It’s summer on the picture book island of Martha’s Vineyard. Olympia Brown is the summer minister, and she suspects that an elderly parishioner is the target of a nasty confidence operation. Much to the consternation of her colleague, Father Jim, and Frederick, her English gentleman, Olympia puts her own life in danger when she intervenes. Sparks fly, tempers flare, and Olympia ends up on the wrong side of a loaded gun. If you don’t already know the Olympia Brown series, check out A Deadly Mission and An Unspeakable Mission on our Books page. Already a fan? You’ll love A Despicable Mission, Olympia Brown’s latest adventure, also available in e-book formats for the Kindle and Nook readers.
November 19, 1860
Where to begin? It has been almost four months since I have written anything in these most personal and private pages. And in that time, my whole life has changed. I am carrying a child who will never know its father and am sworn to keep his secret to the grave. I am determined to keep this child and thus will go and stay with my beloved Aunt Louisa until my time is come. Lest I cause alarm by simply disappearing without a trace, I told one or two close friends who knew of my interest in religion that I planned to go off to the city of Cambridge for an extended Christmas holiday. I also said that during that time I would approach the deacons at Harvard College and inquire as to whether I might be allowed to attend some classes there and pursue my interest in theology.
There is some truth in this as I do one day plan to further my education. I promised that once I was settled in I would surely write and tell of my adventures. But what will I write? What can I write? At present all this and more remains a mystery. So far I have managed to conceal my condition with the heavy wraps and shawls that we New Englanders must wear to guard against the cold. But I know I must leave soon.
I’ve made my choice, and with God and Aunt Louisa’s help, I’m determined to see this through. And even as I write these words, a little hand or foot, I know not which, pushes up against my heart as if to underscore this promise and the words I write.
More anon, LFW
Mary Elgin Parker, suddenly at home. Arrangements are incomplete at this time. A full obituary will appear in next week’s issue of The Martha’s Vineyard Times.
“Two never goes without three.” Julia Scott-Norton refolded the newspaper and placed it on the wood plank table between them. She and one of her bridge ladies, Sharon McGrath, were enjoying a gossipy girl’s lunch at the Black Dog Tavern. Sharon was carefully dissecting a lobster roll, taking out the celery and lining up the bits along the edge of her plate.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
Julia settled into her story. “I mean that Mary Parker is the second elderly person to die alone at home in as many weeks. Maybe I’m being superstitious, but from my experience bad news always comes in threes. Mary Parker and the other one, Doug Bourke, were both getting on in years and determined to stay in houses far too big for them.” Julia paused for effect. “And both of them died as the result of a fall. Doug slipped getting into the bathtub, and Mary fell down the cellar stairs.”
Sharon rested her chin on the palm of her hand and nodded sympathetically. “I know we’re all going to die, but think about it, alone and crumpled in a heap on a cement floor. Poor thing, it must have been awful. I know it sounds gruesome, but was it instant, or did she lie there and suffer?”
Julia frowned and shook her head. “Either nobody knows, or nobody’s talking. I do know it was a while before somebody found her. I hear they’ll be doing an autopsy. I guess it’s mandatory with an unattended death, and that means the funeral won’t be for a while yet.”
Julia paused and smiled. “Remember how she loved wearing those big blowsy hats and going out to lunch? That woman could eat like a horse and run up a flight of stairs like a squirrel. I could never keep up with her. It’s hard to believe someone as spry as that could die in a fall. She was full of energy, but at the same time, she was always careful where she put her feet. That’s what’s so odd about it. It’s not like her.”
“Is that that summer minister of yours going to do the funeral? Nothing like total immersion starting on day one.” Sharon chuckled at her own somewhat obscure baptismal joke.
Julia nodded and tucked a paper napkin into the top buttonhole of her flowered blouse. “I called her and told her about it. Her name’s Olympia Brown. She’s never been on Martha’s Vineyard before, and the first thing we hit her with is a funeral for an island icon with a whole lot of questions surrounding the death.”
“Did I hear something about the title to the house being in question as well? My husband Timmy works at the town hall. He said he heard some vague mutterings about it.”
“Didn’t take long for that to get around, did it?” said Julia.
“It’s a small island,” said her bridge partner, spearing a juicy pink chunk of lobster.
“Too small sometimes, and that’s only one of the questions.”
Sharon raised an eyebrow, lowered her voice and peered over her glasses. “What are you saying?”
Julia pushed aside her plate, leaned across the table, and lowered her voice. “I’m saying that some people think it’s possible that Mary Parker’s death might not have been an accident.”
“What about Doug Bourke?” asked Sharon. “He lived alone and died in an accidental fall in the bathtub.”
“He really did drown. At least that’s what my sister said. She was at the hospital when they brought him in.”
“It’s tough to get old,” said Sharon.
“We don’t have much choice,” said Julia, holding up an expository index finger, “but from my perspective, it certainly beats the alternative!”