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Authors: Jane Langton


BOOK: Steeplechase
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A Homer Kelly Mystery

Jane Langton

Open Road Integrated Media Ebook

For Joe Gillson


The Aeronauts

Thank God, men cannot as yet fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth!

—Henry Thoreau,
, January 3, 1861

The Brothers Spratt

he wind was blowing gently west-southwest. Two church steeples in the town of Bedford veered away below the balloon as the Spratt brothers dropped their leaflets, and before long two more spires appeared above the trees in the town of Concord.

“Two churches apiece they got, Jack,” said Jake.

“Right you are, Jake,” said Jack. “Two apiece.”

Looking down, they could see Hector. He was standing up in his wagon, whooping at his tired old horse as it galloped after them along the road.

Now the main street of Concord opened out below them. Pale Concord faces gazed up. Jake slid the lid halfway over the firebox, and the balloon drifted lower over the housetops so that everyone could read the painted words on the bag:




Jake picked up another bundle of pamphlets, dropped them over the side, and watched them flutter down on the street. Some lodged on rooftops, some disappeared in the leafy canopies of elm trees, some fell on the muddy road, and some were caught by eager hands reaching up.

“Whoopsie, Jake,” said Jack, because the wind was shifting into another quarter.

“Going due west now, Jack,” said Jake, and he opened the firebox again to lift the balloon high over the road to Nashoba. As it rose, he leaned out to look for Hector. Had he caught up? Yes, there was the wagon, a speck in the distance, with Hector's old horse pounding along at a gallop.

Jake made a huge pointing gesture—
West, Hector, we're heading west
—and Hector understood. He was waving his hat in the same direction.

“This here must be Nashoba, Jake,” said Jack as the next town came in sight.

“Right you are, Jack,” said Jake. “Hey, Jack, look at that there big tree.”

“What tree, Jake?” said Jack.

“Down there in the graveyard, Jack. See there?”

“My goodness, Jake. I ain't never seen such a big old granddaddy tree.”

“Whoopsie, Jack. I almost forgot.” Nimbly, Jake untied another packet of pamphlets and dropped them over the side. Once again, hands reached up and children ran after fluttering scraps of paper. Looking back, Jack and Jake saw the main street of Nashoba drifting away behind them, until only the low dome of the church steeple was visible above the trees.

“Wind's died,” said Jake. “We'd best go down.”

“Where to, Jake? In that there field?”

“See if Hector's a-coming, Jack,” said Jake, closing the firebox.

“Yep, Jake. I see his horse and wagon. That poor old nag, she's weaving all over the road.”

“Poor thing must be wore-out,” said Jake. “Whoopsie! Hang on, Jack.”

The basket settled with a bump in the pasture, tipped, dragged, bounced, tipped, dragged, and at last came to a stop in the grassy stubble between two flabbergasted cows.


Joy on the River

“Why!” said I … “the stones are happy, Concord River is happy, and I am happy too.… Do you think that Concord River would have continued to flow these millions of years by Clamshell Hill and round Hunt's Island … if it had been miserable in its channel, tired of existence, and cursing its maker and the hour that it sprang?

—Henry Thoreau,
, January 6, 1857

Homer's Happy Day

omething amazing was happening. Homer Kelly had become a star.

“I know it's ridiculous,” said his editor. “I mean, it's like a meteor falling on your head. That book of yours is number one on the
bestseller list for nonfiction.”

“But Luther, it came out three years ago,” crowed Homer happily. “This is just a reprint of a boring old scholarly work. There isn't a ripped bodice in it anywhere.”

Luther chuckled. “Well, who knows the ways of Providence? Sometimes it casteth down; sometimes it raiseth up.”

“Having often been casteth down,” cried Homer, “I'm grateful to be raiseth up.”

“Watch it,” scolded Luther, who was a stickler for grammatical perfection. “Thou shouldest not mess around with tricky old verb forms like that.”

They argued gaily for a while about
ests, thees
, and then Homer cackled a jolly good-bye. He wanted to jump up and down, but he was afraid the floorboards would snap under his six and a half feet of flab. Instead, he bounded out the door and hollered at his wife, “Number one, I'm number one.”

Mary looked up from the shallows, where she was boot-deep in pickerelweed, and shouted back, “That's crazy. It's just ridiculous.” But she, too, was laughing as she slopped out of the water.

Homer hurtled down the porch steps and hoisted her off the ground. “You know what a bestselling writer gotta have?” he chortled joyfully. “He gotta have champagne. We'll just make a little trip into town.”

It was a happy day. “I deserve it,” said Homer smugly, raising his glass. “I've been in the wilderness too long.”

“You certainly have,” said Mary.

“And the strangest thing has been happening in our department. Have you noticed that all the new grad students are mere babies? The other day, I swear I saw one of them sucking her thumb.”

“It's not that they're younger, Homer dear; it's just that we're older. But honestly, this is such a wild stroke of luck. Whatever got into all those people, going into all those stores and buying a book about the spread of old New England churches?”

“I've become chic, that's it,” bragged Homer, pouring Mary another glass. “Everybody's got to have my
Hen and Chicks.

“They won't read it, of course,” said Mary, laughing. “It isn't exactly a page-turner.”

“Well, who the hell cares?”

After lunch, Homer hauled the battered aluminum canoe down to the water's edge for a celebratory paddle, but his phone buzzed as he shoved off. He put it to his ear, yelled, “Just a sec,” and stuck it in his pocket while he poled the canoe away from the shore. Afloat at last, he pulled out the phone. “Okay, here I am.”

It was Luther again, more excited than ever. “Listen, Homer, we've got to follow this up; we've got to strike while the iron is hot. How's the new book coming along?”

The breeze was mild, the river placid. Homer was appalled. “The new book? Christ, Luther, it isn't anywhere near ready. I haven't done the work. I've got to go to all those churches and talk to people.”

“I seem to remember it's got a cute title. What is it? I forget.”

“Oh God,” groaned Homer, seeing the heavy labor of the next few months appear before him like a cloud over the river. “I'm going to call it

“Oh, right, that's great.
, meaning chasing around after churches. Really catchy. Well, get to work, Homer. Throw it together. Like I said, we've got to strike while the iron is hot. People will gobble it up, a peek through the keyhole at all the dirty linen hidden away under all those pious steeples. You know what I mean, Homer, an overview.”

“An overview?” Homer's voice was hollow.

“The title alone will do the trick. Think of the book clubs; think of the advance sales. An overview, that's all we want, Homer, a godlike view from above.” Luther laughed and shouted, “Get to work, Homer.
! Tarantara!”


A Godlike View from Above

BOOK: Steeplechase
13.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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