Sunday, July 29, 2007

Spirit of Earth by Arline Chase


Book One of the Spirit Series.

"A Jack and Jill Mystery”

by Arline Chase

Chapter One

A Premonition of Evil

Mid-August, 1901

Jillian Abercrombie bit her lip and wondered how to ask her brother Jack for a favor. She stared across the morning room as he whistled and he poured almost-cold coffee at the sideboard.

Their parents’ newly purchased home on Eutaw Place was much larger than the old one, and boasted a ballroom upstairs, a music room with pocket doors that opened from the drawing room, a billiard room that did the same, and a two-story cast iron and glass conservatory at the back. With a big smile, Jill’s brother, Jonathan Abercrombie III, came and sat at the table. Jon, she mentally corrected herself. He hated to be called “Jack”—their father’s idea of a joke.

Jill could see why everyone commented on their resemblance, for she and her brother had the same broad brow, straight nose, deep-set eyes, and brown hair, though Jill’s eyes were darker and her hair was tawny and streaked with gold highlights. But Jon’s chin was square and strong, though his cheeks were dimpled, a feature he shared with their father. Jill’s own chin was pointed, and gave her a heart-shaped face. Even so, people often asked if they were twins on first acquaintance. Jack was nearly six years her senior, though at twenty-three he didn’t look all that much older.

Mamá hadn’t come down that morning. Their lawyer father had already left and Jon had been very late to rise. But Jill had waited at the table, refusing to let the staff clear away the breakfast things. Her brother was a second-year law student at Temple, or would be when he returned in the fall. Jill shook off a feeling of dread that attached itself to Jack and school, and tried not to think about the young actress who was keeping him out nights. She had heard her brother come in at four in the morning. Again.

“You won’t forget the dinner party on Saturday, will you, Jack? Promise me. You have to be here. ”

Jon smiled and took a seat. “I’ll be here for dinner, Jilly. I promised, didn’t I?”

“Yes...” Jill blinked. “But you’ve hardly spared a thought for anything but Miss Desmond since that dreadful night at the theater a few weeks ago...” Jill got up and poured herself more coffee that she didn’t want. Acid rose in the back of her throat. “You do remember that Papá has invited the Bucklands and their son. And he’s having a musical open house, after dinner. Half the city will be dropping by for that. The Bucklands will stay, too, of course.”

“Good Lord. That could go on half the night.”


“Dinner, yes.” Jon rubbed a hand over his eyes. “The whole evening? I can’t promise...”

“Jack! You have to.” Jill knew Papá had been thinking of nothing but young John Buckland, Jr. for weeks. “I can’t face seeing Sonny Buckland again by myself. Papá keeps trying to set up social engagements between us, because there’s a big deal cooking between Buckland Shipping and the B&O. Papá wants to be sure Buckland won’t try to back out of it later. Jack, I don’t want to marry anyone just to help Papá cement a business deal. Anyway, I can’t marry—not with my illness…”

“However ill you are, my being here won’t stop Papá, Jilly. You know that.”
Ill? Crazy as a loon is more like it. Jill heard her brother’s thoughts as clearly as if he had spoken aloud. She blinked back tears and tried to pretend she didn’t hear the voice in her head that screamed in French that her brother was right. Her father would do as he wished and she had no way to stop him. Non. Non. Non!

“Jack, I’m not crazy! I’m just—not like other people.” Jill got up and paced around the table. “Do you think I want to be this way? When I was a child, everyone pretended I was playing games. But the older I get, the harder it is to pretend nothing is happening. I’ll soon be eighteen. Papá wants me safely married and off his hands before my behavior becomes too much of an embarrassment to him. I don’t expect any more from him. But do you have any idea how uncomfortable it is to know that you think I’m ‘crazy as a loon?’”

“I never said that, Jill.”

“You thought it!” Jill took a shaky breath. “And I heard you.”

“That’s impossible! No one can read another person’s thoughts.” Jon bit into a piece of cold toast, ignoring the red-haired scullery maid who peeked from the hall to see if it was safe to clear the table. “Papá’s right. It’s time you got yourself under control.”

“If I could control it, don’t you think I would? Miss Desmond likes you, Jack, but you’re not the only man in her life. She’s told you about the other men she sees. You don’t like that, not at all. She’s rehearsing right now for a revival of Mazeppa at the Holiday, and it worries you that she’ll be appearing all but naked on the stage.”

“She’ll be wearing tights—pink ones—that cover her whole body. She won’t be naked”

“Pink tights and a long, long wig, but whatever she wears, people will think she’s naked. Other men will think she’s naked and you can’t bear it, Jack!” Jill shouted.

Jon swallowed and turned his head away. Jill barely heard him when he mumbled, “How can you know that?”

“Because I do hear your thoughts, whether you believe it or not.”

“Impossible. You’re just guessing.”

Jill covered her face with both hands. “Something is going to happen Saturday. Something bad. I don’t know what it is, but it will be awful! Please stay home, at least for that one night.”

“How did you know I had a date—?” Jon’s face went red, then white. “Jillian, please do me the favor of not mentioning my friendship with Miss Desmond to Papá.”

“You’re worried that he’d be angry?” Jill raised her chin. “You’re probably right. Papá wouldn’t like it. But Miss Desmond was never much interested in him, I can tell you.”

“How can you say that? You don’t know her, so there’s no way you could possibly know whom she’s interested in, either now or in the past.”

“Heloise told me,” Jill whispered the name of the Frenchwoman who most often spoke inside her head. There were other voices, but Heloise had always been with her.

“For god’s sake, Jillian. There is no Heloise! She’s a figment of your imagination!” Jon threw down his napkin and got to his feet. “Oh, all right. If it’s that important to you, you can count on me. Desmond will just have to understand—at least I hope to god she will.”Jill gave him a brief good-bye smile. “Don’t forget your umbrella.”

“Umbrella? It’s a beautiful summer day.”

“It’s going to storm all afternoon. Heloise said so.”

Jon rolled his eyes and left.

Figment of your imagination, ma chou? Silly boy! Heloise whispered inside Jill’s head. Let him get wet, then. He deserves a soaking.* * * Learn more about Arline Chase at of Earth is available from: -

Saturday, July 28, 2007


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