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In a Dry and Thirsty Land
Dry_and_ThirstyNH BOOKS

New Hampshire farmer Nehemiah Folsom is a decorated Civil War veteran and a loving father, but is he a murderer as well? Historian and author Duane E. Shaffer offers this sample chapter of his new novel on SeacoastNH.com. Click to read and then click to buy. (See sample below)

 

Based on a true story and set in the rustic and picturesque hills of New England and the war-torn battlefields of Virginia and Maryland, In a Dry and Thirsty Land vividly describes the horrors of the Civil War yet also contains poignant scenes set in a Shaker community. This intriguing story is all the more fascinating because it is based on a true crime that occurred in New Hampshire in 1863.

Murder Mystery Based on
a True NH Crime

This e-book is now available for downloading to your Kindle, Ipod or computer and can be purchased for the low price of $2.99 from Amazon.com. 

ORDER E-BOOK from AMAZON.com

We hope you enjoy this entertaining and gripping story. If you like historical fiction or a good mystery this book is bound to satisfy. Please pass this along to others you know who might like the book. 

Duane E. Shaffer, a former New Hampshire library director, is currently head of Collection Development for the Sanibel Public Library on the lovely island of Sanibel, Florida.

CONTINUE TO READ SAMPLE CHAPTER


 

In a Dry and Thirsty Land

© 2010 Duane E. Shaffer. All irghts reserved. This exceprt may not be duplicated in whole or in part without written permission of the author. Click to purchase the e-book from Amazon.com.

CHAPTER 3:
The Farm of Nehemiah Folsom

Rogers, New Hampshire

October 2, 1860

The slate gravestones were in a neat row in the Folsom family cemetery. The red and gold leaves of autumn had spread a thick carpet in the small graveyard. Nehemiah Folsom, who most people called Ned, passed this way every day of his life. The silent, somber stones spoke to him of the history of a family whose traditions had been passed down through generations. He had always wondered before why the footstones of the graves in this cemetery and the cemetery in the village all were facing east. Then, Ned’s mother Rachel told him that it was that way because, on the day of the resurrection, the sun would rise in the east and those people who were asleep in the bosom of the Lord would rise up to meet Him.

Dry_and_Thirsty_Land_CoverNed brought the creaky old wagon to a halt beside the cemetery. He could feel that one of the wheels was loose, and, he reminded himself, that whenever he had enough money, he would have the wainwright in town fix it. On this particularly crisp New Hampshire fall day, there was a brisk northeast wind that made the orange, red, and brown leaves dance along the ground and swirl in the air. The wind was steadily stripping the trees of their foliage, leaving the creaking branches bare. Ned knew what this annual transformation every October meant. He had been bringing in a harvest of apples from the orchard on the lower half of this forty-acre farm for his entire life. Ned knew that this magical time of fall would not last long but would be replaced by the cold and icy darkness of winter. The lakes and ponds would soon be frozen over and only be good for skating and ice fishing. All of creation would then sleep until the spring thaw.

Ned learned how to work the land from his father and when he died the Shakers helped him until he was of age. He was managing the farm himself by the time he reached his eighteenth year. His father had taught him how to use the tools that went with the maintenance of a farm. When many boys were still in school or playing with toys, Ned was busy with a hay knife and an ice axe. However, Ned figured that this year, because it was becoming harder to get by, he would have to sell the whole harvest.

Before the hard times of 1857, his family would keep half for themselves and his mother, and then his wife Sarah would make pies, applesauce, and put up a lot of the harvest for the winter. Ned had vivid memories of those good times when he would watch his wife baking. The aroma of fresh apple pie was forever in his memory as he recalled Sarah carefully lifting the pies out of the oven with a pie peel. Now, many of the farms were abandoned, their owners having moved West in search of gold or new land to cultivate. This land in New Hampshire was overworked and people were leaving in droves to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

Ned jumped down from the wagon and removed his hat. He ran his fingers through the thick shock of light brown hair that hung around his ears. His corduroy pants were worn in the seat and his belt was testimony to the fact that he had gotten even thinner since last year. Ned had to periodically punch new holes in his belt with his awl. Even then his pants would never stay up without the dry, cracked pair of suspenders. His plain gray sack coat was frayed around the cuffs and hung over his frame like a scarecrow’s. Ned’s thick-soled leather shoes were shot through with holes and his wool socks were soaked every day he came in from the fields. It was on days like today, when his whole body ached and the wind blew right through him that he felt far older than twenty-five.

He looked at the cold, slate stones and fingered the wide brim of his hat wondering about the resurrection and the end-times, which people had been talking about for the past forty years. Ned knew that the Shakers, who lived on the other side of Lake Rogers had set up a sort of heaven on earth for themselves over there. To Ned they were a strange set of people with their type of religion, but they were kind-hearted, industrious, and willing to help people in town. Ned himself was not much on religion, but he could appreciate the comfort that it gave other people. He didn’t put much stock in it because he felt that God was never around when you really needed him, and he didn’t seem to care much when bad things happened to decent folk. Take slavery for example. If God was such a loving and caring deity, why did he allow slavery to flourish? Ned had read in a newspaper down at Levesque’s General Store in town that the South was threatening to leave the Union if Abraham Lincoln was elected. There was even talk of war. How did it ever come to this that the country could allow itself to become so divided over the issue of slavery? Ned wondered if God would be around if the country fell apart or if he would simply let the British have it back and things would resume as they were before 1776 when the states were only a reluctant colony. He couldn’t imagine that a country like the United States, which took so much pride in being able to solve the most difficult problems, would go to war with itself over the darkies. Ned figured that even though Clay, Webster, and Calhoun were all dead, there were still some smart people in Washington able to settle this thing without coming to blows.

Ned opened the heavy iron gate to the cemetery and pulled a few weeds from around his great-grandfather’s gravestone. As he did this, he read the epitaph and envied the stonecutter’s skilled craftsmanship. He admired the skill it must have taken to carve the skull at the top of the black slate stone. His great-grandfather Noah had been an important man in the early history of Rogers. Noah Langdon Folsom was one of the original proprietors of the town; so-called because Robert Rogers and his band of green-clad rangers were said to have camped there on their way to Canada. Ned’s great-grandfather joined up with that intrepid band of citizen-soldiers and went with them. As a child, Ned’s father Nathaniel had told him stories about the courage, endurance, and bravery of the men who wore the forest-green uniform of Roger’s Rangers. Their exploits in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Canada against the French army and their Indian allies were legendary. Although he had never met him, Ned had great respect for his great-grandfather. He was also a bit envious that his grandfather Solomon Folsom had been with Washington when he surprised the Hessians in Trenton on Christmas Day, 1776. Ned was acutely aware of his family’s history and pondered the fact that he was the only Folsom male who had not shouldered a musket in defense of his country. Ned pulled a flask of whiskey from his inner pocket and took a long pull. The warm amber fluid took the chill from his bones and made him feel better. It seemed to him that he was in a backwater of history and was destined to do absolutely nothing but farm this plot of land until the day he died. He feared that he had nothing else to look forward to in his life than to clear the endless crop of rocks that the soil yielded every time he plowed a field.

He avoided looking down at his father’s gravestone. He still held bitter memories of his father that would probably never heal. Nathaniel Folsom had gone away to the war in Mexico in 1846 and left the farm for Ned’s mother to take care of all by herself. Ned remembered the day his father left. He felt his hand on his shoulder and heard him tell him to be a brave boy and look after his mother. He watched with tears welling in his eyes as his father got on his horse and headed for Concord. He had to turn away and sniff back the tears. He was sure his mother was about to faint, so he reached out to steady her with his arm. His father had fought gallantly with the 9th Regiment at Molino del Rey and Chapultepec, but came home with a fever that took him in the fall of 1849. What he remembered most was the face cloths that his mother endlessly soaked to put on his father’s forehead, and the constant trips to the well to bring in more water in the hope that the fever would eventually break. Ned was only fourteen when his father died, and he already felt that he carried the weight of the entire world on his thin shoulders.

Each time that Ned visited the family cemetery he thought about death and the finality that the gravestones represented. He often wondered what the actual experience would be like. Would there be choirs and angels there to greet him or just a cold, dark void? Would some small part of him go on or would his soul be transported to a place where all conscious memory was erased? He wondered if there was another world waiting after this one but he feared that there was nothing beyond the grave except a vast emptiness.

Ned concluded that when his time came, he did not want to pass away of old age and die in his bed contemplating a useless and wasted life. If he was going to die, he wanted it to happen quickly, so he would not have time to examine a life that accounted for little more than farming the same patch of ground year in and year out.

Ned carefully closed the gate to the little cemetery. He crunched through the fallen leaves and climbed up into the seat of the wagon. He gathered his coat around him as another gust of chilly wind blew up the hill. Ned turned his horse and wagon around and headed for home.

© 2010 Duane E. Shaffer. All irghts reserved. This exceprt may not be duplicated in whole or in part without written permission of the author.

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