Uneasy Spirits: A Victorian San Francisco Mystery (10 page)

BOOK: Uneasy Spirits: A Victorian San Francisco Mystery
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Chapter Ten
Thursday evening, October 16, 1879
 


SITUATION WANTED BY A GOOD COOK in a private family or boardinghouse; no washing.”

San Francisco Chronicle
, 1879

 

 


So you see, Mrs. O’Rourke, I told Mrs. Frampton that the child’s name was ‘Johnny.’ Mrs. Fuller told me not to fret, that I hadn’t done wrong, but all day I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind.” Kathleen stood twisting the dishtowel in her hands as she looked over at Annie. “How could I have been so foolish as to give the boy your husband’s name? I wouldn’t cause you pain for anything in the world, you know that, ma’am!”

Annie walked over and put her hand on the young servant’s shoulder. “Now, Kathleen, don’t worry yourself over this. My husband has been gone nearly six years, and let me assure you I can handle hearing someone use a variation of his name for a fictional boy. Fact is, using the name Johnny was really quite clever. This way, if some spirit appears purporting to be John, I can pretend to mishear and claim it is the spirit of my ‘precious child.’”

She gave Kathleen’s shoulder a squeeze, then walked over to the rocking chair across from the stove and sat down. It was a little after seven in the evening, and she had just finished with her last client, taken off Madam Sibyl’s wig, washed the powder and paint off her face, and come down to the kitchen, as was her habit at the end of each day. The window was fastened against the chill autumn night air. Beatrice O’Rourke stood over the kitchen sink, washing up the dishes from supper while Kathleen dried.


I wonder if Mrs. Frampton usually gets involved in digging up information on clients? Kathleen, tell us, what did you think of her?”

Kathleen turned, a wet dinner plate in her hands. “Oh, ma’am, I just don’t know. First I couldn’t get over how beautiful she is. Mrs. O’Rourke, you wouldn’t believe her hair, like living flame, and eyes, I never in my life saw such a color, a kind of green that don’t seem natural! I ‘spect men go into a trance just looking at her. And she was so friendly. What did you think of her, Mrs. Fuller?”

Annie remembered her first impression of Arabella Frampton, but she wouldn’t call her friendly. Hostile was more accurate. She had swept into the library after the most cursory knock, and it was Annie’s distinct impression that Simon Frampton hadn’t welcomed the interruption. He had been holding both of Annie’s hands by that time, and had been softly reassuring her of . . . what? She really didn’t remember. His voice had been so soothing that she had found herself just listening to his tone not the words. She did remember staring into his eyes, fascinated by the contrast between the deep black pupil, surrounded by cloudy gray iris, encircled by an odd black ring. Then the knock on the door had caused Simon to break off and utter an oath.


Annie, love, are you alright?” Beatrice stood in front of her, using her apron to dry her soapy hands. “To be sure, we’d begun to think you’d gone to sleep on us. Would you like me to put on a pot of tea for you now?”

Annie sat up straighter and laughed. “Oh Bea, I think that might be a very good idea. I asked Esther Stein to come by when she gets in tonight, and I know she will want some of that chamomile. I would like some too. And as to Kathleen’s question, I thought Arabella Frampton wasn’t too pleased to see me. Which is strange, since clearly she knew her husband was interviewing me. She is quite beautiful, Kathleen was right about that. However, I found her very imperious, and there is a temper there to go along with those red curls. She announced, rather than asked, if I was ready to leave. Did anything happen to put her into a temper, Kathleen?


Well, ma’am, not really. We were sitting there, and she was asking me about you: how long you’d lived in San Francisco, who your friends were. Just like you said someone would. I made sure to tell her about Mr. Stein and made it sound like there were all manner of rich people stopping by and dropping off cards, hoping for a visit with you. But when I mentioned how excited you were to join the circle on Friday she seemed surprised. Said, ‘What, this Friday?’ That’s when she stood up, knocked on the door, and went right in.”


That’s interesting,” Annie said. “She did say something to Simon about, ‘promising not to fill the circle without consulting,’ and then she made some excuse about Mr. Frampton having another appointment as she hustled me out. Did you see anyone else come in while you were waiting for me?”


Just that strange girl and the woman who took her out to the butcher shop. But they seemed to live there. Who do you think they were, Mrs. Fuller?”


I don’t have any idea about the older woman, but I think that the girl might be Evie May, the young medium Simon Frampton told me about. I wonder if I will see her at Friday night’s séance?”

Without warning, the back door to the kitchen banged open, startling the three women. A gust of cold October wind blew in a young boy and a small dog. The majestic black cat curled on the wicker chair next to the warm cast-iron stove hissed halfheartedly and settled back down to sleep.


Mrs. Fuller, Mrs. O’Rourke, Miss Kathleen, you should have seen Dandy,” said the boy. “There was this rat, down by Cooper’s store, and Dandy killed it! I didn’t even see it, dark like it is, but Dandy did. My friend Georgie says dogs can see ten times better than we can.”


Jamie, slow down,” Annie interrupted the eight-year-old who had bent down to scratch behind the upstanding ears of a shorthaired black and white terrier. “How could Dandy kill a rat; he wasn’t off his lead was he? You have strict instructions from your mother never to let him go. Why, if one of the dog catchers found him loose, license or no, you’d be in for a fine.”

Jamie’s mother was Barbara Hewitt, who taught English Literature at Girls High. She and her young son lived up on the third floor attic of the boarding house. It wasn’t entirely clear if there had ever been a Mr. Hewitt, and Annie had never had the nerve to ask.

Jamie shook his head. “Oh no, ma’am. I never would. That’s how dogs get killed. So easy to run under a carriage. I was just taking him for his last walk, and he was sniffing along the barrels in front of Cooper’s, like he always does, when suddenly I heard him snarl and he lunged between two of the barrels. I heard this squeal, and then he backed out with this gigantic rat in his jaws. I had a terrific time getting him to let go of it. But it was dead as a doornail. Dandy must of broke his neck. Didn’t ya boy! What a clever dog!”

Annie looked down at Dandy, whose tiny crooked tail whirled around in pleasure at his master’s kind words. The dog wasn’t more than twelve pounds, no nose to speak of, and, although when he yawned his mouth opened as wide as a frog’s, she just couldn’t imagine him killing a rat. She didn’t know whether to be appalled or impressed, but when the dog suddenly sat down and tried to scratch his ear with his back leg, almost falling over in the process, she decided to be amused and laughed.


Mrs. Fuller, remember he is a Boston Terrier, and Georgie says terriers are bred to hunt rats and such.” Jamie seemed to feel Annie wasn’t taking Dandy’s feat seriously.

Beatrice who had been busy scrubbing the last pan, sniffed at this statement. Both she and Annie had heard all about how Dandy was some special breed out of Boston. Beatrice, in fact, had been the one to name him when Jamie had rescued him and brought him home to the boarding house. The dog’s neat black fur and white chest and white front feet, and most importantly, his air of supreme confidence, had made her think of a gentleman in evening clothes, hence the name Dandy.


I guess, Mrs. O’Rourke, we should be glad to know if Queenie gets too lazy to keep mice and such out of the kitchen storeroom, she’ll have an able lieutenant in Dandy,” Annie said, nodding at the old cat, whose eyes opened briefly at the mention of her name. “But Jamie, you better skedaddle upstairs, your mother will be waiting for you. It’s getting near bedtime, and you will want to have time to tell her all about Dandy’s exploits.”


Yes, ma’am. Oh, I’m so sorry, Mrs. Stein.” Jamie had narrowly missed running into Esther Stein in his mad dash up the stairs.

Fortunately, chasing her own numerous grandchildren had kept Esther Stein nimble, and she lost neither the candle she carried nor her composure in the encounter. “Jamie, dear. We need to put a bell on you to alert us to your progress through the house. Mind your way going upstairs. Here, take my candle with you, and be quiet as a mouse, I believe Miss Minnie and Miss Millie have already retired for the night.”


Mrs. Stein, come sit down, I’ve just fixed a pot of tea,” Beatrice said as she shooed Queenie reluctantly off the wicker chair.

Esther Stein, a wealthy merchant banker’s wife, and Beatrice O’Rourke, a cook and housekeeper, could have been sisters; they were of such a similar build. Neither stood much taller than four and a half feet, and both had figures that once had been called “fine” but now reflected the spread that came with maturity and years of good food. Esther, in her mid-sixties and the older of the two, had hair that was pure white, while Beatrice’s gray still permitted glimmers of the redheaded girl she had been. Esther’s German heritage and Beatrice’s Irish roots had produced blue eyes of a similar shade, and you would be hard-pressed to determine which woman’s smile was more good-natured. Only their clothing and the tiredness in Beatrice’s stance revealed their very different life experiences. Annie loved them both equally.

Oblivious to the comparisons Annie was making, Beatrice bustled back to the sink and Esther sank down in the chair with a sigh, saying, “Thank you, Beatrice, tea would be much appreciated. Now Annie, Miss Pinehurst confided in me this morning that you are helping her out with her poor sister. She said that you hoped by attending one of their séances to find out just how these awful people have gotten such a hold on Mrs. Vetch. She wasn’t clear at all on the exact details. Tell me all.”


I wish I could say I had a well-developed plan,” Annie said. “I thought that if I became a regular member of one of their ‘circles,’ as they call them, I could find out just what sort of tricks they were up to. Then I could use the information to convince Sukie, Miss Pinehurst’s sister, that they are frauds. When I lived with John’s Aunt Lottie, I read a number of articles in the Boston papers that exposed the methods of some of the most famous local mediums. Some are really quite simple. It is amazing what kind of shenanigans people can get up to in a darkened room. One article even showed how a famous trance medium joined together the hands of the two people on either side of her, so that she was free to lark around the room blowing on trumpets, whispering in people’s ears, and generally making a ruckus while the people at the table swore she was sitting with them the whole time. She was exposed when one of the members of the circle pulled the same trick and turned up the gas-jet, so everyone could see the spirit was the medium herself.”


Do you think that is all that it will take?” Esther said.


Probably not.” Annie thought about how resistant Lottie had been when she had tried to point out some of the fraudulent tactics she’d read about.


Ma’am, aren’t you going to tell Mrs. Stein about tricking those Framptons with your made-up son?” Kathleen practically wriggled with the excitement of revealing her role in the plans.


You tell her, Kathleen; it’s really your story to tell,” Annie said.

So, Kathleen told Mrs. Stein all about her conversation with Mrs. Frampton, and how she had cleverly revealed the existence of a son called Johnny who had passed away, in order to trap the Framptons into creating a spirit of a child who had never existed. When she finished, Kathleen again looked to her for reassurance, so Annie smiled at her. She had been taken aback when Kathleen had first recounted the story to her on the trip home yesterday. But she was telling the truth when she said those six years had done much to ease the pain of her marriage.
Of course, Kathleen probably thinks that John’s death would be the source of that pain, not the marriage itself
. Annie had talked to both Beatrice and Esther about the financial problems John had caused, and his suicide, but she hadn’t revealed much to them about the actual marriage. Annie feared these two women, who had had the good fortune to find men who loved them, might not understand.


I am sure you did just fine, Kathleen,” said Esther. “I am also glad that Mrs. Fuller took you with her when she went, you have a good sensible head on your shoulders. Now, Annie, while I can quite understand your desire to help Miss Pinehurst, are you sure it is a good idea to try to fool people who are, at the very least, shady characters, and may be outright villains? You will be threatening their livelihoods if you are successful.”


Oh, Esther, I expected to hear something like that from Mr. Dawson when I explained to him what I am doing, but not from you! The most that will happen if I am successful in proving that the Framptons are frauds is that they will move on, which happens all the time with these sorts of people. I expect this is why they moved out of England in the first place and then moved out west.”

Esther Stein frowned but changed the topic. “Beatrice said you asked Nate Dawson to help you.”


I asked him to look into the Framptons’ backgrounds and bring me some information about one of the people who will be attending the séance with me tomorrow, a Judge Babcock. You haven’t heard of him by any chance?”


Babcock? Hmm. No, my dear. Do you know who else is going to attend the séance?”

BOOK: Uneasy Spirits: A Victorian San Francisco Mystery
7.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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