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Authors: Janet Kellough

Wishful Seeing

BOOK: Wishful Seeing
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Praise for Janet Kellough and the Thaddeus Lewis series

On the Head of a Pin
captivated us from the beginning. Janet did a great job of weaving her characters into a mystery that keeps you turning the pages.... This is a four-star selection that will be loved by all mystery fans.

—
Suspense Magazine

On the Head of a Pin
works on several levels; the murder mystery is woven into the larger story of Canada's wild, pre-Confederation era.

—
Quill & Quire

Kellough does a fine job of bringing life to the times and to her ministerial hero on horseback.

—
National Post

[
Sowing Poison
] is a thoroughly well-done historical mystery.

— Globe and Mail

Kellough manages to work all these ingredients to conjure another rich tale of murder and intrigue in the County.

— The Wellington Times,
review of
Sowing Poison

[In
The Burying Ground
] Kellough weaves a tale that is almost as much a history lesson as it is a thrill ride.

— Publishers Weekly

Love the
Murdoch Mysteries?
Then you need to discover Janet Kellough's terrific series set in 1851 and featuring preacher/detective Thaddeus Lewis.

—
Globe and Mail

[
The Burying Ground
] is an engaging historical mystery.… Fans of Chesterton's Father Brown or of Anne Perry and others who set their mysteries in Victorian England will find this Canadian variation much to their liking.

—
Booklist

 

Dedication

For Sam and Alex

PROLOGUE

Committal Proceedings, Cobourg Courthouse, September 21, 1853

Thaddeus Lewis was not in the least surprised that the courtroom was packed with spectators. The newspapers had been full of lurid details about the Paul Sherman murder, and the fact that the accused was a woman made the case even more sensational. As he elbowed his way to the front of the room, he couldn't help but overhear snatches of speculation and opinion. The circumstances surrounding the arrest of Ellen Howell had been thrashed over many times in the days leading up to the committal, but now everyone seemed to expect that the prosecution would present new evidence, something they hadn't heard yet, facts that were not yet common knowledge.

In Thaddeus's opinion, most of the people he pushed out of the way were gawkers and idlers, there out of nothing more than curiosity. They would repeat the details of the proceedings later in the streets and taverns. Others would crowd around to hear news of the latest developments. Some of them would even pay for drinks in exchange for eyewitness accounts.

Thaddeus managed to find a seat in the second row of benches on the right hand side, near the prisoner's box. Mrs. Howell had asked him to attend. “So I know for certain there's a friendly face in the crowd,” she'd said; but his presence would be no comfort if she couldn't see him. A beefy man and an elderly woman with a cane had glared as he shoved past them and slid into a vacant seat. Under any other circumstances, Thaddeus would have stood back and let the woman take the space. Today, he firmly claimed possession of a few inches of bench.

The hubbub in the room grew louder as the prisoner was led in from a door at the side of the courtroom. She walked with her head down, looking neither left nor right, but just as she reached the box she stumbled slightly and reached out to steady herself, grabbing the rail in front of her. At that moment she happened to glance up. Thaddeus caught her eye and nodded. She smiled slightly.

The crowd quieted and everyone rose as three grim-faced justices of the peace entered and took their places at the front of the room. Thaddeus rose only far enough to show the requis­ite respect. He wasn't taking a chance on losing his seat.

When they had all settled themselves again, the clerk read out the charges, alleging that “Mrs. Ellen Howell did feloniously, willfully, and with malice aforethought, on the night of September fourteenth in the Year of Our Lord, eighteen fifty-three, in the Township of Hamilton, kill and murder Mr. Paul Sherman.”

Mrs. Howell's head sank lower as the accusation was read, and the audience in the courtroom was strangely silent as the gravity of the charge struck home. Newspaper reporters scribbled furiously, recording every detail so they could later describe it all for their readers.

One by one the prosecution witnesses were called and swore to tell the truth. The first to testify was the coroner, who had determined that the death was suspect and had called together a jury who agreed. He described the scene he encountered when he'd arrived on Spook Island, and read the autopsy report stating that Paul Sherman had died from a gunshot wound to the chest.

The prosecutor thanked the coroner and then walked the other witnesses through their testimonies.

Donald Dafoe, the man who had found the body, repeated his account that he had been fishing, and had put ashore on Spook Island to cook a pickerel, whereupon he discovered the dead man.

Two people testified that they had seen Ellen Howell on the shore with her husband earlier on the day in question. Two more swore that they had later seen her walking along the road from Sully in the direction of the Howell farm, although “she was ahead of us,” one said, “and turned down the lane before we reached her.” Both claimed that she was alone and that she was wearing a blue dress. And one witness testified that Ellen Howell had previously attended a Methodist meeting wearing that same blue dress. He said he remembered it because his wife had remarked upon it and had been badgering him for one just like it ever since.

The crowd became restless as the testimony proceeded. This was all old news. These details had been discussed and debated long since. They were hungry for something new to talk about.

The next witness was a man from Close Point who had rented his skiff to “an Englishman.” He was a newcomer to the area, and did not know the man's name.

“And was this man alone?” the prosecutor asked.

“No,” the witness replied. “There was a woman with him, a woman in a blue dress. She stood a little way away, so I didn't see her face.”

“Nevertheless,” the prosecutor continued, “can you say with any certainty that this same woman is in the courtroom today?”

“No, I can't be certain at all. She was about the same height and build as the woman in the prisoner's box, but she wore her bonnet low and I wasn't close enough to see her clearly.”

Thaddeus thought the lack of positive identification was a point in Mrs. Howell's favour, but then he realized that all the testimony did was confirm that both the Howells were present when the skiff was hired.

It was Chief Constable Spencer who finally gave the spectators what they had come for.

“I personally interviewed a number of the witnesses called today,” he reported, “and there was ample evidence to warrant a visit to the Howell farm, just south of Sully. My intention was to interview both Mr. and Mrs. Howell.”

“And what did they have to say for themselves, Mr. Spencer?”

“Mr. Howell said nothing. He was not present, being away, according to his wife, on business. Mrs. Howell claimed not to know Paul Sherman, and denied ever having set foot on Spook Island. We commenced a search of the premises and discovered a blue dress soaking in a washtub in the summer kitchen.”

The prosecutor was on sure ground now. “And did this dress match the description of the blue dress as reported by the witnesses you interviewed?”

“It did. And on further examination, it was evident that its laundering had not been sufficient to remove a large stain on the skirt.”

“In your opinion, what was the cause of the stain?”

Thaddeus felt, rather than heard, the crowd's sudden intake of breath.

“It looked to me for all the world like blood.”

A gasp, and then an eruption of comment from the crowd, as though this was proof of guilt indeed. The bailiff called for order and gradually the chatter died away.

The prosecutor thanked the witnesses, signalling that the presentation of his evidence was at an end.

One of the justices turned to Mrs. Howell, asking if she cared to cross-examine any of the witnesses. She didn't look up, only declined with a quick shake of her head.

The deliberation took little time. The clamour of the crowd was deafening when one of the justices announced that evidence in the case was sufficient to proceed.

Ellen Howell would be tried for murder.

Thaddeus remained in his seat, deep in thought, while the courtroom emptied. He would have to find some way to help her.

PART ONE

The Hope Circuit, Summer 1853

 

I

Thaddeus shifted his weight into a more comfortable position as he waited impatiently for his assistant, James Small, to find a way around the knot of construction that blocked the road ahead. Upper Canadian summers could certainly be steamy at times, but August had ushered in an unusually long stretch of very high temperatures, making travel uncomfortable and enclosed spaces unbearable, and there was no sign of any relief to come.

The aggravation and discomfort of heat and travel were made worse by the delays he encountered whenever his route took him near the rail line construction. It was tempting to believe that the surveyor had deliberately laid the route out in such a way as to cross Cobourg Creek as many times as it possibly could, solely for the purpose of annoying travellers, but Thaddeus knew that the route had been designed to skirt along the bottoms of hills and run as levelly as possible for as far as possible before it had to tackle the steep climb to Rice Lake. The local newspaper had been full of breathless articles detailing the route, the method of construction, and the extraordinary benefits the Cobourg to Peterborough Railway would bring to the entire community.

For the umpteenth time that day Thaddeus pulled out his handkerchief and mopped away the sweat on his face. He was beginning to wonder if he had made the right decision when he'd accepted this appointment. He had been of two minds about taking any posting at all when Bishop Smith offered Hope as a reward for having been so obliging about the Yonge Street Circuit.

“The meetings are already well established on Hope,” the Bishop had said in his usual persuasive manner. “There's strong support in the whole district. It's not nearly the challenge that Yonge was.”

Thaddeus knew it was a plum, but he was also familiar with the geography of the district. The villages along the shore of Lake Ontario were easily reached, but a rolling landscape climbed steeply from the swampy ground around Cobourg to the oak plains at Rice Lake. There would be an endless progression of steep rises and deep valleys, sudden descents into little dales followed by precipitous climbs up a series of never-ending hills. If he took the posting, he would have to cover it on horseback rather than in the buggy he had grown so used to on Yonge Street.

He protested that he couldn't stand up to that kind of punishment anymore. He was old and had grown soft after two years of riding in a cart and dining a little too well at his son's table in Yorkville. Bishop Smith listened to him politely, and then offered the enticement of an assistant, a man named James Small, a young probationer not experienced enough for his own circuit yet, but certainly qualified enough to lead prayer meetings.

“You can limit your appointments, if you like,” Smith said. “Take as many rest days as you need and let your assistant do the bulk of the work.”

And then he threw out the clincher. The circuit came with a comfortable manse, a four-bedroom house with a garden and a good barn for his horse.

In the end, Thaddeus agreed, but only for a year. He had no other prospects in sight anyway, and he wasn't entirely sure what he would do instead if he turned the appointment down.

Now, as heavy lumber carts clogged the roads and churned up the dust, he was becoming exasperated and wondered if he had made a mistake. He was in a hurry. He and Small had agreed that it would be best to make an inaugural tour of the circuit together, and circumstances played nicely into this plan when a farmer in Haldimand Township offered the use of an enclosed field for a camp meeting. Given the continuing fairness of the weather, it was likely to draw a large crowd. All of the Methodist Episcopal ministers within riding distance had been invited to speak, and as an old hand at camp meetings, Thaddeus was offered four stints on the platform. It was a splendid opportunity for an initial introduction. But only if he could get there.

He shifted in the saddle again and fanned his face with his hat. He wondered how the men on the railway crews could bear such hard physical labour in such high temperatures. They were well paid, he knew. There had been an advertisement in the
Cobourg Star
offering a dollar a day in wages. Even so, most of the workmen were immigrant German or Irish, and Thaddeus could hear guttural tones clashing with Celtic lilts as the workers called to one another. Few local men were willing to put in the ten or twelve hours a day of back-breaking effort required to build the railway. They could make better coin from supplying the enormous quantity of timber and gravel that was needed, or from selling food to the store that fed the crews. But the one thing they all agreed on was that, once built, the railway would bring them enormous riches, whether it was from working on it, supplying it, or investing in it.

As annoyed as he was by the delay, Thaddeus had to admit that he was fascinated by the construction. While he waited for Small, he watched a work crew scrape away at the roadbed, levelling the soil in preparation for a second crew who would lay down wooden ties to cushion the iron rails. It was not unlike the way a plank road was built, he realized. One of these ran from Cobourg to Gores Landing to connect with the steamers that crossed Rice Lake to Peterborough, but there was constant complaint about the condition it was in. The planks that had been laid across the boggy lowland parts of the road refused to stay put. Every winter the frost heaved and twisted them and every spring the road was found to be nearly unusable. No one seemed able to say for certain that the same thing wouldn't happen to the rail line, but if the amount of soil that was being moved was anything to go by, it should be able to withstand the worst of winters.

Off to the east, Thaddeus could see a crew of workmen excavating a small hill. They shovelled piles of earth into wagons that lumbered their loads over to the sides of the roadbed to reinforce the abutments. Half the hill had been hauled away, and the men were still digging. Thaddeus wondered if he and Small should try to pick their way through the excavation, but just then a wagon finally got itself turned around and out of the way, and one of the workers waved at Thaddeus to ride through the small gap that opened as a consequence. He was relieved. If they made good time from here, they could still arrive at their destination with a few minutes to spare.

By the time Thaddeus and James Small finally arrived at the farmer's field, the entrance laneway was jammed with carts, horses, and pedestrians, a circumstance that boded well for the success of the meeting. There were some within the church who maintained that camp meetings were a thing of the past, that the day of the circuit-riding preacher was over, and that people were settling into a pattern of staying put and looking to their own neighbourhoods for their spiritual sustenance, but the presence of so many people so early on the first day seemed to belie these naysayers. In Thaddeus's experience, camp meetings started slowly and gained momentum as they went on, finally reaching a crescendo on the third day.

And when he mounted the speaking platform later that afternoon, he could see knots of tents and campfires around the entire periphery of the field. Whole families had come and appeared prepared to camp out for the duration.

The response to his message was enthusiastic, a sign that the excitement would continue to build until it reached a frenzy of confession and conversion. At the end of his sermon, Thaddeus turned the meeting over to Elias Knight, who would exhort the crowd to come forward until he judged the time was ripe to lead them into a hymn.

Thaddeus's duties for that afternoon were over. He would return to speak twice on the second day, and once more on the third, but in the meantime he was free to circulate through the campground and meet with people individually. Besides, he was hungry, and hoped that somewhere he might find a familiar face and a bowl of soup.

There was the usual mob of peddlers and vendors set up amongst the wagons. Some of them cooked food in quantity over open campfires and served it up to those disinclined to cook for themselves. Others sold trinkets and patent medicines, and, as was usual at camp meetings, prayer books and small Bibles. The scene always reminded Thaddeus of the moneychangers in the temple, and he wondered if the church shouldn't clear these out just like Jesus had; but then he reflected that the crowd had to be fed somehow. There were always a number who needed to be physicked, he supposed, and if a sinner were brought to the Lord during the preaching, who was Thaddeus to say that they shouldn't follow it up with the purchase of a Bible, just to help make it stick?

He walked slowly through the crowd, trying to make a rough count of the number of people in attendance. He first noticed the woman because of her dress. It was a cotton print with a blue background and a scattering of tiny pink and yellow flowers. Long ago he had been paid for a christening with a bolt of cloth that had much the same kind of pattern. At the time, he knew he should have taken it to a store and traded it for something useful like sugar or tea, but something had stopped him. He carried it home to his wife, Betsy, instead, and was rewarded when her eyes lit up. She had fashioned it into a dress for herself, and looked as pretty as a flower in it. Odd that he should remember such a detail after so many years.

Or maybe it was the slight limp that triggered the memory. Betsy had limped a little whenever a storm was coming, a relic of the dreadful bouts of fever she'd suffered. But except for the dress and the small hitch in her gait, the woman walking through the camp meeting was as unlike Betsy as it was possible to imagine. She was very fair, a knot of golden hair showing under her bonnet, and quite small, or at least she seemed so because she was so slight. She was arm in arm with a gentleman who had impressive mutton-chop whiskers and wore a silk hat. They seemed an odd couple to be at a Methodist camp meeting. Their clothes were just a little too fine-looking, their manner just a little grand. They stopped at one of the peddler's wagons and spoke to a man who was hawking patent medicines. Whatever they said appeared to find favour, as some sort of transaction took place while Thaddeus looked on.

A knot of men standing in front of one of the campfires to Thaddeus's right appeared to be deep in conversation, but he noticed one of them glance up at the couple, a sour expression on his face. Thaddeus edged a little closer, hoping someone in the group might mention something about the pair, but at first their talk seemed to be all about the railway.

“They've started work on the bridge already,” one man said. “They've brought in a pile driver. It's something to see, I'll tell you. I wasted the whole day yesterday watching them raise a post.”

The railway was to run all the way across Rice Lake to Peterborough so that timber and other products from the north could be hauled directly to Cobourg harbour. Thaddeus had his doubts about the project. No one had ever before built a trestle bridge that long. And if frost heave was a problem for a plank road, what would the ice do to the wooden poles that supported the bridge? He didn't want to be caught eavesdropping, however, so he refrained from offering his opinion.

He was about to walk away when he heard one of the men say, “Jack Plews is pretty sour that he lost his land just when it turned out to be so valuable.”

Thaddeus knew that this wasn't really any of his business, except that he tried to stay alert to potential sources of contention within his congregation. Generally speaking, neighbourhood issues tended to be petty little disputes that nevertheless could boil up into rancour, poisoning entire meetings and destroying the work that the church had accomplished. He needed to be ready at all times to calm the waters and suggest compromise. He took a step closer, hoping to hear more details of this land sale that was exciting comment.

“I thought he was behind on the mortgage?”

“He was. He thought it was a good deal when the Major offered to buy him out.” The speaker gestured toward the man in the silk hat. “And then it turns out that's where they want to put the train station. If Jack had just held out a few more months, he could've got top dollar.”

“The Major is pretty thick with Boulton, isn't he? He must have heard where the station was going to go and that's why he bought it.”

The first man shrugged. “I don't know what anybody can do about it. Jack sold it fair and square, didn't he?”

“Yeah, he did. But it still doesn't seem right somehow.”

“I expect when the dust settles, you'll find that a lot of people have made good coin selling land to the railroad. And none of them will be the ordinary farmers like Jack.”

The men were slowly moving off in the direction of the platform as they talked. Thaddeus could scarcely follow them without it being obvious that he was listening, so he let them go on and walked toward the gate instead.

“Mr. Lewis!” He was hailed by a friendly-looking man who had set up a camp just inside the entrance to the grounds. As Thaddeus walked over to it he caught the aroma of cooking and noticed that steam was wafting up from the iron pot hanging from a makeshift tripod.

The man held out his hand. “Leland Gordon,” he said, “and this is my mother, Patience Gordon. We haven't met you yet, but I'm the lay preacher at the Sully meeting. We'll be seeing you there in a few days, I expect.”

The mother, Patience, was ancient, her back so bent that she could scarcely lift her head to greet him, but her face broke into a wreath of smiling wrinkles. “I hoped we would get a chance to hear you speak today,” she said, “to try you out a bit before we heard you at our own place.”

“And how did I do?” Thaddeus asked with a grin.

“Splendidly. I could hear every word. I must say, we have all been happy to have you come to this circuit. The last man we had was a little dry.”

Thaddeus's predecessor had been Calvin Merritt, who was known to have a weak voice, to perspire heavily, and to stutter in moments of stress.

“We all serve God in our own ways,” he said. “Some of us have been blessed with better lungs, that's all.”

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