This is the first installment of a four-part serialized sample of the new historical novel, "for Mischief done," by Niantic author Jan Schenk Grosskopf.
"for Mischief done," is based on the true story of the brutal murder of a child in 1786 and the eleven-year-old New London girl hanged by the neck for the crime.
To purchase the novel, go to: www.andresblanton.com
"for Mischief done"
Morning, New London-Norwich Turnpike, Quaker Hill, Connecticut, July 21, 1786
Squinting against the morning sun, Colonel Jeremiah Halsey waded through the lush thigh-high grass and wild flowers on the north side of the Norwich-New London Turnpike and climbed the steep embankment of the sunken road. He stopped beside what appeared to be a heap of discarded rags and pushed aside the tall green blades. A cloud of swollen flies buzzed up into his face. Halsey stumbled backwards with an oath, swatting at the loathsome swarm with both hands. When the air cleared, he leaned forward and cautiously parted the grass.
The Colonel jerked violently aside, spewing vomit. For a full minute, he half-crouched, hands braced on one knee, gagging and choking as he gasped for air. When his racing heart finally slowed, Halsey fumbled a handkerchief out of a jacket pocket. Holding the pristine white cloth to his mouth, he turned toward the road and stared at a small book splayed open on the hard-packed dirt. The book’s crisp pages fluttered gaily back and forth in the gentle, shifting summer breeze.
Evening, The Red Lion Inn, New London Town, July 21, 1786
Pushing the hair from her perspiring forehead with the back of one hand, Molly Coit forked a piece of meat from a large roast turning on the weighted iron spit suspended over the deep granite hearth, and put it into her mouth.
Chewing appreciatively, she unlocked a large chest and counted out flatware into a basket. “Go up and get the chamber ready,” said Molly, handing the heavy basket to Lizzy. “Let Bess put out the good linen, but you mind my silver and pewter.”
As the maids disappeared up the back stairs with full hands, Molly went into the common room and drew two ales. Balancing the dripping tankards with a practiced hand, she walked briskly across the broad central hallway to the side dining room. She found Mr. Stephen Hempstead and Sheriff William Richards huddled at the far corner table, their backs to the hall door.
“What time do you want supper served in the private chamber?” Molly looked at Richards, even though she knew that he did not sit on the Grand Jury.
“Better go ahead and start carrying the food upstairs,” Richards decided. “Most of the jurors should be here soon.” He shook his head ruefully and gestured toward the door. “Guess we can sit here a while longer. Maybe no one will notice us.”
“What are the odds?” Molly snorted derisively.
Richards smiled wryly. “We’ll carry these up with us now.”
Grinning, Molly dried her hands with her apron. “You know the way.”
Richards and Hempstead climbed the familiar narrow back stairs, Richards setting his pace to Hempstead’s limp. They went into the private chamber and set their drinks on the long polished cherrywood table. Within minutes, Colonel Halsey and the doctor came through the doorway, the red-faced maids close on their heels. Bess squeezed a laden tray to the side of Molly’s roast, in the place of honor on the large sideboard. She flicked aside a white linen cloth, revealing a large china tureen and a stack of blue china bowls. Lizzy carefully arranged a carving set next to the roast and put the large silver ladle by the tureen. Wordlessly, the women hurried out of the room, leaving the men to help themselves.
“Hot, even for July,” Colonel Halsey offered, pulling back a chair.
His three companions murmured polite agreement.
“Might rain, though.”
No one bothered to respond.
Finally, Colonel Halsey moved his plate aside, reached down into the leather pouch by his feet, and pulled out several large rolls of drafting paper. He spread the pages out on the table.
“These are the plans for my new ship.”
Everyone dropped his fork and leaned forward gratefully.
Richards studied the pages thoughtfully. “That design looks pretty light.”
Hempstead nodded. “It does.”
“Well, it might seem so,” Halsey temporized.
The doctor chuckled. “That ship looks like it will float on air, instead of water,
Halsey.” He shook his head. “You’re wasting your money.”
“Just wait and see,” the Colonel advised, smiling.
During the ensuing good-natured debate regarding the art of ship design, Grand Jurors trickled into the chamber. They milled around the room, chatting about inconsequential matters as they helped themselves from platters and dishes, constantly replenished by Lizzy and Bess. When the clink of metal on china finally subsided, the maids discretely slipped out of the chamber, closing the door behind them. A well-dressed grey-haired man in his mid-fifties stood up and looked down the table.
Evening, Private Chamber, The Red Lion Inn, July 21, 1786
Colonel Halsey took a small leather-bound book for notes out of his pocket, handed it to the foreman, and settled back in his chair with the air of a man prepared to endure a long, unpleasant evening. He barely even noticed Molly come in and begin removing the dirty dinner plates.
The Grand Jury Foreman opened the book as he sat down and quickly skimmed the first few pages. When he finished reading, the foreman cleared his throat abruptly, and began to read the contents aloud in a taut voice.
“On the morning of July 21, 1786, I, along with Sheriff William Richards and Mr. Stephen Hempstead, conducted an investigation . . .”
The jurors leaned forward as one.
About half an hour later, the foreman closed Halsey’s book and laid it on the table. Then, peering over the top of his gold spectacles, he looked around the table expectantly. None of the usually talkative group ventured a word.
The foreman peeled the spectacles off his face with one hand, folded the arms thoughtfully, and laid them on top of the Colonel’s book for notes. He rubbed his eyes, then looked at Halsey . . .
To purchase "for Mischief done," go to www.andresblanton.com
All rights reserved. Copyright 2012 by Jan Schenk Grosskopf. Cover artwork by Jacob Scheyder. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission by the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations for use in reviews. For information, contact: Andres & Blanton, P.O. Box 34, Niantic, Connecticut 06357. ISBN 978-0-9830318-2-6.