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Authors: Margaret Miles

Too Soon for Flowers

Praise for Margaret Miles’s brilliant debut
A WICKED WAY TO BURN

“A BEWITCHING ADVENTURE … THIS NEW ENGLAND MYSTERY OF 1763 SHOULD CERTAINLY ROUND OUT THE HISTORICAL MYSTERY SCENE NICELY.”


Mastery Lovers Bookshop News

“THE FIRST-TIME AUTHOR BRILLIANTLY PAINTS THE PROSPEROUS NEW ENGLAND LIFESTYLE. … AN INTRIGUING CASE OF HABEAS CORPUS IN THE CAPABLE HANDS OF ECCENTRIC PROTAGONISTS. EVEN THE VICTIM SHINES AS A CRAFTY CODGER AND HELPS TURN A STRONG STORY IDEA.”


Booknews from the Poisoned Pen

“AN ENTERTAINING READ.”


Tales from a Red Herring

“A COLONIAL SCULLY AND MULDER … KEEPS THE READER SAILING THROUGH THE PAGES.”


The Drood Review of Mystery

“OUGHT TO APPEAL TO FANS OF MARGARET LAWRENCE’S POST-REVOLUTIONARY WAR SERIES.”


The Purloined Letter

Also by Margaret Miles

A WICKED WAY TO BURN

Dedicated, with gratitude, to
Kate Miciak, Amanda Clay Powers, and Stephanie Kip,
who have guided my way—

And
especially to David Stewart Hull,
who brought us all together
.

Contents

Cover Page

Other Books by this Author

Title Page

Dedication

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

About the Author

Copyright

Y
et shall thy grave with rising flow’rs be drest,
And the green turf lie lightly on thy breast.


ALEXANDER POPE
, “Elegy to                
the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady”

Chapter 1

T
HE YEAR
1764 opened with a grim portent, when fire destroyed much of Harvard College during a blizzard one January eve—an event like none other since the creation of that great institution well over a century before.

No one was quite sure how the blaze started; some put the blame on logs burning high into a chimney, others on a stealthy burrowing beneath a hearth. Fortunately, few scholars were endangered, for most of them had gone home for a month of rest. But the College did house temporary lodgers. And so, Governor Francis Bernard, members of the Massachusetts General Court, and notable alumnus John Hancock joined in the fight against the conflagration. (As Fate would have it, at least one would be well compensated for his losses that snowy night: before the year was out, the sudden death of his merchant uncle would make young Hancock the second wealthiest soul in all the colonies.)

Yet a far greater threat stalked the province, which was the reason these men, representing towns across its breadth, had been driven over the Charles River to gather in Cambridge. For a dreaded and ancient plague had once again begun to rage. A dozen victims of smallpox had been discovered in Boston before Christmas; of these, all but two had died. Then more, and still more cases were dutifully reported, until the Neck was awash with a tide of people hurrying away, leaving flagged houses, feverish souls, and grieving families behind.

Massachusetts was indeed unprotected, for most had been born after the last great epidemic of ’21, when one in twelve in Boston had died. Fewer had been taken during the smaller outbreaks in ’52 and ’60, But the town was aware of its continuing danger and inoculation was again debated, as it had been for over forty years.

At first, afraid that a general application of the procedure might encourage the pestilence, the authorities refused to condone it. Later, when faced with an epidemic, they recanted. Now, sweet May breezes carried rising hopes that an end to the outbreak was in sight, and it was frequently agreed that Science, and Reason, had finally triumphed.

There was no doubt that among thousands quickly inoculated only a few score had died, making death far less likely for the treated than for those who took the disease the old way. As the new cases were usually lighter, so, too, were complications and pocking. Yet in spite of inoculation’s obvious benefits, some stubborn individuals continued to reject the relatively safe and simple practice—as Richard Longfellow complained to Edmund Montagu one spring morning, while both rode along the Boston-Worcester road.

“Arguing with Diana is much like trying to convince a cat,” said Longfellow as the two men traveled abreast on impatient stallions. Behind them, a black and white
mare pulled an open chaise carrying two women. “Reason doesn’t have a great deal of effect,” he went on, “and one is eventually forced to offer rewards. In my sister’s case, she gave way only when I promised her a sea voyage
and
a large sum for her dressmakers. Now, Diana will be protected, in spite of her fear of scarring. I think you will find a useful lesson there,” he concluded.

“Without a doubt,” mused the Englishman beside him. Captain Edward Montagu kept to himself his own suspicions of what lessons Diana Longfellow might have learned, and just how long ago. The captain glanced over the gilded epaulet on his right shoulder to catch the young lady’s eye. Odd, how Longfellow refused to see that his half-sister had grown into something more than a spoiled child. Today she was beautifully clad in pale yellow brocade patterned with raised roses, while her auburn hair was artfully arranged in a deceptively simple style. Diana was even more lovely than usual, Captain Montagu decided with a sigh.

Unhappily, they had seen little of each other lately. Certainly, nothing had occurred to inflame him quite like last October’s meeting in Bracebridge, when he had found himself alone in her brother’s kitchen with the young temptress. He had come dangerously close to yielding to his passions; and perhaps he had lost his heart that evening, after all. Yet he wondered—how many others had Diana encouraged, before? Or even since?

Captain Montagu touched his cocked hat and received a flirtatious answer from bright green eyes and loquacious lashes, as Miss Longfellow turned her head away. “He’ll always believe it was his doing,” she went on to the plainly dressed woman beside her who held the reins. “Which is all the better for me! Richard has increased my dress money without argument. Beyond that, I’ve extracted his promise to take me to view the Dutchmen in New York! Some weeks ago—I did tell you, Charlotte,
that I visited in Newport for two weeks? Well, while I was there, I had a letter from Dr. Warren answering one I had sent to
him
, asking for his advice. After I considered his reasons, I decided to take the inoculation—not wanting, of course, to be the last one in town. They say nearly five thousand have lately submitted, while only a very few have succumbed …” As Diana’s anxious voice trailed away, Charlotte Willett gently turned the conversation.

“Is Dr. Warren still on Castle Island?”

“Yes, he is, inoculating the poor at the town’s expense. But rich men are also there, and I would imagine they pay him quite well—they’ll surely be a boon to his practice later. He’s been quarantined in the harbor for weeks now, and it’s said he will soon know the town from top to bottom, which will be a great waste of his time, in my opinion … though I have also heard Dr. Warren finds this amusing, heaven knows why! The best news, however; is that he’s to be married when all of this is over. Oh, yes! He’ll get a large fortune with Elizabeth Hooton, and she has a pretty face, too. Still, she’s only eighteen, and it seems to me that a wiser woman would wait a little longer; to see what might develop … but Elizabeth has already vowed to everyone that she’s in love with him, so I suppose she might as well. It’s a practical move for the doctor, certainly, though it saddens many ladies in Boston … and perhaps one or two out of it?”

Diana bent for a glimpse of her friend’s face, hidden beneath a straw brim. But Charlotte ignored the look, though her eyes did soften. She could easily recall what it was to be just twenty, as Diana was, however different her own life had been five years before. Now, while the chaise took her closer to home, she thought back to the previous autumn.

Last October, Dr. Joseph Warren had made his first visit to the village of Bracebridge, a place midway between Boston and the town of Worcester, at the invitation of
Richard Longfellow. As a village selectman, Longfellow had asked Warren to examine the remains of a man rumored to have been murdered. Charlotte had soon decided the young physician would make a pleasant and useful acquaintance, and perhaps even a superior husband—though not for her. Four years had passed, yet her feelings for Aaron Willett were still strong, and his presence continued to make itself felt in ways that were difficult to ignore. She, too, had married young, when just eighteen. And she, too, had married for love.

Feeling a familiar pain in her breast, Mrs. Willett silently wished Dr. Warren long life and happiness with his bride, while Diana twirled her parasol and relayed additional news of Boston society—such as it was these days, with most of it camping out somewhere else. Meanwhile, the wind caressed, the bright clouds flew, birds called to one another in the arrangement of their own affairs, and the trio of horses clopped along.

Charlotte next noticed Longfellow’s enthusiasm in his discourse with Captain Montagu. The captain had often been in attendance during the past week at the home of Diana and her mother—once Longfellow’s home, as well. Though one day it would be Richard Longfellow’s again, the residence was today occupied solely by women, a fact that seemed to feed his tendency toward melancholy. Happily, exchanging barbs with Captain Montagu caused Longfellow’s hazel eyes to snap with electric sparks, and held off his darker moods. Edmund, too, seemed to be enjoying himself. The captain was certainly more affable than when they had all come together for the first time on this same road, little more than six months before. His natural reserve was less obvious, and his cold, aristocratic manner of speaking had softened. Though Diana seemed less inclined to pursue him as if he were a mouse and she a cat, Charlotte suspected her friend might increasingly be
thinking of retaining this gentleman as a live prize. As for his own ideas—well, no one could ever be sure what Edmund Montagu really thought. Of course, an officer and agent of the Crown had duties and obligations not commonly understood—though she had also learned that in the case of this particular officer, much was kept hidden by design.

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