Celebrating The End

Readers;  He is this afternoon’s installment from the book. Thanks for reading.  Ed

 

 

It was not finished.  Though she had dismissed Brad Dawson and all the work that would be done had been done, three of the upstairs bedrooms had not been touched.  She would scrub the walls and floors herself and then close and lock the cherry doors to each of them and be satisfied with the elegance of what had been done.  The bathrooms were all replumbed and refitted, the fireplaces, all eight of them, had been put back into working order. She had tested them all. The formal dining room with its west-facing windows and walnut cabinets and counters now shone.  The kitchen had been reworked with full ventilation for the eight-burner gas thermador and the Aga. It was not finished, but the money, almost all of it, was gone. How often, she thought, had this been the case in her life? Where the goal is not completely achieved, but time or resources have been exhausted and all effort must cease.  The last corner, it seemed, was never turned.

 

This was not the end she had imagined or hoped for, but it was, she knew, the end.  The three untouched rooms would stay as they were, probably as long as she lived. Nonetheless, she felt like this ship ought to be christened.  Something should be done to mark the closing of the project. She had six hundred dollars left in the house account, not enough for a single day more of the contractor, but enough for something.

 

She drove to Charleston and to the street there where the clothing merchants catered to the carriage trade of the folks in the better parts of town: the oldest, brick neighborhoods in the hills to the south and the grand new constructions a few miles east of the city.  She had never been inside the stores there before, but on this day she found the dress that would mark her entry into her new life as mistress of Hill Grove. It was simple, with definite lines; off of the shoulders and hemmed at the knees. The perfect, little black dress.  And then shoes to match and then home to Walhonde. She drove not to her present residence, but to Hill Grove where she hung the dress and set the shoes in that long, empty closet that would soon be her dressing place.

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An Evening of Beginnings

Image result for formal dining fireplace

 

Hey, Readers;  Here’s another snippet from the book.  In this scene our protagonist, Rachel Thompson, has recalled an old flame back to the little town where they grew up to help her evaluate some paintings she has found in the basement of an old mansion she has just bought and rennovated.  He has given her all teh help she wanted and she is warming to him.  Thanks for reading.  Ed.

 

 

Rachel could feel the change in mood in the house as the early winter evening fell.  The day had been one of intense activity; of men and women stretching themselves to perform their vocational tasks.  The guards had staked out the perimeter of the house, installed cameras, and set up a monitoring station in the first-floor den.  They took their shifts sitting before the line of monitors and then walking outside, along the streets and alleys around the house.   The women from Jacob’s firm had been tireless and the inventory of the contents of all the trunks was now completed and their computers and camera all put away.

 

But now the day was gone and through the long casement windows in the upstairs library Rachel saw the snow begin to whirl and drift down again and settle on the already white lawn and garden below.  Now the house was no longer a place of exploration and discovery and labor. Now it would be what it was designed and intended to be – what Rachel imagined that it could be – a place of rest and renewal.   She found one member of the security crew who was sitting alone and persuaded him to follow her to the covered porch in the back of the house where they drew split hickory branches from a pile and carried them first the the fireplace in the drawing room where they lit the first fire and then took the remaining wood upstairs to the hearth in the library where they kindled another fire.  A couple of the security men had gone at Jacob’s direction to Charleston and collected boxes full of dinner from the finest hotel there. Rachel unpacked the standing rib roast and the au gratin potatoes, stuffed them into the oven and put the salads and desserts in the refrigerator. As she was putting the widest leaf in the dining table, one of the women from the firm stepped into the room.

 

“I can see this coming, and I want to be a part of it,”  she said. “Can I find a tablecloth and the silver?”

 

In minutes the two women had the table graced with an embroidered cloth, eight place settings of fine plate and silver and four tall candles.  Rachel assigned the third-floor bedrooms to the women from the law firm and directed the security team to set their cots and bedding in the ballroom.  Then she went to the master bedroom, the room she had set up for herself, and bathed and took from the closet the single garment she had bought with the last of her money before learning of the fault in the basement wall.  It was a perfect black dress, simple and definite, off the shoulder and hemmed just below the knee. She had bought this dress imagining her first party in the house. The first time she would entertain. This would be the dress she would wear to enter into the new life she had imagined.   

 

Before she was dressed she heard the piano downstairs.  One of the women from the law firm was playing Beethoven’s Pathetique.  The house was alive and breathing. She looked at herself in the full-length mirror  – where had this new energy, this bright, new fullness come from? She could not suppress a smile.

 

When she came down the staircase she saw that the food had been arranged in silver steam tables along the dry sink and cabinets at the front of the dining room.  The candles were lit. Jacob met her as she entered the room.

 

“Call your guests,” he said.

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What’s In Those Old Trunks?

 

Loetschental

The Loetschental Valley, Switzerland

 

 

 

 

It was Saturday and by noon an astonished representative of Sotheby’s was on the scene.  After reviewing the contents of the trunks, he took Jake and Rachel to an upstairs room where he breathlessly opined that the portraits and larger landscapes were very probably the work of Vincent Van Gogh and, if that were true, each of them could be counted on to bring over a hundred million dollars at auction.

“I can’t be as confident about the other works.  Those smaller canvases, the ones with the little crowds and priests and women in gowns, are much, much older.  I can tell that by the materials and the dimming of the colors. I don’t know this for sure, but I think this old series – there are ten of them here – might be commemorations of the wedding of Mary and Maximilian.”

At this, Rachel raised her eyes to Jacob, wordlessly asking him for an explanation or at least a request for an explanation.

“Who were Mary and Maximilian?” Jacob asked.

The Sotheby’s man was obviously pleased to be called on: to have his sophistication recognized.

“Mary was the daughter of Charles the Bold, the Duke of Burgundy.  Maximilian was the son of Frederick III, the Emperor of the Habsburg dynasty.  Their marriage, in 1477, was arranged by their two fathers for the purpose of preserving the Duchy of Burgundy which was in that day the wealthiest nation in all of Europe and comprised of territories that are now parts of France, Germany and Belgium.  Charles was getting along in years and he wanted to insure that his country would remain intact after his passing. He knew, or at least he felt, that the Habsburg house was the only power in the world that could insure that. On the other hand, Frederick was tickled pink to receive into his empire the overwhelming wealth of this rich land.  What is important to us now, though, is the story of what Frederick did to try to impress the Duke at the time of the wedding. History tells that the Emperor loaded 500 carts of treasure and commissioned his army to carry the bounty from Vienna, some 700 miles, over river and mountain to Ghent, Burgundy, as a token of the beneficence and power of the Empire.”

“I guess Mary must have been impressed,” said Jacob.

No doubt she was, but the important part of the story, for our sakes, at least, is for now apocryphal.  It is this: legend has it that one of the five commanders of this gigantic transport, his name, according to the legend, was Corvallis, rebelled along the way and diverted 100 of the laden wagons to a cave in the Eifel uplands, about two hundred kilometers east of Ghent.”

“That’s interesting, but why is it of particular importance to us . . now?”

“Well. There are 114 known caves in Eifel Uplands, most of them quite remote.  There have been many searches carried out over these last 500 years, in an attempt to recover this stolen bounty.  None of them successful. That is one of the main reasons the story of this mutinous action is doubted by many today.  But I think . . . and I am by no means sure of this . . . that the old map in the trunk here marks the spot where the treasures were hidden.  Marks out that cave.”

“We could go there?” Rachel asked.

“Yes.” said the man.

“Do you have any idea of what this treasure was . . . is?”

 

“Some of it is ruined, undoubtedly.  If there really was any such. Some of it would have consisted of textiles.  Tapestries, gowns, finery of all kinds. Clothing for Mary, undoubtedly. But we can be fairly certain that at least some of it would have survived fairly unharmed. There would likely have been stacks of precious metals – gold and silver bars and ceremonial weapons and armor forged of gold and silver.  There would have been jewelry made by the best artisans in the Empire, set with emeralds, sapphires, rubies and diamonds. And more paintings, of course.”

“One hundred wagons full?”

“Well. The mutiny started with 100 wagons.  We might assume that some of the soldiers, knowing that they would face execution if they ever returned to Vienna, appropriated some of the loot to themselves.  But even if there are only ten wagons remaining in the cave, it would still be a find unparalleled since the opening of Tut’s tomb.”

Rachel looked at Jake.  “I guess this means that I won’t have to beg the bank for a loan anymore.”

“Rachel, you can buy the bank.”

“What of this cave in . . . where is it, now?”

The Eiffel uplands.  On the border of Germany and Belgium.  It could be in either country. The map in your trunk of course does not show modern national boundaries.”

“What if we did find it?” She asked.  “What then?”

Jacob was now back in his element.  He responded. “It’s a legal thicket.  The law may be different in Belgium than it would be in Germany, but in either case there will be rival claims.  If the cave is on private property, the landowner would have some share in the recovery and, given the historical character of the find, it is almost certain that the nation – either Belgium or Germany – will claim part of it.  If the cave is located on land owned by the nation, then you can bet that the government will claim all of it, subject, maybe, to some kind of finder’s fee. Then there is the whole issue of how you might go about any attempt to find the cave.  It might not be as easy as finding a nearby hotel and a nice pair of hiking boots. It may be very remote country and any effort at exploration would be likely to draw attention and maybe trouble. In fact, youj may not even have the right to go onto the property.   Then there would be the whole matter of international diplomacy.”

It was quiet for a moment as Rachel pondered these complexities.  Then the Sotheby’s man held forth again. “This particular situation may be unique.  One of the marks of the wealth and power of the state of Burgundy was its control of the chivalric Order of the Golden Fleece.  It was an order of knighthood established by Mary’s grandfather and it carried high privileges. Once the order was bestowed on a knight he was no longer subject to the judicial processes of any nation, but could only be accused and only tried by his peers within the order. After the marriage of Mary and Maximilian, and the death of Mary’s father, Charles the Bold, mastery of the order passed to Maximilian and the House of Habsburg. Control of the order has been kicked around over the centuries – it was once usurped by Napoleon Bonaparte – but the order still thrives, it has taken in four new members in this twenty-first century – and it has long since returned to the control of the House of Habsburg.”


“Again,” Jacob asked, “what relevancy to us?  We’ll be subject to the laws of the United States, no matter what the Habsburgs give us.”

“The Habsburgs believe the story of the mutiny.  They believe in the stolen carts. They believe that the carts carried treasure of such value that their recovery could go a long way toward restoring the authority and majesty of the family that ruled over Europe for over 500 years.  They think the carts contained not only gold and silver, but books of ancient and medieval wisdom that contained secrets of the guilds and the church and the doctors of the day. There is a secluded, mountain valley located in what is now Switzerland – the Lötschental – where the people were so physically strong and beautiful that the Vatican recruited all of its guardsmen there and the nations of Europe sought the men of the valley to be mercenary soldiers.  Dukes and kings searched there for brides. Those people never got sick. The fifteenth century was the age of plagues. The cities were now large and crowded and there was no sanitation. All kinds of infections and diseases ravaged the continent. But the Lötschental soldiers and guards – and their women – never contracted the plagues. The carts are believed to contain the history of that people and all of the lore of their diet and lifestyles. There are, the Habsburgs still believe, true Apostolic writings that were once considered for canonization on some of these carts.  Writings of the Apostle Paul. Things that could change the world.”

“Fascinating.  But what effect on us?”

“There is a reward for the recovery of the treasure.  If the information leading to the recapture of the treasures is forwarded to the House of Habsburg and if the treasures are recovered, the finder will be knighted into the the Order of the Golden Fleece.”

“What could that possibly mean to an American?”

“For this old house, it would mean plenty.  It would mean that this place would become an aristocratic seat.  You would expect visitation and patronage from the House of Habsburg.  That would mean endowments large enough to fund schools and hospitals. It would mean inclusion in the social affairs of the Habsburg circles.  You would be invited to races and showings and weddings and the like. The house could receive artwork and artifacts from the Habsburg collections.  On loan, of course. This place would become a worldwide destination.”

 

copyright 2018

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Evening Falls at Hill Grove House

Here is another bit from the novel in progress

 

Rachel could feel the change in mood in the house as the early winter evening fell.  The day had been one of intense activity; of men and women stretching themselves to perform their life tasks.  The guards had staked out the perimeter of the house, installed cameras, and set up a monitoring station in the first floor den.  They took their shifts sitting before the line of monitors and then walking outside, along the streets and alleys around the house.   The women from Jacob’s firm had been tireless and the inventory of the contents of all the trunks was now completed and their computers put away.

Now the day was gone and now Rachel lit fires in the drawing room and in the upstairs library.  A couple of the guards had gone to Charleston and collected boxes full of dinner from the finest hotel there.  Rachel unpacked the standing rib roast and the au gratin potatoes, stuffed them into the oven and put the salads and desserts in the refrigerator.  As she was putting the widest leaf in the dining table, one of the women from the firm stepped into the room.

“I can see this coming, and I want to be a part of it.”  She said. “Can I find a tablecloth and the silver?”

In minutes the two women had the table graced with an embroidered cloth, eight place settings of fine plate and silver and four tall candles.

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Fabulous Wealth

Well, I am back to my old tricks again.  Here is another segment from the book, this one new as of just a few hours ago.  Here is the context:  Rachel Thompson, who bought the old house and has been struggling to finance the renovations has finally found the trunks that the original owners of the house hid behind a brick wall in the basement a little more than 100 years ago.  What follows is a conversation where a representative from Sotheby’s explains what treasures he has found in the trunks.  Ed.

 

It was Saturday and by noon an astonished representative of Sotheby’s was on the scene.  

After reviewing the contents of the trunks, he took Jake and Rachel to an upstairs room where he breathlessly opined that the portraits and larger landscapes were very probably the work of Vincent Van Gogh and, if that were true, each of them could be counted on to bring over a hundred million dollars at auction.

 

“I can’t be as confident about the other works.  Those smaller canvases, the ones with the little crowds and priests and women in gowns, are much, much older.  I can tell that by the materials and the dimming of the colors. I don’t know this for sure, but I think this old series – there are ten of them here – might be commemorations of the wedding of Mary and Maximilian.”

 

At this, Rachel raised her eyes to Jacob, wordlessly asking him for an explanation or at least a request for an explanation.

 

“Who were Mary and Maximilian?” Jacob asked.

 

The Sotheby’s man was obviously pleased to be called on, to have his sophistication recognized.

 

“Mary was the daughter of Charles the Bold, the Duke of Burgundy.  Maximilian was the son of Frederick III, the Emperor of the Habsburg dynasty.  Their marriage, in 1477, was arranged by their two fathers for the purpose of preserving the state of Burgundy which was in that day the wealthiest nation in all of Europe and comprised of territories that are now parts of France, Germany and Belgium.  Charles was getting along in years and he wanted to insure that his country would remain intact after his passing. He knew, or at least he felt, that the Habsburg house was the only power in the world that could insure that. On the other hand, Frederick was tickled pink to receive into his empire the overwhelming wealth of this rich land.  What is important to us now, though, is the story of what Frederick did to try to impress the Duke at the time of the wedding. History tells that the Emperor loaded 500 carts of treasure and commissioned his army to carry the bounty from Vienna, some 700 miles, over river and mountain to Ghent, Burgundy, as a token of the beneficence and power of the Empire.”

 

“I guess Mary must have been impressed,” said Jacob.

 

“No doubt she was, but the important part of the story, for our sakes, at least, is for now apocryphal.  It is this: legend has it that one of the five commanders of this gigantic transport rebelled along the way and carried 100 of the laden wagons to a cave in the Eifel uplands, about two hundred kilometers from Ghent.”

 

“That’s interesting, but why is it of particular importance to us . . now?”

 

“Well. There are 114 known caves in Eifel Uplands, most of them quite remote.  There have been many searches carried out over these last 500 years, in an attempt to recover this stolen bounty.  None of them successful. That is one of the main reasons the story of this mutinous action is doubted by many today.  But I think . . . and I am by now means sure of this . . . that the old map in the trunk here marks the spot where the treasures were hidden.  Marks out that cave.”

 

“We could go there?” Rachel asked.

 

“Yes.” said the man.

 

“Do you have any idea of what this treasure was . . . is?”

 

“Some of it is ruined, undoubtedly.  If there really was any such. Some of it would have consisted of textiles.  Tapestries, gowns, finery of all kinds. Clothing for Mary, undoubtedly. But we can be fairly certain that at least some of it would have survived fairly unharmed. There would likely have been stacks of precious metals – gold and silver bars and ceremonial weapons and armor forged of gold and silver.  There would have been jewelry made by the best artisans in the Empire, set with emeralds, sapphires, rubies and diamonds. And more paintings, of course.”

 

“One hundred wagons full?”

 

“Well. The mutiny started with 100 wagons.  We might assume that some of the soldiers, knowing that they would face execution if they ever returned to Vienna, appropriated some of the loot to themselves.  But if there are only twenty wagons remaining in the cave, it would still be a find unparalleled since the opening of Tut’s tomb.”

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Another Bit

Well, here we go again.  Yesterday or the day before I posted a segment of the book having to do with the untimely deaths of Hill Grove’s original owners/inhabitants and reciting a short history of the house and its various occupants up to the present.  But the more I thout about that piece, the more I felt like there was something else to that part of the story, so I wrote more this evening and here it is.  If you’ve been reading along, you will recognize the first two and the last paragraphs below.  They were in my last post and are repeated here to give this new bit some context.  Thank you for reading.  Ed.

 

If the house could be said to have had a golden age, this was it.  The Phillips girls were all handsome and well dressed and they navigated the Walhonde High School social scene with aristocratic grace and confidence. In the late fifties and early sixties an invitation to the Phillips house was the high mark of status among the youth of the town.  Parents then trusted the good Colonel and his stylish wife as chaperones. Even in his vigorous sixties, Colonel Phillips was a squared-away, imposing figure who always found himself cleaning and oiling his handguns as he welcomed the young men of the town into his estate. None dared cross the Colonel.

 

In that happy time the house was filled after every ball game with kids sixteen to eighteen years old.  The Phillips bought an old Wurlitzer jukebox and had it installed in the third-floor ballroom. The high-school dances were still held at the school, but the real parties were afterwards and always at the Phillips mansion.  The house for a time set a higher tone for life in the town.

 

The eldest daughter, Jane, was a blonde with a sparkling smile and the largest reservoir of that mystique that only young girls have and only for a while.  There wasn’t a boy at Walhonde High School who wouldn’t have dropped his steady for a chance with her. In the fall of 1962, she attended an Everly Brothers concert in Charleston.  Phil Everly saw her in the crowd, sent word to her through a roadie and met her backstage. She invited the brothers to her house, went home with her three girlfriends and a chaperoning father, called other friends and put together a real party for Phil and Don, who came immediately.  Phil talked to Jane long into that evening until Colonel Phillips intervened. Before leaving he pressed her for her address and wrote to her for almost two years until Jane became attached to the local boy who would become her husband. Just before the letter writing ended, Phil had arranged for Jane to come to Philadelphia for a taping of American Bandstand.  The Everly Brothers were the musical guests for the show and Phil had high hopes that Colonel Phillips would bring Jane there so that, after his performance, Phil could be seen by teenagers all over the country dancing with the girl of his – and everybody else’s – dreams. Phil wrote a very polite and respectful letter directly to the Colonel and included airline tickets in the envelope, but Phil’s advantages of fame and fortune were finally outweighed by a strong and handsome young man who had the advantage of living in the same town and going to the same school as Jane and the Colonel never had to decide whether he would have allowed the trip to Philadelphia.

 

One boy who attended almost every gathering at the Phillips house in that day was Lawrence Hays.  He suffered from a terribly disfiguring cleft palate and the damage to hearing and speaking that such a condition usually caused in that early time.  This boy had been shunned and otherwise horribly treated in elementary school and was craven and terrified as he began high school in Walhonde. Jane Phillips would not have it.  She befriended the young man and worked through every channel she knew to encourage him to attend the parties at her house. When he finally made it there, hair combed, coat and tie, shined shoes, Jane without saying a word let it be known that she would judge all of the boys by the way they treated Lawrence.  In only weeks his carriage changed. In only months he began to participate in classroom discussions and it soon became obvious that he had a profound gift for drawing. He made a dozen sketches of Jane that the family hung throughout the house and went on to a lucrative career as a commercial artist for Monsanto Chemical Company.

 

All four of Colonel Phillips’ daughters made use of the advantages of such a home in such a town and found good husbands for themselves.  None of them remained in the house past their 20th year and all of them followed their husbands’ prospering careers to faraway cities in the south and midwest.   The Colonel and his wife kept house there until 1968. He was 75 then and she 71 and, although they loved their home and although they had maintained it well and even added to its glory, they knew it was time to simplify, reduce their workload and relocate themselves to a place with milder winters, nearer to one of their daughters.

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Another Bit

 

Well, here we go again.  Yesterday or the day before I posted a segment of the book having to do with the untimely deaths of Hill Grove’s original owners/inhabitants and reciting a short history of the house and its various occupants up to the present.  But the more I thout about that piece, the more I felt like there was something else to that part of the story, so I wrote more this evening and here it is.  If you’ve been reading along, you will recognize the first two and the last paragraphs below.  They were in my last post and are repeated here to give this new bit some context.  Thank you for reading.  Ed.

 

If the house could be said to have had a golden age, this was it.  The Phillips girls were all handsome and well dressed and they navigated the Walhonde High School social scene with aristocratic grace and confidence. In the late fifties and early sixties an invitation to the Phillips house was the high mark of status among the youth of the town.  Parents then trusted the good Colonel and his stylish wife as chaperones. Even in his vigorous sixties, Colonel Phillips was a squared-away, imposing figure who always found himself cleaning and oiling his handguns as he welcomed the young men of the town into his estate. None dared cross the Colonel.

 

In that happy time the house was filled after every ball game with kids sixteen to eighteen years old.  The Phillips bought an old Wurlitzer jukebox and had it installed in the third-floor ballroom. The high-school dances were still held at the school, but the real parties were afterwards and always at the Phillips mansion.  The house for a time set a higher tone for life in the town.

 

The eldest daughter, Jane, was a blonde with a sparkling smile and the largest reservoir of that mystique that only young girls have and only for a while.  There wasn’t a boy at Walhonde High School who wouldn’t have dropped his steady for a chance with her. In the fall of 1962, she attended an Everly Brothers concert in Charleston.  Phil Everly saw her in the crowd, sent word to her through a roadie and met her backstage. She invited the brothers to her house, went home with her three girlfriends and a chaperoning father, called other friends and put together a real party for Phil and Don, who came immediately.  Phil talked to Jane long into that evening until Colonel Phillips intervened. Before leaving he pressed her for her address and wrote to her for almost two years until Jane became attached to the local boy who would become her husband. Just before the letter writing ended, Phil had arranged for Jane to come to Philadelphia for a taping of American Bandstand.  The Everly Brothers were the musical guests for the show and Phil had high hopes that Colonel Phillips would bring Jane there so that, after his performance, Phil could be seen by teenagers all over the country dancing with the girl of his – and everybody else’s – dreams. Phil wrote a very polite and respectful letter directly to the Colonel and included airline tickets in the envelope, but Phil’s advantages of fame and fortune were finally outweighed by a strong and handsome young man who had the advantage of living in the same town and going to the same school as Jane and the Colonel never had to decide whether he would have allowed the trip to Philadelphia.

 

One boy who attended almost every gathering at the Phillips house in that day was Lawrence Hays.  He suffered from a terribly disfiguring cleft palate and the damage to hearing and speaking that such a condition usually caused in that early time.  This boy had been shunned and otherwise horribly treated in elementary school and was craven and terrified as he began high school in Walhonde. Jane Phillips would not have it.  She befriended the young man and worked through every channel she knew to encourage him to attend the parties at her house. When he finally made it there, hair combed, coat and tie, shined shoes, Jane without saying a word let it be known that she would judge all of the boys by the way they treated Lawrence.  In only weeks his carriage changed. In only months he began to participate in classroom discussions and it soon became obvious that he had a profound gift for drawing. He made a dozen sketches of Jane that the family hung throughout the house and went on to a lucrative career as a commercial artist for Monsanto Chemical Company.

 

All four of Colonel Phillips’ daughters made use of the advantages of such a home in such a town and found good husbands for themselves.  None of them remained in the house past their 20th year and all of them followed their husbands’ prospering careers to faraway cities in the south and midwest.   The Colonel and his wife kept house there until 1968. He was 75 then and she 71 and, although they loved their home and although they had maintained it well and even added to its glory, they knew it was time to simplify, reduce their workload and relocate themselves to a place with milder winters, nearer to one of their daughters.

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An Experiment in Writing

 

I guess that books come to be written and reach completion in many different ways.  Some writers, I’d guess, are organized and disciplined and apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair at the same time every morning and churn out the chapters regularly.  Then there are others who are more haphazard and try to grab scenes out of the air as those scenes occur to them.  Such writers, to be charitable to them, need “incubation time.”

The composition of my third novel, The House at Hill Grove, has certainly taken the later route.  Not a problem for me the writer, but a genuine pain to anyone who is trying to read along and understand the story when it comes in bits and pieces and out of order.

I knew that at some time I would have to go back and review all I have written before to get rid of inconstencies and to tie it all together.  I started that process this afternoon by digging out the first blog posts of this book on this blog.  Some of these are over a year old.  What I have done is read aloud the first five chapters – in order this time –  on my YouTube channel.  I am linking to those videos here for those of you who would like to get a better grip on the story as a whole.  You can treat the videos as podcasts and listen to them as you drive or run or workout.  You could even watch me on your TV.

 

Thanks!

 

Here they are:

 

 

 

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An Experiment in Writing

 

I guess that books come to be written and reach completion in many different ways.  Some writers, I’d guess, are organized and disciplined and apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair at the same time every morning and churn out the chapters regularly.  Then there are others who are more haphazard and try to grab scenes out of the air as those scenes occur to them.  Such writers, to be charitable to them, need “incubation time.”

The composition of my third novel, The House at Hill Grove, has certainly taken the later route.  Not a problem for me the writer, but a genuine pain to anyone who is trying to read along and understand the story when it comes in bits and pieces and out of order.

I knew that at some time I would have to go back and review all I have written before to get rid of inconstencies and to tie it all together.  I started that process this afternoon by digging out the first blog posts of this book on this blog.  Some of these are over a year old.  What I have done is read aloud the first five chapters – in order this time –  on my YouTube channel.  I am linking to those videos here for those of you who would like to get a better grip on the story as a whole.  You can treat the videos as podcasts and listen to them as you drive or run or workout.  You could even watch me on your TV.

 

Thanks!

 

Here they are:

 

 

 

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A History of Hill Grove House

Dear Readers;  Here is another segment from my novel in progress.  If you’ve been reading along you know that the story is about a great house in a small town in West Virginia.  The house was built in 1912 and the story follows the place right up to the present when a woman in the towm buys the old place with teh intent of restoring it to its former glory.  This bit here is the linking between the original owners and all of the others, up until the book’s protagonist, Rachel Thompson, decides to buy it in 2018.  Thanks for reading.  Ed.

 

The Charleston newspapers made less of the car crash that killed Isaac and Rebecca Martin than might have been expected.  

He was wealthy – very wealthy by local standards – and she was nobility – by a very distant standard. But the story was only a single column, beneath the fold, two days after the crash.  It identified the victims and named the drunk driver, a fifteen-year-old boy, who hit the Martins head on as they rounded a blind curve on Walhonde River Road. Four years later the State of West Virginia instituted license requirements for drivers.  But no such thing had been heard of in 1913. The young drunk driver was hospitalized, but survived and was charged with homicide.

The town of Walhonde had no newspaper of its own, but the story of the crash made the news in the town in the old-fashioned way.  People talked of it everywhere. On the streets and in the shops and in the fields and on the porches and lawns. There were, of course, several variations of the story, all of them containing some falsehood.  In one such it was Martin and not the boy who had been drinking. In another it was Rebecca who had been driving the Duesenberg at time of the crash. Some said that although she had never driven before she had begged Isaac to let her have the wheel and that she lost control of the car almost immediately and ran into the poor, unfortunate young man.

Neither Isaac or Rebecca had a next of kin who could be located.

There were even more stories circulating about the house.  What would happen to this grand mansion now that the Martin’s were dead without heirs and there was no one in the town or even the county who could afford such luxury, such extravagance?  There were stories then about treasures left inside the house – silver and gold, china and glassware, paintings and even documents related to happenings in Europe.

Isaac Martin was a rich man when he died, but his estate was not organized.  He began his venture and made his fortune years before the United States Government instituted an Income Tax and decades before anyone had heard of workmen’s compensation, pension plans or lawsuits against employers.   In the early winter when the hardwood trees were harvested, the Walhonde River would be full, bank-to-bank, with massive, hundred-year-old logs, floating down out of Boone and Logan Counties to Martin’s sawmill just above Walhonde Falls.  All of it belonged to Isaac Martin. All of it he converted into lumber. All of it he sold. In ten years he appropriated to his own great profit a wealth of the finest wood that had taken a century of rain and sunshine to grow. Yet his means were simple: great saws, strong laborers, big draft horses and a handy river and railroad.  He amassed a fortune and never once consulted a lawyer.

If his life would have continued unabated, his affairs would have had to be organized, but his wealth had come on like lightning and there was no time for a thought of grooming a second man in charge to take the reins.  His buyers – the men from the cities – took over his business piece by piece as the months passed after his death.

The Charleston newspaper sent Rebecca’s obituary to the Illustrierte Kronen Zeitung in Vienna.  Her aunt, Countess Bertha Von Suttner, read it there with shock, horror and grief. Von Suttner, then ailing with stomach cancer, died only months later and only weeks before the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the start of the World War that she had foreseen and spent her life trying to forestall.

More than once the house was broken into and ravaged, but the town finally took it upon itself to secure the place against burglars and in five years the estate was sold on the courthouse steps for back taxes.  The buyer was a congregation that had splintered off from a mainline Presbyterian church in town. Although the group had grand aspirations of starting a new denomination, they were few in number and had little money and so did almost nothing to adapt the house to a place of worship.  The church itself died out a few years later when its founding minister emptied its modest accounts and went south with the 20-year-old church secretary. The old house again sat empty for years until after VE day when Colonel J. M. Phillips, USMC, returned from Germany. With his war pay and inheritances from his and his wife’s parents, he redeemed the property from the county tax liens, moved his wife and four daughters in and began what would be a decades-long project of restoration.

If the house could be said to have had a golden age, this was it.  The Phillips girls were all handsome and well dressed and they navigated the Walhonde High School social scene with aristocratic grace and confidence. In the late fifties and early sixties an invitation to the Phillips house was the high mark of status among the youth of the town.  Parents then trusted the good Colonel and his stylish wife as chaperones. Even in his vigorous sixties, Colonel Phillips was a squared-away, imposing figure who always found himself cleaning and oiling his handguns as he welcomed the young men of the town into his estate. None dared cross the Colonel.

In that happy time the house was filled after every ball game with kids sixteen to eighteen years old.  The Phillips bought an old Wurlitzer jukebox and had it installed in the third-floor ballroom. The high-school dances were still held at the school, but the real parties were afterwards and always at the Phillips mansion.  The house for a time set a higher tone for life in the town.

All four of Colonel Phillips’ daughters made use of the advantages of such a home in such a town and found good husbands for themselves.  None of them remained in the house past their 20th year and all of them followed their husbands’ prospering careers to faraway cities in the south and midwest.   The Colonel and his wife kept house there until 1968. He was 75 then and she 71 and, although they loved their home and although they had maintained it well and even added to its glory, they knew it was time to simplify, reduce their workload and relocate themselves to a place with milder winters, nearer to one of their daughters.

They sold the house to a young doctor who had just established a practice in town and had plans to partner with several others and convert the house into a kind of clinic.  As it turned out, no other doctors were interested in that situation and after a few years of solo practice there the young doctor took a job at a Charleston hospital and leased the house to the Daughters of The American Revolution.   They used the place for their monthly dinners and weekly luncheons and sublet it on occasion to other clubs and civic groups. After a decade, the doctor, who had prospered and now lived in a new home outside of Charleston, wanted rid the of the burden of maintaining the old place and so he sold it for next to nothing to the DAR.

They managed to maintain the place for another twenty years, but as time passed and the town aged and the factories and plants closed their doors, the DAR with its dwindling, aging membership, disabled husbands, and ever-diminishing accounts, could no longer maintain the property and defaulted on the mortgage.  The bank appointed a receiver and continued to rent the place by the day or evening to wedding parties and others – even on occasion the DAR. The bankers finally rid themselves of this net liability by at last finding a buyer with hopes of restoring glory to the place. Alas, hope was not enough and in 1998 the house was defaulted on again and went back into the hands of the bank.  This time the bank simply boarded the place up and left it empty and for twenty years it stood thus, while the rest of the town continued on its slide into shambles.

 

copyright 2018

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