Meghan Bode changes the satellite station as she drives to Wyndham Thicket Farm. She needs more than classical music to stay awake on this late November morning. REM does the trick, taking her back to her college days in Wisconsin.
She’s on her way to meet with Wyndham Thicket’s owner, who wants to add more guest cottages to the property she runs as an upscale bed and breakfast. Meghan and her crew did preliminary archaeological excavations during the summer and found evidence of several buildings from the 1700s. Now she’s ready to start the more intensive work.
Meghan shivers as she passes the road leading to a nearby county park. The chill has nothing to do with the weather. Last month, she was called in to excavate a skeleton after a dog dug up a bone. Her pride at identifying the victim still mingles with sadness over the tragedy of the boy’s life.
Her thoughts return to her current project. Unlike most landowners, Evelyn Browne is thrilled with Meghan’s discovery of the old plantation buildings. The original Wyndham Thicket was the home of her ancestors, who owned the property from the early 1700s until economic hardships forced her great-great-great-grandfather to sell the land in 1868. Evelyn Browne and her husband bought the property in 2007, proudly taking possession of “the new house” that replaced the Colonial manor.
A few miles past the park, Meghan turns right onto the B&B’s long drive, lined with ancient magnolias. Ahead of her, the 1870s manor house looms in the misty light.
Hell of a weekend for a getaway from DC, she thinks, imagining the people who had booked their reservations months in advance. Still, she’s sampled Evelyn’s regular fare for breakfast and high tea. The visitors will be well fed, even if they can’t take full advantage of the area’s golf courses and riding stables.
Meghan parks in the visitor’s lot, where her Prius soon disappears amid the luxury SUVs of the guests. She pulls her coat close as a gust of wind unleashes a shower of hickory leaves onto the cobblestones. Behind the expansive lawns of the manor house, Chesapeake Bay’s dull gray waters reflect the gloom.
Jackson Carter, the Brownes’ property manager, greets her at the front door.
“Hello, Dr. Bode. You’re just in time to catch the house tour if you’d like. Miss Evelyn’s assembling the guests now.”
Inside, the house is bright and warm, and Meghan slips off her raincoat. She catches Evelyn’s eye and smiles as she takes a position at the back of the group. She’s been through the house before and listens more to the guests’ questions than Evelyn’s stories as they move through the rooms. By the end of the tour, it’s clear some of them know all about the local legends.
A woman asks, “Is it true that one of the old owners killed his mistress and buried her in the garden?”
“I heard it was a slave,” another woman replies.
“Probably one and the same,” a man says. “I’d bet old Isaac Walker’s the culprit. Or maybe his son Abraham. They’re your ancestors, aren’t they, Mrs. Browne?”
“Those are just old stories, Mr. Sloma, told to amuse visitors and frighten children at Halloween,” Evelyn replies, ever the proper Virginian host. “All the Colonial plantations around here have their own version. There’s no evidence any of them are true, I assure you.”
Meghan suspects Mr. Sloma and his wife will never find another weekend opening at Wyndham Thicket.
“Makes for a good story, though,” Mr. Sloma says.
“For some, maybe. But most guests find the real history even more interesting. That’s why I’m so happy to have Dr. Meghan Bode performing an archaeological excavation around the Colonial manor house, the one that Isaac Walker built between 1725 and 1727. She’s here today to go over the next phase of research.”
Evelyn climbs the bottom step of a grand staircase and rises on her toes to point over the group to Meghan. “I don’t mean to put her on the spot, but perhaps she can give you some of the highlights from the summer’s work.”
Meghan twists the belt of her raincoat in her hands. She’s here to talk with Evelyn, not the public. She feels distinctly underdressed in her old jeans and scuffed field boots.
“Oh, well, of course,” she says. “My crew did some test excavations, and we found a large cellar and some outbuilding foundations. Most of the material is from the 1700s, although there are some Native American artifacts, too. I think we have the kitchen cellar. We’ll be looking over a wider area this winter if the weather holds. I know Evelyn would love to find the original house foundation.”
“Maybe it was an Indian that Isaac killed,” Mr. Sloma suggests.
Meghan’s cheeks tighten, but she doesn’t rise to the bait. “I’m afraid there weren’t any Native Americans left in the area by the 1700s. They’d either died of European diseases or moved away. And as Evelyn said, every plantation has its haunted legends. But there aren’t any bones to back up the stories.”
“I hope you’ll all excuse me and Dr. Bode, but we need to talk about her project,” Evelyn says. “Jackson will take you on the garden tour. I think the rain will hold off another few hours. Do enjoy yourselves. Fresh coffee, tea, and hot chocolate will be ready when you get back.”
“Keep an eye out for a hidden grave,” Mr. Sloma tells his fellow guests as they follow Jackson to the gardens.
Evelyn leans against the ornately carved railing. “The nerve of that man. Honestly, I think he came here just to stir up trouble. Yesterday at high tea I heard him telling that horrible story of Abraham Walker being a secret Tory. If you find proof positive he was a Patriot, I’ll invite Mr. Sloma back just to show him the evidence.
“And then have the dogs escort him off the property,” she adds with a mischievous wink.
Meghan smiles. “I can’t promise anything, but you never know. Some of this summer’s artifacts could date to the Revolutionary War.”
“Wonderful. I’ll keep my fingers crossed, then. Maisy and Chess love a good chase, even though they wouldn’t know what to do with a rabbit if they caught one. Let me grab my coat and boots, and we can head over to the site. It’ll be easier to understand what you need to do if I can see it in front of me.”
On the way, Meghan and Evelyn pass the kitchen garden and overhear Mr. Sloma.
“Look at that huge statue of Venus. I’ll bet Isaac put it up over the Indian slave mistress’s grave as a memorial.”
Meghan stifles a laugh at Evelyn’s theatrical shiver. Jackson’s explanation that the statue dates to the 1870s, not the 1720s, will likely go unremembered by the guests.
I hope you’ll stay tuned for Part 2 next Tuesday.