Buried Deeds — Part 3 ( A Meghan Bode Mystery)

“Back it off,” Meghan calls to the machinery operator. His last pass has revealed a line of bricks.

My lucky day, she thinks. The scraped soil shows a ninety-degree turn in the line. She knows exactly where to have the backhoe clear the top twenty centimeters of plowed, surface soils.

Within minutes, the rectangular outline of a building foundation is clear. The neat double rows of orange bricks separate the natural yellowish brown soils from the dark brown, organic-rich deposits inside the structure. Meghan suspects she’s found the remains of the original Colonial house.

Meghan redirects the backhoe to continue stripping the south side of the rise. If all goes well, she won’t need the heavy equipment after today. She has one of her graduate students monitor the equipment while she steps away to call Evelyn with the news. Leaving a voice mail, she checks her watch—eleven-thirty. Almost time to break for lunch.

Today’s sunshine is a refreshing change from the dreary weekend, and Meghan’s students are enjoying the time away from the classroom. Instead of a final written exam for their Archaeology Field Methods course, she’ll evaluate their excavation and recording skills with this project.

As she and her students finish their lunch, Meghan sees a horse approaching at a gallop. There’s no mistaking the petite figure astride the bay Anglo-Arab hunter. Evelyn must have gotten her message.

“Is it the house?” Evelyn asks as she dismounts. Unlike Maisy and Chess, Wyndham’s Prize is highly schooled and stands in place as Evelyn drops the reins and hurries to Meghan.

“It has to be,” Meghan replies. “Come see.”

Evelyn’s eyes shine as Meghan shows her the brick foundation. “When can you start excavating it?”

“We should finish the ones we found this summer first. If the weather turns bad, I don’t want too many features open. Rain is bad enough, but freeze-thaw could be worse.”

“What if you wait on the ones you haven’t started yet and concentrate on the two cellars and that other foundation you’ve opened? The others can wait until spring.”

The determination on Evelyn’s face is unmistakable. Over the summer, Meghan had learned it was easier not to argue. She acquiesces.

“We can do that. Once we get the new features mapped, we’ll finish that small foundation first. I’d like to know what it was. I’d guess an outbuilding or slave quarter at this point.”

“I hope it’s an outbuilding,” Evelyn says. “The idea of a slave cabin makes me uncomfortable.”

“But you know the Walkers were slaveholders. Most Colonial landowners around here were. That’s how the tobacco economy worked.”

“I know, but it’s not something I’m proud of. Jackson would be thrilled, of course, but I’d rather forget that part of history.”

Meghan holds her tongue. Forgetting uncomfortable history is a good way to repeat it, she thinks. Jackson Carter, Evelyn’s property manager, is proud of his slave ancestors. He’s spent years trying to document which plantations they worked. Evelyn probably doesn’t realize he knows as much about the area’s history as she does.

“Besides,” Evelyn adds, “imagine what Frank Sloma will say if it’s a slave cabin.”

“You’re letting him come back?” The words slip out before Meghan can stop them.

Evelyn laughs. “Not by choice. But he managed to book every weekend this fall and winter except the holidays. That’s the downside of on-line reservations. In the old days, he would have to call, and we could say we were full. I was thrilled when those reservations were made last spring. Guaranteed guests at the low point of the season? Fabulous. Now, April can’t get here soon enough. His last reservation is in March.”

Meghan steers the conversation back to archaeology. “Do you want to finish the kitchen cellar or switch to the house?”

“The house, please. I doubt my ancestors spent much time in the kitchen.”

No, Meghan thinks. Those slaves who make you uncomfortable would have done all the cooking. She’ll keep the kitchen cellar covered until her crew finishes the house.

Evelyn searches the ground within the brick outline but leaves the broken pottery fragments where they are. When the excavations had started that summer, Meghan had to repeatedly remind her to leave them in place.

“Is that porcelain?” Evelyn asks, pointing to a blue-painted sherd that is partially uncovered.

“A saucer rim, I think,” Meghan replies, bending for a closer look. “It’s too thin to be tin-glazed earthenware.”

“The Walkers were the most important family in the county. Imitation china wouldn’t do for them.”

Meghan silently wagers with herself that she’ll find many more “middling” wares than luxury goods. And she hopes the small building is a slave quarter. Some people forget how fortunate they are, she thinks. Evelyn Browne could use a reminder.

“We’ll see what shows up,” she says.

I hope you’ll stay tuned for Part 4 next Tuesday.

New to the Meghan Bode Mysteries? You can catch up with her first complete story and the previous installments of Buried Deeds with this link.

47 thoughts on “Buried Deeds — Part 3 ( A Meghan Bode Mystery)

    • It does. 🙂 But here in the eastern US, we normally don’t have more than cellars and foundations to deal with. But in other areas, there can be massive stone temples and palaces that went through multiple building stages. Trying to separate them into the different versions from different times can be a massive headache and logistical nightmare!

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  1. “Forgetting uncomfortable history is a good way to repeat it”—Loved this line.

    Meghan Bode is quickly becoming my Tuesday morning treat! Another great installment. And I bet her students will be pleased to get out of a written exam and be evaluated on their field work instead. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Carrie. 🙂 I’m seeing some “likes” from some readers I haven’t seen before and a few new followers, so I hope that means Meghan’s finding a broader audience with this story. Now that she’s not “masked” by Poetic Archaeology, more readers might be checking out the story.

      A “practical” exam is ideal for a course like this. Of course, neatness counts, so students with normally illegible handwriting had better show some improvement in this course! (Field records are useless if no one can decipher them.)

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    • Hmm, someone’s search on “carrie rubin scourge torrent” led them to my blog. And then I think they clicked on the book link. You scourge torrent, you! 🙂

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  2. I agree with Carrie–nice quote about forgetting uncomfortable history. I like the tension between your characters. Nice set-up!

    I also love the snow in your blog right now! So fun!

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    • Thanks, Anne. 🙂 Why do I have the feeling that “uncomfortable” history might play a role in the story? 😉

      Virtual snow—my favorite kind! I turned on this feature last December, and WordPress remembered it this year. I like the “festive” look it adds, too. 🙂

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    • Meghan will tell you it’s simply because I’m getting to know her better as she passes along the story ideas to me. 😉 But that’s something I also notice in good books with sequels or in a series. You can see how the returning characters become more solid and “real” as the books go by. In part, writers should always be improving with each new work. But there’s also that increasing familiarity with the characters that should make them even more believable. I hope I will succeed at that!

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  3. I liked the description of the horse galloping right toward her, and then finding out that it was Evelyn riding the horse that way. That seems to go along with her personality. Also loved the uncomfortable history line – very true. I can’t wait to see what she finds this time! 🙂

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    • Hmm, that line is striking a chord with readers, which is good to hear. Evelyn is a dynamo and accustomed to getting her way. Will things turn out as she hopes? Time will tell. 😉 I think we’ll have some new developments before too long….

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  4. I don’t like Evelyn or the Slomas now. Hmmph. As a historian, I hate it when people say “I don’t want to learn more about slave conditions [or any sort of unpleasant aspect of human history], it’s depressing/not interesting/whatever.” I hope Meghan finds artifacts aplenty to knock them off their high horses!

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    • I can understand Evelyn’s enthusiasm for her family ancestry. I love genealogy. But unlike Evelyn, I understand that my ancestors lived in a time far different from mine. So I accept that some of them were slaveholders. But I’m also glad that many others were not.

      And this wouldn’t be much of a mystery if Meghan didn’t find something unexpected, so I think you’ll be happy with what she finds. 😉

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      • I love genealogy too. It’s addictive. My ancestors weren’t slaveholders, they were poor immigrants in Philadelphia and NYC. But in any case, those were different times. Looking forward to discovering what Meghan uncovers! 😀

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        • Most of my dad’s ancestors were tenant farmers or small landowners, but a few were better off. My mom’s were a mix from eastern and southern Europe who didn’t get here until the 20th century. Two very different worlds, actually. I’m a bit of an eclectic mix. 😉

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  5. I said it before, but I like the little details.

    It is interesting some of the comments about conveniently forgetting history, which I never entirely understood, because it is someone elses mistakes, or sign of the times. Like the way Coca cola erases that it had sponsored the Nazi party back in the day before the full horror was realised. But that is the way it is. Interesting.

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    • I think Meghan’s thoughts are on large-scale historic events like slavery or the holocaust. If we try to push them into the background because they make us uncomfortable, we might set the stage for repeating the worst bits of history. There’s a need to forgive, so we can move forward. But we also shouldn’t forget, so it doesn’t happen again somewhere.

      These are topics that aren’t easy for me to write about, so I’m curious how the story will turn out. What an exercise for a writer to do!

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  6. I’m enjoying it so far. With Evelyn’s snooty attitude, I can’t help hoping the woman gets some unpleasant surprises – even though I didn’t like Mr Sloma’s lurid sensationalism very much either.

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    • I’m glad to hear that readers are enjoying it. Meghan is growing on me as a character, and I know how hard it can be to work for people whose outlook on life is so different from mine. But this is fiction, so maybe Meghan will get a chance to speak her mind where I couldn’t. 😉

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    • Thanks, Dianne. 🙂 So is Meghan—and I am, too! I think she likes the thought of putting three expanded stories together in an e-book. So I hope she’ll continue to help with the writing. 😉

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  7. I hope Evelyn ends up having to face her discomfort, and learn from it. Such rich possibilities here! And good for you for tackling a subject you are uncomfortable writing about. I’ll be curious to see what you learn about yourself and writing once this concludes, and you’ve had a chance to process it.

    BTW–I finally launched my blog. See what you think: http://www.conflicttango.com

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    • Thanks, Jagoda! I still have that feeling of “what the heck am I doing?” with this story. But I’m not going to argue with Meghan or the Muse. If that’s how they want to write these initial stories, I’m going to listen!

      And now I’m on my way to visit your new blog. 🙂

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  8. Fun stuff, JM. I’m intrigued by Evelyn. I hadn’t expected her to be such a snob. I don’t think I could hold back retorts like Meghan can! But it’s nice to have her thoughts even when she can’t speak her mind.

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    • You know, I’m not sure Evelyn even realizes that’s how she comes across…. 😉 She may be one of those people who doesn’t clue in on the reactions her words and actions cause. And while Meghan strikes me as someone who doesn’t lose her temper, even she must have a breaking point or coping mechanism…. I’m still learning what that is. 😉

      I hope things have settled down for you—I was getting a bit worried since I haven’t seen you commenting on anyone’s posts the last few days!

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      • I love that you check on me! 🙂 I have been missing the blogging myself, and I was happy for the little bit of time that I had yesterday to read some posts. It’s relaxing to me. I’m still way behind though. Hopefully I’ll get some more time today to catch up.

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        • I promise it’s not in a stalker way! 🙂 But you and some other blog buddies are dealing with some family health issues, and when I don’t see you all around our blog community, I start hoping that nothing bad has happened. 😉

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  9. I finally caught up with installments two and three! I don’t want to repeat what others have said in comments…but I will! The uncomfortable history thing is really a great inclusion to the story. I can see it permeating this tale in many ways!

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    • Thanks, Vanessa. 🙂 The minute the legend of the mistress/slave popped into the story, I knew I would be feeling as awkward as some of the characters. Meghan is good at pushing my boundaries. Not so far that I couldn’t write the story—but enough to make me uncomfortable and to test my mettle. Where did this woman come from?!

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  10. Do you have any idea how GREAT this story is??? I absolutely LOVE your pacing…and the dialogue (aloud and internal) is so dang natural!! You must know from reading (and watching TV ) how hard it is for writers to make their characters “talk” like real people!.
    So great JM, really.
    Feel free to call yourself a master storyteller. ( 🙂 I read your Saturday post first!)

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    • 🙂

      Do you realize how much support like yours helps me write these stories?! I’m not kidding. I’ve got Tuesday’s installment only partially written, and I’ve been wondering how the heck I’ll get it finished. (There are things like shopping, housework, writing the Christmas cards, finding out the company I work for has just been sold…..) But when I get comments like this, I feel like maybe I can write these stories and there are people who will enjoy them. So now I think I’ll have the energy this evening to get more of the next post drafted so that I can edit it before Tuesday.

      I do promise that when I e-publish Meghan’s collection, the stories will be even more fleshed out and a bit longer with some added twists and red herrings. I think three of them will add up to a “novel” in length. Of course, since they’re each shorter, they might make good beach or commute reading. 😉

      I’m just not sure my psyche will ever let me call myself a “master” at storytelling! 🙂

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  11. Beautifully said–No, Meghan thinks. Those slaves who make you uncomfortable would have done all the cooking.

    I’ll be back for the next installment. I can’t wait to find out more about what Meghan uncovers. I really like Meghan’s internal reactions to Evelyn. Makes me want to spend more time with her!

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    • Thanks, Kourtney. 🙂 Much as Meghan might like to give Evelyn a piece of her mind, that’s not usually the best way to get results. This is a really great type of historic site to work on, so Meghan doesn’t want to get booted out! But I think she’ll find something that will shake things up around Wyndham Thicket’s neighborhood. 😉

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