As I mentioned in my last post, as I do research for the next full-length novel, I am going to be writing four new short stories featuring minor characters from my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series. I am pleased to announce that I have finished the first story. On September 15, in celebration of International Cozy Mystery Day, I will be sending out an email to my newsletter subscribers with instructions on how to receive an ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy) of this story—Beatrice Bests the Burglars––for Free.
So, if you are interested, and haven’t yet subscribed to my newsletter, you might want to do so right now by clicking HERE.
If you subscribe, you will get instructions on how to get the first volume of short stories (including Madam Sibyl’s First Client, Dandy Detects, The Misses Moffet Mend a Marriage, and Mr. Wong Rights a Wrong) as well, in case you haven’t read them yet.
Meanwhile, here is an excerpt from this newest short story.
BeatriceBests the Burglars
Noon, July 4, 1881
O’Farrell Street Boarding House, San Francisco
Beatrice O’Rourke gently kissed Abigail’s tiny fist and secured the baby more firmly against her shoulder as she watched her mistress, Annie Dawson, dig through a wicker basket sitting on the kitchen table.
“Bea, are you sure I packed the clean diapers?”
“Yes, I saw you put them in the basket. But Annie, you can change your mind about taking Abigail with you to the picnic. I’d be more than glad to keep her here with me for the next few hours. What if some wretched boy sets off a fire cracker and spooks the horses?”
Annie looked up, with several of the cotton squares she’d just unearthed in her hand. “Now, Bea, Jefferson Square isn’t but a five minute ride away, and you know the Eddy Street stables have the best trained carriage horses in town. You could set a cannon off under their noses and they wouldn’t notice.”
The baby stirred at the sound of her mother’s voice and Beatrice patted her as she rocked from side-to-side. She knew how important this outing was to Annie, who hadn’t left the house since Abigail was born seven weeks ago. She sighed and said, “Don’t mind me, dearie. I’m being a silly old goose, worrying so.”
Closing the basket’s lid, Annie said with a chuckle, “No one would ever dare say you were silly or a goose. However, I promise we will be back by four at the latest, hours before sunset, which is when any pyrotechnics will start in earnest. Besides, Patrick told us yesterday that the hooligans getting drunk in the Barbary Coast saloons are the ones most likely to cause trouble today, and that’s way across town.”
Beatrice was proud that Patrick, her young nephew and one of San Francisco’s policemen, was following in the footsteps of her deceased husband. But sometimes her nephew could be too full of himself, showing off in front Kathleen. When she recommended that Annie hire Kathleen Hennessey to come work for the O’Farrell Street boardinghouse, Beatrice had never expected that her nephew would fall head over heels in love with the young servant. Or that Kathleen would return the sentiment, although––sensible girl that she was––she’d made it very clear to Patrick that she wouldn’t even consider an engagement, much less marriage, until she’d successfully shepherded her youngest brother, Ian, through school and into a decent profession.
But that seemed to have only encouraged Patrick to work harder to impress Kathleen––and Annie––whom he steadfastly believed was his ally in his campaign to get a ring on Kathleen’s finger. Patrick claimed that this part of town would remain untroubled today on account of the city canceling most of the festivities in response to the attempted assassination of President Garfield two days ago.
Beatrice did think it was a shame that the poor man had been shot––and if the papers were to be believed––was at death’s door. Seemed even more of a shame that the bigwigs had decided to deprive the poor San Francisco workingmen of this one summer holiday they could count on. Most of the other cities in the state hadn’t felt the need to cancel their celebrations––just add on prayers for the president in all the speechifying.
As for the kind of mischief the shiftless young men of the city might get into, she wouldn’t be surprised if, without the parade and sporting events for people to attend, there wouldn’t be more––rather than less––trouble. She’d lived through enough July Fourths to know that no part of the city was safe from how much men of every age and station loved devices that made loud noises and threw off dangerous sparks.
That’s the main reason she’d volunteered to stay home when her mistress declared they were going ahead with the picnic at Jefferson Square. Beatrice had already heard the distant clanging of a fire engine twice this morning and she wouldn’t be able to enjoy herself at the picnic, worrying the boardinghouse might burn down in her absence.
In any event, she’d not been terribly excited about spending the afternoon sitting outside on the ground. Especially in this heat, when she felt every one of her fifty-nine years. Picnics were for young people.
“Ma’am, Mr. Nate’s coming down the alley with the carriage.”
Tilly, the little Irish maid, skidded into the kitchen from the back yard, her cheeks pink with excitement. Then, noticing Abigail in Beatrice’s arms, she whispered, “Oh, I’m sorry, ma’am.”
Annie smiled warmly and said, “That’s quite all right, Tilly. You’ve seen how soundly Abigail sleeps right after a feeding. Do go back and tell my husband I will be out in a moment. But first, can you take this basket with you?”
Beatrice watched as the young girl bobbed a hasty curtsy and took the basket, leaving the kitchen at a more proper speed. No doubt she would break into a run as soon as she was out of sight of the kitchen window.
Although Tilly was about to turn fifteen, she wasn’t much more than four and a half feet tall, so she appeared considerably younger. Beatrice had been worried when Mrs. Dawson decided to hire the wee girl to help out Kathleen, fearing that Tilly’s life back in Ireland, chronically starved and beaten by a brutal father, made her too scrawny and timid to hold her own in such a large, boisterous household.
Luckily, what Tilly lacked in size she more than made up for in a fierce desire to better herself. And while the girl hadn’t grown but an inch in the past year and a half, her cheeks were now round, her eyes healthy and bright, and she could do a full day’s work without flagging. She still had a tendency to get tongue-tied when Mr. Nate, Annie’s husband, or any of the male boarders spoke directly to her, but she could be quite chatty in the safety of the boardinghouse kitchen, working with Beatrice and Kathleen.
Annie, who had moved to the small mirror that hung on the kitchen wall to adjust her hat, said, “Now Bea, I want you to take the opportunity to rest this afternoon. You’ve been on your feet cooking for days. When we get home, Tilly can finish up the last dishes that are soaking, and I asked Kathleen to be back by seven…in case any of the boarders get home that early and need something from the kitchen.”
Beatrice smiled at the idea she would ever leave dirty dishes in the sink, but she did appreciate Annie’s thoughtfulness in telling Kathleen to return early. Otherwise, Patrick would have tried to get her to wait at Jefferson Square until he got off work at nine. The boy never seemed to get it into his head that, for a live-in servant, a holiday or an afternoon off didn’t mean there weren’t still chores to be done. Most Tuesdays, Kathleen would have spent the day tackling the week’s ironing. The holiday today meant that tonight she would need to spend a couple of hours ironing sheets and table linens before she headed to bed––if she had any hope of getting through her normal chores over the next few days.
“Here, I’m ready to take Abigail now.”
Annie carefully placed one hand behind the baby’s head as she transferred her from Beatrice’s shoulder to her own, where she had draped one of the clean diapers. “With any luck, she’ll sleep through the trip to the park and won’t want to be fed again until we return. But that’s why Nate reserved a closed barouche for today, so I can sit in there if I need to feed her.”
Beatrice stood at the kitchen door and watched as Annie carefully crossed the back yard where Tilly stood holding the gate open for her. The bright sun touched off sparks of flame in both Abigail’s and her mother’s reddish blonde hair. There was a definite spring to Annie’s step.
She was glad her mistress had decided to join the rest of the boarders at the picnic. She did need to get out, and the fresh air wouldn’t do little Abigail any harm either. Beatrice could depend on Mr. Nate to whisk his wife and daughter home the first sign of a chilly wind or fireworks.
I am being a silly goose to worry.
If you already get my Victorian San Francisco Mystery Newsletter, be on the look out for the newsletter on September 15 telling you how to download the whole story for free. And if you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do so by clicking HERE.
M. Louisa Locke, September 11, 2019