Read General Well'ngone In Love Online

Authors: Libi Astaire

Tags: #mystery, #historical mystery, #historical 1800s, #historical cozy, #mystery and romance, #jewish mystery, #mystery and humor, #jewish crime fiction, #mystery 19th century

General Well'ngone In Love

 

 

General Well’ngone In
Love

A Jewish Regency Mystery Story

 

 

LIBI ASTAIRE

 

 

ASTER PRESS

 

First published 2014

Copyright © 2014 Libi Astaire

Cover photo: Copyright Refat/
Shutterstock.com

 

All rights reserved.

 

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of this author.

 

 

Published by:

Aster Press

Kansas-Jerusalem

[email protected]

 

 

CONTENTS

General Well’ngone
In Love

Excerpt: Tempest in the Tea
Room

A
bout the
Author

 

 

 

General Well’ngone
In Love

It was a cold day made even colder by the
gloomy event that had brought them all to the old Jewish cemetery
on Alderney Road. Mendel Krinkle had died as he had lived, quietly
and without complaint. He would have been mortified by the bother
his funeral was causing. But it was not his fault that he had died
in the early days of the month of February in the year 1814, when a
Great Frost had settled upon London, the likes of which had not
been seen since the times of England’s Merry Monarch, King Charles
II.

The cold had frozen the River Thames into a
solid block of ice, and Mr. Samuel Lyon, clockmaker to the
fashionable world and a member of London’s Jewish community, felt
like a block of ice himself as he stood shivering next to the open
grave, where the lifeless body of Mendel Krinkle was reposing in
its final resting place.


It is not his fault,” Mr.
Lyon muttered under his breath, which made wispy streaks in the air
the moment it escaped from between his chattering lips. “A man does
not choose the moment when he will die.”

Still, Mr. Lyon could not but hope that the
prayers would be over soon, so that he and the other mourners could
return to the cheerful fires burning in their respective homes.
That sentiment was silently seconded by the pair of gravediggers
who were standing off to the side, stamping their feet and blowing
on their hands to keep warm, even though the fires burning in their
homes would make a much smaller blaze.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ezra Melamed, a wealthy
widower and one of the Jewish community’s leaders, was helping a
child walk to where a shovel was sitting next to a mound of dirt.
The child, whose name was Berel and who was about ten years of age,
was the only son of Mendel Krinkle and the only mourner at the
funeral who was related to the deceased. Berel’s mother had passed
away the previous year. Since it was the Jewish custom that young
ladies did not go to the cemetery, his older sister, Sarah, was
saying her prayers at home.

Berel was trying to act like a grownup
person, but the fierce cold had numbed his toes and the snow almost
came up to his knees, which made it very difficult for him to walk.
It would have been much easier if Mr. Melamed lifted the child and
carried him over to where the shovel was waiting. But a child has
his pride. And now Berel was an orphan, which gave him a special
status in the community. Therefore, Mr. Melamed only lent the boy
his arm when Berel stumbled. The others waited in patient
silence.

At last, the child reached the shovel, but
here there was yet another obstacle. Although freshly dug, the
mound of earth had already grown hard in the frosty air. It
therefore took Berel several attempts until he was able to break
through the frozen barrier. But he persisted and when he had
succeeded in filling the shovel with dirt he turned, carefully, and
faced the open grave, with the shovel stretched out before him. He
stood there for several moments, motionless except for the
trembling that had seized his arms, fighting back the tears that
threatened to overwhelm him. Then he turned the shovel and let the
earth slide down into the void, where it landed with a hollow
thud.

The other mourners took
the shovel in turn. When the plain wooden casket was covered with
earth, they recited the final prayer, the special Kaddish recited
at the side of the grave
. Yisgadal,
v’yiskadash sh’may rabah:
May His great
Name grow exalted and sanctified (Amen) in the world that He will
create anew, where He will revive the dead, build His Temple,
deliver life, and rebuild the city of Jerusalem ...

 

Sarah Krinkle knew she should be
grateful—she could not remember when such a roaring fire had
brightened the hearth and warmed their sitting room—but she was
weary from all the fuss. She looked over to where Mrs. Miriam Baer,
a member of the Jewish community’s burial society, was stirring a
pot of soup and a flood of memories came back to her. Had it really
been only a year since her mother had passed away? Mrs. Baer had
come then as well, and prepared the grief-stricken family a meal on
that first awful day. Now the Jewish matron was back, only now
their father was dead, too.


I think I hear them,”
said Mrs. Baer, turning her face toward the door.

A moment later Berel entered the room,
followed by Mr. Melamed. Mrs. Baer went to the shivering boy and
led him to the fire. But when she began to peel off the child’s
damp scarf and cap, Sarah rushed over and threw a protective arm
about her younger brother.


I am his mother now, if
you please, Mrs. Baer. I will take care of Berel.”

Mrs. Baer wordlessly returned to her pot of
soup. She was not hurt by the girl’s rebuke. Indeed, her kind heart
nearly broke to see how Sarah, who was almost a child herself,
fussed over her younger brother.

Now that Berel had returned home, it was
time to serve the two mourners the traditional first meal: a
hardboiled egg, whose roundness symbolizes the cycle of life, and
some bread. After that, there would be a proper meal, for Mrs. Baer
had brought a chicken and potato kugel to go along with the
vegetable soup simmering on the fire. She had also prepared a pot
of strong tea, which she served at once to Mr. Melamed, who had
drifted toward the fire to warm his hands.

After the children had consumed their
mourners’ meal, Mr. Melamed took a seat near them. He did not like
to bring up practicalities at such a distressing time, but the fact
that the youngsters were now without father or mother complicated
matters. Therefore, after expressing his condolences, he asked,
“Miss Krinkle, have you and Berel any relatives in London, or
elsewhere in England?”


No, sir,” Sarah replied.
“But we shall manage.” She then added, with a touch of defiance, “I
am nearly fifteen.”


I am sure you are most
capable, Miss Krinkle. But the running of a household requires
money. There is rent to pay, as well as the butcher and the
greengrocer.”


And the Hebrew teacher
for Berel and the annual dues for a seat at the Great Synagogue,”
said Sarah. “You forget, sir, that my father was ill for several
months, before he passed away. He taught me how to keep the
household books.”


And Sarah knows how to
talk back to the butcher when he tries to overcharge us for a
scrawny chicken,” added Berel.


Those are very valuable
skills to have, I am sure,” said Mr. Melamed. “But how are you to
live? Was your father able to put aside any money for your
future?”


The rent is paid until
Nisan,” said Sarah, referring to the Jewish month when the Passover
holiday occurs. She then cast a reassuring look in her brother’s
direction. “We shall manage.”


There is no need to worry
about food for the week of mourning,” said Mrs. Baer. “I have seven
families who are willing to bring food each day.”


We shall manage,” said
Sarah, a storm of bitter emotions welling up inside her. “We do not
need the community’s help.”


That may be, Miss
Krinkle,” said Mr. Melamed, “but the community needs yours. It is
a
mitzvah
to
console mourners, and this commandment includes providing you and
your brother with food during the
shivah
week. At least, allow us to
do that.”

Sarah stared down at her plate. In truth,
she was afraid. She longed to be taken care of, to collapse into
the matronly arms of someone like Mrs. Baer and cry her heart out.
But even greater than her fear of the future was her fear that her
little family would be broken apart, that Berel would be moved to
the Jewish orphanage and she would be sent to the home of some
wealthy Jewish family to train to be a servant. She would not let
that happen. Her parents may have been poor, but they had had
dreams—and now she was the one who must take up those dreams and
protect them until she was able to make them come true.

But Mr. Melamed was right. Her father had
said the same thing, after her mother died. A Jewish community
needed to perform acts of kindness; otherwise, how could the
community ask their Father in Heaven to perform acts of kindness
for them?

Sarah therefore said, “I apologize, Mrs.
Baer. We shall be very grateful for the meals. Thank you for
arranging them.”

 

II.

 

“With my father’s compliments,” said Berel,
placing the carefully wrapped sheets of paper on the solicitor’s
desk.

Mr. Horace Barnstock eyed the package and
then eyed the messenger with the same look that had made men five
times Berel’s age tremble from head to foot. “Your father is dead,
sir.”

Berel was prepared for this response. He
knew that Mr. Barnstock was an abrupt man. Furthermore, two weeks
had passed since his father’s funeral. He still missed his father,
of course. But life was returning to its normal routine, which
included a weekly visit to the office of Mr. Barnstock.


Though my father can no
longer be at your service, sir, the family hopes the arrangement we
have with your establishment will continue.”


I did not mind allowing
your sister Sarah to do your father’s work while there was still
hope that your father would regain his health,” said the solicitor,
still keeping his stern eye upon the child. “Now the situation has
changed.”

When he saw that Berel did not flinch, Mr.
Barnstock opened the package and closely examined the page that sat
at the top of the pile, a copy of a will. He did not expect to find
any errors, and he found none. Removing a coin from a drawer, which
he pushed toward Berel, he said, “It is highly irregular to employ
a girl as a copyist. But I suppose we can continue for a little
longer.” The solicitor then turned his attention to the other
papers on his desk.


Begging your pardon, sir,
this is not the correct amount.”


It is the amount I am
willing to pay for a girl’s work.”


My sister sends her
compliments, sir, and says you will not find as good a copyist
anywhere in London. She therefore expects to receive the same
amount that you paid our father, may his memory be for a
blessing.”

Mr. Barnstock once again eyed the youngster
standing on the other side of the desk, although this time with a
more kindly eye. He thought it was a pity that Jews could not
practice law in England. This child knew how to speak well and
stand his ground in an argument. If he could have brought Berel in
as an articled clerk, he could have made something of the boy.

The solicitor glanced toward the closed
door, on the other side of which sat his own son. Arthur had turned
out to be a disappointment. More interested in boxing matches and
horse races than copying wills and deeds, Arthur’s work was sloppy
and full of errors. That was why Mr. Barnstock had been forced to
employ Mendel Krinkle, whose handwriting and attention to detail
had been superb.

It had been a great bother to Mr. Barnstock
when his copyist became ill, and a great relief when the daughter
took over the work. Eventually, he would find someone else, since
it truly was most irregular to entrust legal documents to the hands
of a child—and a girl, at that. But at the moment he was up to his
ears in work, and who knew when he would find a copyist that could
meet his stringent standards. Besides, no one knew that Sarah
Krinkle was in his employ and no one need ever know.

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