Friday, December 28, 2012
"The Silver Shawl: A Mrs. Meade Mystery" by Elisabeth Grace Foley (Novelette)
Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction
Type of Short Story: Novelette
Summary: In a small town in turn-of-the-century Colorado, a young woman has disappeared from the boarding-house where she lives. Her distraught fiancé is certain that she must have been kidnapped. But the case takes a new turn when a city detective appears on the scene, looking for a woman who matches the description of the missing girl. Was Charity really kidnapped, or did she have a reason to flee? Mrs. Meade, a gentle but shrewd widow lady who lives across the hall in the boarding-house, feels that there is something wrong with the story of Charity’s disappearance…but can she unravel the mystery before it is too late?
In about the time it takes for a fine horse to travel half a block, Sheriff Andrew Royal was surprised in his office and in the middle of his breakfast by a distraught young man who demanded that Sour Springs be turned upside down and vigorously shaken. Sheriff Royal, once he had got down the half a biscuit with honey which had prevented his interrupting sooner, made routine answer. He told Randall for Pete’s sake to calm down, said that yes, he was aware that Randall didn’t know where Charity was, but it didn’t follow that nobody else did, and reached for his hat to lend some credence to his assurances that yes, he’d ask around if anybody’d seen her. As Randall showed signs of giving vent to a burst of outrage at this innocuous understatement, Royal gave him (in an annoyed voice) a list of very good reasons why harm should not befall a respectable young woman in a town like Sour Springs, then jammed his hat over his bushy eyebrows and stalked out to prove it.
But by midday, a reasoned anxiety was not only possible, but excusable. After questioning her few closer friends or acquaintances provided no clue to her whereabouts, a general alarm was spread that Charity Bradford was missing, and when it had traveled around the town, the result was that no one had seen her that day.
Royal, once roused, though in no better mood, was persistent. His efforts at length turned up two witnesses. One was a small boy who rightly judged that his being an important witness in the case of a missing young lady would render insignificant the fact that he had been sneaking back into the house at a time he was not supposed to be out of it when he saw her. He had seen Miss Bradford walking along the street after dark, but hadn’t gotten close enough to see anything more because he had hidden to avoid her seeing him.
The second witness was an old man, rather shaky to begin with, whose closest friends were rather doubtful about his testimony because they knew he was in the habit of taking a nip of something on chilly evenings. But he was more specific, and more insistent. He had stepped out on his porch for a moment that evening, and had seen a young lady with dark hair walking on the other side of the street. She had on a light dress and a hat and a shimmery shawl of some kind. He was too far away to see her face, but yes, he thought it had been Miss Bradford. She was the right height and she’d been wearing what they said she had on that night. Sheriff Royal repeatedly cross-questioned him as though with a perverse desire to find some flaw in his story, but the old man stubbornly held on to every detail, chilly evening or no. She was wearing a light-colored dress—yes, it might have been green, but he wouldn’t say for sure; his eyes weren’t that good—and a silver shawl. Well, not a silver shawl, he admitted when Royal pounced on him, but a silvery one, or shimmery one—something light like that. That’s what he’d seen and that’s all he could say. No other girl had admitted she was walking up Main Street at that hour, had she? So who else could it be? Royal gave him up in disgust.
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