Every Thursday at four o’clock, Mona Moon held a public tea at Moon Manor, where seven people were allowed to attend. Anyone, from a lowly stable hand to scions of industry, could come provided they made a reservation first with Miss Moon’s new social secretary.
Precisely at four, Samuel opened the massive front doors to Moon Manor and escorted a small knot of people into the foyer where the downstairs maid gathered their hats, coats, and gloves before whisking them away to a hidden closet.
The four guests were then greeted by a young woman named Dotty who was wearing a navy polka-dotted dress. “Hello, I’m Miss Dotty, Miss Moon’s social secretary. Y’all spoke to me on the phone. Miss Moon will be a few minutes late and begs me to entertain you until she can join us. I would like to ask that you do not attempt to hug Miss Moon nor shake hands with her. Do not attempt to pass food to her.” Dotty gave a quick, little smile. “I’m afraid this is not a request. It is a matter of security protocol. I’m sure you understand.”
The guests quickly stole glances at each other. They had never heard of such things. Security protocols?
Dotty said, “Please follow me, lady and gentlemen.”
Throwing open the double doors to the formal parlor where a fire was lit, Dotty invited the group to partake of the tea sandwiches, tarts, sliced angel food cake, éclairs, and scones along with clotted cream and jams carefully arranged on a buffet table. She poured tea from an antique silver tea service into Royal Doulton porcelain teacups and chatted amiably with the guests, answering their questions about Moon Manor and Mooncrest Farm.
Little did they know at that moment Mona was finishing her own tea upstairs in her bedroom suite with Violet, her maid. She didn’t like strangers watching her eat, so Mona had her tea early and went down after her private repast. This gave her guests time to relax somewhat before meeting one of the richest women in the world.
Mona asked, “How do I look?”
Violet perused Mona’s black and beige dress which highlighted Mona’s platinum hair. “A bit more lipstick, Miss Mona. Your lips look a bit drab.”
“Are my seams straight?” Mona asked, looking at her stockings backward into a full length mirror.
“Let me,” Violet said as she bent over and pulled a seam straight on Mona’s silk hose. “There, that’s better.”
“I’ll be glad when they invent a stocking with no seams.” Mona dabbed some red lipstick on and then blotted her lips with a handkerchief. Mona said grinning, “I don’t want to look too much like a Jezebel.”
“You look fine, Miss.”
“How many are down there?”
“That’s not too bad. What do they want?”
“Pastor Harrod needs a new roof on his church. He’s here to ask if you will donate the money.”
“Have I met Pastor Harrod before?”
“Yes, he supported our charity when Babe Ruth came.”
“Anything off about him?”
“What do you mean?” Violet asked.
“Does he belong to the Ku Klux Klan? Longing for the days of slave labor? Beat his wife?”
Violet chortled, “Oh no, Miss Mona. He’s a sincere, God-fearing man. I’ve never heard his name associated with anything that smacked of violence or corruption, but he is very old fashioned. He believes in the literal interpretation of the Bible and doesn’t believe women should work outside the home.”
Mona rolled her eyes.
Seeing Mona bristle at her last statement, Violet said, “His church does a lot for the destitute and is known for helping folks learn to read and write. Jetta based her teaching program on his.” When Violet saw Mona recoil at the mention of her former social secretary, Jetta, she hastily apologized. “Sorry, Miss Mona. I didn’t mean to bring up Jetta’s name. I wasn’t thinking.”
Jetta was discovered feeding sensitive information to Melanie Moon, Mona’s aunt, so Mona gave her the heave-ho. Everyone who worked at Moon Manor had felt betrayed, but Mona was especially devastated.
“I shouldn’t be so sensitive. Not your fault. Who else is here asking for money?”
“None that I’m aware. There is a Mr. and Mrs. Kendrick.”
“What do they want?”
“They want to introduce themselves and welcome you to Lexington.”
“Hmm. Anyone else?”
“A Dr. Rupert Hunt.”
“He’s an assistant professor of history at the University of Kentucky.”
Mona smiled. “Finally, someone with whom I can converse.” She gave one last glance in the mirror. “Let’s get this over with, shall we?”
Violet opened the bedroom door and then locked it behind her before following Mona and Chloe, Mona’s pet Standard Poodle, down the grand staircase. It was Mona’s policy that her suite should always be locked. Only she and Violet had a key. That way Mona knew no one could tamper with her things.
Mona had learned the hard way that being rich was also dangerous. Several attempts had been made on her life since she inherited a fortune from her late uncle—Manfred Michael Moon. Also, there had been a rash of high-profile kidnappings, including Charles Lindbergh’s baby, which ended in the baby’s death, so stringent protocols were put into place. Mona chafed under the new guidelines, but obeyed them. She learned long ago evil walked the earth alongside saints, and sometimes it was hard to discern the difference between the two. Better to be safe than sorry.
Chloe loped into the parlor first while Mona waited in the foyer listening. If there were oohs and ahhs upon seeing Chloe, Mona knew her guests were friendly and dog lovers. A good thing in Mona’s eyes. If there were cries of dismay and frantic shooing away, Mona would be less inclined to accommodate her guests with their requests. It was one of Mona’s prejudices. She disliked people who disliked animals, especially herdog.
Chloe was greeted enthusiastically, which made Mona smile. She took a deep breath, plastered a smile on her face, and strode into the parlor. “Hello.”
The men stood immediately as Mona personally greeted each one. “Pastor Harrod, nice to see you again.”
“I’m flattered that you remember me.”
“How could I forget?”
Pastor Harrod blushed and his hands, dotted with brown-age spots trembled a bit.
Mona turned to the middle-aged couple with their tweed jackets and sensible shoes. They looked like the outdoorsy types. “Mr. and Mrs. Kendrick, I understand.”
Mr. Kendrick extended his hand, forgetting Dotty’s instructions. His wife tugged on his jacket. Embarrassed, Mr. Kendrick stuck his hand away in his pants pocket, not knowing what else to do.
Mona pretended not to notice. “So nice to meet the both of you. I don’t think we’ve met before, have we?”
Mrs. Kendrick spoke up. “We have not, indeed. Mr. Kendrick has been under the weather this past year. We even missed Babe Ruth coming to town. I hear the event was a smashing success.”
“I was sorrowful about that. I love baseball and keep up with all the statistics,” Mr. Kendrick added.
“I’m sorry to hear about your poor health, Mr. Kendrick. Please sit down. Gentlemen, all of you, please sit.”
The men sat and replaced their napkins upon their laps.
Dotty offered Mona a cup of tea, which she accepted before settling into a chair.
“I hope you are feeling better, Mr. Kendrick,” Mona said.
“I am, Miss Moon. Thank you.”
Mrs. Kendrick piped up, “Moon Manor is beautiful.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Kendrick. After the fire last year, I wasn’t sure if we could get the manor back to its original state, but I think our local craftsmen did a wonderful job.” Mona turned to the youngest member of the group. “You are Doctor Rupert Hunt.”
“Yes, Miss. Thank you for letting me come. Oh, and please don’t feel you need to address me by my honorific.”
“I’m an academic myself. You should be proud of the title ‘doctor.’”
“I’ve not been able to become acquainted with everyone in the community, so this is my small way of meeting people. Dr. Hunt, I understand that you are an assistant professor of history at the University of Kentucky.”
Dr. Hunt placed his teacup on the side table and scooted forward on his chair. “Yes, Miss. I am a most fortunate man to receive the post. I hope to make tenure soon.”
Mona asked, “What is your field of expertise?”
“I focus on North America between 1600 to 1850, especially this area.”
Mona said, “I see. I’m very interested in archaeology myself. I made my living by being a cartographer for most of my adulthood.”
Dr. Hunt said, “I understand you were in Iraq.”
Mona nodded. “Several times. I am fascinated by the peoples of Mesopotamia—the Sumeriansand the Babylonians.”
“Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization,” Dr. Hunt commented.
Pastor Harrod interjected, “Abraham was born in Ur.”
“Was he really?” Mrs. Kendrick said. “I guess I need to read my Bible more often. I thought Abraham was born in Canaan.”
“He was promised Canaan by God, but he was born in Ur,” Pastor Harrod said.
Mischievously, Mona added, “Yes, Abraham left his father, Terah,in Ur while taking his wife Sarah, who was also his half-sister.”
Mrs. Kenrick’s eyes grew large. “Goodness. Is that true, Reverend? Was Sarah Abraham’s half-sister?”
Pastor Harrod blushed and tugged at his tie. “It’s not something we like to address except to say things were different back then. The terms sister, brother, daughter, son are given large latitude in the Bible. I guess to say that we might suspect, but we don’t really know.”
Mona smiled into her cup of tea.
Wishing to dispel the awkwardness of the moment, Dr. Hunt spoke up, “Pastor Harrod, are you a descendant of James Harrod?”
Pleased that someone had made the connection to his famous ancestor, Pastor Harrod said, “Yes, I’m proud to say that I am a descendant.”
Mona said, “I am not up on all my Kentucky history yet, so please fill me in.”
“James Harrod established the first permanent settlement in Kentucky called Harrodsburg,” Dr. Hunt said, sneaking Chloe a bit of his cucumber tea sandwich.
“I thought Daniel Boone established the first permanent European settlement at Boonesborough,” Mona said.
Dr. Hunt shook his head. “Boone tried earlier but failed. However, he did blaze the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky.”
“I have never understood what the Cumberland Gap is,” Mr. Kendrick said.
Dr. Hunt replied, “It was basically a natural break through the mountains that the Indians used. A footpath, really. Boone made part of it wider and it was called the Wilderness Trail. It opened the door to the West through the Appalachian Mountains. Otherwise, settlers had to come down the Ohio River on flatboats in the spring when the water ran high.”
“I am learning so much today,” Mrs. Kendrick said, raising a cup to her lips.
Dr. Hunt continued, “I am so pleased to meet you, Pastor Harrod. I have a special interest in your ancestor.”
The Pastor asked, “Why is that?”
“I understand James Harrod disappeared off the face of the earth on a hunting trip.”
“It truly is a mystery as to what happened to him,” Pastor Harrod lamented.
“I’m not familiar with the story,” Mona said, suddenly very interested in James Harrod. She leaned forward in her chair. “I love a good mystery. What happened?”
“You explain it, Dr. Hunt,” Pastor Harrod encouraged. “You probably can tell the tale better than I.”
Dr. Hunt wiped his mouth with the linen napkin and folded it neatly. “Well, if you won’t be bored then I shall. It’s a story with lots of blood and guts.”
Petting Chloe and sneaking her a biscuit, Mona said, “Please do. I like a good yarn with blood and guts.”
“Really, Miss Moon,” Mrs. Kendrick admonished.
“I’m just teasing, Mrs. Kendrick, but Dr. Hunt does make it sound intriguing,” Mona said, keeping her face as that of a sphinx. “Go on, Dr. Hunt. I really am interested.” Mona disliked someone correcting her in her own home eating her food, but tried not to show irritation. She had the teas to make friends, not to correct people’s social manners.
Obviously, quite pleased with himself, Dr. Hunt said, “James Harrod was an enterprising and capable man. He served in the French and Indian War, founded Harrodsburg, owned more than 20,000 acres of land in Kentucky, and was awarded the rank of colonel in the local militia. He was respected by his community and was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates as Kentucky was part of Virginia at that time. Later on, James served as trustee for Harrodsburg. He was a master frontiersman in every sense of the word—honorable, charitable, outstanding hunting skills, remarkable rifle shot, and fearless in the face of danger.”
“Sounds like my kind of man,” Dotty remarked.
“Another noteworthy thing about James Harrod is that his brother, Sam, and his father’s first wife were killed by the Indians. Even his wife’s father, first husband, and their son were killed by them. Her father was scalped, and the son was burned at the stake. Yet, James Harrod was known for not hating Indians.”
“He was a man who practiced his faith,” Pastor Harrod said. “Love thy neighbor.”
“Still, with all the bloodshed on the frontier over land rights, that was an unusual attitude for a white man,” Mona said. “I’m impressed, but he was still stealing land from the indigenous people, was he not?”
Pastor Harrod pursed his lips together and refused to comment, even though he felt insulted. He needed a roof for his church and by God, this white haired vixen with her yellow eyes was going to get it for him.
Mrs. Kendrick asked, “What happened to James Harrod?”
Dr. Hunt petted Chloe, who whined wanting to be scratched behind her ears. “In February of 1792, James entered the Kentucky wilderness with Michael Stoner, a friend, and another man named Bridges on an apparent beaver hunting trip. James did not return with them from the trip.”
“What happened?” Mona asked.
“That’s it. No one knows,” Dr. Hunt said. “According to James’ wife, Ann, there was bad blood between Bridges and James over land several years back. She warned James not to go with him.”
Mr. Kendrick asked, “Was a body ever found?”
“Yes and no,” Dr. Hunt replied. “I’ll get to that in a moment.”
“The feud must have been forgotten if James went on a hunting trip with this fellow,” Mrs. Kendrick said.
“Ann didn’t think so,” Pastor Harrod replied. “According to her statement, she begged James not go to with Bridges, and James must have put some credence in what Ann said because shortly before the trip, he wrote a new will giving everything to his wife and daughter and asked his friend, Stoner, to go with him.”
“Ah,” Mona said.
Pastor Harrod said, “Some claim that James decided upon a ‘wilderness divorce’ and just walked away from his family.”
“And leave all that wealth behind? Most men I know wouldn’t walk away from their life’s work and money regardless of how they felt about the missus,” Mona said.
“I don’t think so, either,” Dr. Hunt concurred. “Many settlers claimed James ‘worshipped’ his wife. Ann publicly stated she felt Bridges murdered James out of revenge.”
“What happened?” Dotty asked. She leaned forward and thought the story was better than any she read in the dime store mystery novels she bought. She thought Dr. Hunt was handsome with his auburn hair, corn blue eyes, and ruddy cheeks. He looked solid in his gray wool suit with his wide shoulders and narrow waist. Dr. Hunt had a jovial aura about him that was infectious.
Dr. Hunt gave Dotty a warm smile. “According to Stoner, the three camped on the Three Forks of the Kentucky River. We call the location Beattyville now. Stoner claimed he was making breakfast when James and Bridges went to check their traps. Suddenly, Bridges rushed back to camp where he said he heard a shot from James’s area of the traps. Stoner and Bridges waited but James did not return.”
Dotty said, “Doesn’t sound good.”
Dr. Hunt continued, “Bridges went to look for James and came back saying he saw fresh Indian tracks but no Harrod. Stoner wanted to look for James, but Bridges talked him out of it, and the two return to Harrodsburg.”
“The entire story sounds fishy to me,” Mona stated.
“In what way?” Pastor Harrod asked.
Mona answered, “I take it that all three men were marksmen and fearless. They would have to be to live in the wilderness, so why is Stoner hanging around the campfire while Bridges is looking for James? He should have been looking as soon as James didn’t come back to camp, especially knowing about the past bad blood between Bridges and James. All three of these men were superb trackers. If James was hurt, the two other men could have easily tracked him down.”
Pastor Harrod offered an explanation, “Perhaps Stoner was wary of violence from Bridges and feared the man would shoot him as well if he went to look for James.”
“I think so, too,” Dr. Hunt agreed. “There’s another thing which points to murder—when Bridges returned, he sold some furs and silver buttons with the letter H engraved on them. The shopkeeper sent the buttons to Ann Harrod and she identified them as belonging to her husband.”
Pastor Harrod interrupted, “But several witnesses said they saw James Harrod months later being held captive by Indians near Detroit.”
Mona said, “If I remember my American history, families of rich abductees were usually contacted for a ransom. The Indians would have known who James Harrod was and asked for a trade in either money or a prisoner swap.”
“Was a body ever found, Pastor Harrod?” Dotty asked.
“Yes, one, but it was not conclusively identified. James’ friends searched for him and found some bones in a cave. The bones were wrapped in sedge grass and apparently had been dragged there. His friends claimed the skeleton was wearing James’ shirt with the silver buttons missing.”
“See, that proves murder,” Mrs. Kendrick said, looking about for support.
“It doesn’t prove anything,” Dr. Hunt said. “As far as I know, the friends didn’t bring back the bones or the shirt. Do you know, Pastor Harrod?”
“I’ve never been able to find a record of that body. Could have been an Indian set to eternal rest there.”
“So, no one knows if James’ friends even found a body, let alone James Harrod’s corpse.”
“That’s right,” Pastor Harrod said, reaching for a tea sandwich Dotty offered to him. “Strange tale, indeed.”
“But the story doesn’t end there,” Dr. Hunt alleged. “Ann Harrod claimed the three were really hunting for John Swift’s silver mine, and the beaver hunting trip was a cover story.”
Mona asked, “Who is John Swift? Are we discussing the writer, John Swift of Gulliver’s Travels?”
“No. No.” Mr. Kendrick waved his hand in dismissal. “It’s an old legend. A wives’ tale really. John Swift supposedly discovered a silver mine the Indians used, mined it, and then hid treasure throughout the region.”
Pastor Harrod added, “Only to go blind and could never find his treasure again.”
Mrs. Kendrick’s hand fluttered to her throat. “Oh my, I didn’t know that.”
Mona laughed. “Sounds very similar to the old Dutchman’s Lost Mine story.”
Dr. Hunt tugged at his tie, trying to gather his courage. Out of sheer excitement, he jumped up. “That’s why I wanted to meet you, Miss Moon. I think John Swift’s mine does exist, and James Harrod was murdered trying to find it. There are eyewitness accounts that James Harrod was not in Central Kentucky hunting, but in the mountains looking for the mine. I am planning an expedition to the mountains to search, and I would like you to go with me.”
Mona remained motionless until Dotty said, “The hour is up. Pastor Harrod, thank you for coming. We will send you a letter about your proposal for a new roof. Mr. and Mrs. Kendrick, it was a pleasure to meet you.”
Mona stood as well. “Yes, it was. You must come again.”
Dotty turned to Dr. Hunt, who looked longingly at Mona for an answer. “Dr. Hunt, send us a written proposal, and Miss Moon will look it over.”
“I am leaving in a week. I hope you do come, Miss Moon. I’m not a cartographer, and the only one at the university is on sabbatical. I’m afraid I need you.”
Dotty stretched out her arm showing the way out. “Mr. Thomas will show you the way out. Thank you again for coming.”
Thomas, the butler, opened the doors of the parlor and escorted the guests to the foyer where Samuel and a maid waited with their coats, hats, and gloves. Before showing the guests to the front door, he closed the door to the parlor leaving Mona and Dotty alone.
Dotty filled another plate with some angel cake slices. “I’m starving.”
“You’re going to ruin your dinner,” Mona commented.
Dotty looked at her watch. “Dinner’s not for another three hours. I’ll be starving by then.”
“Quite. I think I’ll have some more scones.”
“Didn’t you have tea in your room?”
Mona grinned, “Yeah, but who could resist these goodies. I’m developing a sweet tooth, I’m afraid.”
“Who’s got a sweet tooth?” Lord Farley said, striding into the room, wearing riding jodhpurs and black boots. He went over to Mona and kissed her on the cheek.
“You smell like a sweaty horse, Robert,” Mona said.
“So sorry,” Lord Farley replied, sniffing his shirt. “My horse is tied up out front. We both had a good romp this afternoon.”
“Don’t apologize. I like the smell of horses.”
“So, who’s got a sweet tooth?”
Dotty pointed at Mona. “Mona’s got one for sure. This is her second tea of the day.”
Lord Farley said, “Better be careful, girl. Don’t want to get fat.”
Mona’s eyes flashed. “It always annoys me when men say silly quips like that, especially if they’re not exactly matinee idols themselves.”
“You said I was handsome.”
“That’s not the point, Robert. Men want women to be pretty, but do they try to make themselves attractive for women? No, they don’t. They don’t even think about their looks when it comes to women. The ugliest, ill-groomed man always makes a pitch to the prettiest gal in the room. He can’t even conceive that he might be repulsive to her.”
“I didn’t mean to start a war.”
Quickly placing more tarts and cream on her plate, Dotty said, “I’ll think I’ll take my goodies and leave.”
“Oh, don’t, Dotty. We fight like this on a daily basis. I always say something wrong,” Farley said.
“Yes, stay, Dotty. Tell Lord Farley about our tea guests.”
Lord Farley plopped lazily into a chair. “Yes, tell me how bad it was this time. I told you, Mona, not to open your doors to the great unwashed. They’ll never appreciate anything you do for them and secretly resent you for your help.”
“Robert, please keep your British upper class snobbism out of my parlor. What happened to noblesse oblige?”
Lord Farley held up his hand. “Before you and Dotty attack me further for being uncharitable and unfeeling, I’m not talking about class distinctions. I am referring to human nature. As long as you have something a lot of people want and don’t possess, you’ll be loathed for it, no matter how many good works you spend your money on.”
“What am I supposed to do, Robert? Let people starve in my community when I have so much? There is a Depression going on.”
“I’m saying don’t expect people to like you for it, Mona.”
“Money is like manure, Robert. It should be spread around a little.”
Lord Farley picked an apple from an end table and chomped into it. “Who put the bite on Mona today, Dotty?”
“Pastor Harrod wants a new roof for his church.”
“Ah, that pompous ass. He bores me to tears.”
Mona said, “Actually, I found him quite interesting.”
Lord Farley quit munching on his apple. “Really?”
Dotty interjected, “We had a lively discussion about the disappearance of James Harrod who is an ancestor of Pastor Harrod. He was joined by Dr. Rupert Hunt, who was just as knowledgeable.”
Lord Farley asked, “Who is James Harrod and why do we care that he disappeared?”
Mona freshened up her tea. “He was one of the original settlers in Kentucky and is thought to have been murdered.”
“Is he the pioneer that Harrodsburg is named after?” Farley asked.
“Yes,” Dotty answered. “There is a legend that he went missing while searching for a lost silver mine. Dr. Hunt is going to look for it and wants Mona to join him.”
Lord Farley gave a raspberry. “Lost silver mine? Where? In South America?”
“Here—in the mountains,” Mona said.
“There’s no silver in Kentucky.”
“We did say it was lost, Robert.”
Startled, Lord Farley sat up. “Don’t you think with all the coal mines honeycombing Eastern Kentucky someone would have stumbled upon a silver mine by now?”
“I don’t like that look on your face, Mona. You’re not thinking of joining this crackpot expedition?” Farley asked. He looked between Mona and Dotty.
“A lost silver mine and a possible murder of one of Kentucky’s founding fathers—how can I resist?” Mona said, watching Lord Farley’s expression as he suddenly stood up. “Where are you going?”
“Home to clean and pack my guns. You don’t think I’m going to let you go into the mountains without me, do you?”
“You were not invited to join the expedition, Robert.”
Lord Farley grinned, “Righty ho, but going I am, dearest, so don’t get your knickers in a twist. I’ll be over for dinner tonight, so tell Samuel to set an extra plate.”
Mona watched Lawrence Robert Emerton Dagobert Farley stride out of the room. “Dotty, see how easy it is. If you want a man to do something, just act as though you don’t. They fall for it every time.”
“You want Lord Farley to join you?”
“I don’t know this Rupert Hunt but I do trust Lord Farley. He’s a good man to have your back.” Mona rose and put her plate and teacup on the side table. “I’d better tell Violet to purchase some sturdy boots for me and get all my outdoor clothes ready. Dotty, I’m going silver mine hunting!”
Dexter Deatherage was apoplectic. “You can’t do this, Mona. It’s reckless.”
Mona looked down the barrel of a revolver she was cleaning. “But I am.”
“As your lawyer, I am advising you this trip places you in grave danger.”
“I’m tired of parties, endless meetings, and teas with strangers. I need this trip. I need to get away from all the pomp and circumstance surrounding my life. I need an adventure or at least a vacation.”
“And you think Eastern Kentucky is going to be restful?” Dexter pulled the gun out of Mona’s hand. “Listen to me. The Appalachian Mountains are a dangerous place. There are few roads and what roads exist are mostly dirt. You have to go on horseback, and you’ll be cut off from contact. You could run into a blood feud like the Hatfields and McCoys.”
Mona grabbed her gun back. “That feud ended years ago.”
“Mona, you are placing yourself in jeopardy for a kidnapping. At least, take some of the Pinkertons with you.”
“Lord Farley is accompanying me.”
Dexter threw up his hands. “Oh, great. Another prime target for kidnapping. Lord Farley is in line for the throne of England. Why don’t you put a bullseye on his back—hey IRA—here’s a British royal for the taking?”
Mona gave an irritated sigh. “I hardly think the Irish Republic Army is ensconced in Eastern Kentucky.”
“Who do you think those people descended from? The Irish and Scotch-Irish.”
“Robert is not British royalty.”
“He’s a high-ranking noble who only recently lost his royal title.”
“His father did, not Robert.”
“Quit splitting hairs, Mona. You know what I mean.”
“No one will even know who he is. If the mountains are as isolated as you say, the people will never have heard of a Lord Farley, Marquess of Gower, future Duke of Brynelleth, ninth in line to the throne of Great Britain. He is going as Bob Farley.”
“I can’t help but think this is a huge mistake. What if your Aunt Melanie hears of this? She’ll use it to her advantage and create chaos.”
“No one knows I’m leaving. Not even my staff. I’ll leave a note with Violet and be back before two shakes of a lamb’s tail. You can handle things while I’m gone. As far as anyone is concerned, I’ll be taking a short holiday. For all I know, this is a hoax and we’ll be back in a few days.”
Frustrated, Dexter continued, “Look what happened to Mary McElroy in Missouri earlier this year. She was kidnapped taking a bubble bath in her own home and held captive.”
“For twenty-nine hours. I hardly call that an event.”
“I’m sure it was to Miss McElroy, who was dragged naked from her bubble bath by strange men. I hear she has had a nervous breakdown over this ‘non-event.’”
“I didn’t mean to sound flippant. I’m sure it was terrifying for her. You forget that my best friend, Lady Alice, was kidnapped only a short time ago.”
“And while she was missing, how did you feel, Mona?”
Mona bowed her head. “Awful. Not in control. Beside myself with worry.”
“Precisely. Remember the Charles Lindbergh baby? He was killed within the first hours of the kidnapping, and he was taken from his own bedroom—his own bed in a house full of live-in staff, and he still wasn’t safe. You’ll be out in the middle of nowhere—helpless.”
Mona stopped cleaning her guns and looked Dexter squarely in the face. “You must stop this ranting, Dexter. It’s unseemly. I know you are acting in my interest, but I can’t live like this. It’s not a real life being guarded like I was a prize pig at the state fair. I can’t go where I please anymore. Even when I take a walk on my own estate, I have a shadow following me. It’s downright creepy, not to mention intrusive. Dexter, my dear friend, what I can’t get you to understand is that I would rather face danger than live a safe, dull life. I must do this for my peace of mind.”
“I can’t talk you out of this?”
“No, and I wish you’d quit harping on it.”
“When are you leaving?”
“When are you coming back?”
“If I’m not back two weeks after I’ve left, then you have permission to call out the dogs.”
“Great,” Dexter said, angrily while putting on his hat. “Just great. You can’t talk sense to a stubborn woman.”
Mona watched him leave the room and heard the front door open and slam shut. She shrugged, figuring Dexter would get over it. She understood Dexter’s concern and, in many ways he was correct, but Mona couldn’t live her life in a vacuum. She was suffocating under all the restrictions and needed to get away where she could relax and not be on parade. This little expedition was just the ticket.
Oh, Mona doubted they would find the mythical John Swift’s silver mine. It didn’t matter since she was looking for something other than riches.
Mona was looking for adventure!
“Did you remember to lock the door when you sneaked out at six in the morning?” Lord Farley teased, hopping into the truck and pushing Chloe toward Mona.
“Chloe and I had to creep past the guards to get to the barn where we keep the farm vehicles.”
“I would beef up my security, Mona. If a woman with white hair and a white dog can get past all those guards, they must be taking a snooze. Even with the moon only a quarter full, they should have spotted you.”
“I thought the same myself.”
“I told my staff I was going to New York. What did you tell yours?”
“Left a note on Violet’s dressing table and told her the same. I’ll send a telegram from Richmond to Dexter letting him know that I’m gone. He’ll be the only one who knows of our expedition.”
“I don’t understand the need for all this secrecy.”
“Apparently, there are treasure hunters still looking for the Swift mine, and they would follow us.”
Lord Farley harrumphed. “There is no silver mine. This Swift story is one of the most ridiculous tall tales I’ve ever heard. All geologists say there is no silver in Kentucky.”
“If you feel that way, why are you coming?”
“To be alone in the woods with the woman of my dreams.”
“Well, you’re going to be disappointed. There are going to be others besides Hunt on this trip.”
“Tarnation. Why doesn’t anything go my way where you are concerned?”
“Tarnation? You arepicking up the local lingo.”
“Woman, shake your tail feathers. Let’s get a move on.”
Mona laughed as she pressed on the gas pedal and put the truck into first gear. “Yes, sir!”
Both Mona and Farley grimaced as the truck made a racket heading out Farley’s driveway. Mona turned right on the country road.
“Where are we going?” Lord Farley asked.
“We are going to meet Rupert at Mary Breckinridge’s place in Hyden, Kentucky.”
“First name basis with Dr. Hunt, huh? When did that happen?”
“I guess at all the meetings we had concerning this venture, none of which you bothered to attend. You know Rupert is the same age as I am, and we share the same interests. We’ve become very close.” Mona stole a look at Farley.
He reacted impassively. “I figured you would have everything sewn up so why should I attend?”
“Then don’t buck me when things don’t go your way on this trip.” Mona changed gears, and the truck was doing a brisk thirty-five miles per hour.
“What’s in the back of the truck?”
“Supplies. Tents. Food. That sort of thing.”
Farley pushed Chloe off again. “Get off, Chloe. You’re crushing me.”
“She wants to look out the window. You’re blocking her view.” Mona hit a bump, and everyone in the truck bounced up and hit their heads on the roof.
“There is no view. It’s still dark. Let me drive,” Farley complained.
“You can later. I might want to take a nap after Richmond.”
“So I take it that we are going via London and then cut east over to Hyden.”
“It’s the most direct route but I think the road to Hyden is going to be a bit rough.”
“We’ll need to gas up before we hit London.”
“We can gas up the truck in Richmond and I brought extra fuel—just in case. It’s in the back of the truck.”
“Great. I hope no one hits us.” Farley cried out, “WATCH OUT! THERE’S A DEER!”
Mona swerved and narrowly missed the frightened doe before straightening out the truck. “We’re going to have this problem all the way. I’m keeping a lookout for them.”
“You do that. I am going to take a little snooze myself.” Farley took off his jacket and rammed it under his head. “Wake me up when we get to Richmond. We should eat when we get there.”
Mona said, “Look back behind the seat. There should be a basket with food. It will tide us over until we reach Richmond.”
“Better hang on to it. Richmond is only an hour or so away. After Richmond, the largest town will be London. There won’t be anywhere to eat in between.” Farley lay back and closed his eyes, impervious to the jostling the truck made on the single lane road until Mona pulled out onto US 25, which was the main two-lane highway going south.
Chloe situated herself so that her head and shoulders were resting on Farley’s lap. Occasionally her tail wagged until both she and Farley were asleep and snoring.
It had begun to drizzle and then the rain came in earnest—sheets of it. Determined to make good time, Mona kept alert at the wheel but heavy rain slowed her down. Finally, a frustrated Mona pulled into a Pure Oil gas station in Richmond.
A man in a rain slicker came running out.
Mona rolled down her window. “Fill ’er up, please.”
“Check the oil and radiator, ma’am?”
“No need.” Mona looked over the road to a restaurant. “Mister, that place over there good to eat? I see a lot of truckers stop there.”
“Only place in town open for breakfast,” the gas jockey said, before turning on the pump.
“That’s not much of a recommendation,” Mona muttered under her breath.
“What’s that,” Farley mumbled, stirring awake.
Chloe rose on the seat and shook.
“We’re in Richmond and filling up. There’s a place open across the street.”
“Good. I’m starving.”
Mona paid the attendant and drove the truck to the restaurant, parking off to the side. “Stay here, Chloe and guard the truck. I’ll bring you something to eat.” She jumped down and inspected the tires before following Farley into the eatery.
Everyone in the joint gave Farley and Mona the once over as they entered, but soon went back to talking amongst themselves. The only seats available were at the counter. Mona and Farley slid onto the round wooden seats.
A waitress chewing gum came over to them and slapped some menus down in front of them. “What can I do you for?”
“Black coffee, please. No cream for both of us,” Mona said.
The waitress shuffled off.
Farley opened his menu. “I’m going to get some eggs sunny-side up and bacon and some flapjacks.”
Lowering her voice, Mona said, “You are not going to order any such thing. Restaurants such as these are notorious for giving one the trots. No one inspects them. I’ve heard of a traveling salesman named Duncan Hines, who has a list of good restaurants to eat around the country. I hear he’s going to publish his list into a booklet.”
“Well, I’m hungry now. I can’t wait for this Duncan Hines.”
“Shush. I’ll order for you. Your English accent is a dead giveaway.”
The waitress came back with two steaming cups of hot coffee. Taking a pencil out of her brown wavy hair, she asked, “Ready?”
Mona answered, “Yes, we’ll both have scrambled eggs, country ham, and toast. I also want an extra helping of ham please.”
“Red-eye gravy with that?”
While writing the order down, the waitress glanced at Mona’s and Farley’s hands. Seeing that Mona was wearing a wedding band, she became friendlier. Immoral women were known to travel with truck drivers. The owner of the restaurant didn’t like them coming into his place. They always caused trouble with the customers. She took in Mona’s simple blue printed feed sack dress, cardigan sweater, ankle socks, and sturdy shoes. A cotton scarf covered most of Mona’s hair but the waitress was startled at Mona’s white hair peeping out from the scarf and her amber eyes.
Noticing the waitress’ surprised look, Mona said, thumbing at Farley, “I saw a Jean Harlow movie and wanted to spice up our marriage but he hates it. Gotta keep my hair covered until the dye grows out.”
The waitress shot a look at Farley. “You can never please them. Never. My old man says I’m getting fat, but I’m the same weight I was when I married him. I don’t know what gets into men. They just like to complain.” She turned in their orders and rang customers up on the cash register before pouring coffee for others who waved at her. She stood and chatted with several of the men, hoping to inspire them to leave a good tip.
A bell rang in the window leading to the kitchen.
“Your order is up,” she called over to Mona and Farley.
“That was quick,” Mona said.
“Doesn’t take long to scramble some eggs,” Farley grumbled.
The waitress got their orders and topped their coffee before shuffling over to a new customer.
Farley looked glumly at his scrambled eggs. “I really wanted sunny-side up. These eggs look overcooked.”
“Eat. This way everything is heated through, and all the germs are killed. The yolks in sunny-side eggs may harbor dangerous bacteria, so it’s best to eat scrambled. Country ham is salt cured, so you can eat it unheated and it couldn’t hurt you.”
Farley shook salt and pepper on his eggs and cut into his country ham. Taking a bite, he said, “Not bad. Not bad at all, I must say. This gravy is most curious.”
“It’s made from the drippings of fried country ham mixed with black coffee.”
Farley took a few more bites before gesturing at Mona’s left hand. “What’s with the wedding band?”
“It’s best that I travel as a married woman. You are to pose as my husband.”
“Thanks for letting me in on the plan.” He drank some coffee and motioned to the waitress for more. “You know we can make that really happen. Give me a date and I’ll set it up. Maybe we can find a justice of the peace on this trip. You’ve already got the ring.”
“I told you I’m not ready to get married.”
“Can we at least tell people we are engaged?”
“But we’re not.”
“You said yes.”
“I did not.”
“Yes, you did, Mona. Keep this up and you will be too old to marry. The bloom on the rose won’t last forever, and I won’t want you when you’re fat and wrinkled.”
“Charming.” Mona stuck her tongue out at Farley who made a face at her.
They finished their meal and as Farley paid the bill, Mona went in search of a bathroom. She found an old-fashioned outhouse in the back. Gritting her teeth, she did her business and then went in search of a whiskey bottle she had put in the back of the truck.
“Why are you pouring good whiskey on your hands, Mona?” Farley asked, feeding Chloe country ham.
“You would too if you used their bathroom.”
“You’ll smell like a distillery.”
“I’ll douse my hands with water,” she replied, pulling out a large jug of spring water. She poured water over her hands and then poured water in a bowl for Chloe. “Come girl. Drink up and then do your business. We gotta go.”
Farley went in search of the bathroom as several men came out of the restaurant and upon seeing Chloe, pointed and laughed.
“Pay them no mind, Chloe,” Mona said.
“Give me some of that,” Farley said, hurrying back and thrusting out his hands. “I’m about to throw up. It stank so badly in there.”
Mona poured it over Farley’s hands as he washed with the golden liquid. Then she poured water on them.
Farley sniffed. “We both stink like a distillery now.”
“The smell will evaporate. Let’s get going.”
“Wait a minute.” Farley ran back into the restaurant and after several minutes came out with several little green bottles of Coca-Cola and a paper sack with four pieces of pecan pie wrapped in wax paper. “The bottles are cold,” he said cheerfully as he picked Chloe up and put her in the front seat of the truck before climbing into the driver’s seat.
“Oh, you spoke. You shouldn’t have done that, Robert.”
“Naw, I grunted as to what I wanted and pointed. Quit being such a worry wart.” Farley opened his hand. “Look. I got a hobo nickel back as change.”
Mona reached up and picked the nickel from his hand, inspecting the carved nickel. Hobos and tramps sometimes carved the figure on the buffalo nickel into a different configuration and put them back into circulation. “Can I keep this? I collect them.”
“Be my guest.” Farley looked in the side mirrors. “Let’s get moving. Get in, milady. Your chariot awaits.”
Mona went around to the other side of the truck and climbed in the passenger side. Opening a Coke, she gratefully drank. “The carbonation always settles my stomach.”
“Mine too,” Farley said as they headed out on US 25.
Mona took a nap and awoke as Farley pulled into another gas station in London. She rolled down her window. The rain had stopped and the mountain air smelled wonderfully fresh. Mona took a deep breath. “Magnificent,” she muttered to Chloe. “Smells differently from home.”
Chloe sniffed and then sneezed.
While Farley ordered gas from the gas jockey and checked the tires, Mona let Chloe out for a bathroom break and put her back in the truck after seeing other customers take note of Chloe. She used the gas station’s bathroom, grateful for its modern plumbing and toilet paper. After washing her hands, she hurried back to the truck and broke out the last piece of pecan pie, giving some to Chloe before eating the rest herself. Hungry, she pulled the picnic basket out from the back of the truck.
Farley found her eating a roast beef sandwich sitting at a picnic table the gas station owner had put underneath some trees. Other customers were eating their packed lunches as well at other tables as it had stopped raining. “Started without me?”
“The way you gobble up food, I had to. If I didn’t know how old you are, I’d swear you’re still growing.”
“I’ll let Chloe out.”
“No, don’t. Eat first,” Mona said. “I let her out as soon as we got here, and she got too much attention. Apparently, most folks around here have never seen a Standard Poodle.”
“That would make sense. You have to have a dog that will pay for its keep. I told you not to bring her.”
“She is a working breed. I’ll remind you that poodles are hunting and retrieving dogs. That’s why they were bred.”
“And I’ll remind you that poodles are now only kept by wealthy women as companions. Poodles haven’t been used as hunting dogs for fifty years now.”
“Well, it’s done now. I couldn’t leave her. She would have barked her head off if I had left her locked up in my bedroom. I’ll let her out when these folks leave, but let’s put her on a leash. If she runs off chasing a squirrel, we don’t have the time to find her in this rough terrain.” Mona sighed. “Let’s not argue. Here. Have a sandwich.”
Grabbing a sandwich, Farley looked around. “We’re deep in the mountains now. Where do we go from here?”
“We’ll turn east on Route 80. We lost good time due to the rain, but it shouldn’t be too much longer.”
“The truck is rough riding on these windy, curvy roads,” Farley said, stretching his back.
“It’s only going to get more curvy from here on out.”
“Do you think we’ll ever build roads like the autobahn in Germany?”
“We would be smart to do so,” Farley said. “Quick way to move troops, and it would be a pleasure to drive on a straight concrete road. Whatever you might say about the Germans, they are a clever and industrious people.”
“Do you think Hitler is building the autobahn to move troops?”
“Who knows? I hope Ramsay MacDonald is keeping a close eye on him. Hitler’s rhetoric bothers me greatly, and his hatred toward minority groups, especially the Jews, is bothersome. Somehow I don’t think the man is just spouting propaganda. Either way, he’s got everyone in Germany worked up. It’s bizarre how many Germans think he’s the second coming of Christ.”
“Maybe Hitler’s full of hot air and will calm down now that he’s in power.”
Farley threw wax paper into the trash bin. “Let’s hope so.” He looked at the sun. “After midday. We better get a move on if we hope to make the Frontier Nursing Service by this evening.”
“Look, everyone has gone. Let’s take one last potty break. Get some more Cokes, will ya, Robert?”
“Sure, but hurry. The sky is dark. It seems like the rain is following us. You go on. I’ll take Chloe for a short walk while you freshen up.”
Mona ran to the bathroom where she combed her hair and put on some lipstick after washing her face. She felt human again. When she came out, Farley and Chloe were already in the truck waiting.
She climbed up into the driver’s seat and put the truck into its hurly-burly, bouncy motion on Route 80. Hours later, Mona pulled into the Frontier Nursing Service headquarters in Hyden, Kentucky.
Mary Breckinridge, founder of the Frontier Nursing Service, came out of the log cabin. “Thought you’d be here earlier.”
“So did we,” Mona said, climbing down from the truck. “Heavy rain followed us to Richmond, and we got bottled up around London due to heavy traffic. After Manchester, there was nothing but potholes.”
Mary grinned. “You’re lucky there is a road to Hyden, no matter what shape it’s in.”
“Yes, quite,” Mona said.
“Welcome to my home, Wendover, and headquarters of the Frontier Nursing Service.”
Farley shook hands with Mary. “Beautiful place you have here, Miss Mary.”
“I like to call it home. Come on in. Supper will be ready soon. We’re having venison stew. Very tasty. I’m very fortunate that one of my nurses likes to hunt.”
“I’ll be there in a moment. I need to work the kinks out of my legs,” Farley said, putting Chloe on a leash.
Several hounds of various descriptions came up sniffing at Chloe. She backed away and growled when they approached. Farley pulled on her leash, and Chloe happily followed him looking back at the other dogs occasionally. “Get along with the natives now, Chloe.”
A man dressed in faded overalls emerged from a smaller log cabin and came up to Mary. He gave Mona the once over and seemed unimpressed.
“Noah, gather their bags and bring them into the big house. They’ll be staying the night.”
“Yes, Miss Mary.”
“Noah’s our handyman. I don’t know what we’d do without him.”
Noah grinned, showing crooked and decaying teeth.
Mona shook his hand and showed him which bags to carry. As he lugged the bags up the hill, Mona whispered to Mary, “That man’s teeth are horrible.”
Mary nodded. “Dental care is the last thing these people see about concerning their health. There are hardly any dentists in the nearby towns. Travel is so difficult, and there is no money to pay for a dentist anyway. The Depression has hit these people very hard. I try to get a dentist from London here twice a year, but he hardly makes a dent there is so much need. These folks wait until they can’t stand it any longer and have one of my nurses or a barber pull a rotten tooth. Mona, I’m afraid you will find the mountains very primitive.”
“I’m used to primitive. I’ve worked in Iraq, remember?”
“Then you will understand these people are standoffish and clannish until they get to know you, but you’ll discover beauty with them, too. They are fine musicians and sing ballads lost long ago in Europe. Musical scholars come by once in a while, wanting to register their songs.”
“I look forward to meeting some of these minstrels.”
“Let’s go in. It’s getting chilly. Rupert Hunt got here last night.”
“I hope he hasn’t been talking your arm off. Rupert can be—exuberant.”
“He’s been regaling me with tales of John Swift.”
“Is our cover story holding up?”
“Only Dr. Hunt knows your real identity. My staff has been told that Lord Farley is Dr. Farley, a biologist from the University of Kentucky and that you are his assistant.”
“I hope no one bothers to check.”
“Why would they? Academic teams come through here every year. Nothing unusual about that. Just keep your scarf on. Your platinum hair and unique eye coloring are a dead giveaway. Everyone has heard of the new heiress of Moon Manor with the white hair and yellow eyes.”
“I hope we haven’t put you to too much trouble.”
“It’s the least I can do. Your charitable contribution to the Frontier Nursing Service was very generous indeed.”
“Do you believe there are lost silver mines, Mary?”
Mary looked concerned. “I don’t know, Mona, but this is what I do know. People say there is more than one of these mines and come looking all the time and some are never seen again. That doesn’t account for the bizarre accidents that happen. There’s a lot of tragedy attached to these mines. The Indians say they are cursed.”
“There are no Indians around here now.”
“The descendants of the Shawnee chiefs Blue Jacket and Cornstalk come every so often looking for the lost Shawnee silver mines. What they can tell you will make your hair stand on end.” Mary looked at the haze rising from the valleys and blanketing the mountains. “Enough of this nonsense. Come on. Dinner will be getting cold.”
Mona followed Mary into Wendover, the headquarters for the Frontier Nursing Service with Farley and Chloe tagging behind.
A lone scream sounded from the woods.
All four people turned. Chloe’s hackles rose and she emitted a low growl.
“What is that?” Mona asked.
“Sounded like a cougar,” Farley said.
“That’s correct, Lord Farley. It’s a panther and not too far away, I reckon by the sound of her. The locals call them ‘paints.’ You both will find there are dangers here that you have not met elsewhere. Keep your guns close and be careful. Be very careful.”
Farley and Chloe followed Mary into the building while Mona stood on the porch watching the mist roll in from the woods. She didn’t like the thick woods. She didn’t trust them. They were not like the wide open spaces of Iraq, where one could see for miles and miles. Yes, she was going to follow Mary’s advice.
She was going to keep her guns close.