Saturday, January 24, 2015
While we think of servants of the past being much abused (and many were) I found out different in my on-going research. In the eighteenth century, a time when domestic service was seen as easier than toiling in a shop or factory, a poor farmer’s sons and daughters would go happily into this type of work. Even a parson’s family did not look down on the occupation. However, the English domestics thought of themselves as a cut above.
£2 a year, they were demanding as much as £6 and £8. Writer Daniel Defoe wanted to see wages fixed at no more than £5, or soon this rabble would insist on as much as £20.
Lord Fermanagh, when writing to a friend about his butler, who had the audacity to ask for £10, said: "I would have a sightly fellow and one that has had the smallpox, and an honest man, for he is entrusted with store of plate, and can shave, but I will give no such wages as this."
The English servant stood up for himself, giving notice or running away if ill-treated. One servant, after being struck by his master, turned on the man and killed him with a pitchfork.
In the earlier part of the century there was a scarcity of women servants, but later, after years of bad harvests, starvation sent many girls into service.
If wages were low, servants in a large house could supplement their pay with vails (tips). One foreigner complained after dining with a friend at his home: "You’ll find all the servants drawn up in the passage like a file of musqueteers from the house steward, down to the lowest liveried servant, and each of them holds out his hand to you in as deliberate a manner as the servants in our inns on the like occasion."
One clergyman reported that when he dined with his Bishop, he spent more in vails than would have fed his family for a week.
At least the Duke of Ormonde, when inviting a poor relation to dine, always sent him a guinea ahead of time for the vails.
A movement, rumored to have started in Scotland, was put forth to abolish vails, but nothing came of it.
If servants believed themselves independent, striving for respect, their employers often demanded too much from them for little pay. Mrs. Purefoy advertised for a coachman, who can not only drive four horses, but must understand husbandry business and cattle, plus he’d also be expected to plough. She also required a footman who could "work in the garden, lay the cloth, wait at table, go to the cart with Thomas, and do any other business that he is ordered to do and not too large sized a man, that he may not be too great a load for the horse when he rides."
Servants were derided by their "betters" as being lazy and selfish, especially when they’d leave their positions for higher wages and vails.
Of course, many servants during the eighteenth century—especially in the larger towns and cities—were mistreated and far underpaid, if paid at all.
To learn more about my eighteenth-century novels, please visit my website:
Source: English Country Life in the Eighteenth Century, by Rosamond Bayne-Powell, 1937
Friday, January 23, 2015
I class a favorite book as one I will read and then re-read again and again. The book I have re-read the most is Georgette Heyer's Frederica and I still find it as fresh and as funny as the first time I read it.
Georgette Heyer, 1902 - 1974
Frederica Merriville has one burning desire and that is to see her beautiful younger sister, Charis, introduced to the London ton in order to achieve a suitable marriage. To this end she engages the assistance of a distant cousin, the Marquis of Alverstoke - rich, bored and cynical. Alverstoke gradually succumbs to Frederica's charms, charms of which she is totally unaware as her family has her total focus. Along with her sister, Frederica also oversees the antics of brothers Harry (sent down from Oxford University), Jessamy (determined to be a priest and constantly berating himself as he falls between boyish pranks and high virtue) and Felix (who has a passion for science).
Alverstoke has already been approached by one of his sisters to have a coming out ball for his niece, Jane, at Alverstoke House. On a whim, he agrees to this providing his sister, Louisa, introduces Charis into society. Louisa has no option but to agree but is nearly undone when she discovers that Charis's shining beauty puts her own daughter in the shade. Tender-hearted Charis gets into one love interest after another culminating in her elopement. Jessamy's love of horses interests the Marquis, and Felix's scientific endeavors intrigue him. Harry, being older but not necessarily wiser engages the Marquis in an entirely different way.
This is one of the best of Heyer's Regency romances. Heyer exquisitely captures the rough and tumble of family life with the social mores of the era, and wraps it into an engaging story with a strong thread of real comedy. The dialogue sparkles as Alverstoke is a perfect foil for Frederica's wit. One family adventure after another captivates Alverstoke's lively mind and, when he finally wins Miss Frederica Merrivllle's hand, it is on the understanding that he accept Jessamy and Felix too.
Heyer wrote her first book The Black Moth in serial form for her brother Boris, a young man in ill health who frequently became bored. Her father, George Heyer, enjoyed the story so much he became instrumental in getting it published and it was released in 1921.
For many years Heyer took responsibility for supporting her family, publishing two novels a year, one a Regency romance and the other a thriller. Her Regency books sold well, her thrillers less so and were once criticized for having unoriginal 'methods, motives and characters'.
That her Regencies were influenced by the work of Jane Austen there is no doubt. Austen rarely refers to details such as dress and manners because her writing was contemporary. Heyer, in comparison, included rich detail about fabrics, styles, and décor for her readers to understand the times and settings in which she placed her characters.
Heyer wrote until her death in July, 1974 and at that time had 48 titles in print. She lived out of the public eye, stating that “My private life concerns no one but myself and my family.”
I have read all of her romances and most of the thrillers, but it is Frederica that draws me back every time. This book alone gripped me from start to finish and made me want to create enigmatic characters, sweeping settings and thoroughly satisfying happy-ever-afters. I’m still working at it.
For more information about Victoria Chatham and her books, visit:
Thursday, January 22, 2015
The things we find to do when we know we should be writing that next chapter.
Okay, I confess I’m one of the worst when it comes to getting myself distracted. As many of you know, I’m a publisher as well as an author, so it seems there are always things to be taken care of. Now I’m not talking about the “ordinary course of the day stuff that needs to be done”. Nope what I’m referring to is those “one of these days” projects you filed away under “things I’ll investigate when I have time.” When you’re looking for distractions because you haven’t figured out where that next chapter is going and you know once you sit down to write it your muse is probably going to take over and it’ll be hours and hours before you come up for air. Those are the kind of distractions I’m talking about here.
The kind that in true “distractor” style, you pull out of your hat and turn away from the blank page in front of you. One of the first things I think of are facts that need to be checked out on Google or Wikipedia, or – best time waster of all time – I have an urgent need to check out Facebook and see what other people have to say about my topic. See the pattern.
It’s easy to tell when I’m working on a new novel. Usually when it’s my turn to Blog I’ll get an email from Jamie about a week ahead of time, reminding me that I’ve got a blog date coming up. Of course, I’ll make a mental note of that – which I’ll promptly forget – and a couple of days later I’ll get another note from Jamie, this one saying, are you going to have anything for this month or do you want me to use some filler? Okay, now she’s got my attention (as she knew she would) and I have to go digging for a topic. After a bunch of searching through stuff I have – just to see if I really have to write something new or I can get away with something already written – which usually I can’t because I’ve already everything in previous last minute blog posts. In desperation I’ll finally apply the seat of my pants to my chair and write a blog. Probably on whatever it was I was fooling around reading on Google or Wikipedia, or Facebook if it isn’t liable.
Not this week though. No Sirree Bob (which was one of my favorite Uncle’s favorite sayings). I’m writing a new book, the latest in my Kelly McWinter series (pictured above) – delighted to share – love sharing the cover – it’s that writing part that always sends me searching for distractions. Jamie is going to be delighted. She’s getting this Blog a full week before she even gets to remind me. But then again, Jamie is also one of my advance readers on my book. She’s probably expecting the blog post since she’s well aware of my penchant for distractions and what I’ll probably get from her in return is, “have you finished your 5,000 words for this week yet?”
Actually, I’m rather proud of this week’s work (what there is of it so far). My husband John, who’s Metis and comes up with some fascinating bits of trivia just when I’m in need of something, gave me this one after I’d been muttering around about how I wanted to write an intimate scene between my main characters but I didn’t want it to be an explicit scene. I wanted to leave it to my reader’s imaginations. That’s when he piped up with “what about using a magic feather”?
Okay, even I couldn’t get distracted off of that one. Here as a special advance preview, for those of you who I hope will be reading the first book in my new Kelly McWinter series, A Murder State of Mind, California, Deadly Lights, is what came out of the feather remark.
A Murder State of Mind, California
In the travel magazine Kelly read on the plane, the writer described Beverly Hills as a “mix of cosmopolitan sophistication and star-studded excitement”. From what he could see as they whisked along Wilshire Boulevard and turned onto Rodeo Drive, Kelly figured it lived up to its name. Gillian’s nose stayed glued to the window from the time they left the airport until they pulled into what the driver called the porte cochère, the drive between the two wings of the hotel.
When Kelly and Gillian got out of the limo they were met by a doorman – in top hat and tails no less. “Definitely posh,” Kelly whispered in Gillian’s ear.
The lobby beat description. Flowers, sculpted glass, a chandelier with more lights than the Hideaway lit up for a Saturday night shindig. Kelly had to admit the word elegance fit this place like a glove.
“Can you believe this?” Gillian, eyes round as giant marbles, squeezed his arm.”
“Kinda takes your breath away.” They stood under the chandelier, caught in the magic of lights reflecting on the marble beneath their feet.
“Mr. McWinter.” A bellman magically appeared at their side and stood discreetly waiting for them to close their mouths.
“Everything is prepared for your arrival.” He smiled at both of them and spoke to Kelly.
“If you and Mrs. McWinter would like to follow me, I’ll see you to your suite.”
They followed him across the lobby, gawking all the way. The elevator whisked them to the twelfth floor where they stepped out into a hallway lined with portraits of movie star greats from days gone by.
“Ms. Davis mentioned that you’d want to be connected to the pool and spa,” the Bellman stopped in front of one of the doors at the end of the hall. “I hope you’ll like this corner Beverly Suite. As you can see, it has two balconies with a nice view from either.”
Their escort checked the rooms, made sure all their luggage had been delivered and reminded them to call if they needed anything.
“Nice. Did he say nice?” Gillian whispered when the door closed behind him.
“I guess in his world looking directly out on shoppers strolling along world famous Rodeo Drive is just nice.”
“You can talk out loud you know. I expect this room is insulated for sound.” Kelly laughed and Gillian poked him in the ribs. “Okay wise guy. And just how many times have you looked out your window at women flicking their chinchillas over their shoulders.”
“Yep, they do beat anything I’ve ever seen. It must be 80 degrees out there, and everywhere I look there’s a cougar with a rat around her neck stalking a billionaire.”
“Kelly McWinter, you stop mocking. Did you see the bar we passed? The place was probably packed with movie stars and millionaires.”
Kelly grabbed Gillian around the waist, backed up to the bed and rolled with her onto the ultra-soft mattress of their King sized bed. “I’m a lot more interested in what I’ve got right here in my own room than what they’ve got down there in the bar. Not arguing, just saying it’s a lot more likely there’s cougars and tourists looking for stars and millionaires.”
Gillian gave up and flopped back in his arms. “Did I hear that major domo say we had champagne and strawberries in the sitting room?”
“You stay right here.” Kelly gave her a quick kiss and headed out to get the goodies.
Back in the bedroom, Gillian stripped out of her traveling clothes, gave her hair a quick brush, and slipped beneath the satiny sheets.
* * *
Several hours later, after some very intense lovemaking, followed by a long and leisurely nap, Kelly woke up with Gillian snuggled in his arms.
“Wow.” He whispered into her ear. “If anyone had told me a woman could do that with strawberries and champagne I’d have called them a liar.”
Gillian opened her eyes and giggled. “Never mind that, what I want to know is where in the devil you got that feather?”
“You liked that did you? One of these days I’ll have to introduce you to Deputy Randy Buffalo. He’s a Comanche Indian, traces his line all the way back to Chief Buffalo Hump. We worked a case together while I was still on the force. He was tracking a suspect from Amarillo and I was tracking one from Fort Worth and damned if they didn’t come together in El Paso. We took them down on a Friday night and had to hang around waiting for a judge until Monday morning. I don’t remember a lot about that weekend, but I do recall a bet on who could swallow the first worm. I won the bet and Randy gave me the magic feather. He told me not to use the feather until I found a woman I wanted forever. I put it away in my stuff and never thought about it again. Then the other night, when I was looking for a set of turquoise cufflinks I bought in El Paso, I came across the feather. It seemed like this might be a good time to try out Randy’s magic, so I brought it along.”
Gillian wrapped one of her legs around Kelly’s waist and grinned. “I bet that Comanche friend of yours is a married man with half a dozen kids by now. At least he is if he kept one of those feathers for himself.”
To be continued after I finish…………….Distractions……………..
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
When a film crew discovered magic mushrooms at Buckingham Palace, I remembered when I found mushrooms in my yard. They were light brown, not red and white like the hallucinogenic mushrooms popping up in the Queen’s garden.
I chose not to eat the mushrooms I found. But what if I’d eaten them or put them in a dish that called for mushrooms? This “what if” question, led me to write the following short story:
It hurts like a bullet in the chest to see Rosy, scared and fragile, on trial for her life. She looks much too thin in a grey suit, her long blonde hair pulled back in a French twist.
I’d give my life to free her from this nightmare. So far, I’ve used every legal resource as sheriff of this county to try to help her beat this bum rap.
I’d give my life to free her from this nightmare. So far, I’ve used every legal resource as sheriff of this county to try to help her beat this bum rap.
I cashed in my savings for her bail money. Rosy has no idea I did this. Only Father Windford knows. He’s the priest at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
Father Windford and his congregation have contributed also. Their show of support made the front page of The Daily Sun, where Rosy used to work as news editor.
Most everyone in the community believes she’s innocent, except the friends and family of Michael Hofstadter and Prosecutor Sammy Prescott.
“Rosy could never kill anyone and you know it,” I told Sammy.
“Love has made you blind, Sheriff,” Sammy said. “Rosemary not only poisoned her husband with mushrooms grown in her back yard, but she killed her first husband and made it look like an accident.”
“You know damn well she didn’t kill Hofstadter, nor Canter. John Canter was an alcoholic. No surprise he passed out in a Jacuzzi and drowned. This whole case is a farse. And Judge Biggs shouldn’t be allowed to sit in judgment at Rosy’s trial due to his association with Hofstadter.”
Biggs was featured in Hofstadter’s last documentary: My Fat is not who I am. His Honor weighs four hundred pounds.
I’m shaking with anger as I watch Mary Lee Hofstadter being sworn in. She's Hofstadter's daughter from his first marriage and his only offspring. Mary Lee acts like a child, but she’s almost thirty. Sammy hasn’t even opened his month to ask her a question when she blurts out, “Daddy was a loving and generous man, and she killed him.” Mary Lee stabs a finger at Rosy.
Rosy’s attorney, Darrell Lincoln, shoots up out of his chair and shouts. “Objection, your Honor. Not evidentiary.”
I’m hoping to hell the jury understands the significance of “not evidentiary.” Lincoln likes to spout ten-dollar words when a five-cent one would serve better. He has a reputation for being the best lawyer in Florida, but he’s pretentious as hell, doesn’t want anyone to call him by his first name, including his wife and mama.
Prior to taking Rosy’s case, Lincoln represented an elderly man who fell on a banana peel in a grocery store and broke his hip. A jury awarded Lincoln and his client a ten-million-dollar settlement.
Judge Biggs hammers his gavel and yells, “Sustained.”
Sammy gives a sobbing Mary Lee a tissue. She looks like an orphan in her faded jeans and yellowing white t-shirt. Her hair is greasy and uncombed. I’d feel sorry for her if I didn’t know she’s the biggest kleptomaniac in this county.
I’m hoping the jurors are privy to Mary Lee’s background, but regardless, her accusation against Rosy can never be erased from the jury’s memory.
As Hofstadter’s only offspring, Mary Lee is in line, after Rosy, to inherit everything: the million-dollar life insurance payout and all of Hofstadter’s property and film residuals, which knowing Rosy, she would have gladly shared with Mary Lee.
After Sammy asks Mary Lee a few more questions, he gives Lincoln the floor. Lincoln approaches the witness stand, smiling sympathetically, probably thinking Mary Lee can’t help but smile back, and she does.
Lincoln runs a hand through his thick blonde hair. “Ms. Hofstadter, the night your daddy died, he and Rosemary had a luncheon at their home, is that right?”
“Yes, but I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”
“Ms. Hofstadter, to make this as painless for you as possible, you need only answer yes or no.” Lincoln flashes a smile, showing off his white teeth.
Mary Lee pouts. “I did.”
Lincoln nods at Mary Lee and then faces the jury. “Those who attended the luncheon were asked to bring food or a dish, because it was a pot luck lunch, isn’t that right?”
Mary Lee glances at the judge as if he’d asked the question. “I’m not sure what kind of a thing it was.”
Lincoln walks to the jury box. “Your Honor, please instruct the witness to answer the question yes or no.”
“I’m trying, your Honor.” Mary Lee gives Biggs a wide-eyed stare. Her big, blue eyes are her best feature. She uses them to appear guileless and dumb.
“She’s trying,” Biggs says. Two members of the jury--Owen Taylor, a teacher at the high school and Faye Nell Krause, a nurse at the hospital—laugh, along with several in the courtroom.
Biggs hammers the gavel. “Try harder. Okay, Mary Lee? Repeat the question, Counsel.”
“Isn’t it true that everyone invited to the luncheon at your daddy and Rosemary’s house the day your daddy died was asked to bring a dish or something?”
“I wasn’t asked to bring anything.”
Lincoln sighs. “Your Honor, please, instruct the witness to answer the question yes or no.”
Biggs glares at Mary Lee. “Can you answer that question ‘yes’ or ‘no’?”
“I’m not sure, your honor.”
“You heard her, Counsel.” Biggs pounds the gavel. “She’s not sure. Can we move on or can you rephrase the question?”
“Yes, your Honor. Okay, Ms. Hofstadter, did you see guests bring in food to the luncheon that was held the day your daddy died?”
“I suppose so.”
“Answer yes or no, please.”
“And would you agree that when guests bring a dish to a get together this is traditionally known as pot luck?”
“Yes or no.”
“Okay, yes, but I don’t see…”
“And wouldn’t you also agree that someone at the luncheon, and that includes you, might have brought into the house the mushrooms that the prosecution claims killed your daddy?”
“Objection,” Sammy shouts.
“I’ll answer that your Honor,” Mary Lee says, while glaring at Rosy. “Rosemary was the one who cooked the beef stroganoff.”
Mary Lee turns around to face the jury. “Daddy was hungry. He hadn’t eaten much that day. You see, he was forced to eat small portions, because of his stomach stapling surgery. He’d lost close to a hundred pounds in just a few months.”
Lincoln leans toward Mary Lee, his white-knuckled hands gripping the sides of the witness stand. “Ms. Hofstadter, please stick to the question. Now, I’m going to try again, and I would appreciate it if you would answer yes or no.”
Mary Lee nods in agreement.
“Your daddy and Rosemary had a pot luck luncheon and guests brought in food. That we have agreed upon. Isn’t it possible that anyone attending the luncheon could have brought those mushrooms into that house?”
Mary Lee shrugs her shoulders while shaking her head, no.
“Even you, Mary Lee Hofstadter, could have brought the mushrooms into the house, which makes me wonder why you didn’t eat any of the beef stroganoff. Is it because you’ll gain financially from your daddy’s death if Rosemary is found guilty?”
Sammy stands. “Objection, your Honor.”
Lincoln points at Rosy. “Rosemary Hofstadter is a vegetarian, but you are not. So, why didn’t you eat the beef stroganoff, Mary Lee?”
Sammy hops up and down, as if he’s on a trampoline. “Objection, Counsel is badgering this young woman. He’s persecuting her, which is unconscionable. She’s not the one on trial here.”
Bigg's face turns red, almost as red as Lincoln’s tie. He hammers his gavel with such force his jowls shake. “Lincoln, one more outburst before I’ve had a chance to rule, and I’ll hold you in contempt.”
“Sorry, your honor,” Lincoln says. “I have no further questions for this witness.”
“I hate beef stroganoff,” Mary Lee says, storming off.
Next up is Michael Hofstadter’s former mistress, a budding actress who reminds me of a blonde model I’d seen in one of those Victoria’s Secret catalogues. Only this gal, Ginger Pandino, doesn’t appear to have any secrets. She’s has on a black slip that looks like a nighty. No bra.
As if on cue, Ginger Pandino dabs at her eyes and swears to tell the “whole truth and nothing but.”
Sammy walks up, looking sympathetic as if Ginger is the real widow here. I’m surprised Sammy didn’t ask Ginger to dress more conservatively. “How long have you known the deceased Michael Hofstadter?”
Ginger wipes her eyes. “We had been dating off and on for…oh…ten years.”
Sammy turns on his heels to stare at Rosy. “Are you saying you started dating him before he met and married the defendant?”
“Yes. I was in the first documentary Michael did. It was on date rape, filmed at UCLA. I was a freshman at the time.”
“Did you love Michael Hofstadter?”
“Yes,” she sobs. “Very much.”
“Did the two of you ever talk about getting married?”
“He wanted to back then, but I was only eighteen, younger than his daughter, and my folks didn’t approve. I later married a guy they approved of, but it didn’t work out.”
A large woman in front of me says, “Hussy,” loud enough to be heard.
Biggs glares in her direction and hammers his gavel. “Be quiet or remove yourself.”
Sammy continues. “So you’re saying your first marriage ended in divorce, is that right?”
“Yes, and I needed a job to support myself, so I asked Michael if he had any work for me to do.”
Sammy points to Rosy. “Was he married to the defendant at that time?”
“And did Michael Hofstadter give you a job?”
“Yes, I became his assistant.”
“How would you describe your relationship with Michael Hofstadter?”
“I fought my feelings as he did, but our love was too strong, and he eventually told me he would ask his wife for a divorce.”
Rosy whispers something to Lincoln. He whispers back. Rosy shakes her head, no.
“And did Michael Hofstadter ask his wife for a divorce?”
Lincoln jumps up. “Hearsay, your Honor.”
Biggs hammers his gavel. “I’ll allow it as to what Mr. Hofstadter told this witness.”
“I’ll rephrase your honor. Ms. Pandino, did Michael Hofstadter tell you he asked his wife, the defendant, for a divorce?”
“Yes. Michael said she was furious and told him that the prenuptial she signed wasn’t worth the weeds in his garden.”
“Objection,” Lincoln shouts. “Hearsay.”
“No further questions, your Honor,” Sammy says, smiling.
Lincoln acts fidgety. His hands shake as he approaches the witness stand. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he’s attracted to this Barbie femme fatale. He flashes his toothy smile.
“Ms. Pandino, what if I told you that Michael Hofstadter’s wife, Rosemary, honestly believed her husband was true to her? She believed him when he told her he was intimate with only her. She believed him when he said he loved only her. And she is prepared to testify to that in this courtroom.”
Sammy stood. “Conjecture and improper questioning of this witness, your Honor.”
“Sustained.” Biggs hammers the gavel. “If the defendant is prepared to testify, then let her.”
Lincoln tries again. “Ms. Pandino, you have admitted you entered into an adulterous affair with Mr. Hofstadter, is that correct?”
“He was married and I knew it and I dated him anyway. That is true. I let my heart rule my head, but I eventually told Michael if he loved me the way I loved him, he should get a divorce, and until Michael actually took that step, I told him I wasn’t going to see him anymore. So, I broke it off until the night Michael assured me he had asked his wife for a divorce.”
“How many months did you have an affair with Michael Hofstadter before you broke it off?”
Ginger sighs and closes her eyes. “I don’t know. As I said, I dated him way back when I was at UCLA.”
“Ms. Pandino, I need you to tell this court how many months you had an affair with Michael Hofstadter while he was married to his wife, Rosemary?”
“Six months maybe.”
“It took you six months to realize you were doing the wrong thing by entering into an adulterous affair with a married man, six months before you, all of a sudden, decided to break off your relationship with him unless he got a divorce. Come now, Ms. Pandino, do you expect this court to believe you?”
Sammy raises his arms above his head like a winning fighter. “Objection, your Honor. Counsel is badgering the witness. She has already testified as to her relationship with the victim, Michael Hoftstader.”
Biggs hammers the gavel. “Sustained, move on, Lincoln. If you don’t have anything new to offer, please conclude with this witness.”
“One last question, your Honor. Ms. Pandino, did you actually hear Michael Hofstadter ask his wife Rosemary for a divorce?”
“No, Mr. Lincoln, but he recounted the conversation to me, and knowing him as well as I did, I knew he was telling me the truth.”
“So, what you’re saying is, Michael Hofstadter told you he asked his wife for a divorce. You didn’t actually hear him ask her, and he didn’t actually swear on a Bible that he asked his wife for a divorce, isn’t that right?”
Sammy huffs like a quack less duck. “Objection, your Honor, the defendant has already answered that question.”
Biggs hammers his gavel. “Sustained.”
Lincoln props his hands on his hips. “Who knows? Maybe you did believe Michael Hofstadter was telling you the truth, Ms. Pandino. His wife Rosemary certainly believed him when he told her he was faithful to her.”
Sammy stood and approached the bench. “Ojection and should be stricken from the record.”
“Sustained.” Biggs hammers the gavel. “Have you finished with this witness, Counsel.”
“Yes, your Honor.”
All eyes seem to follow Ginger as she steps down and sashays up the aisle and out through the double doors behind me.
“Prosecution rests,” Sammy says.
Biggs hammers his gavel, and we break for lunch.
When Rosy’s trial resumes, Lincoln calls Dr. Jason Franken to the stand.
Franken is a medical doctor, a horticulturist and expert witness. His last case involved a six-year-old boy who almost died from eating “Amanita Phalloides mushrooms also known as Death Caps,” he says.
Lincoln puts a photo of Death Caps on an easel for the jury to see. To my eyes, they look like normal mushrooms, except they have white ridges on their undersides.
“One mushroom can contain enough poison to kill an adult,” Franken says. “And cooking them doesn’t neutralize the toxins.”
Lincoln offers a zip bag filled with these mushrooms into exhibition for the jury to examine. “Would you say, Dr. Franken, that someone could easily mistake these Death Cap mushrooms with those purchased in a grocery store?”
“In your experience, have other adults made this mistake?”
“How many adults would you say have mistaken these poisonous mushrooms from eatable ones?”
“There’s really no way of accurately estimating how many deaths and accidental poisonings occur each year from eating these things. Often the symptoms mimic the flu.”
On cross examination, Sammy tries to confuse the expert witness, but Dr. Franken appears unflappable.
After Franken steps down, Lincoln calls Towsend Wallace, the owner of Towsend’s Garden Spot. Towsend has transformed many a brown thumb into a green one with his guidance and his own brand of potting soil. More importantly, Michael Hofstadter was one of Towsend’s customers.
Lincoln asks Towsend about Hofstadter’s love of gardening.
“Michael used to say, ‘Getting my hands in dirt is therapy,’” Towsend testifies.
“Did Rosemary Hofstadter share her husband’s gift of gardening?”
“No, Rosy never seemed interested. Michael once joked she didn’t know a tomato plant from a corn stalk.”
Lincoln smiles and turns Towsend over to Sammy, who asks only one question. “With your vast knowledge of plants, wouldn’t you agree most intelligent adults would be afraid to eat a wild mushroom from their yard?”
“I eat wild mushrooms all the time,” Towsend says. “But I know the difference between one that is good for me and one that might kill me.”
As soon as Towsend leaves the witness stand, Lincoln calls Rosy’s daughter Candy to testify. Candy is Rosy’s daughter from her first marriage to John Canter. Candy was supposed to arrive earlier, but she was in the middle of her college finals.
“Thank God I made it,” she whispers to me on her way to being sworn in. Candy is wearing a simple black dress, no makeup on her face. She could be Rosy’s twin. Today she looks more fragile than her mother, if that’s possible.
As she is being sworn in, I zone out and daydream about the day I first met Rosy. I’d stopped in to say hello to Bob Messer. Bob and his wife Gladys own a dry cleaners and repair shop.
Rosy rushed in. The heel of her shoe had popped off. She handed Bob both pieces of it. The shoe looked like a glass slipper.
“I should be able to glue it and screw it,” Bob said.
“You want to screw my shoe?” Rosy asks.
To make matters worse, Gladys said, “I’m afraid you won’t be able to walk after he screws it.”
I snap back to the courtroom scene when I hear Candy sobbing. “Mother is the kindest, sweetest woman in the whole world, everyone who knows her, loves her. She wouldn’t kill a fly.” She turns to the jury. “Please, stop this persecution of my mother.”
I cringe when it's Sammy's turn to cross examine. “My condolences for the loss of your step father Candy," Sammy says. "I know you’ve suffered a great deal in your young life. You lost your own father to a tragic unexplained accident, didn’t you? Was your father’s death happenstance or something more sinister?”
Lincoln jumps up. “Objection, irrelevant and cruel, your Honor.”
Biggs hammers the gavel. “Sustained.”
“I’ll withdraw the question.”
I exhale a relieved sign when Sammy finally releases Candy. Before she leaves the courtroom, she whispers to me, "I wish I could stay. But I have to hurry back and take another test."
Andrea Quiller, Rosy’s next-door neighbor, is called to the stand. Andrea plays the piano at Saint Paul’s Episcopal. She testifies about the luncheon at the Hofstadter home the day in question.
“There must have been at least fifty guests. Most everybody brought a dish or something. I remember thinking Michael didn’t look well. Rosy told me she thought he was losing weight too fast. She was worried about his health after he had that stomach surgery.”
On cross, Sammy asks, “Did you actually see any of the guests at the party bring in Death Cap mushrooms?”
“No, but I arrived at Rosy and Michael’s late. I brought a bean casserole.”
“Ms. Quiller, have you ever been to a pot luck lunch or supper where one of the guests brought in strange-looking mushrooms?”
“I can’t say that I have.”
“Ms. Quiller, did Rosemary Hofstadter tell you her husband, Michael Hofstadter abused her and she was miserable in that relationship?”
Andrea bites her bottom lip, but doesn’t respond.
“Ms. Quiller, do I need to repeat the question?”
Again, she hesitates and glances at Rosy. “Rosy once said Michael slapped her when he was drunk, but I think she set him straight after that.”
“What do you mean by ‘set him straight’?”
Andrea bites her lip again and turned toward the jury. “Rosy said she threatened to leave Michael if he ever hit her a second time.”
“Was Rosemary Hofstadter unhappy in her marriage?”
“No more than any of us.”
The courtroom erupts in laughter.
Biggs hammers the gavel. “Silence.”
After Andrea steps down from the stand, Lincoln calls Rosy to be sworn in. My heart hammers faster than a woodpecker in a hurry.
Tears stream down her lovely face as she clutches the oak banister in front of the witness chair. Lincoln puts his hands over hers in a touching display of compassion. “Rosemary, did you intentionally hurt Michael Hofstadter?”
“No, no, no.” Rosy swipes her tears with the backs of her hands. “I almost can’t live with myself knowing I might have cooked something for him that could have….” Rosy’s body convulses in sobs.
Lincoln hands her a box of Kleenex and says, “Do you need to take a break, Rosemary.”
Rosy shakes her head, no.
Lincoln continues. “Rosemary, I know this is difficult for you, but I need to ask you how you came to prepare the beef Stroganoff with those mushrooms that the prosecution alleges killed your husband.”
“Michael loved Beef Stroganoff. He’d been craving it. He actually stopped and picked up the sirloin the day before. I had not fixed Beef Stroganoff for him in, oh, I can’t remember when. It had been a long time. I had to refer to an old cookbook and check to see if I had all of the ingredients. I didn’t know if I had mushrooms or not, and then I happened to see them on the counter in a plastic grocery bag.”
“What time was this?”
“About six-thirty, seven.”
“Did the mushrooms look strange to you?”
“Tell us what happened after you fixed the Stroganoff.”
Rosy covers her mouth with her trembling hands and looks down at the floor, as if gathering her thoughts. “After the luncheon, Michael went up to his study to catch up on work. I didn’t want to disturb him by calling him downstairs to eat. So, I took him a plate.”
“Did you eat with your husband while he ate?”
“I don’t eat meat, but we did have a glass of merlot together. And afterwards, I went downstairs to clean up the mess from our luncheon.”
“Did your husband complain about being sick after he ate the Stroganoff?”
“After I cleaned up the kitchen, I went back upstairs. I had a terrible headache and wanted to go to bed. I called out to Michael. He didn’t answer, but I heard the commode flush in the bathroom next to his study. The bathroom door was closed. So I knocked on the door and told him I was going to bed. I asked him if he was okay. He said he didn’t feel well. He thought he might have a bug. I asked him if he wanted me to call the doctor. He said no. I asked him if I could do anything or get him anything. He said no.”
Rosy breaks into sobs again and Lincoln waits a moment. When Rosy regains her composure, he asks, “And can you tell us what else you remember?”
“I took two Excedrin PM as I sometimes do when I have a headache and can’t sleep. I didn’t wake up until seven the next morning.”
“Where was your husband then?”
“He wasn’t in bed with me, and I thought maybe he’d fallen asleep in his lounger. When he’s working on a project at home, he often falls asleep in his study in the lounge chair.” Rosy covers her face with her hands. “But I didn’t find him in the lounger. I found him on the bathroom floor. His body felt like stone. I immediately called 911."
The faces of the jurors look sad, as if afflicted with grief. Juror Faye Nell Krause is wiping her tears.
In an effort to appear compassionate, Sammy whispers his first question to Rosy. “Isn’t it true, Rosemary, that you were angry with you husband, Michael Hofstadter? And who could blame you? He asked you for a divorce after you were forced to put up with his unacceptable behavior?”
Rosy's baby blues, swollen from crying, widen. “Michael never asked me for a divorce.”
“Do you expect this court to believe that you did not know or suspect your husband was having an affair?”
Rosy wipes her eyes. “I wanted to believe he was true to me, and I guess I believed what I wanted to believe.”
“What about those strange looking mushrooms? Do you expect this court to believe that an intelligent woman, such as yourself, would not know, or at least suspect, those Death Caps were poisonous and profoundly lethal, and especially to someone like your husband who'd had stomach surgery?”
“If I had known I never would have given them to Michael or to anyone.” Rosy’s body trembles, and she starts sobbing again.
I ball up my fists. They’re itching to punch Sammy.
To keep from hitting him, I walk outside. The cool air feels good. I take deep breaths and try to meditate. I’m out longer than I intended. By the time I make it back inside, the summations and charges to the jury have concluded.
I expect a long and tortuous wait for a judgment, but in forty-five minutes, we get word there’s a verdict. Rosy is trembling as she stands to receive it.
The bailiff hands Judge Biggs the paper with Rosy’s fate. Biggs shows no expression as he glances at it and hands the verdict to foreman Owen Taylor to read aloud.
“Not guilty on all counts,” Owen announces.
The courtroom erupts in cheers. One woman yells, "Oh, my God."
I run over, grab Rosy and swing her around.
She says, "Don't squeeze me to death, Phil," and laughs.
Lincoln makes a victory sign with his fingers.
Rosy says she needs to go to the Ladies room. Lincoln and I wait for her.
After a few moments, she walks out, looking renewed and happy. She’s put on fresh pink lipstick and her eyes look clearer.
“The media circus is waiting,” she says. “Let get this over with.”
As we walk out to face the mob of flashing cameras and reporters, Rosy’s cell phone rings. She grabs the phone from her purse. Caller I.D. says, “Candy.”
"Hi Sweetie, the jury found me innocent," Rosy answers. "I know...but right now I have to feed the media."
A cameraman bumps Rosy. The cell phone flies from her hand. I catch it before it hits the concrete steps.
I hear Candy, still talking on the other end. Obviously, she’s unaware her Mom dropped the phone.
“I’m glad you killed that son of a bitch, Mama,” Candy says.
Sandy Semerad has worked as a newspaper reporter, broadcaster, columnist and editor, mostly in Atlanta, where she lived for many years. Since moving to Florida, she has written three novels, SEX, LOVE, AND MURDER (previously titled MARDI GRAVESTONE), HURRICANE HOUSE and her latest, A MESSAGE IN THE ROSES--loosely based on a murder trial she covered as a reporter. All of Sandy’s books have received rave reviews. Alabama born, she now lives in Santa Rosa Beach with husband Larry, their spoiled Shih Tzu P-Nut and wayward cat Miss Kitty. Sandy has two daughters and a granddaughter.
To find out more, visit her website: www.sandysemerad.com and blog:
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