she did it, but it wasn't the done thing for the lady of the house to gossip with the servants. And Eileen might be shy and tongue-tied, and might think Hilda was there to criticize her work.

Mrs. O'Rourke brought the fresh coffee. Hilda sipped it while she stared out the window. It was snowing again. It had started last week, just after Thanksgiving, and had kept it up in snatches ever since. Today it looked likely to continue at least through the day. Huge, wet flakes floated down to cover every twig, every branch with white icing. The oak trees still had most of their leaves; Hilda hoped the weight of the snow wouldn't bring branches down.

She briefly considered going out for a walk. The snow was pretty, and she liked it. As a child in Sweden, she had loved sledding and building snow castles with her brothers and sisters.

But she wasn't a child anymore, and her brothers and sisters had their work to do. They could not, in the middle of a weekday, frivol about in the snow.

Hilda had no work to do. She had nothing whatever to do except read (but there were no new books or magazines in the house), or go shopping (for what?), or do needlework (which she detested), or call on the neighbors. But the neighbors weren't especially friendly, and morning wasn't the time for calls. She could, she supposed, go to the library to see if there were any new stories about Sherlock Holmes, her favorite, but it was a long walk on snow-covered sidewalks, and she didn't want to get the horses out on slippery streets.

She wandered to the parlor, picked up last month's
Ladies' Home Journal
, and began to leaf through the advertisements for scouring powder and corsets.

By four o'clock she was in such a frenzy of boredom that she nearly answered the doorbell herself, but remembered in time that greeting callers was the maid's job. When Eileen had taken their cloaks and shown them into the parlor, though, she gave one of them an ardent welcome.

“Aunt Molly! It is so good to see you!” Hilda threw her arms around Patrick's diminutive aunt, who smiled and raised an eyebrow.

“It's only been a week, my dear.”

“I know, but—oh, I am sorry. This is your friend?”

“Hilda, let me present Mrs. Elbel. You know, of course, about her husband's family, so important in South Bend musical circles. Dorothea, this is Mrs. Cavanaugh, my nephew's wife. I've wanted the two of you to meet for some time.”

Hilda took the woman's gloved hand. “I am very happy to meet you, but I am sorry it is such a cold day for a visit. Will the horses be all right?”

“The coachman's taking them back home,” said Aunt Molly. “It's just down the street, and they do like their own stable in this sort of weather. That's a lovely fire you have there.”

Hilda was reminded of her manners. “Yes, do please sit down and warm yourselves.” She pulled the bell cord, feeling very self-conscious about it, and sat down primly on the fashionably hard settee. Looking at the clothes worn by her callers, she was unpleasantly reminded that she had not changed into the elaborate “tea gown” suitable for such entertaining. Ill at ease, she was suddenly unable to think of a word to say.

Aunt Molly took the lead. Characteristically, she didn't waste time on small talk. “Now, Hilda, my dear, it has seemed to me that you need something to occupy your time. Mrs. Elbel, as I've told you, has organized a number of charitable efforts in town. Her latest endeavor has to do with the welfare of some of the boys in South Bend.”

Mrs. Elbel took up the narrative. “Mrs. Malloy has told me you have a young brother—thirteen, is he?”

“Fourteen in February, ma'am—Mrs. Elbel.”

“And you're said to like boys and get along well with them.”

Hilda thought the woman sounded as though boys were a species of insect. “Yes, I do. Erik was always my favorite when we were growing up.”

“You have an advantage, then, that I have not. I have only daughters, and I love them dearly, but they do not help one to understand boys. At any rate, you probably know that there are many boys in this city, especially the foreigners, who get into far too much trouble. We are trying to start a club for them to give them good, wholesome activities after school. Ball games, er— marbles and that sort of thing.”

BOOK: Indigo Christmas
4.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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