The Body in the Bouillon
Minister's wife, sometime sleuth, and culinary artist Faith Sibley Fairchild is intrigued by rumors of mysterious doings at Hubbard House -- an elegant, secluded retirement home for the well-heeled Yankees of Aleford, Massachusetts. Determined to do some surreptitious snooping, she joins the pricey retreat's flu-depleted kitchen staff, only to witness an aging resident collapse face-first into a bowl of Faith's hot and savory boillon. But it isn't until a blackmailing drug dealer turns up dead in Faith's bedroom that the amateur investigator realizes that murder not only happens at Hubbard, it's the specialty of the house! And Faith's own demise might very well be the next item on the menu.
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November 15, 1991
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Excerpt from The Body in the Bouillon by Katherine Hall Page
The Body in the Bouillon
"I'm not going to tell you anything unless you do exactly as I say and do not get involved any further than is necessary for my peace of mind. I want you to promise, Faith."
Faith Sibley Fairchild considered for a moment. Her Aunt Chat, short for Charity, was using her most uppish aunt voice. The only way to find out why she had called all the way from New Jersey to Massachusetts--and before the rates went down--was to agree with Chat's no uncertain terms. But, Faith reflected as she dutifully swore, peace of mind could cover quite a bit of territory.
"I don't know if you remember my old friend Howard Perkins. He moved to a retirement home near you last month. I had meant to tell you, so you could go and see how he was."
This didn't seem like much to ask, and Faith was puzzled about the oath. Going to pay a call on Howard Perkins, whom she vaguely remembered as a dapper colleague of Chat's in the advertising business, wasn't even up there with the secret of the Rainbow Girls. Why all the cloak and dagger?
"No problem, just tell me the name of the place and I'll be happy to run over--today, if you like."
"I said 'was,' Faith. Howard died last week. He had a very serious heart condition and certainly should have stayed in his apartment, but he wanted to spend his last years in New England, where he'd grown up. The move was a strain, and then there's all that abominable weather you have."
Chat sounded bitter. She had lived in Manhattan all her adult life and moved out to Mendham, New Jersey--a sensible distance away--when she'd retired as head of her own lucrative ad agency. Faith, a native New Yorker herself, was torn between loyalty to her new home in the small village of Aleford and tacit agreement with Chat as to the climate and even the virtues of city life. She'd been in Aleford for more than three years, and she still missed New York. She wondered what Howard had done with his apartment. Like Chat's old one, it had been in the San Remo on the West Side. Not that the Reverend Thomas Fairchild, Faith's husband, would ever entertain the idea of even a pied-?-terre anywhere except in his own backyard, but Faith would always enjoy playing that absorbing and perpetual New York pastime "Apartment, Apartment, Who's Got an Apartment?"
"Oh Chat, I'm sorry to hear that. I do remember him. He was a lovely man."
"Yes, he was. We thought we might get married once, but we were such good friends, it seemed foolish to risk it." Faith thought she detected a slightly wistful note in her aunt's voice, which quickly vanished as Chat got back to business. "Now, I'm sure you're wondering what this is allabout and too polite to say so. There was a letter in the mail from Howard today--another example, incidentally, of the scandalous way the postal service is being run. He mailed it several days before he died and I'm just getting it now. Anyway, I'll read you the relevant part:
... I must close now, Chat dear. It's time for dinner and I don't like to be late. The food takes me back to my boyhood--all sorts of old favorites I haven't had for years. I've put on a pound or two! There is one thing that is bothering me, though, and I don't quite know what to do about it. I plan to tell Dr. Hubbard eventually, but I want to get it all straight first. I'm sure he'll be able to handle the matter. I'm already fond enough of the place to want to avoid involving the authorities. I'll tell you all about it in my next letter. Human nature being what it is, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised--even here at Hubbard House, surely an oasis, and that's why I must do something to keep it that way for my fellow residents--and yours truly too. I miss you ... .
"Well, the rest you don't need. Poor Howard--he must have stumbled across some kind of scandal, who knows what. But I feel a certain responsibility to follow up on it. I'd hate to think that people were being mistreated in any way. I thought of going there myself and having a look around. I could pretend to be interested, however difficult that might be, but it might not be necessary if you could make a few discreet inquiries for me and find out what kind of reputation the place has."
"Hubbard House is nearby--in Byford--and I've never heard anything negative about it. Tom has made some pastoral calls there. I could start by talking to him and then speak to Charley, if you like. If there are any rumors, he'll know."
Charley Maclsaac was Aleford's veteran chief of police. While consuming bottomless cups of coffee and dozens of corn muffins at the Minuteman Caf?, he was alsotaking in at the same time whatever was happening--or not happening--in the town and surrounding environs.
"And don't leave Millicent out," Chat admonished.
"I was afraid you'd say that." Faith sighed. "But for you, anything."
Millicent Revere McKinley gathered her information from the vantage point of her authentic colonial clapboard house with a bow window (a nineteenth-century addition by a like-minded ancestor) affording a panoramic view of Aleford's Green and Battle Road, its main street. Millicent had regarded Faith with suspicion ever since Faith had rung the historic call-to-arms bell in the old belfry after discovering a fresh corpse therein. The body was warm, and Faith had surmised it was not impossible that the murderer was lurking nearby on the hill in the bayberry bushes. Although the event was long past, Millicent still managed to remind Faith whenever possible that the bell was solemnly tolled on only three occasions: the death of a president, the death of one of the descendants of the founding families of Aleford, and on Patriots' Day as part of the reenactment of the events of that famous day and year.
Millicent had also saved the lives of Faith and her son, Benjamin, and there was that burden too. Faith figured she'd spend the rest of her days in Aleford making amends. She longed for a chance to even the score--snatch Millicent from under the hooves of runaway horses, dash into her burning house to save the glass-enclosed mourning wreaths plaited from the tresses of Millicent's forebears, or have the legislature pass a bill establishing a state holiday honoring Ezekiel Revere, distant cousin of Paul and great-great-great-grandfather of Millicent, who cast the original Aleford bell. But Chat was right. Millicent would know what was going on at Hubbard House. The question was, would she tell Faith?
"And remember, if you turn up anything that looks serious, tell Maclsaac or your nice state police friend."
"Of course, Chat. Yet I'm inclined to think it's probablythat they weren't getting their evening snacks on time or one of the people working there was a bit rude, although there is that reference to 'the authorities.'"
"Exactly, and that's why I want you to be cautious. Now, call me when you have something to report. Love to Tom and Ben."
And with that Chat hung up abruptly, as was her custom. She could talk your ear off in person, but she hated the phone.
Faith walked back into the parsonage kitchen. It bore little resemblance to the one she had encountered when she had crossed the threshold as a new bride. Faith could only assume whoever had cooked there prior to her arrival had had no need of counter space, light, a proper stove, or a refrigerator. A properly equipped kitchen to work in was a question not simply of avocation for Faith but of vocation as well. Before her marriage, she was the Faith behind Have Faith, one of Manhattan's most successful catering businesses, lending her culinary talents to the glittering parties she had previously graced with her attractive presence.
Now that Benjamin was old enough to go to nursery school in the mornings, she had been looking for locations to start the business again. Husband, home, and child were fascinating in their own way, of course, but sometimes a woman needed more. In Faith's case, much more. She was blissfully happy watching infant Ben evolve into toddler Ben and now little-boy Ben, and there was no one she'd rather be with than Tom--usually. However, the four walls of the parsonage, quaintly vine covered though they were, were beginning to move in a little too closely. By chance she'd found a caterer right in Aleford, who called himself Yankee Doodle Kitchens and who was preparing to retire to Florida in February. He was happy to sell her his equipment and arrange for a transfer of the lease, but he would not relinquish the name. He might want to start it up again, he told her, and besides, people associated his work with it. Faith was afraid of that and quickly assured him shewould continue to use her old name, as her ecclesiastical mate didn't think it would cast any blasphemic shadows on his surplice. Faith, daughter and granddaughter of ministers, who knew exactly how much glass her house had always been made of, wasn't really so sure of that, but she had been well on her way to a national reputation with articles in Gourmet, House Beautiful, and Bon App?tit and wanted to capitalize on that publicity. She had also continued to market a successful line of Have Faith jams, jellies, chutneys, and all sorts of other good things to eat.
She took the bread she had been letting rise from the back of the stove, punched it down, and started to knead, filling the room with a strong aroma of cardamom and yeast.
It was that peculiar time between Thanksgiving and Christmas when all the women's magazines were running articles on how to avoid holiday burnout, suggesting everything from long baths with ice-cold slices of cucumbers over the eyes to transcendental meditation, in the same issues in which they were including patterns for gingerbread models of Chartres Cathedral, replicas of the Ghent altarpiece in needlepoint, and recipes for croquembouche for one hundred.
Faith was not feeling too stressed--yet. She'd been steadily filling her freezer with yuletide treats, and while she was not like those people who have selected and even wrapped all their presents by Labor Day, her Christmas list was almost finished. Shopping, Christmas or otherwise, was something she did as a matter of course all year. She was a strong believer that what went on the body, or what that body looked at, should be of the same caliber as what went into it. And some of her old habits had died hard, or not at all. She knew about Filene's and Jordan's, and had heard tell of a Bloomingdale's and a Barney's not too far from Aleford, but if it wasn't from Madison, Fifth, or SoHo, it wasn't the genuine article. And besides, shopping in New York gave her a chance to go to Zabar's for lox, whitefishsalad, knishes, and all the other comfort foods of home she craved.
She glanced at the clock. Eleven thirty. Ben was finished at noon and Tom was picking him up, as he did when he didn't have another engagement. Ben's school was in the Congregational church located directly across the green from First Parish, the Fairchilds' church. The two churches looked like bookends with all the old houses bordering the green arranged tidily between them. A liberty pole with an enormous flag and various rough-hewn boulders with plaques marking significant events or individuals were the only things on the green itself. Even the path went around, but it was a true common, and in good weather those who worked in the handful of businesses comprising downtown Aleford ate their sandwiches there at lunchtime, and schoolchildren on their way home stopped for a game of Frisbee. Faith had often taken Ben, first to crawl on the blanket of grass and now to run.
Presently the back door opened and Ben tumbled in shrieking, with Tom close behind. "This time I really am going to catch you, Benny Boy!"
Ben grabbed Faith ecstatically around the knees. "I won, I won!"
Faith picked him up, gave him a big kiss, stroked his hair, blond like hers and beginning to lose its curl, then asked that timeless maternal question, "What did you do in school today, sweetie?" It received the usual answer, one that varies only among "nothing" and "I don't know" or, in Ben's particular case, total silence. She reflected how silly it was to ask day after day, but knew she would keep on and one day, perhaps when he was in high school, he'd sit down and give a blow-by-blow account of his every waking minute since he'd left her side and then she'd probably not be paying attention.
Tom held up a blood-red finger painting. "Look what Ben made. Isn't it wonderful?" Their eyes met. Neither of them had any illusions as to their son's precocity or lackthereof. It looked like millions of other two-and-a-half-year-olds' finger paintings. Ben was affectionate, cheerful, sometimes cooperative, and that was enough for them.
"Sit down and I'll get lunch. I had an interesting call from Chat this morning."
Tom would miss supper--much of a minister's life is spent not in prayer but at committee meetings--so Faith had cooked a big lunch, as she often did when his schedule was like this. They'd have something light when he got home, and she'd feed Ben early. With luck, he'd be asleep. Now they sat down to a casserole of boneless chicken breasts she had lightly poached in white wine and layered with zucchini and carrot matchsticks and blue cheese. The juice from the chicken and what was left of the poaching liquid that she had poured over it made a delicious sauce. There was also some nutty basmati rice and steamed pea pods. With the holidays, she was trying to keep on eye on their calories, although Faith was as slender as she had always been and Tom never seemed to fill up his tall, rangy frame. He was trying manfully now.
"This is delicious, honey. Ben, we are two lucky guys." Ben was daintily picking up each grain of rice left on his plate after he had impaled all the rest of the food on his eager little fork.
"So--what's the news? Why did Chat call? It had to be for a reason; she never calls just to talk."
Faith related the call and, as she did, wished she had jotted down the exact wording of Howard's letter. She'd call Chat back and ask her to read it again.
"Farley is over at Hubbard House now. You met him before he moved--Parley Bowditch. I've dropped by a couple of times to visit him. He seems happy enough and I've never seen anything that would suggest he should be otherwise. The place itself is beautiful. It was the Aldrich estate, and Dr. Hubbard has kept the grounds pretty much as they were. People go over to see the rhododendrons in the spring. They're planted along the drive and pretty spectacular."Tom glanced out the window at the overgrown, woody shrubs in the parsonage backyard. They looked particularly bleak in winter. "This year we really have to do something about those bushes. Cut them back, fertilize ..."
"Yank them out and start over," Faith suggested. "But tell me more about Hubbard House."
"I don't really know much more. I've met Dr. Hubbard several times, and he seems to genuinely care about the elderly. People around here have a great deal of respect for him--and his whole family. They're all involved with the home. His son's a doctor too and his daughter's a nurse, I think."
"Sounds like 'Marcus Welby' and 'Father Knows Best.'"
"Now that you mention it, he does look a little like Robert Young, except Dr. Hubbard is taller--bigger all over, and he has that old Yankee voice, sort of a combination of marbles in the mouth and foghorn."
"Not unlike your father." Faith laughed.
Tom glanced involuntarily over his shoulder. The adage in the Fairchild house had always been "Spare the voice and spoil the child."
"I can't see that there could be any harm in asking around about the place--or danger," Tom added pointedly, referring to some of Faith's previous investigative endeavors.
"You know, Tom, I'm pleased that Chat asked me to help. Not that I'm about to trade my whisks and spatulas for a cape and magnifying glass, but it means she has some respect for my sleuthing abilities."
Tom's reply, which Faith recognized as a heavy-weather warning flag gliding up the mast, was cut short as they both suddenly realized that during their conversation Ben had slid down from his chair and was quietly and gleefully scattering an entire box of linguine over the pantry floor.
"Ben! What are you doing? No, no. That's very naughty! You help Mommy pick up all these spaghettis immediately!"
Tom surveyed the mess. On the Ben scale it was merely a two. Nothing like emptying the vacuum or the ultimate ten, crawling into Tom's mother's car and releasing the emergency brake--fortunately on level ground with several adults running frantically after him.
"Honey, I have to run. I have a meeting with the new divinity school student who's going to be working with us this winter. I'll call you later."
Faith came over and gave him a kiss. "You mean you actually prefer talking to another adult to cleaning up pieces of spaghetti from the floor? Naughty, naughty."
"Don't put ideas in my head. I have to work this afternoon.
Faith turned back to the linguine. Ben thought it was almost as much fun picking it up as throwing it down, and afterward Faith cleared away the lunch dishes and took him upstairs for a nap.
While he was sleeping, she planned her campaign. Maclsaac first, then Millicent. Not that she believed in delaying the inevitable, but since Millicent was going to treat her like a congenital idiot, she'd like to know at least one or two things about Hubbard House beforehand. That way she might not appear to be a complete foot--to herself.
She made a quick call to Chat, took down the exact wording of Howard's letter, and baked the Norwegian Christmas bread she had prepared that morning.
Faith loved the holidays--the traditions, the food, the getting and giving. She'd taken Ben down to New York last week for a look at the tree at Rockefeller Center, the poinsettias massed on the altar of St. Patrick's, and the windows at Saks and Lord & Taytor--even though he was still a little too young to truly appreciate it all. It was never too soon to start. For her these periodic trips to the city, especially atcertain times of the year, were a kind of life-support system. Back in Aleford at the end of the long cord, she was willing to grant that New England was the perfect place to be at Christmas. They had already had the first snow, which melted quickly but brought a reminder of things to come. At this time of year no one thought of getting stuck in snowdrifts, backbreaking shoveling, chapped lips and drippy noses. Instead, memory brought the full moon shining like a beacon over unmarked fields of snow, snowflakes on mittens and tongues, sledding and snow angels, tall pines covered with white, and the feeling of sitting before the fire while the storm swept past the windows and down the chimneys.
But Faith wasn't thinking Currier and Ives. She was thinking Hubbard House.
Chief MacIsaac wasn't at the station. Deputy Dale Warren told Faith to try Patriot Drug--the Chief had mentioned he needed some throat lozenges, might be starting a cold. If he wasn't there, then, of course, try the Caf?. Faith thanked him and wheeled Ben in his stroller out the door and back up the street toward the pharmacy. Like most of Aleford, it had been there forever and no one save herself appeared to find anything humorous about the name, or the fact that besides what one would expect to find in a store of this nature, they also sold the odd case of tuna fish, lawn mower parts, seed packets in the spring, and shoes. Not shoes like those found in Svenson's Shoe Store up the street, where Ben sat on a wooden pony and tried on little Stride Rites with what seemed liked greater and greater frequency, but shoes with the labels cut out or slightly mismatched. If one of your feet was a seven and the other an eight, Patriot Drug was the place for you. It was also one of the few places in the country, no doubt, where you could still get old favorites--and possibly collectibles--in the Friendship Garden line, Dierkiss talc, and Muguet des Bois perfume. Patriot's policy was keep it till it sells. Faithpeered in the door, noticed they were having a special on rather dusty cases of imported bonbons, but didn't see Charley.
He was sitting in his usual booth at the Caf?, toward the rear but on the side facing the street. His hands circled a mug of coffee, and an empty plate was pushed to one side.
"May I join you?" Faith asked.
Charley grinned at the two of them. "Anytime, Faith, and how are things with you?"
"Fine, but I hear you have a sore throat."
The Chief did not seem surprised that the information had already made its way around to Faith. This was Aleford, after all.
"Just a tickle, but these will fix it." He motioned to his pack of Fisherman's Friends.
The waitress, a pleasant woman named Helen Griggs who attended First Parish, came over to the table. "Have you decided yet, Mrs. Fairchild?"
Since Faith had either blueberry or corn muffins whenever she came in, which one was the only knotty question. She ordered blueberry, a cup of coffee, and a doughnut for Ben. He was usually so intrigued by this thing with a hole in it that Faith could count on a good fifteen minutes of uninterrupted conversation while Ben looped the doughnut on his finger and gnawed his way to the middle.
She told Charley about Aunt Chat's call and produced her copy of the passage in the letter that referred to Hubbard House for Charley's perusal. Charley took his time.
"There's basically two places people go to around here when they can't live at home anymore. Peabody House down the street, but that's pretty small, only room for eighteen and you have to be hale and hearty to get in. They don't have any medical facilities there beyond a nurse and an aide or two. Hubbard House is a bigger operation. You can start out in your room or cottage andthen, if you need it, move to the hospital section Dr. Hubbard added when he set the place up. Must be about twenty, twenty-five years ago. Before that he was a GP, had an office here in town where that new dentist is now."
Faith and Tom were patients of the new dentist, who had been in practice in Aleford for only seven years, as opposed to the other dentist, Dr. Cook, who, from the look of him, might have flossed Sam Adams.
"Roland Hubbard was just about everybody's doctor. Delivered all the babies, a lot of them in their mothers' own beds, made house calls. You know, the kind of thing we don't have anymore."
Charley sounded bitter. Maybe his throat was worse than he was letting on. He might actually have to go to the doctor's office to get a culture. As for having a baby at home, Faith was very happy for any and all advances medical science might make. She doubted she'd ever want to trade the security of Brigham and Women's for her own roof, not to mention the mess.
"Why did he leave his practice?" Faith asked.
"His wife was very ill and he didn't have much time to see her, let alone take care of her. He thought if he opened a retirement home, he could be with her more, and he was. She only lived two years after Hubbard House opened, but from what I hear she was very happy about the idea. Maybe he knew he would need to be around more for the kids too. Anyway, that's how it turned out."
"I understand his son and daughter are both at Hubbard House."
"Yes, Muriel and Donald. Donald moved back to town and has a small practice in addition to Hubbard House. Muriel lives at the home."
"And you've never heard anything shady about the place?"
"Never. And over the years I've gone often to see a lot of friends. The only drawback to Hubbard House is what it costs. When my time comes, I doubt I'll be there, but I'mglad it's around for the people who can afford it and need it."
"Charley! All this is a long way in the future."
"The future has a way of creeping up on you, Faith. No, I won't go to Hubbard House. I'll go back to my people in Nova Scotia or just stay in my house here until they carry me out."
It must be a very bad sore throat. This kind of lugubrious talk was definitely out of character for Charley.
"Anything else that occurs to you?"
"Not really, but I'll let you know if it does. And I'll drop by there this week and have a look. Talk to a few people. It certainly sounds like this Perkins fellow found something out of kilter. Best thing to do would be to show the letter to Hubbard."
Faith wasn't so sure. Until she'd had a chance to find out a little more, she didn't want anyone at Hubbard House to get the wind up.
"Charley, I'd appreciate it if you didn't say anything about this to anyone--not around here or at Hubbard House."
"I know. It's your baby, but if it looks like anything serious is going on, you'd better let me in on the double. I still feel bad about the last time, and I want to be able to look Tom in the eye--you and little Benjamin too."
"I promise," swore Faith, thinking as she did so that two oaths in one day meant life was getting a bit more interesting than usual. She brightened up. "Next stop, Millicent."
"I'm surprised you bothered with me at all."
"You underestimate yourself, Chief MacIsaac--and don't think I don't know there's more you could have told me about the Hubbards if you weren't so honorable. Millicent doesn't have that problem."
Faith moved Ben from the booth back into his stroller and struggled with the belt that held him in. He wasn't in his subzero snowsuit, only the intermediate weight, yetputting him in the stroller was already like trying to wedge a pillow into a case too small. She brushed some crumbs off him. It certainly wouldn't do to let one fall on Millicent's cherished threadbare orientals.
On the way over, she gave some thought to where she and Tom might end up in their twilight, golden, or whatever the current euphemism was, years. She looked about at the frigid landscape. Definitely someplace a little less bone chilling. Someplace with sun, blue skies, and good food. Someplace like Eug?nie-les-Bains in the southwest of France.
Millicent let them in with her usual implacability. Faith could be her best friend or worst enemy for all her manner displayed. After dumping Ben in what she hoped was out of harm's way with the contents of the toy bag she had brought for the purpose, Faith got directly to the point. More or less.
"I wonder if you might be able to help me. My aunt, Charity Sibley, is retired and living in New Jersey now. She asked me to make some inquiries about a retirement home here, Hubbard House, and I thought you might have friends there or know something about it."
Faith had no intention of telling Millicent about Howard Perkins' letter, and Chat had asked her to make inquiries. Not that she thought she could fool Millicent into thinking that having an aunt who might move to Hubbard House was all there was to it. They knew each other too well. It was possible they could become friends at some point--perhaps at the third millennium. At present they tended to circle warily when they met.
Millicent had been looking Faith straight in the eye as she spoke. It was one of the methods she employed. Now she looked away, gasped slightly, and stood up. Ben was obliviously playing with some small Majorette cars four feet away from a spindly table supporting one lone china shepherdess. Millicent moved the table a foot farther away. She sat down, smoothed her skirt, and prepared to answerFaith with the air of one who had just saved a rare piece of family Meissen from certain destruction. Faith knew exactly how "rare" it was, since she had turned it over to look at the mark when Millicent was in the kitchen getting coffee on an earlier call. It looked as if this visit was settling into the pattern of all those before. She was about to add something, something begging, but Millicent had decided she was ready to spill the beans--a few.
"Hubbard House hasn't been around very long, about twenty-five years I believe. Not like our own Peabody House, which dates back to the Civil War. Still, Dr. Hubbard is providing a wonderful service for people, certain people. Only the best people go to Hubbard House to die." Millicent looked Faith in the eye again as if to say this Charity Sibley, whoever she was, might have trouble getting past the gates.
"I have considered it myself, of course, but so far I am able to manage here quite well on my own."
Millicent must be in her early seventies, and Faith had no doubt she would still be going strong thirty years from now. She was a small, trim woman with a Mamie Eisenhower cut she had never wished to change. Her bangs were gradually giving way to solid white from iron gray, but everything else about her looked as it always had. She was one of those people whom it was impossible, even unseemly, to imagine as a child. Today she was wearing a blue sweater with intricate cables, a white round-collared blouse, and a matching blue wool skirt.
"I see you are admiring my sweater," Millicent said. "It's one of my own." Millicent was a demon with a needle, and most days saw her perched in her bay window, eyes front, while endless intricate sweaters, mufflers, and socks flowed into her lap.
"As I was saying, I doubt I'll go to Hubbard House--or Peabody for that matter--yet it certainly is lovely there. Dr. Hubbard bought the old Aldrich estate. There were two beautiful Adam houses side by side. Nathaniel Aldrich builtthe later one for his daughter when she married. A nice custom, I've always thought. Dr. Hubbard joined the two together and built the hospital wing out the back. He also converted several of the outbuildings into cottages. It's very tasteful."
Faith tried to think of something to say that would get Millicent away from porticos and back to what was going on inside Hubbard House, but she knew it was futile to try to direct the conversation.
"Poor Dr. Hubbard. He was our doctor until he started the home, and our families were friends. His wife, Mary, had never been strong, and I remember Mother saying it was exactly like that old saying, 'Shoemakers' wives go barefoot and doctors' wives die young.' She did die young, and you never saw a man as upset as he was. If it hadn't been for the children, I'm sure he would have followed her. She was a Howell, but one of the ones from Pepperell."
Faith refused to be sidetracked by Millicent's encyclopedic genealogical prejudices. She didn't know what kind of Howell Mrs. Hubbard should have been, nor did she care.
"Tell me about Muriel and Donald," Faith interjected instead, eager to display some of her newfound knowledge.
Millicent was not impressed. "They're both very good children, always have been. Muriel runs things at Hubbard House. She got some kind of training in nursing-home administration after finishing her RN. Donald is a doctor like his father, and I'm proud to say he's my doctor. Of course with his work at Hubbard House, he can't take too many private patients," she added, squelching any hopes Faith might have had of joining the privileged few.
"Muriel never married, but Donald is."
Since she didn't elaborate, Faith had to ask, "To whom?"
"To Charmaine Molloy, I believe her name was. Not a local girl." And Faith had to be content with those damningwords, since it was clear Millicent wasn't going to say any more. She made a mental note to find out more about Charmaine. It wasn't one of the most popular girls' names one heard in New England, nor did it seem to date back to the days of Patience and Persis, which still cropped up now and then.
"My aunt is interested in the kind of atmosphere one might find at Hubbard House," Faith pressed.
"'Atmosphere'?" Millicent's expression suggested this was either a frivolous or an inappropriate question.
"Not like mood music or oxygen." Faith was getting irritated; pulling teeth was such hard work. "As in what do they do all day."
"Of course. They do what most older people do. Read, take walks when the weather permits, socialize. Hubbard House also has some facilities for artwork, a loom I believe, and things like that. They also provide transportation on Fridays for the symphony, although many residents still drive. Whenever I've visited there, I've always been struck by how busy people are. That and, of course, how delicious the food is. They pride themselves on it."
Faith could imagine. But it did sound like a place where people simply continued the kind of lives they had lived before, with some changes necessitated by retirement and health restrictions. Friday afternoons in the same seats they had always taken at the Boston Symphony, the flower show at Horticultural Hall in the spring, an afternoon at the Atheneum, and perhaps time to look in at the Algonquin or Somerset club to see an old friend or two while the wife got her pearls restrung at Shreve's or a new frock at Talbots--since the unthinkable had happened and Stem's was out of business.
"So it's certainly a place that has never had a breath of scandal." Faith played her last card.
"Scandal! I should say not. The Hubbards are one of our finest families and truly devoted to what they do." Millicent had answered too quickly and too emphatically.There was something there, yet she clearly wasn't about to tell Faith.
Faith realized it wasn't going to be that easy to find out what had upset Howard Perkins. Hubbard House was impeccable, it appeared--but not impregnable. She loaded Ben's toys back into the bag, strapped him into the stroller, and thanked her hostess with what she hoped was the appearance of gratitude before wheeling him down Millicent's garden path.
It had been obvious from the start. There was only one thing to do if she wanted to find out what Howard could possibly have been describing--go to Hubbard House herself.
THE BODY IN THE BOUILLON. Copyright (c) 1991 by Katherine Hall Page. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.