A Mischief in the Snow - By Margaret Miles


IN THE COLONY of Massachusetts, a few miles north of the village of Bracebridge, a large thrusting of rock rises up from the sighing marshes of the Musketaquid. While familiar to the village from afar, its interior remains, to most, a mystery.

Little in this rugged spot shows Nature's gentler side. But between steep walls graced only by slanting hemlock, and the peeling, aerial vine of native grape, a few bowers do lie scattered here and there, secret chambers whose floors may glint with wildflowers.

Though it is a subject frequently debated, the origin of Boar Island (for so the place is called) remains unresolved. Such discussions may be heard especially during long winter evenings at the Blue Boar tavern. Some suppose the curious formation to be of weathered lava, concluding from its shape that it must once have oozed from infernal regions, as Etna continues to do. Some claim it is no more than the start of a mountain range little different from others in New England. One elder blessed with a classical bent has stated that the great mass could well be an expired head, evidence of Demeter's savage attempt to bring forth a new Giant. A few more speculate fairies may have had something to do with it. But most agree the rock was set down by the hand of God, as was the rest of the world.

Certain things, however, are beyond all dispute. The isle boasts an impressive dwelling resembling a Rhenish fortress, set near the top of a crag, guarded by nodding firs. One Johan Fischart, of Hanover, built this structure to crown his water-bound estate… which, strangely, no one had claimed before him. His new home yet unfinished, Fischart invited many guests from across the sea, and imported fierce Harz boars to give them sport. Unhappily, such rough entertainment often turns to tragedy, and in fact blood was spilled here, on both sides of the lance. “May the next to visit you be the very Devil himself!” was the curse one dying gentleman aimed at his cruel host.

Still, John Fisher, as the Teutonic lord soon came to be known, allowed his favorite creatures to tread paths between the precipices, breeding freely, feeding in the secret glens on whatever they most desired.

Gone, now, are Fisher and his huntsmen, yet the descendants of the first boars continue to roam. From the land, one can sometimes hear them screaming. Fisher, too, left a part of himself behind; his only child, a daughter, inherited his private isle. For years she remained there with an unfortunate relation, shunning the rough company of men. While their situation was considered wrong, none in Bracebridge attempted to alter it. Perhaps, it is whispered even now, this was because of the widespread belief that Boar Island is haunted.

Surely, across the faint breath of the marshes, one does occasionally seem to hear spectral shouts and laughter, the clatter of swordplay, a harpsichord's metallic chime. Then, a few may recall stories of lusty men and women, whose amusements in the great house at one time sent forth true sounds of revelry. There are regular reports, as well, of phantom figures that come out to cavort in the mist, and lights that flare up magically, to bob along the shore. A few who trust in Science smile and say the basis for these occurrences is no more than marsh gas, or the cries of night birds, or the reverberating croaks of frogs. Most still have doubts sufficient to cause them to give the area a wide berth, adding to its natural isolation. Some things, it is said, no one can know for sure.

But other, recent occurrences have helped to illuminate, to some extent, the island and its inhabitants. These events took place early in the year of 1766, during days of cold and storm. These days, too, will long be remembered in Bracebridge, for they gave rise to murder.

Chapter 1

FINISHED WITH A hearty dinner of beef stew and brown bread, Charlotte Willett sat by the fire in the low-beamed kitchen of her farmhouse. Carefully, she inserted her stockinged feet into slippers double-cut from discarded silk, stuffed with a layer of feathers. These she covered with another pair of woolen stockings. With both feet well protected, she pulled on her stoutest leather boots, and laced them tight.

At the opposite side of the hearth, Lem Wainwright had barely lifted his face from a worn volume of Gulliver's Travels. While he attempted to hide his concern, he could hardly imagine any other