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Authors: Jeanne Dams

Crimson Snow

BOOK: Crimson Snow



Praise for the Mysteries of
Jeanne M. Dams

Agatha Award Winner

“Hilda loves life, and the joy she takes in the simple pleasures of Sunday picnics and summer holidays and a loud, lusty hymn is treat enough.”

New York Times

“Acute glimpses of anti-Catholicism, upstairs/downstairs class distinctions, wardrobe upkeep, Swedish family dinners…and the romantic touch, circa 1903. Dams's more heavy-handed historical brethren would do well to emulate her light touch.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Hilda is an endearing character with Old World social values. Skillful.”

Chicago Sun-Times

“The latest Hilda Johansson mystery is a real corker…. In a genre with no shortage of amateur sleuths in period costume, Hilda is one of the most memorable.… The secret to Dams's success is in the details: she plunks us firmly down in early twentieth-century Indiana. We learn, without realizing we're being taught anything at all, about social customs, class divisions, even the dayto-day operations of a wealthy turn-of-the-century household. Great characters, fascinating history, compelling mystery: this series could go on forever.”

(starred review)

















Also by Jeanne M. Dams :


Death in Lacquer Red

Red, White, and Blue Murder

Green Grow the Victims

Silence Is Golden


The Body in the Transept

Trouble in the Town Hall

Holy Terror in the Hebrides

Malice in Miniature

The Victim in Victoria Station

Killing Cassidy

To Perish in Penzance

Sins Out of School

Winter of Discontent


rimson Snow

A Hilda Johansson Mystery

Jeanne M. Dams






/ J
/ M
, C







This is a work of fiction. Characters, places, and events are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to real people, companies, institutions, organizations, or incidents is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2005 by Jeanne M. Dams
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America

Published by John Daniel
A division of Daniel & Daniel, Publishers, Inc.
Post Office Box 2790
McKinleyville, California 95519

Book design by Eric Larson, Studio E Books, Santa Barbara

Cover painting: Linda Weatherly S.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Dams, Jeanne M.

Crimson snow : a Hilda Johansson mystery / by Jeanne M. Dams. p. cm.

ISBN 1-880284-79-0 (pbk. : alk. paper)

1. Johansson, Hilda (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Women detectives—Indiana—South Bend—Fiction. 3. South Bend (Ind.)—Fiction. 4. Swedish Americans—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3554.A498C75 2005












The more that I consider the affairs of Home,
the more am I impressed with the
importance of the servant's position.

—Mrs. Julia McNair Wright
The Complete Home
, 1879



O! THE SPREAD MUST be the same on both sides, even, and pulled up
” Hilda tugged the bedding into the proper position and plumped a pillow with a vigorous fist.

Young Janecska, the under-housemaid, watched with a sulky expression on her face. “You don't have to get mad about it! Any-how, I've made beds before.”

“Not at Tippecanoe Place, you have not. We are careful here. Everything must be just so. And you will not answer back! Now go, finish Colonel George's suite, and do the bed properly this time. I will dust and begin on the bathrooms.”

Janecska flounced out of the room. Hilda uttered a few highly improper words in Swedish and began dusting, moving with a speed that would, in the hands of a less experienced maid, have meant disaster to the fragile tortoiseshell accessories on Mrs. Clem Studebaker's dressing table. Hilda had been handling them for years and had never broken a one. Her light hand with the precious ornaments scattered all over the great house was one reason she was head housemaid for the fabulously wealthy Studebaker family.

Another was that she got along well with the other servants, as a rule. She was fair with her underlings, careful not to ruffle the feathers of Mrs. Sullivan, the temperamental cook, and respectful (at least outwardly) toward Mr. Williams, the butler whose strict discipline often verged on the tyrannical.

Today, however, she was in a raging temper and taking it out on Janecska. Mr. Williams, this morning at servants' breakfast, had severely reprimanded Maggie, the new waitress, for an incident at last night's dinner party. Maggie had blamed Hilda, and Hilda had defended herself. It was not her fault the stupid girl had handed the dessert dishes on the wrong side, thus running into Hilda who was removing water glasses. Certainly it was unfortunate that the ice water had landed in Colonel George's lap, but it was only a few drops, and he hadn't minded much, really. Mr. Williams, uninterested in explanations, had threatened to dismiss them both.

Hilda had held onto her temper, barely. She had bitten her tongue and kept back the words that begged for expression. Now, however, alone in Mrs. Clem's luxurious bedroom, she replayed the scene in her mind, muttering under her breath the things she would like to have said at the time.

“Dismiss me, Mr. Williams? You cannot run this household without me! You will be sorry when I go, but I will go when I choose, not when you choose. Mrs. Clem will not allow you to dismiss me.”

Mrs. Clem is no longer mistress of this house,
retorted the butler in her mind.
Mrs. George has never interfered with my decisions about the staff.

“No, and a great pity it is! Mrs. Clem would have let Norah stay on, even after she married and couldn't live here anymore. Mrs. Clem would never have hired that Maggie, who knows nothing of work in a fine house. Mrs. Clem knows how to deal with servants. She will be very, very annoyed when I tell her what you have said.”

To that, the imaginary Mr. Williams had no reply.

“And when I tell her your temper has been so bad that I may decide to marry Patrick and leave this place, she will listen!”

Hilda really had no intention of telling Mrs. Clem any such thing. For one thing, she didn't want to worry the frail elderly lady. Since the death of Mr. Clem a little over two years ago, Mrs. Clem had been beset by trials. Turning over the reins of the household to her daughter-in-law, Mrs. George Studebaker, hadn't been easy. The adage that there isn't room in a house for two women held true even in a mansion the size of Tippecanoe Place, with its thirty-odd rooms. Mrs. Clem had conceded graciously to the necessity, but she missed her husband sorely. She loved her son, of course, but George couldn't fill his father's shoes. His philosophy of business, even, was different. Mrs. Clem had watched the Studebaker wagon and carriage factory begin to experiment with automobiles, an experiment she viewed with deep misgiving. Clement Studebaker had never been opposed to progress, but like nearly every sensible man in the country, he had viewed automobiles as a passing fad. Now the company was manufacturing them, in a modest way, to be sure, but George wanted to expand. He even owned one of the dratted things!

Hilda knew all this, of course. Servants know everything that goes on in a big house, whether their masters are aware of the fact or not. Hilda heartily agreed with Mrs. Clem about automobiles, and wasn't going to upset her further by bringing to her a petty quarrel with the butler.

She straightened the silver clock on the mantel, checked to make sure the hearth had been properly cleaned and a new fire laid, and then went on to the bathroom, sighing gustily. No, she wouldn't take her troubles to Mrs. Clem. But she wished, oh, with all her heart she wished, that Norah were still here to talk to. She felt she would burst if she couldn't express her feelings to someone. For the seven years Hilda Johansson had worked for the Studebakers, beginning as a daily and working her way up quickly to head housemaid, her best friend and confidante had been Norah Murphy, who waited at table, Hilda sometimes assisting when there was a big dinner party. Their bedrooms were next door to one another, and they had chatted and giggled and wept together at all hours of the day and night, even when they were supposed to be in bed and asleep. Norah had abetted Hilda in her rule-breaking and her occasional forays into the investigation of distressing events, and had never once given her away to Mr. Williams. They had been closer than sisters.

But last summer Norah had become engaged to Sean O'Neill, with whom she had been walking out in what Hilda had thought to be a casual friendship. And last month, at Christmas time, they had married. Norah had given up her live-in position for a job in a much smaller household, and Hilda was bereft.

She hadn't been able to attend the wedding. Swedish Lutherans did not attend the religious services of Irish Catholics. She had been invited to the party afterwards at the home of Norah's parents, but she hadn't felt really welcome, even with Patrick there, and she had scarcely seen Norah since that day. Mr. Williams's household had been disrupted, his temper had been frayed, and he was keeping an eagle eye on all the servants, especially Hilda.

She, of course, took every moment of her time off, even going out sometimes in her rest times, simply to remind the butler that her privileges were still hers, no matter what the domestic problems might be. But she couldn't interrupt Norah at her work, and by the time Norah was home, Hilda had to be back at Tippe-canoe Place.

They had met twice on a Sunday, once to go ice skating on the pond in Leeper Park and once for hot chocolate at the Philadelphia, but with both Sean and Patrick there, the meetings lost their zest. Norah was more interested in Sean than in Hilda, and though that was right and proper, it made Hilda realize that something important was gone forever. Norah was a married woman and Hilda was not. The old intimacy could never be recaptured.

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