Lady Margaret's Ghost

Published in 2009; author Elizabeth McDavid Jones; illustrator Jean-Paul Tibbles


Felicity's father receives a shipment of heirloom items from his late cousin. Among them are items that belonged to his wife, Lady Margaret, who died years before following the difficult delivery of a stillborn boy. It's said that her ghost followed her widowed husband even across the Atlantic to the American colonies, and might still follow where her heirloom items go. Felicity's nervous about the house now being haunted, but there's not much time to worry now: It's Publick Times in Williamsburg, which means the town is bursting at the seams with visitors who have come to take in the sights and sounds of what is sort of an ongoing, all-town fair.

Felicity's mother and siblings are gone to visit a relative, so Felicity is in charge of running the household. A crabby neighbor lady comes in the mornings to help, who enjoys criticizing everything Felicity does. Felicity is glad to escape for a horse race that Penny's in. She's sure Penny will win, but while she watches with Elizabeth and a young orphan named Anne, Penny stumbles and slows down. She finishes the race, but far behind the lead horse. Ben can't figure why until he unsaddles her: there are sharp burrs biting into her skin under the saddle blanket. Neither he nor Felicity have any idea how it happened; Felicity is sure the blanket was clean, there are no burr-bearing plants on their property, and Ben didn't let Penny near any shrubs.

It's only the next when Penny is worse that they start to learn what happened. Another racer, Dawson, has been given a temporary job at the Merriman store, which is almost too busy with Publick Times, and he knows not only a special medicinal salve but also that Anne was collecting burrs and tried to pickpocket him. He suspects, from the bruises on her arm and the way she talked about her guardian to Felicity, that she's being forced to partake in criminal activity and being abused. She's likely the cause of Felicity's missing necklace (a keepsake from her mother) as well.

Before Felicity can be happy about the salve healing Penny so well, more things go missing: the ring of keys that allow access to various areas of the house like the linen closet and the cabinets where spices, sugar, or wine are kept...and Lady Margaret's things. At first Felicity suspects the neighbor, who "conveniently" didn't show up for work that morning. But after finding out that she's suffered a devastating stroke, Felicity feels guilty for suspecting her. It doesn't make sense to suspect a burglar, since other valuable items were left behind. Maybe Dawson? Perhaps...perhaps Lady Margaret's ghost? To make matters more confusing, the keys mysteriously reappear, and Felicity also finds her necklace in the cellar while she's preparing dinner (which causes her to reflect that she may have judged Anne too harshly; clearly the necklace simply fell off). But some of the food as well as some candles and a blanket have gone missing now. Felicity tries desperately to understand--at least she figures she can eliminate the ghost since ghosts don't eat if they exist--when she returns to the kitchen to find the missing heirlooms! Now she wonders if it is the ghost, trying to drive her crazy.

Elizabeth talks Felicity out of believing in ghosts, at least for the moment. Looking at things a little more rationally, the girls decide that Dawson is the most likely suspect. They confront him in the Merrimans' store, only to be chagrined when they find out the truth. He was orphaned in London, and pressed into service on a British Navy ship. He escaped when the ship docked in Virginia, and has confided his story in Mr. Merriman. That explains his sometimes shifty behavior. His being an orphan reminds Felicity and Elizabeth about Anne, the orphan girl they met at the race. They inquire with the local minister to see if he knows who took her in and he does, and he also answers some questions they have about ghosts (he thinks ghosts are at least possible and that Felicity's theory they exist because they have unfinished business makes sense). Anne's guardian is a Mr. Yancey, who owns one of the best horses in the race, and had seemed concerned that Penny might beat his horse.

Felicity decides that she'll take care of at least the ghost right away. She stays up late until she notices something ghostly: candlelight in the silent, dark hallway. When she goes to confront the ghost, she's stunned to see Anne! It turns out that she's been stealing from the Merriman house under threat of beatings from the Yanceys (she also gathered the burrs for Mr. Yancey, but didn't know that he meant to use them to hurt Penny). But then she decided anywhere would be better that living with the abusive, manipulative couple, and hid in Felicity's house to return the items--including the necklace--and take some supplies, like food, candles, and blankets, to make an escape. Felicity convinces Anne that her father can help her plight, and she stays through breakfast. Indeed, Mr. Merriman is friendly with an excellent lawyer who can bring charges against Mr. Yancey (I think Mrs. Yancey should be charged, too). And Felicity suggests that Anne could apprentice with a local dressmaker who's looking for young girl to hire. Anne loves that idea, and even if it fails, the church can find her a guardian who will actually take care of her and love her. Mr. Merriman offers Dawson a junior apprenticeship, and he grateful but refuses, instead wanting a job on the sea--of his own choosing, that is. Even the crabby neighbor is recovering well, and has asked for some of Felicity's recipes.

Satisfied with the resolution of everyone's problems, Felicity polishes the heirlooms, thinking to herself that if they're haunted, she's okay with a family ghost, because she thinks Lady Margaret would be happy to see her things being used and enjoyed by her relatives.

Looking Back

The historical section has some of the same information about Publick Times as Felicity Takes a Dare, and also talks about the punishments a thief might face, from being literally branded with a T on the palm or forehead to being hanged (presumably for grand theft?). It also talks about the plight of orphans. Orphaned children with no family to take them in often had to work at poor houses, slaving away under miserable conditions. Some lucky few might be apprenticed as sort of an indentured servant. Boys were more likely to be picked up for apprenticeship, as there were more trades available for them, but some girls could learn to be seamstresses or weavers.


This book is dedicated to "Lynne Garcia, who helped my lost boy find the light."

Felicitiy's family lives on Duke of Gloucester Street.

Buttermilk is described as rich, cool, and sweet. Hmm, sweet. Not in my experience. I'm deciding the text should be describing egg nog instead. Which I now want. And which won't be in stores until late November.

Ben, while an apprentice, is not an orphan. Most apprentices weren't; he's from a well-off family, which is why Annabelle has pursued him in the past.

No comments: