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The Ten clues
Holly Swift looked up from the chess board at Emily, her full-time caretaker.
“So do you get it?”
“Not really…” Emily replied, laughing slightly. “But I’m sure that you’re good at it, so that’s good enough for me.”
Holly chuckled lightly, then controlled herself and looked back down at the board. “So the rook, or castle, moves in straight lines up and down the board. Get it?”
“No.” Emily answered. “I can’t focus with all of the children blowing around,” she joked about the little negroes playing tag around the table. Sunday was their day off, so they spent it however they wanted. And for the little six year olds, that meant playing tag. Emily looked down at the chess board and frowned. “So the castle is the little round thing?”
“Yes it is.” Holly sighed. “Should we continue another day?”
“No, no, I’m okay if you want to keep going.” Emily responded quickly, sensing hesitation. Emily had been Holly’s personal Negro, and friend, since she was six and Emily was eight. Now she was thirteen. They lived on Easternview Plantation in Stafford County, Virginia. And right now, there was nowhere else Holly would rather have been. A long involved struggle between the queen and a rook took place on the battlefield of the chessboard. Finally Emily’s queen won out. Holly sighed happily. The rest of the game battled and battled, taking up most of the morning.
“Your move.” Holly noticed. Emily moved her horse… also known as a knight…. over next to the king. It was checkmate.
“Hey, you’re getting good!” Holly grinned and started to get up, then froze, her face devoid of all emotion.
“What is it?” Emily asked.
“It’s Vickie. And she doesn’t look happy.” Holly moaned as her on-and-off best friend, Victoria, stalked toward her with a vile expression on her face.
“Are you trying to teach a slave… a black… how to play chess?” she screeched.
“Um, maybe?” Holly said slowly. She knew what Victoria could be like if she tried.
Vickie stared at Emily like something gross that she had just pulled off of her trendy new sandals. “Leave us. Now.”
Emily hurried away like a cheetah. Vickie turned back to face Holly.
“I hope you have a good reason for playing a game with that… thing.”
Holly snorted. “She’s a person! A human being! Not a thing. Never a thing. And she has feelings, too. They come like that now, you know.”
Vickie almost laughed, but caught herself and regained her dignity. “No, those black things are… THINGS! Nothing more.” She seemed to be struggling to remember that herself. “Now I don’t ever want to see you playing with a negro again.”
Holly flared up at that. Who was she to tell her what she could or could not do?
“I can do whatever I want to do with whomever I want to do it with, you understand me???”
“No, I do not. Are you not obedient to your parents? And your brother and sister?”
“My dad is missing on the battlefield, my brother was killed on the front lines, my mother is deadly sick, and my sister doesn’t have the time of day for me. I can’t follow any instructions they give me. Because they don’t give me any instructions!” Holly declared hotly.
“Well, my father is a business man, and I obey him no matter what. Don’t you tell me about your problems,” Vickie reminded Holly. Holly growled slightly.
“Who cares what you say? Do you remember about my family? What I JUST told you? I can’t obey anyone. Nobody gives me anything to obey!”
“So what? You should still be perfect, just like me. You know that I’m perfect. Don’t you?” Vickie smiled at Holly innocently, putting her hands over her head in the shape of a halo. This was too much. Holly ran screaming at the insolent girl, pulling at her hair and trying in vain to summon at least a little bit of rationality to force herself to stop. But it felt too good, to satisfactory, to stop now. Finally Esther, Holly’s sister, came running full force out of the house and towards the girls.
“Holly! Victoria! Stop that at once!” Victoria and Holly ceased immediately. Victoria looked abashed and slightly angry. Holly just looked angry. Esther growled at Victoria.
“Leave us.” Victoria obliged by running as fast as she could away from the scene. Holly grinned victoriously. Then she saw the look on Esther’s face and stopped grinning immediately.
“You have gone too far this time, young lady. You must go have a talk with your mother while I finish the chores and find Emily. I’m sure she’ll be terrorizing her brothers in the fields somewhere.” Esther stalked off, muttering under her breath. Holly turned with dread in her eyes towards the house, looking towards the room where she knew her mother was lying, sick. It drove Holly crazy to know that there was nothing that she could do to save her. Ever since her brother died… but there was no time to think of that now. Mother was probably hungry now, and as the old black who had fed her for a time had gotten too feeble to serve her food, Holly was required to do the sorry chore. She jumped up the grand steps to the house and banged the door open. Slaves walked left and right, dusting and polishing every object in and out of sight. Except for one. A large glass statue of an angel sat untouched in a corner. It was almost never dusted, for fear of it toppling over. Holly walked past the statue, around the huge column in the center of the house, and into the kitchen. Her bare feet felt nice on the cold brick floor. She opened the closet door and grabbed some bread to take to Mother. She pulled some sausage out of the now-melting ice box in the stone-lined pantry and put it on a plate. She hurried out of the kitchen and up the stairs in the parlor to where the library shelves lined the stairs. Holly passed the books and walked into the grand master bedroom. Mother lay there on a large bed, not moving much, just coughing from time to time. Holly carefully laid the plate down on the small table beside the bed and touched her mother’s shoulder. She shuddered at the coldness. “Mother, here is some lunch for you. And here is some water.” Holly held a cup to her mother’s lips and helped her to drink the icy liquid inside. Mother gasped at the water streaming down her throat and started coughing. Holly started, instantly alert. Every little movement her mother made could be something good… or something terrible. She grabbed a towel and wiped off Mother’s face. It came away damp and hot.
“Emily!” Holly called. Emily rushed up the stairs in a panic. “What is it? Esther found me. She said that you were hurt!” she started busily checking Holly for wounds.
“Not now, not now!” Holly gasped as Emily probed a cut in her side. “No time! Mother is coughing and moving about!” Emily nodded briefly and turned to the task at hand.
“So what happened? Why did she start coughing?” she asked, dabbing at Mother’s forehead and checking for a pulse. Then, not waiting for an answer, she said, “Well, whatever happened, she seems to be back to normal now. For better or for worse. So shall we go?” Emily led the way out of the room and towards Holly’s room. It had a slight step underneath the doorway, which Holly regularly tripped over. She fell over the step and onto the wooden floor of her room. From her perspective, the pretty furniture that was cluttered around the room loomed over all of the rumpled dresses and toys that lay forgotten on the floor. Her closet door swung open, revealing, not clothes, but books. Dozens and dozens of books cluttered the closet floor, stacking all the way to the low ceiling. Holly’s desk sat in a corner, almost completely hidden under piles and piles of papers and books. History books. Fictional books. Bibles. Nonfiction books. If it was a book, Holly had it. Her bed had vanished several months ago beneath all of the clusters of papers on the Revolutionary War. She hoped to be a scholar when she grew up. Already, she had figured out things about the war that her father the writer could not understand, like the revolt of the children in England. This phenomenon was not very well known, but Holly and her father had thought their way through it about a hundred times. Holly had finally decided on the most logical theory, on which she had written a ten page thesis. But she had sort of forgotten about that when the war started. Now she wrote books, scripts, diaries of forgotten people. All of them were about one thing. The dead or dying in the Civil war. When her brother was declared dead, she had announced that she would never write again. That didn’t last very long. Now her room was cluttered with dried papers with smudged ink. Her desk had disappeared when she tried to figure out exactly what happened to her brother. Her bed had vanished when her father went missing. So she slept on the floor. Nobody knew about that, though. No one cared. Except Emily. She knew. She cared. But other than her, everyone was too busy to care about that little girl who surrounded herself with books and papers and logical stuff. And so she worked.
Holly shook her head and got up. Emily smiled rather lopsidedly and tried in vain to clean off the bed, a task at which she had been working for at least a month, with no success. Holly rolled her eyes and sat down at her desk. She was writing the supposed diary of a war victim who had no intention whatsoever of going back to the battlefield. This was not unheard of, but these few were branded ‘deserters’ and left alone. If they came back, they would be hung. It was a sad story, but she could not help but write it if it could help her figure out what had happened to her father. So far she had written the journals of a man killed in action, a wounded man left to die on the battlefield that managed to escape somehow, and was now starting on the story of the deserter. None of these made any sense as to what had happened to Father, however. He was not so unfaithful as to desert, not so hardy as to manage to make it back to a town had he been wounded on the battlefield, and she simply could not find it in her to theorize that he, her brave and loyal father, could possibly be dead. So she was completely and utterly stuck. But she did not care. Holly was determined to find out what had happened to her father completely through logic and logic alone. Fantasy would not solve anything. Holly had had no time for fantasy and games (excepting chess) since Daniel was killed on the front lines. This bothered Emily greatly, though she said nothing. Girls of Holly’s age should be working out in the sun, not staying cooped up, refusing to do anything. She did not care that she had done the exact Tome when she was separated from her parents when she was sold to Easternview. Now all she had was her insufferable brothers, who made her life quite hectic and miserable sometimes. Charlie Will was almost ten and a brat. He refused to work, instead dreaming of becoming a carpenter in some small Yankee town. Mike was thirteen, Holly’s age, and an intolerable airhead who dreamt about girls and days that were work-free. Eli was the oldest of the bunch, at eighteen. He spent all day thinking about girls, but he worked his hands off for the mistress, because he knew how delicate her health was. Eli had a soft spot for sick people. He was spry and could go where nobody else dared, for fear of their lives. He would hide in a tree where nobody thought it was possible to get into, then jump down and scare Emily half out of her wits. But that was something that Emily did not focus on when she was trying (without much luck) to help Holly accomplish something useful. That isn’t to say that the endless diaries and sermons on the history of the Revolution weren’t helpful… to scholars and sluggards who spent all their time reading. Emily strongly believed that Holly needed an education, and not just in history, in which she was obviously well versed. If Victoria weren’t so aggressive about her beliefs, Emily would have turned to her in a heartbeat to get her to help Holly with math, at which she was failing miserably. Her heart heavy, Emily turned to prepare some lunch.
A company of soldiers trooped down the road in formation. A lone soldier was straggling behind. He saw the grand house and plantation and ran to catch up with the man shouting orders to the battalion. When the leader saw, he stopped the whole company.
“What is it, Charles? Have you seen something?” Charles Usherst was wounded badly, and he wore an eye patch where his eye had been shot early on, but he still saw things that nobody else managed to spot. This had saved the brigade on many occasions, so Major Willis was more than happy to see what he had to say.
“Sir, there is a plantation up ahead, sir.” Charles managed before sinking to the ground.
“What is it? Usherst?” Willis asked briskly. In truth, he was quite frightened for the life of his best tracker. “Are you okay? Maybe the people at the plantation will allow you to stay there for at least a night. Would you like that, Charles?”
“Aye, sir. I would like that very much.” Charles groaned. Willis lifted him to his feet and started helping him walk towards the house. “Company, take your leave. Do not stray far, I will be back soon.” Willis walked with Charles as the company started taking off their boots and going out into the woods to do their business. One was limping rather badly. A few seconds after he entered the woods, there was a loud thump. But nobody heard it. They were all too busy talking and laughing to notice a single (not well liked) man fall asleep (maybe) in the woods.
Holly heard the knocker on the door clank. She ran from the room, almost falling through her stomach (which had already fallen when she missed a step on the stairs) and down the stairs to open the door. When she did so, she saw a very strange and gruesome sight. A man in a uniform was standing there, back straight. He had a very short haircut and many medals on his uniform jacket. His shoes were covered with dust. His blouse was damp with sweat from the hot summer sun. Another man also stood… or rather leaned… in the doorway. This man was wearing ragged clothing that might at one time or another have been a uniform. One eye was covered with a large black piece of cloth, making the man look rather like a pirate. His shoes were also very dirty, although practically non-existent now. One foot dragged slightly behind the other, though not for balance. He seemed very tired, almost on the brink of collapsing.
“Who are you?” Holly asked curtly.
“I am Major Willis, and this is Charles Usherst. He is, as you can see, badly wounded. We are going off to fight in whatever battle may come down south, but he cannot come for his injuries. We saw your house and wondered if it would be possible for you to take him in.” Willis spoke. Holly smiled slightly.
“I shall call my sister. She will make that decision. ESTHER!!!” Holly screamed up the stairs to where Esther was, inevitably, trying to figure out why the negro women spent as much time on their hair as she did. This was the kind of problem Esther faced every single day. That and worrying about the man who she had paid to handle the slaves on the plantation. Could he be trusted? Esther (and Holly as well) did not know.
Charles leaned on the door frame, exhausted beyond compare. His leg ached badly, as did his eye socket. He had been having sinus headaches lately, and they hurt even more because of the missing eye. The young girl that had opened the door turned to meet her sister. She looked old beyond her years, as if eighty or so. This was a girl that had suffered much at the hands of the war he was escaping unwillingly because of a single stinking flesh wound. Oh, how he would love to go on and fight- and win- this cruel war. To show the Yankees what he was made of. Oh, yes. The girl- the young old lady- had darkish brown hair and pale skin, as if she had never been into the sun before. Her hands were stained with ink and callused with holding a pen. Another girl- presumably her sister Esther- came hurrying down the stairs.
“What is it? Has Mother walked outside this time? Is someone hurt? Has another person come in from the Bradshaw’s? Has… oh. Who are you?” Esther questioned frantically before seeing the two men in the door. Charles chuckled weakly, then clutched his leg in pain.
He then remarked profoundly: “Ow.”
Willis got straight to the point. “I am Major Anthony Willis. This is Charles Usherst. He is wounded. Will you take him in?”
As did Esther. “Of course. We take in all the sick and wounded. Will Charles please follow me? Holly, escort Major Willis to the sitting room.”
So that was the young old woman’s name. Charles smiled gratefully at both.
“Thank you. Many, many thank you’s. I am so grateful to have a place to stay.”
Willis objected to Holly’s gesture towards the house. “I simply cannot stay. My men will get up to all sorts of mischief if I leave them there for too long. I will come back as soon as possible for Charles. And thank you.” Willis turned to go. Charles took Esther’s proffered arm and followed her towards a small closet in the stairwell.
“I have no coat.” He mentioned as she opened the door and motioned inside.
“This is not about coats. Go on, get in. I must make sure that no eyes are upon us.” Esther hastily made her leave. Holly smiled.
“Do not worry. I go in there all the time. It is quite nice.” Charles smiled and situated himself comfortably inside the small niche in the closet. It was only big enough for one person.
Holly liked this man quite well. He was polite, didn’t say much, and handsome. And he might know something about her father!
“Excuse me, sir. Do you happen to know a man named Abraham Swift?” Holly questioned. Charles thought for a moment.
“No, ma’am, I don’t believe that I do. Who would he be?”
“He is my father. He went missing several months ago.” Holly looked down, disappointed. She was swarming with emotions. A man who was wounded –oh how she hated the sight of blood- had come to stay at their house He knew nothing about her father. Was this good or bad? She didn’t know. Charles shrugged.
“Very sorry about that, then.” He really did look sorry, too. His shoulders were slumped and he was leaning heavily against the wall. Just then, Esther came hurrying back in.
“I’ve just sent everyone out into the yard to have their chapel time. Surely they won’t be back for at least an hour. Come, quickly.” Charles heaved himself up and started walking behind Esther. Emily was waiting beside the large glass angel.
“Time?” she asked.
“Time.” Esther replied. “Open the gate.” Emily, murmuring under her breath (did she ever stop talking?) yanked hard on the angel, sending it flying off of the pedestal. It hit the floor with a thud and one of the wings broke off.
“That’s helpful. It’s never managed to break before. Maybe now it’ll actually do what it’s supposed to.” Esther panted, grabbing the wing. It had broken cleanly from the body and had a small lever inside. Holly grabbed the wing. She had done this often enough with the previous statue. Esther grunted. “Hey, get off it! You’ll break it for real this time!”
Holly chuckled. “Not possible. It just won’t break.” She tore the wing from her sister’s grip and ran back to the closet. She stuck it in the corner of the niche and twisted hard. A small door opened and she crawled inside.
Charles was about to crash and burn by now. His face was red and his breath caught in his throat. Holly pulled him through the hole in the wall and into a small room. One wall had two cots lined up against it and he sank down on one. His breath returned as he surveyed the room. An old harp leaned in one corner. Holly was standing by a door in the wall.
“This is your door to the outside world. Only use it at night, or when we direct you to.”
Esther jumped in. “The slaves around us don’t know anything about the angel or the room here. If you just walked out, they would think that you were a phantom! Or worse. They would be sure to strangle you. So just stay in here. We will bring you food every day, enough to supply you for the whole day. If you need to use the facilities, just start playing the harp. It doesn’t have to be beautiful. Just give us five minutes, and then you can just walk out of the door and go to the outhouse. It’s just around the corner, near the woods.” Esther grunted uncomfortably. “Um, what else can I tell you… just make yourself as at home as you can be.” Charles smiled gratefully.
“That’s all I need. I can play the piano, but not the harp. Who plays in your family?”
“No one.” Holly spoke harshly. “The thing would be better off sitting in some furniture store and we could have even more flour and food. We need it, but Mother will not let us sell the harp.”
Holly was really angry about that harp. It had no real purpose but to sit there and make them call all the negroes in for a meeting about something or another that had no real purpose. And there was absolutely no need for it. Sometimes she would hear the harp twanging with no purpose or people, so it was very possible that the thing was broken, and there was no reason for Esther to come up with ridiculous problems to solve such as the worms in the corn. There were no worms in the corn. But it was a problem, and so they had to resolve it. In the end, they decided to forget all about it and spend the time bashing Charlie Will over the head for trying to leave again. So that was of no purpose. But maybe there was a reason that they kept the harp… the secret of the harp. Holly liked it. Perhaps she would write a story about a man who keeps treasure hidden in his harp, but when he goes out to war and dies, it is completely forgotten.
Emily suddenly ran out of the door to the outside. “The barn’s on fire! The barn’s on fire!” she screamed. Then she calmly returned to the room. “I’ve always wanted to do that.” She announced as she tried not to crack up. Holly giggled.
“Never, ever do that again!” Esther said disapprovingly while laughing her face off. Charles chuckled, and then gasped in pain.
“Are you okay?” Holly asked automatically.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I need a nap though.” Charles lay down on the cot and closed his eyes.
“We’ll leave you then.” Esther said decisively. She left via the door to the outside.
“Surely nobody can be outside right now. They all think the barn’s on fire,” she sniggered as she stepped out. Emily laughed so hard she almost cried.
“The barn’s on fire!” Holly gasped. Then she straightened up. “Oh Lord. That was one of the best things you’ve ever done.”
Emily shook her head like a dog clearing its ears of water. “Oh gosh. Okay. Whew.” Then, seeing Charles, who was desperately attempting to go to sleep, but couldn’t quite do that with all of the noise. “We should get out of here!” Emily stage-whispered, making Holly laugh all over again. They tumbled out of the room and bounced out of the staircase.
“You really need to stop doing that.” Holly gasped as they ran outside to do some damage control. Blacks were flying everywhere in a panic, rushing towards the barn.
“No, no, it’s okay!” Emily shouted. “False alarm!” Everyone started calming down then. People shook themselves off and started walking towards their houses again. Emily grinned at Holly and shook her head. “I suppose it’s time for me to go away now. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?” Holly nodded. Every day around this time she was left by herself again.
“Until tomorrow!” she smiled and headed back to the house. Back to her writings.
Emily was worried. This new person could be just what tipped Charlie Will over the edge. He had been dying to escape. He knew that he could be hurt, or killed, even, but he just refused to care. In fact, he was probably looking forward to the danger, knowing him, the rash brat. He never realized just how harsh the Yankees could be. Well, Emily understood that danger. Esther treated all of them quite well, considering what she was going through. Emily ran towards the small house-like object that she and her brothers shared. Eli popped out of the woods, startling her.
“Hey, Emily! How’s it going?” Eli was older than her and understood the look on her face. “What’s wrong?” he asked. Then his face grew suspicious. “Was it one of those boys from the other place over the hill? I’ll punch them in the face and make them cry like…” Emily knew what he was almost going to say. Cry like a girl. How often had she heard that term? She didn’t even have to count, because it was impossible to reach the number.
“No, it’s not those stupid boys. It’s Holly. She has so much on her mind. I heard her laugh today for the first time in a month, while we were playing chess. It’s like she forgets that she’s supposed to act even vaguely human. She sits around like a zombie in her room all day, writing and crying. So I suppose that she does act human. Too human. She needs to get a grip! Oh what do I do?” Emily was almost crying. Eli took her by the shoulders.
“First, you need to get a grip. Holly will be fine. Think about it! For months after mama and papa were taken away, you cried yourself to sleep every night. You refused to work. You would only talk to Holly. Now she has just heard that her brother died, and her mother is on the brink of that Tome fate. So how can you say that she needs to get a grip? Maybe she just needs a crash course in the life of a soldier.”
“How can you say that?” Emily asked, her head on her brother’s shoulder.
“Well, a soldier is trained never to cry or show any weakness. He saves his friends, and later they can save him.”
“No, I mean… oh never mind. I understand. But don’t you agree with me? She is acting altogether too… too…”
“Mournful? About a father who’s missing, a brother who’s dead, and a mother that’s ill to the brink of death? Oh, and Esther, the sister that doesn’t have the time of day for her? She’s too mournful about that? At least she’s productive.”
“True… but oh, Eli. It’s hopeless. This cruel war, I mean. The Yankees will win and we’ll have to leave, or the Confederates will win, and we’ll be stuck here, trying to keep Mistress from dying a painful death, if she hadn’t already!” Emily ran into the shack, fell onto her straw mattress, and wept bitterly. Eli didn’t stop her. He didn’t quite agree… but he understood. And that was enough.
Holly wrote far into the night, only pausing to give Mother some supper. She didn’t really mind, though. Mother’s color was slowly returning from the vampire shade she had maintained for the past few weeks. She actually hung around for a few minutes while Mother slowly and carefully opened and closed her mouth, slowly chewing her food. That is, she put it in slowly, then ate as fast as her jaw would allow. Holly smiled and turned to leave the room. Mother smiled, a small, barely visible movement. But Holly caught it. She didn’t write again for about a minute. Then she returned with vigor, passionately writing about a war she had never fought.
Charles slept for a long time. When he woke, it was morning. The sun was shining through the cracks around the hidden door. He stretched slowly, trying not to disturb the large wounds in his leg and side. Then he replaced his eye patch and walked over to the harp. His leg felt infected and sore, although his side was slowly healing. The harp was surprisingly light, and he carried it over to his cot, where he lay down again and started to pluck at the strings. After about five minutes of not so random string plucking (which sounded amazingly like Beethoven’s ninth symphony) he stood up and walked briskly out of the door. As predicted, there was nobody around. He ran out to the woods by the hill and past the small creek that marked the boundary. A groaning filled the woods all around him after about a minute. He took little note of it and soon returned to the hidden room. It took him quite a while to find the door. But after searching, he saw a small wooden panel that remained unpainted, as if on accident. When pressed, it sprang back to reveal… Holly standing by the harp in the room, studying it carefully. When she saw the door open, she blinked. Charles looked around, wondering what she had seen, if anything. When he turned, Holly was gone. The harp was teetering dangerously on its side. Charles ran in and caught the precious-looking thing. One of the strings had almost come unattached. Charles quickly reattached it, having some experience in that area. He sat down on his cot, looking around for anything that the little girl had brought. There was a large pile of books in the corner and a plate of food. He also saw a large canteen full of water sitting there. It was big enough to store water for a whole day. The plate had enough food for at least an army, if not two. How grateful Major Willis would be for this food, Charles thought sadly as he sat down to eat his breakfast of eggs and bread. There was a sandwich of ham and some cheese, which had to be expensive, for lunch, and half of a young chicken for dinner. These kind people had spared no expense on his behalf, that much was certain. He ate slowly, savoring the flavors of the eggs. It had been a very long time since he had had fresh eggs.
Holly had been looking at the harp for clues as to how it could possibly hold something when Charles opened the door. She wasn’t supposed to be there, and looked around behind him quickly for any sign of Emily or Esther. She didn’t quite know which would be worse. Neither was there. When Charles looked behind him, Holly made her escape. Possibly he would think that it was just his imagination. But what about that loose string on the harp? Surely he wouldn’t notice that. After all, he was a soldier. And soldiers could not play harps, of that she was certain. She scrambled out of the closet and right into Emily. She was standing there with a kind of mischievous look on her face.
“I thought I might find you here, silly. If Esther sees you, she will murder you on your feet. Get going!”
Holly was already gone.
Emily sighed. Holly was sure to find out about the missing eggs sometime. When she heard that they had used the last two eggs on a common soldier, Emily would not be around. It was not a pretty sight when Holly got mad. Victoria easily proved that. And Emily herself was one of Holly’s insecurities. So she tried to stay out of the way when there was trouble brewing. A very good strategy. Victoria had almost killed her once, and there had been this one thing with Henry that almost caused pandemonium. But other than that… okay, so she didn’t always stay out of the way. But most of the time. And that was what counted, right? Emily really needed a break. First, there were Victoria’s death threats, which she put up with for Holly’s sake. But now she supposed that she really didn’t have to any longer. And then there was Hank. Or Henry. The boys called him Henry, as did the ‘inferior’s, or the slaves. But Holly was allowed to call him Hank. Before Daniel’s death, the two had been best friends. Or possibly more, but Emily wasn’t allowed to stay in the room when the two were together. She just found the nearest window to make sure they were still sane. Mostly they appeared to be talking. But Holly was thirteen. She shouldn’t have a boyfriend at that age. But Hank had done nothing, so Emily was forced to let it go. Now she was scared that with Holly improving, she would be back together with Hank again. And there was the whole ‘missing’ business. Holly’s father had been missing for months. Soon after, her mother got sick. Could Holly handle it? Emily just didn’t know. She started tidying up the shack slowly. It was hard work, with three boys sharing. (It might also have something to do with how messy Emily always was, but she didn’t want anyone to realize that.) This she did every week. She had to get back to Holly soon, but this needed doing, so she did it. After all, it wasn’t likely that Charlie Will or Michael would tidy up. They were too young, too… boyish. The shack would be back to normal by tomorrow. Honestly, Emily didn’t see why she bothered. But for her brother’s sake, she cleaned. For Holly, it was different. She was way too messy. Her windows were always closed, and it ended up looking more like a lion’s den than an actual living quarters. But Emily tried her hardest. She kept the windows open, even though Holly shut them when she was gone. She pulled all of the papers off of the bed, although Holly was constantly replacing them with new ones. Someday, maybe she would get over this constant darkness and fear. Just not now. In fact, when was the last time Holly had been in the sunlight? It was almost dark when she played chess yesterday. It had been almost a month. Emily shuddered to think what could happen if Holly didn’t snap out of it soon. Face real life, breathe the fresh air.
Emily’s shoulders slumped and she continued working.
Holly screamed. “The axe is missing?! What?!” Emily sighed.
“Yes, the axe is missing. Charlie Will noticed when he was going to start work on that chair for Charles. I have no idea where it went, though. It’s as if it just ran away or something. Oh, and some eggs are missing too. Just saying.” She blew her really curly hair out of her face. Holly looked daggers at the back of the house, where the axe usually stood in a crack in the woodblock. Of course, it was missing. The chicken coop in the background seemed perfectly normal. Nobody would know that eggs were missing except for Michael. He knew everything from the number of eggs in the coop to the time of day that the negro who always got into trouble with the boys on the other plantation would be missing. Tomorrow. Of course, he got into trouble too, but that was beside the point. For now, Holly resolved to start looking around for that girl. And those boys. Not Hank, though. Hank could be trusted. Or so she thought.
Charles was bored. The books that Holly had brought were of no use to him. They were all about the Revolution and the war that was happening right at the moment. Who needed that revolution, when there was a new one going on right then? Once the Confederates had won, the Union would be left to mourn over their dust. Too bad, so sad. At least they would be able to shake it off. If the Confederate States of America lost, then all would be over. They would never live it down. His mind wandered to Billie, his best friend and tent mate. How was he faring? Had he been shot again? Surely not. One flesh wound would be enough. Especially when he couldn’t use his rifle arm. But he would make it. He was a very good shot, even with his right hand. Yes, his right. Billie was left-handed. Charles sighed and turned back to his book.
Holly stormed into the secret room. “Did you steal those eggs?” she demanded.
Charles looked up. “What? Eggs? Oh, you mean those ones that you cooked for breakfast? They were simply delicious, by the way.” He returned to his book without a second glance. Holly glared at him, simply infuriated by his lack of interest.
“Some of our precious, valuable eggs have gone missing, and you want to READ?! I wrote that, by the way.” She added, rather pacified when she saw what he was reading.
“How do you like it?”
“It is rather good, however bloody and full of mayhem and panic, and basically a mirror of my life before I came here. Besides that, it is simply wonderful. Descriptive details, complete battle sequences… I like it just fine. But do you have anything more… fictional?” Charles asked. Holly rolled her eyes.
“I used to. But ever since my brother Daniel died… I don’t read that sort of airy-fairy stuff anymore,” she said firmly. Charles shook his head at her.
“You ought to. It would take a load off your mind and maybe you would stop being so…”
“Annoyed? Unfrivolous? I know it isn’t a word. Don’t blame me!” Holly shouted. Charles looked up, stunned. “Well, don’t get your tights in a tizzy. I love when you make up words. It’s so fun! And what could I possibly blame you for? You took me in when I most needed it.” Charles smiled gratefully.
“You’re not really like my other friends.” Holly noticed. “They all frown on making up words and studying wars. I ought to be a prim and proper lady, like a princess, almost. Never play around, never scream. Faint a lot, it makes you look dainty. Don’t use slang, stand up straight. There is no time for frivolousness. The world is one big formal dinner, so you must be proper at all times. Do this, don’t do that… Victoria says everything is supposed to be perfect at all times. But she is just her mother’s puppet. Her father has gone off to the war, but she doesn’t care. All she cares about is being obedient to her Mother and telling me off for being imaginative! So I’m not imaginative any MORE!” Holly flopped down on the other cot, furious beyond words and imagination can describe. Charles shook his head slowly.
“I understand. All my life I was a coward, the one who would not order around his inferiors. It was ‘Charles do this, and tell them that, and don’t play games, don’t mess around, be chivalrous, be kind, hit slaves when they don’t do as you bid them.’ Never a thought for my feelings, my sensitivity. And then they all died fighting. So I got new friends. I never gave up. And here I am now!”
“With a wound in your side and leg, without anyone but negroes and a girl who is angry at the world. That is what you are thinking, yes?”
“No, I am thinking that you need to settle down. You have that negro girl, do you not? She cares for you.”
“Yes, her. She loves you as a sister, although she is bound to you as a slave. Could you ask for a better friend than that?”
“No,” Holly admitted. “But what about all the others? Charlie Will and Michael and Eli, her brothers. What of them? They are not my friends. Charlie Will would kill me to get off of this place, and I can’t say that I blame him. Michael would have a magician turn me black and sweep me off my feet. And Eli just frightens me out of my wits. He scares me, like I am going to hurt somebody and he doesn’t want it to happen. He means well, but he tries way too hard. And Linda, the negro who runs off every day to find the boys on the plantation uphill. What shall I do about them? They are not my friends. Not at all.”
Charles stretched his neck and turned towards Holly. “Send them away! Find new friends amongst those who adore you for your kindness. Just sell them.”
“Emily would be devastated if I sold her brothers. And the boys from the plantation would surely attack if I sent Linda away.”
“Well, then you are kind to all, as I have figured. You would spare Emily’s brothers if it would hurt her. Think on these things and come back later, okay?” Charles turned and lay down on the cot again. “I will speak to you at five exactly. Listen for the sound of the harp. I can play quite well.” With that, he closed his eyes and went to sleep. Holly slowly backed out of the room.
Emily walked into the secret room. Charles was there, waiting for her.
“Did you know I was coming?” Emily asked.
“I figured. Did Holly send you?”
“Yes. How did you know? I mean, you had no warning.”
“But I did.” Charles smiled. “Holly came in for a chat with me earlier. She seems quite upset, you know.”
Emily frowned, her forehead showing lines that a teenager should not have. “I know. She misses all the attention she used to get. She played chess with her brother every day before the war. She would write fantasies with her father. Now they are both gone… most likely for good. She has locked herself in a box and refuses to get out. I am so worried. Do you know how to help?”
“I think I might… but first, why did she send you here?” Charles asked.
“She wanted me to ask you a question.”
“What is it?”
“Did you know Daniel? You know, her brother?” Emily answered.
“Well, no. I didn’t. Honestly, I think that she has more hope than she shows. She has asked me about everything.”
“Now, about that help…” Emily prompted.
“Oh, yes. Well, I think it would help her greatly to get out and use that amazing brain of hers. If only I could think up a challenge for her, something to exercise that logic. It has also been trapped in a box for quite a while. What about that harp? Oh my Lord, I have the perfect idea…” Charles started whispering to Emily rapidly. She nodded over and over again. “Yes, we could do that… but we don’t even know what’s in it! If it is… yes, we could…” Emily left with a mysterious smile only Charles could figure out.
Holly stared at Emily. “There’s something in the harp?”
“Yes. Charles found out today after finishing your book. I’m afraid that if we leave it to him, he will take it and escape without our finding out what it is, at least.”
“But that solves everything! If we tell Esther that the thing in the harp is gone, then maybe we can sell it and just leave a bell in the room for Charles to ring. Oh wait, we wouldn’t even need a bell, because he would be gone! This is perfect.”
“But,” Emily protested, “what if Esther asks you what was in the harp? You would have to tell her something!”
“Not really… I could say that I found it empty when Charles ran off!” Holly grinned.
Emily rolled her eyes in wonder. “What if it’s money? Enough money for a doctor for your Mother? Or a will from Daniel, or a letter from your father, saying where he has gone?” Now Holly understood.
“Okay, okay, we’ll try to open the harp. But Charles has to be gone when that happens. Is there a way that he can just stay in my room while we try to figure it out?”
“Of course. We’ll send him up there tomorrow.” Emily agreed. Holly twirled on the spot and ran outside.
“I’m going to find Charlie Will. I bet he can help us figure it out.” It was bright daylight outside. Emily sighed in relief. Maybe, finally, the end was near for this dark day.
A new day dawned upon the plantation. Charles grinned as he tightened the strings of the harp. This challenge had to be hard, or Holly would solve it too quickly and go back to her doings, forgetting everything that she had done. He finished with the harp and lay down upon his bed, feigning sleep when Holly walked in with his food. Then he stood up quickly and walked out of the room.
Holly carried Charles’ food into his room, hardly breathing for fear of waking him. He appeared quite soundly asleep, however, so she left quickly. Behind her, she heard churning bedsprings like the soldier was turning over in his sleep. She ran outside, shielding her eyes from the new day’s sun. Emily was already awake, pushing her brothers out of bed to wake them up.
“Emily! He is still asleep.” Holly announced as Michael fell out of bed with a loud thump.
“Good. In about an hour we will start.” Emily nodded as she pushed Charlie Will to the floor. Eli was much harder, requiring the combined efforts of both friends. Finally he hit the ground.
“Dang! What was that for?” he moaned.
“Eli, it’s seven in the morning. Time to get up, dodo head. There are crops to raise!” Emily shook her head in exasperation. “Boys,” she complained to Holly. Holly couldn’t agree more.
Charlie Will was the next one up. “Urgh. So have we found that axe yet?” He asked.
“No,” frowned Emily, “but we have a special job for you today. You’re going to be helping us to figure out a puzzle. A puzzle with your hands.”
Charlie Will jumped for joy. “All right! When do we start?”
“Not until I get your brother up.” Emily responded.
“Oh, that’s easy.” Charlie Will responded. He then started jumping on Michael’s back.
“Hey! Up! Food! Girls!” he shouted at Michael. At the last two, Mike jumped up, nearly knocking Charlie Will off of his back.
“Food? And girls? Where? Show me!”
“No girls except your sister here, dummy.” Eli responded sarcastically. “Oh, and Holly.”
Michael nearly tripped over his feet getting out of the door.
“Kids.” Eli snickered as he left to start on the cotton field. Holly rolled her eyes.
“He has a huge crush on you, ya know.” Emily informed Holly as they waited outside the hut for Charlie Will to get his tools.
“I think that I noticed.” Holly sniggered. “He was so staring at me.”
“I know. Did you hear how Charlie Will woke him up?” Emily commented.
“Food! Girls!” Holly almost fell over. “He needs to get a life.”
“I know. But he’s a boy, so what can you expect?” Emily replied. “Now let’s get going.” Charlie Will came out of the house with his tool kit.
“I’ll send Charles up to my room. He won’t get in the way there.” Holly said briskly as they walked towards the door in the wall. One by one they stepped in. Charlie Will, who had never seen this place before, gasped as the door sprang open.
“Whoa. What is this place?” he asked in awe.
“It’s my friend Charles’ room. Charlie Will, meet Charles.”
Charles was back in his room when he heard the girls coming towards the house. He quickly lay down on his cot as they went in.
“Hi Charlie Will!” he greeted enthusiastically after the introduction. “How nice to meet you.”
Holly stepped forward. “Charles, if you would come with me, I will show you to my room. I need some privacy in here.” Charles got up from his cot.
“Why? What do you need to do?” he asked, trying not to smile.
“Nothing. Nothing at all. But I need privacy, so if you would please step this way?”
Holly led Charles out of the secret room and up the stairs to her bedroom. She had cleaned it especially for him. The bed was clean and uncovered, her books were put away neatly in her closet, and her papers were stuffed into drawers, closets, and where ever else she could find. Even the windows were open. Charles smiled.
“You have a very pretty room, Holly.” Holly blushed and went out, locking the door behind her. She ran down the stairs and into the closet. The door was, as usual, partially open already so that someone could get through. She squeezed in and walked over to the harp.
“Any luck so far?” she asked Charlie Will. He shook his head.
“I think it has something to do with the wires. But I don’t know what…” he trailed off, looking sheepish. Holly knelt down and began playing with the strings. One seemed to be a lot tighter than the others.
“Charlie Will, please inspect that one string for me. Is there something odd about it?” she commanded. Charlie Will bent down and started plucking the string. It did sound peculiar, as if it had been far too tightly wound around the peg on top.
“I would say that there is, miss. It is way too tight. It almost sounds like the one next to it, though why, I couldn’t say.”
“Undo it. Completely. We want that string unwound and off the harp.” Holly ordered briskly. Charlie Will started pulling at the string with the nimble hands of a mechanic. Soon it was completely unwound. But all that remained was the peg. It was rather loose, but it was still the peg. Holly sat down on the cot, annoyed. “It must be some other string then. Charlie Will, undo them all.” Holly perched imperiously on her cot, as if a queen on her throne, overlooking her kingdom.
“Is that really a good idea, miss? Mistress wouldn’t be too much pleased.”
“Very much pleased. Get it right, Charlie Will. And yes, it is a good idea. We must figure out the harp’s secret.”
“But what if there isn’t one, miss? What if this is all just a wild goose chase?” Charlie protested. Holly fell on her back on the cot suddenly, feeling faint. What if he was right? What if there was nothing, and Emily was leading her on? Holly shook her head. That couldn’t be true. Emily would never lie to her.
“No, it isn’t. So get a move on.” She commanded. Charlie Will, looking slightly as if Holly had gone off her rocker, proceeded to do so. He unwound all of the strings from their pegs but one. It refused to budge to anything Charlie Will thrust at it. In the end, he ended up just getting a hammer and pounding the peg right out of the harp. Nothing happened. No magic glow lit the room. No shining silver was falling out of the hole. Just black emptiness. Holly sighed.
“Maybe later we can figure it out. Charlie Will, go look for your axe again. Maybe it got thrown into the woods by Eli in a desperate attempt to get you to help him with the plowing.” Charlie Will brightened up and sped out of the room. Holly stood up and walked with slumped shoulders out of the room. “Emily, restring that harp,” she ordered before marching out of the room to find Charles. He was sitting where she had left him, on her bed, quietly reading a book he had found in her closet.
“You may leave now.” Holly said quietly. Charles got up, laying the book on her bed. He walked quickly out of the room, Holly tailing behind. After looking around for a minute, they decided that the coast was clear and ran into the closet. Charles walked into the secret room and closed the door firmly behind him. Holly turned and walked away up the stairs to her room, pondering all the while. If Charlie Will’s strength couldn’t solve this puzzle, then it required wits. And that was her area. Still, if only her father were here.
“If your father was here, there would be no need to open that thing.” Holly told herself sternly. But then again, there was another person who was good with puzzles…
Hank was working on a jigsaw puzzle when Holly arrived. He looked up with a broad smile on his face.
“Holly! Good to see you in plain daylight again! Does this mean that you’re coming out of hiding?” he greeted her.
“I wasn’t hiding!” Holly protested. “I was just solving puzzles… as I see you are doing as well.” Hank nodded. Holly walked over to the table he was sitting at and started to inspect the puzzle. “It would appear that this piece needs to go here, and then you can fit this section here!” she noted, putting the correct pieces in their places.
“You haven’t lost your brain to the shadow zombies then!” Hank joked.
“Oh, you fool.” Holly laughed teasingly. “Zombies are for children.”
“Admittedly. So why are you here?” Hank said, finally coming to the point.
“I need your help with something.” Holly answered. “A puzzle of sorts that for the life of me I cannot figure out.”
Hank looked intrigued. “Go on…”
“It has to do with this old harp…”
Hank walked into the secret room. Charlie Will followed, looking suspicious.
“I don’t want to derail a harp again, if that’s what you want.”
“Oh, no,” promised Holly. “We’re not derailing harps today. But we need your help to fine-tune it.” Then she remembered something. “Oh, my lucky locket. Hold on a second while I go fetch it.” She ran up the stairs to her room and opened her jewelry box. Her locket was usually sitting on a little pillow inside. This time, however, it was not. Holly gasped, and then started searching frantically for the locket. She looked everywhere, inside books, under papers, even under her bed. Finally she gave up and stormed downstairs. The last person in her room other than herself had been Charles. So it must have been Charles…
Downstairs, Hank was interrogating Emily and Charlie Will.
“Did he have a favorite song? Holly’s father, I mean.”
“Not that I know of… that was easy to play on a harp, anyways.” Emily answered.
“Well… then did he play the harp?” Hank asked.
“No.” Charlie Will spoke up. “I would have heard it. I love music.”
“Then who did?” Hank asked.
“Someone from Holly’s family, generations ago. It’s been passed down as an heirloom for almost a century now.” Emily said, knowledgeable in this area, as usual.
“Then any treasure in here must be old and decaying by now.” Hank said with authority.
“Not if it was just hollowed out,” said Charlie Will. “I had to help carry the thing upstairs once. All the other boys were out plowing or tending the animals. It was much heavier then.”
“Hmm…” mused Hank. Then Holly came storming into the room, heading straight for Charles.
“Did you steal my necklace?” she shouted.
“What? What necklace?” Charles looked quite alarmed. This was not too unusual, seeing the look on Holly’s face.
“You know what necklace! My locket! My father’s locket! He gave it to me before he left. He said that if I ever needed him, I should just look in the locket! And now it’s gone, and I need him, and YOU TOOK IT!” Holly screamed these last words, almost falling over in anger. Charles just looked confused.
“Why would I take something that was so special to you?” he asked calmly, once his nerves had settled down and Holly was sitting on the cot beside him.
“I don’t know, you tell me. The Tome reason you’re trying to steal whatever is in that harp, I suppose.” Holly raged. Charles shook his head.
“I’m not trying to steal anything.” Charles said. “Why would I steal from you, from your family? You’ve been through enough already.”
Holly firmly agreed. “So give it back.”
“Have I not told you? I didn’t steal anything!” Charles got up and paced around. “I would never steal anything from anyone, your family especially.” Holly sighed.
“All right, I believe you. But who did steal it? It couldn’t have just vanished, nor the axe, nor the eggs. Well, maybe the eggs, but… why would someone take just those things? Why not our barrel of flour, or our corn flour?”
Suddenly Emily ran into the room, followed by Esther.
“Our corn flour is missing!” Esther screeched. Charlie Will burst out laughing, but quickly stifled it.
“The whole barrel?” Holly asked.
“No, just about a quarter of that. But that’s enough. I hope we last until fall.” Esther looked sad and worried. “More eggs have gone missing too, along with the new milk we got from Eliza.” Eliza was the cow.
“What, is some bandit trying to make cornbread now?” Holly rolled her eyes.
“Apparently.” Emily said unhelpfully.
“We have to figure this out, now that more things have gone missing,” announced Holly. “I’ll find out who it is. Mark my words.”
“Can I help?” asked Hank.
“No. You’re a suspect too. Everyone is.”
Hank didn’t know what to do. He liked Holly a lot and wanted to help her without seeming suspicious. I mean, give the guy a break! Why would he steal anything? But still, a heart seemed a very good thing to steal. If he could find the loot, take it away from the bandit, and present it to Holly, maybe she would be grateful and start thinking more sensibly about… matters. Important matters, such as marriage. After all, nobody wanted to become an old maid… the only proper thing to do would be betrothal to him! He was eighteen, he could do that. And in just a few short days, Holly would turn fourteen. Then it would be all right, even proper, to be betrothed. Surely she would understand that? So he would find the criminal first and gain the items that Holly had lost. He would win this race. And the prize? A beautiful, sensible girl. Hank went whistling on his way.
Holly started with Michael.
“So do you like jewelry?” she asked him. He stared at her for a second.
“Jewelry? I’m a boy. Why would I like jewelry?”
“For the cash value, maybe. A golden locket would be worth a lot of money… you could fix up that house, or bribe Charlie Will and Eli to do it.”
“True. So do you have any golden lockets you want to give me, or something?” Michael asked her. “With your portrait in it, maybe?”
Holly frowned. “No, no lockets. Anymore. Mine was stolen by someone. I don’t know who. But I need it back, so I’m asking around. Would you happen to know where it is?”
“No, sorry. But if I find it, I’ll tell you.” Michael offered. “And maybe I’ll get a reward?”
“Anything.” Holly promised.
“Okay. Sorry I haven’t found it.” Michael apologized as Holly walked quickly away. Her next target was Linda.
“So, Linda, have you seen a locket anywhere?” she asked.
“What, a locket? No. I’d like one, though. With a picture to go with it.” Linda responded.
“Hmm. What kind of locket would you want if you had one?”
“Ooh, a pretty silver one, with curls all over it and at least two panels inside for pictures.” Linda gasped, picturing it. Holly sighed with relief. Her locket didn’t look anything like that. It was golden and plain, with only one panel for a picture. Linda, not noticing, went right on talking.
“It would look really fine around my neck! And I’d have a little chain to put it on…”
“Linda, I have to go. Maybe someday you can have a locket like that.” Holly interrupted. Then she walked away, leaving Linda looking thunderstruck.
Hank stalked toward the woods that marked the boundary between his house and Holly’s plantation. He liked to go there to think. Sometimes he pretended that he was a little boy again, walking with his daddy towards a little baby girl that he just adored. She was so intelligent, and so… different than all the other girls. She didn’t even pretend to care about being proper, and she didn’t spend her time in useless piano playing. At least, not unless forced. Instead, she studied and thought. Just like him. Man, she used to be his best friend. But then The Thing happened, and they separated. Until yesterday. And so maybe, just maybe, they could be friends again. He walked quickly towards the edge of the woods, fully meaning to go over and apologize to Holly for what had happened. But then he saw a fallen sapling and a flicker of flame…
Holly loved the woods. Oh, nobody knew that she had a fort in one of the trees there, of course, but she loved it. So she would climb up into the tree and just stay there for a day or two, probably killing Emily in the process whenever she did, but it was nice up there. She kept wood for a fire there in case of emergencies, as well as a small ring of stones for a fire. So it was very cozy up there. In fact, it was so nice, she had put her father's old hunting rifle up there so that when she felt like staying for a long while, she could have something to eat. There was also a small room that she had built in the trunk of the tree that was very warm. She kept a chicken there, Honey. It was small, but produced an egg every day, which explained where Holly went every day. Lately she hadn't been going up there quite so often, so there were probably eggs lying scattered all over the room, and Honey had probably eaten all of that corn that Holly had left lying there. When she reached the top of the small ladder, however, she didn't find any eggs. The corn was gone, though. Honey was sitting proudly on the rifle, clucking away like mad. Holly smiled. "You silly chicken. You haven't laid me any eggs, have you." she reached under Honey's legs to where she kept her eggs. Her fingers found nothing. So she pulled back. "Honey, what's going on? Why didn't you give me any eggs?" Honey clucked as if to say, "But I did! I did!" Holly shook her head and climbed down the ladder.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Honey."
Hmm. That was odd. Holly was missing again, and Emily had no clue what had happened to her. Though actually, she had gone missing a lot back a few weeks ago. Maybe she was just doing it again to tease her. Emily shrugged and started re-cleaning Holly's room.
Charles was very puzzled. He had not stolen anything! So why on earth had Holly accused him of stealing? Oh, maybe it was just his mind playing tricks on him, but there was definitely something off key about that girl, almost like that harp. Charles laughed slightly. Holly still had not figured out that harp. And it was so simple, too. Like pushing buttons through button holes, and pegs through puzzle-piece holes. Pegs through puzzle piece holes. Charles shook his head and picked up another book by Holly. This one was different, however. It had a light, airy cover and finely printed pages. The story was about a child who was lost in the woods and found a magic fairy sprite who gave her three wishes. Even this book had a sad theme, but at least it was something better than endless wars. He plopped down on his cot and began to read. It started out, "Once upon a time, there was a girl named Emily, a slave girl who wanted desperately to escape. So she just left. And her master couldn't find her anywhere, because of some wishes that she had gotten from a fairy. The fairy had been hiding in the woods when Emily stumbled on a tree root. The fairy tried to help her up..." Charles liked this book. Maybe it would tell him something about the life of Emily. And Holly. And... Oh, what was his name... oh yes, Abraham. Holly’s father. Maybe he, if found, could explain things much better than Holly’s book. About why Emily was so devoted to Holly, and why Holly loved to write so much.
Emily shook her head. What was this world coming to? Now Hank was questioning her about where she had been before they started examining the harp together.
"Where do you think?" she responded tersely.
"Um... oh. Right. Sorry." Hank responded sheepishly. He walked away quickly. Emily was glad that was over. Then she saw Holly marching toward her.
"Oh gracious. What is it, Holly?" she asked.
"Oh nothing. Where were you when I went to fetch Charles from my room?"
"Right where you left me, of course. You told me to fasten the strings of the harp, so I did."
"Right. Okay. Well, did anyone leave the room? Hank? Or did you both stay? And did he look guilty at all? Or anything like that?"
"No..." Emily answered, puzzled. "You went to get your locket after we found him and were starting to look at the harp. That's when you decided to get your locket anyways, wasn't it?"
"Right again. Okay, my brain is going fuzzy. I'm going to take a nap now." Holly sauntered off, leaving Emily to walk feebly after her. She was thinking hard as she walked. Nobody on the plantation could plausibly have taken the locket. Not many knew that she had it, and the others would never do that! Never. Emily was very certain about that. She stalked after Holly.
"Holly, what if you just misplaced the locket?"
"And Charlie Will just lost that axe? And the eggs just didn't appear that day? Is that what you're saying?"
"Exactly. Maybe soon Charlie Will will come running to us, saying that Eli had actually thrown the axe into the woods, and that's why he couldn't find it. And the eggs will reappear in the kitchen. Maybe Linda found them yesterday. And your locket... your locket fell off in the yard somewhere, and all we have to do is look for it." Emily suggested.
"No! It is very securely fastened. How dare you suggest that I just let it fall off in the garden? And no matter how awful Eli is, he would never throw the axe into the woods, we'll need that soon, and we can't afford to sell anything to buy a new one. Linda is too irresponsible to gather eggs. She would rather be playing with those cute boys."
"So you actually think that they're cute?"
"Mildly..." Holly looked away, embarrassed and blushing. "I mean, they're too young for me, they're my age!"
"Which is exactly as it should be, silly. You need people your own age. In fact, I think you ought to go over there sometime. It would be good for you." Emily decided.
"Why should I? It's not like they need the attention!" Holly rolled her eyes.
"True... but you need to give something your attention other than your father and brother!" as soon as she said the words, Emily knew that she had said the wrong thing. Holly glared at her.
"I'll be in my room. Paying attention to my writing and my books. AND NOT MY FATHER!!!" she stormed up the steps to her room. Above her, Emily heard a door slam. She sighed in sympathy for the girl. "What is this world coming to?" She wondered again.
Charles had a mission. A mission that didn't involve walking, thankfully. He sat on his cot and picked up a whole stack of Holly's books to read. Most of them involved the war, but there were older ones, too. Those were the ones that he was looking for. Holly seemed to put a lot of herself and others into her books. So maybe, Charles theorized, if he looked through her earlier stories, he would be able to see how to help the poor, determined girl. She certainly needed it. He started to read the shortest story. It was about a girl in Georgia named Helga and her friend Ella. They were teased because of their names and their friends, and they grew up hard and cold, until a prince Charming cut through the ice outside Helga's heart and reheated it. Of course, they lived happily ever after. The next one he read out loud. It was all right, and sounded like she had been about eight at the time.
"Once upon a time," the story started, "there was a girl named Helen and her servant girl, Emma. Helen loved to play and make up stories, but Emma didn't want her to, because it distracted her from all of the wonders of the world around her. Personally, Helen just thought that Emma wanted more attention. So she gave Emma her full attention, and found out that Emma was very scarred. A boy had given her a scar on her heart when she had tried to escape his grasp. It still hadn't healed. John, the boy, had scratched at her chest and tried to stop her, but she had to leave, because she had been given to someone else as a gift. So there. And one other person, an older person in their twenties, had hurt her terribly. She didn't show it at all, but it was there, and it wasn't pretty. Emma pretended that it didn't exist. One day, John came back. He was really sorry for the hurt that he had given Emma, and tried to make it up to her. She accepted his apology, and she lived happily ever after. However, Helen didn't like the fact that Emma had been forgiven, and tried to get her back. She told her lies about him to get her attention, and Emma believed them. She turned all of her attention on Helen, just the way she liked it. John wasn't given a backward glance. Of course, it turned out that the lies were true, and when Helen found out, she was very happy, for now she had Emma all to herself. So they lived out all their days and were happy old maids, never pleasing any foolish boy again. The End." Charles finished. Apparently, Holly had a father who had brought her up thinking that all boys were nasty fools who ought to be ignored for a long time. So that was how she thought of them now, most likely. But even more than that, this revealed a lot about Emily’s past, most likely in words that couldn’t really be recognized by other eight year olds. Like the wounds to the heart… this girl had loved someone a lot before being sold- or given- to Easternview. Most likely a father, judging by the fact that her father and mother were not here. Only her brother. Or brothers, as Charles hadn’t met them yet. He continued to the next story. Or actually, an essay. Holly had written an essay on the use of flour in hiding secret messages on paper. If you mixed the flour with lemon juice, if you bake the sheet of paper, the writing will show up. This was very intriguing, and Charles read the paper several times over. Maybe this would help Holly figure out the peg and string puzzle…
Holly couldn’t focus. All her thoughts were on her locket. Where could it possibly be? Not in her room, that was certain. And she only wore it in her room and on special occasions. So either it got dropped on the floor on Sunday when she wore it to church, or it had been stolen. Nope, church was no good either. She had written more that evening, and she always wore the locket while writing, or she couldn’t concentrate. Just like now. She sighed and put away her quill.
“It’s no good.” She remarked to the air. “I must find the locket, or never write again.”
Honestly, that wouldn’t be too bad. Just play around with Emily, get some sunshine, find a cure for Mother… Holly pushed her mind off of the topic of Mother. That wasn’t fair. If Hank hadn’t tried to cure her with that ‘medicine’… but best not to think about that either. Grudges would get her nowhere in this life, Holly knew. She had tried that once before. Needless to say, she wound up sobbing apologies on the ground. Well, maybe not, but in her mind, that’s exactly what she had been doing. When she had thought that Emily was stupid, inferior, and fat… well, apparently Holly couldn’t think of anything nice today. She turned instead to the harp. Oh, that stupid harp. Would it ever stop haunting her? Maybe there was a note from her father, or Daniel’s will… was he really dead? DEAD? Yes, she told herself, she had to get over this. Daniel was dead. He had been so for a month or more now. And then Mother got sick, and Esther got too busy to do anything for Holly at all. Yes, everything was playing out to be the worst existence ever. Who could live like this? Not Holly. And that’s why she HAD to prove that her father was alive. So she would find her locket. She would crack open that harp, if only with her bare fingers.
The dawn broke early the next morning. Holly was already up. She had questioned everyone and gotten nowhere. So it was time to sort through the shambles. Or, more precisely, to enter those crummy old huts and get down on her knees and search. She started with Emily’s house. Not that she thought that it would be there, her brothers all seemed innocent. So did Linda, and Maggie, and all the others. There were only about twenty now, as they didn’t harvest much, and not many were needed to tend to the animals. Fifteen worked outside, and five attended to the kitchens, the sitting room, and most important, Mother. That left no one to actually have time to steal anything. Oh, this was pointless! Holly almost gave up then, but she thought of her father and pushed Emily out of bed.
“Hey, girl, time to get up. I have to search everyone’s houses.” Holly whispered. Emily was up in a flash.
“What do you need me to do?” she asked.
“Just start looking around in here. I don’t really suspect your brothers, but you never know, right?” it was the unfounded hope of a desperate girl. Emily nodded and started looking around.
“I’m going over to the next hut. Once you’re done, go to the one after that. We’ll stagger.” Holly decided. Emily knew what she meant and continued to search with a small nod. “I’ll meet you in my room when we’re done.” The girls parted ways and started searching all the huts. Holly found several pieces of silverware that someone (“Linda!” Holly said reproachfully.) had taken so that they could eat properly. Emily saw a small silver bracelet that had gone missing months ago. Other than that, there was nothing in any of the buildings, for they couldn’t possibly be called houses. Holly ran up the steps to her room, clenching her fingers.
“Anything?” she asked quickly when Emily entered a few minutes later.
“Not a thing. It’s like the locket has vanished off the face of the Earth.” Emily replied, annoyed with the locket- and possibly the face of the Earth.
Holly made a split-second decision. “Emily, I have to show you something.” She led the way outside and towards the forest.
“Are you finally going to show me where you’ve been hiding every so often?” Emily teased.
“As a matter of fact, I am.” Holly agreed, oblivious to Emily’s jokes.
“Oh.” Emily fell silent as they walked into the woods. As they passed through, creatures scurried away. In fact, something ran away that sounded like a bear cub. Or an elephant. But Holly was betting on the bear. She came to her tree. She had walked to it so many times that her footprints were embedded in the ground. Wait, her feet weren’t that big… Holly put it down to the multiple footprints and climbed up the notches she had chiseled into the tree. Emily climbed up behind her. Finally, they made it to the top. Then Holly saw it.
“Someone’s been up here!” she gasped. She knelt down to Honey. “Oh, baby, what did they do to you?” she looked at the mangled remains of her faithful chicken, then up at Emily. Her eyes were cold and fierce. “This is the last straw. Someone will pay.”
How Emily understood. She had gone through all of Holly’s pains. Now whoever had killed that poor chicken must die.
“I agree. But first we must go up to the other plantation, scope out those boys. They would go and give the locket to whomever it is they’ve set their eyes on. We have to get it first.”
“Whomever, not whoever.” Holly corrected automatically. Emily shrugged.
“Whatever. But we have to find out who it is. It’s either someone on that farm or a person hiding out in the woods.”
“But that’s ridiculous. We never saw anyone, or heard anyone either.”
“But your chicken is dead. Those boys would have to find this place AND have a reason for killing Honey.”
“Okay. We’ll check those guys out, and then look around for a person- or axe- in the woods.” Holly planned. “Then we figure out that harp. There has to be a reason for it, and I think Charles knows.”
“Actually, he doesn’t know exactly. He figured out that there was something inside, then asked me to ask you to help. So I told you what I knew.”
“You tricked me?” Holly gasped. “Why?”
“So you would start doing something useful. It’s so worrying to see you curled up in your room like a bat, not caring a thing for the world around you.”
“Oh.” Holly had absolutely nothing to say about that. “Maybe I was a bit…”
“Hermitish?” Emily suggested.
“Yeah.” Holly agreed. “That works. Let’s go home. We can strategize a lot and try and figure stuff out.”
“Whatever.” Holly rolled her eyes. They pushed each other around as they ran back home.
Everyone had dreams that night.
Holly dreamed that she was in the forest, looking for her locket. Someone cried out in pain, and she tried to start running to them, but she could not. No matter how hard she pushed, her legs would not move. The crying grew louder. A locket dangled on a tree branch in front of Holly, but she couldn’t get to it. Finally, she looked down and saw the harp. It was blocking her legs so that she couldn’t move. She sat down and started staring at it, trying to figure out the puzzle. Suddenly, Hank jumped out of the woods carrying a puzzle. He couldn’t figure it out. Then he turned one of the pieces and was able to solve it. Holly woke up with a loud “Aha!”
Emily dreamed that she was back at her old plantation, six years old again. Her father was waving sadly at her. John ran along beside her.
“Why do you always have to go?” he asked. Emily had no answer.
“Well?” he asked.
“I don’t know.”
“But we are best friends, right? Why did you leave me?”
“I didn’t want to!” Emily protested. “We were so young! And I was sold.”
“That’s no excuse. But I’m here now. So what did you want, again?”
Emily woke up in a cold sweat.
Hank dreamed that he had found the locket. He ran through the woods towards Holly to show her, prove that he could do it. But she was bound to a harp. Her hands were tied with the loose strings and she was busy singing, but it was not words. It was the tune that a man was playing on the harp… Holly’s father. Hank woke up smiling.
Charles dreamed that he had found that jacket that Billie had loaned him. He tried to get back to camp to give it to him, but found himself in the woods instead. His mother smiled at him encouragingly.
“Use the man, son. It will show you the way.”
“What map?” he asked her, but she drifted away.
“Use the map!” she called again before fading into the early morning mist.
Holly ran downstairs the next morning to tell Emily about her dream. She met her halfway down. Apparently, she had been running up to tell Holly something.
“What is it?” Holly asked.
“I had this dream…” Emily started telling Holly all about the dream. Holly listened with great interest.
“But he couldn’t be here… could he?” she asked thoughtfully.
“Oh, surely not. So why were you going downstairs in such a rush?”
“I had a weird dream too… I think it might hold the answers to our problem.” Holly quickly summarized her dream. “Let’s go look at that harp!” They hurried downstairs. Holly pounded on the secret door.
“Charles, let us in!” she yelled.
“Holly!” Emily warned. “People will hear us!”
“No they will not,” Holly insisted. “Only Charles. This place is soundproof.” As if on cue, Charles opened the door and let the two girls walk in.
“Lovely morning in the windowless room,” he commented dryly. “What brings you girls here so early in the morning?”
“The harp.” Holly answered curtly. “We need to examine it thoroughly. I had this dream…” she proceeded to tell Charles her dream.
“Interesting. I too had a dream about a forest. However, I was looking for my friend Billie and not a locket.”
“Who is Billie?” Holly asked curiously.
“Billie fought with me in the war. We shared a tent. He was my best friend. Billie was wounded in the last battle we fought, as was I. I hope he gets to safety.”
“As do all of us.” Emily answered kindly.
“Now can we please look at the harp?” Holly asked as courteously as she knew how to.
“But of course. I was wondering, did your father leave you anything? A piece of paper, a map? Especially a map.” Charles asked.
“Um, my locket, his old pen, and an old notebook to leave my thoughts in. My hope diary, he called it.”
“That’s it!” Charles rejoiced. “That’s got to be it. Can I see this notebook? Actually, did he write you a note in it or anything?”
“Why, yes he did. A small note at the front of the book.” Holly responded with raised eyebrows.
“Bring it here, quickly.” Charles ordered happily.
“Whatever. But you can’t read it.” Holly told him.
“That will be fine. I just want to see your father’s note to you.”
Holly rushed upstairs to fetch the book, wondering what on earth Charles could have in mind. Emily started to follow her, and then ran back into the room.
“There’s a person out there!” she gasped in shock.
“What?” Charles asked, confused.
“He is all bruised and scratched up, with ragged clothing. He has blood stains on his shirt and food all down his front, as if he had to scarf it down quickly or risk losing it. Hey, maybe that’s the thief!” But before Emily could race back outside, the man was gone.
“What color was his hair?” Charles asked, suddenly businesslike. “His eyes, his clothes?”
“His hair was brown and darkish; it fell into his face so that I could not see his eyes. His clothes looked like they could have been a uniform, had they been brand-new. Otherwise there would be no chance of recognition. Whatsoever. Does this man sound familiar to you at all?”
“Yes, he sounds just like Billie. How very odd.” Charles pondered this for a while. “It must be pure coincidence. After all, how unlikely that Billie would be here. Still, this matches up completely with my dream. Do you have access to your forest out back?”
“Then it might have indeed been Billie. However, until we are certain, I will call it pure coincidence.”
Holly picked that moment to come storming back into the room carrying a small book.
“Here it is, y’all.” She held out the book. Charles took it quickly.
“Where is your father’s message?” he asked.
“Right here.” Holly opened the book to the first page and read aloud:
“Dear girl, I hope this finds you well. Do you remember all the papers we wrote together, on secret inks used in the Revolution and the stories of your youth? Well, if ever again you need to write something down, write it in this book. If it is most important to you, and you simply need to keep it private, write it here. And do not forget what I taught you, because I will always be with you in my heart, even if not in person. Yours truly, Father.” Holly finished. Charles smiled.
“He truly loves you, Holly. But I think that there is something more to it than a heart warming message. I believe that your father hid another message underneath the first. One written in flour and lemon juice.”
“The ink used in the war to send secret messages between ‘proper’ ladies!” Holly remembered.
“Precisely! Your father would have remembered that and used it to send you a letter about, possibly, the harp.” Charles suggested.
“But are you suggesting that I burn my letter from father?”
“If it leads to a note from him telling you where he went, then yes!” Charles agreed.
“All right, I will do it. But you owe me one, Charles. Do you ever owe me one.”
“Probably.” Charles answered. Holly ran towards the door.
“I will go to the oven right now!” she shouted over her shoulder.
“Good luck,” Charles whispered. Emily hugged him tightly.
“Thank you!” she said as she left the room.
“You are very welcome.” Charles said to the door as Emily hurried to catch up with Holly.
Emily was in high spirits as she watched the first page of the diary roast over the open fire.
“I’m so glad that you’re up and moving again,” she said to Holly. She could not suppress a smile.
“I am too, now that you mention it. Charles is quite nice, and Hank is, I believe, trying to help me. I somehow don’t think that it is working, however.” Holly giggled at the thought of Hank questioning suspects about crimes.
“Well, he means well. I think he likes you.” Emily told her.
“Oh, I know that. He has been talking to Esther and Mother about marriage for quite some time now. Esther has forever put it off, saying I am too young, and agreed, I am. But Hank refuses to listen. I believe that Mother told him that he was welcome if he could earn my heart, which is why he is trying so hard to please me. But I do not like him. Do not ever think that in the slightest.”
“Which is why every dream you dream has something to do with him, every thought has something either for or against his purposes, and every smile is hurriedly washed away in case I might think it was for him. Indeed you do not like him.” Emily teased Holly, knowing full well that she would do nothing, for they had had this conversation before. At first, Holly had liked Hank publicly, praising his stature and heritage, not to mention his brain. Then she turned against him when The Thing happened, refusing to speak either about him or with him. It drove Emily quite mad, not knowing exactly how Holly felt about this. But she remained calm outwardly and simply teased Holly about what she did understand. It was fun, too, and calming. Emily loved teasing people, it was by far the easiest thing she did.
“So, met anyone from church lately? A certain one of the Bradshaw boys seems to draw your eye, I notice.”
“Oh, no.” Holly mock groaned. “Please don’t start that again! Yes, I admit it! I like Johnny Bradshaw. He is very sweet and polite to me, even when I, not meaning to of course, cause a rumpus. He does not like me very much, I fear. He dreads holding my hand for prayer and will actually change places just to get away from me. Though from embarrassment, I also do the Tome. This makes it a lot easier, and granted, he still knows that I like him, I do not show it outwardly anymore.” Holly said in a dignified fashion.
Emily burst out into peals of delighted laughter. “But how do you know that he does not refrain from holding your hand of the Tome causes?”
“I have been pondering that myself, but I do not believe that it is so.” Holly straightened her posture. “After all, he knew that I liked him at first. In fact, I made quite a show of it. But then I realized that that was not the proper way to gain his attention, and turned my thoughts elsewhere. I learned to play chess from those bloody boys, after all.”
“Truly?” Emily was stunned. “But they are so uncivilized!”
“As was the way that they played the game. They invented whole new rules that made the whole thing doubly ruthless and hectic, including one that said that you had to move within five seconds of the other’s turn, or you would lose yours. It was not until I started playing with my father that I realized that those rules were not necessary.” Holly laughed at herself.
“Those boys were quite the idiots, were they not?” Emily asked as politely as possible.
“Oh, yes, very much so indeed. Except for Hank, usually. When he was not insulting me or making eyes at me, he was very much the courteous gentleman.” Holly said.
“And now, let us refrain from such genteel talk as we have been practicing, and turn again to manners.” Emily nodded her head. They had actually been practicing the lady like skill of witty and genteel banter. This was required most days, along with grammar, arithmetic, and spelling. Now they turned to manners.
“So, I hear that those boys are stupid idiots!” Emily exclaimed, changing from perfect lady to lack-wit servant.
“Oh, no, madam.” Holly replied, ever the gentlewoman. “They are not idiots; they simply do not possess the correct brain to muscle ratio.” This, she figured, would sound gentle and lady-like while actually insulting the boys much more easily than saying “stupid idiots.”
“But how they play! So rough. It’s as if they were pigs, feasting on their brothers who had been turned to jerky by their mate’s hands.”
“Let us talk not of swine, for they do not make for good conversation. Instead, let us talk of birds that soar around, swift and proud, searching for their friends to have a meal of their parents.”
“Uh, uh, uh.” Emily shook her head. “No gory stuff or violence, it is not proper.”
“Oh, who cares about proper?” Holly asked rudely. “As you can see, I will certainly never manage it by myself, so who cares anyways?”
“Esther and Victoria.” Emily said simply.
“No they don’t. Esther is too busy, and Victoria hates me for liking you.”
“Oh, Hank Shmank. He is annoying, like a bird that at first befriends you, and then pecks you on the ear until you go quite mad.” Holly pointed out the similar qualities easily.
“But not quite mad. Just enough to drive you over the edge. And maybe paralyze you with a straightjacket, but other than that, not quite mad at all,” Emily pointed out. After a few seconds, both girls almost fell over with laughter.
“Okay, the page should be done now.” Holly noticed. She used some tongs to pull the piece of paper out of the fire. Underneath the black print of her father’s message now stood more cursive handwriting, but this was bumpy and brown from the fire and the flour. The message read:
I trust that in reading this you understand the task ahead. I have laid out clues for you, many clues, and hard ones. I know that you will have taken my leaving hard and have probably been cooped up in your room for weeks, if not months before finding this. I am in awe of your loyalty, but now it is time to get out and stretch your legs, and your brain. Your first clue is hidden in the harp. I am sure you have probably realized that by now, and are racking your brains to figure it out. So my clue to you is: A top, B top, D top, E top. The press all the rest in order including the bottom. This is the simplest clue you are going to get, so think carefully, my girl. And good luck! (Oh, and by the way, tell Emily that the queen will switch with the pawn before the game is done. It will prove useful later if you have taught her chess. If not, do so now. She will understand. Love, Father.” Holly looked up.
“So do you know what he’s talking about?”
“I think so… but I could be wrong. I think that somehow I have to trade places with you. I don’t know how, but that is what makes sense to me.”
“I really don’t either. Unless you were to do all the things I normally do, and I do all the things you normally do… we’ll figure this out later, okay? Right now we need to figure out the harp!” Holly said.
Emily nodded. “Let’s go look at it now.” They hurried back to the secret room, message in hand.
“Charles, we have the answer.” Holly announced. “Could you help us? The note says something about A top, B top, D top, and E top. I have no clue what it means, however.”
“I think that those work like numbers. Maybe you can push the pegs in like buttons.” Charles suggested. Holly nodded, that made sense.
“Okay, let’s unstring the harp.” She started untwisting the wires from the pegs. After many cuts and a few doses of mild frustration, they got all the wires off.
“We need Charlie Will to do that.” Emily muttered, panting. Holly nodded again.
“So true. Pegs?” she gasped, unable to say more.
“Got it.” Charles started looking at the pegs for any markings. “None,” he said sadly. “This will have to be all guesswork.” He pushed in the peg on the far end. It fell right back out with a clunk.
“How about the first one?” Holly guessed. “The one nearest you.” Charles tried to push it in, and to his delight, it stuck.
“Okay, so this is probably A top. So the next one would be B top.” Charles pressed the next peg. It stuck too. He tried the next one, but it fell out. “What?” he asked.
“No, no, no. D top, not C.” Holly corrected him. Charles nodded and pressed in D. To everyone’s surprise, it did not stay. Then they noticed that the other pegs had all fallen out again.
“Dang it.” Emily muttered. Charles went straight back to work, lifting the heavy pegs. One by one they all stuck.
“Okay, that’s E. What now?” he asked Holly, who had the instructions and was reading them.
“Press the rest of them in order, starting with C, I should think.” She directed. Charles pressed in C, then moved on to the rest of the un-pressed pegs. There were quite a few, and so after the first ten, Charles required some help. Emily started pushing the pegs as well. Finally they both gave up and Holly moved in and pushed in the last few with some effort. Suddenly, a latch sprang open somewhere and the top of the harp opened. Holly gasped. She bent over the hole in the harp with difficulty. Thankfully it was quite a small harp, with only three octaves, so it was possible to bend over, if difficult. Inside was a small sheet of paper. It looked rather new, like it had just been written on. Holly picked it up and sat on a cot.
“Down the hill you go, my dear. I am so glad that you found this message. You now have a very challenging riddle before you. It comes in three parts.
1. Move the number of paces equivalent to the number of queens it is possible to have on a chessboard at one time, especially in your first game of chess.
2. Turn and walk the number of paces it would have been possible for a Revolutionary soldier to walk in the winter. Even with their feet bound together.
3. Look for the key in the hole, the removed brick, and the rotting board. Not necessarily in that order.
This is getting harder, though not by much. Give my best to your mother. I hope she is well. I hope that I can get back to you safe and sound. If I have not returned by the time you figure out the last of these clues, use the thing I will give you to go to New York. You will be safe there, I promise. Yours ever, Father.”
Holly sat there looking stunned. “The number of queens… eighteen to a board, possibly.” She got up and walked out the door. “Okay, eighteen paces. One, two, three…” Holly started counting off the paces, ending up at the curve of the hill. “Oh gosh,” she muttered, almost falling over. She turned left and started walking. “How should I know how many paces it would have been possible for a soldier to walk?” she asked her father’s note.
“Thirty-eight!” Charles called. “I counted my own!”
Holly returned to her starting place and counted out thirty-eight steps. She ended up at the edge of the forest.
“Not going to work.” She noted, and walked seventy six paces in the opposite direction. She ended up at the road this time. “Nor that. There are no rotting boards in the middle of roads.” She turned around and stepped onto the front porch. “This will require some thought.” She did just that. Emily came up with the solution first, however.
“You said that you originally knew different rules because of those silly boys. Did one of the rules say something about queens?”
“In fact, it did. One rule said that all of the pieces except for the kings could become queens, because it was almost impossible to get to the other side with any piece anyways, because of all the other ruthless rules.” Holly responded. Charles spoke up then.
“I’m rather good at math; allow me to finish the clue. First of all, we know that we have eighteen queens that could possibly reside on a normal chess board, when you are playing a normal chess game. So if you divide that in half, you get nine. If you subtract the original queen, you get eight, the number of the pawns. Then double that, because there is another row of pieces behind the pawns, and you get sixteen, the number of pieces on one side. Then subtract the king, because he can’t become a queen, and double it to get thirty, the number of pieces on the board, not mentioning the kings. So you go thirty paces.” Charles thought out loud.
“Whoa. You’re better than Victoria!” Holly exclaimed. Charles smiled at her.
“I try, I try. Now don’t you have some pacing to do?” he asked. “My leg is really hurting me, so I figure that I’ll go lie down.”
“Oh, okay.” Holly smiled at him. “Can we come and ask you things if we get stuck, though?”
“But of course!” Charles nodded firmly. “Anytime at all.”
“Thanks. Emily, could you help him to his room?”
“Sure thing.” Emily offered Charles her arm and they walked gracefully from the room.
Emily had been brought up well. She had always lived at a nice plantation. The first one had been pleasant enough. She had lived with her parents in a small but lovely little house. It was rather old, with rotting floors, but that didn’t matter much, as the ground was right underneath. She had worked in the kitchen. She didn’t help much, as she was very little, but they taught her how to be safe around fire. Later, she became the mistress’s helper, because she was so sweet. She had been taught proper English and grammar, as well as manners. Then, on her sixth birthday, her father took her on his knee.
“Emily, I have something to tell you, honey.” He smiled down at her comfortingly. Emily looked back up at him, smiling, thinking that she was going to get sweets or some such things.
“Darling, you and your brothers be going on a trip,” her father said in his grammatically incorrect way.
“We are going on a trip, Daddy.” She corrected.
“Of course.” He chuckled.
“Why aren’t you coming?” Emily asked.
“I have to stay here, honey. They need me here. But you and your brothers have to leave for a while. Maybe forever.” A tear trickled down the man’s cheek.
“But why? Mistress likes me!” Emily pleaded with her father, starting to cry as well.
“Not enough to keep you when she is over budget. Don’t worry, someday I’ll find you and we’ll be together again.”
“Mommy too?” Emily asked hopefully. Her father smiled at her.
“Mommy too. Now go say goodbye to your friends, okay?” he requested gently. But as Emily turned to leave, he recalled her. “Emily!”
“I love you, baby. Never forget that I love you.”
“I love you too, Daddy. I’ll love you forever.” Emily kissed her father’s cheek. “Will you walk with me?” she asked him.
“Of course, sweetie.” He offered her his arm and they descended the hill towards where the other children were playing.
“Daddy?” she asked as they made their way down the hill.
“Yes, darling?” he responded softly, tears choking his throat.
“Will you stay here so I can come back to you later?” she questioned.
“Yes. I will be here.” Emily’s father watched her with salty water splashing onto the ground beneath him as she ran off to tell her friends one last goodbye.
Emily had tears streaming down her face as she led Charles to his room.
“What’s the matter?” he asked gently, noticing.
“Nothing.” She quickly dried off her face.
“Are you sure?”
“No.” Emily’s shoulders slumped. “It’s my father. I miss him so much. He was always there for me when I needed him, when things were going roughly or badly. He was my shoulder to cry on. Not that I needed one much when I was six…” Emily sniffed. She opened the secret door and walked through. Charles pulled her over to a cot.
“Now I’ll be the shoulder for a while. You must be so worried about him.”
“I am,” Emily cried, the tears flowing steadily now. “He is so old now, and I’m not there to care for him, nor Eli, nor Michael. And Mother died when I was five. He’s all alone there, if he is still there.” She wept bitterly on Charles’ shoulder.
“It’s okay. I have a feeling I know what will lie on the other end of this journey Holly is taking. If I’m right, you will be able to get to your father, take him someplace safe.”
“Do you really think so?” Emily asked, her tears slowly stemming.
“I do. I really do. Now go take care of Holly, I have a feeling that she might need help.”
Emily nodded. Duty definitely came before tears. And Holly, even more so. She got up and left the room. Holly was still pacing outside.
“Emily, this doesn’t work. Either I fall off the hill (not literally of course) or I walk into the chicken coop. I can’t go thirty-eight paces in a chicken coop!” Holly moaned. Emily shook her head sympathetically.
“Maybe you need to start from somewhere else?” she suggested, looking around for anywhere with a large X on it to start from. “Where was the harp when your father left?”
“In the honeysuckle garden behind the chicken coop.” Holly rushed up the hill to the chicken coop. A little black chicken was out in the enclosure, pecking at bugs. Inside the actual coop, Emily could hear the clucking of many chickens. She walked back behind the little building to the small garden beyond it. The walls of the garden were covered with vines which were growing small flowers. Emily picked one and pulled the stem out of it, tasting the sweet drop of juice on the tip.
“Mm. That is so good.” She said, savoring the single drop.
“Focus,” Holly warned. “I guess we have to be outside the garden.” She walked outside the walls and found a small patch of overturned earth. She bent down and started digging. Inside was a small note.
“Good job, Holly. You’ve figured it out thus far. Please continue. Gee, thanks, Father.” Holly said sarcastically. “So we walk thirty paces this way…” she pointed down the hill in the direction of the forest. The forest completely surrounded the plantation. Holly started walking. After thirty paces, she found herself at a small tree. An arrow was pointing to the right. She walked right thirty eight paces and saw the barn.
“Oh! The barn!” she cried. She ran over to the structure. It had just been constructed the previous year, about two months before Father left. The bottom was made of bricks, the top of wood. “Okay, so we’re looking for a missing brick.” Holly called to Emily, starting to search.
“I’ve found one. It has a weird blockish thing inside.”
“Bring it to me!” Holly called. Emily hurried over, carrying a small rectangular piece of ivory.
“It’s a piano key! A key in a hole!” Holly cried ecstatically. She turned the key over in her hand, revealing indentations in the ivory. She turned it partly, enough to catch the sunlight, and the shadows in the indentations said, “Good job. Next clue by rotting board.” Holly ran inside and climbed the small ladder inside to the loft on top. Sure enough, there was a slowly disintegrating board sitting by the corner. Holly turned it over. No writing graced the surface. She moved it away. No note was sitting in the corner. In frustration, she threw the board down onto the ground below her. Not very surprisingly, the thing fell apart. Quite surprisingly, however, there was a piece of paper in the exact center of the board. Holly gasped, “Look at that!” Emily ran over to the broken board and picked up the paper.
“It’s another note from your Father!” she called up. Holly pumped her fist.
“Yes!” she climbed quickly down the ladder and jumped the last few rungs to the ground. She ran over to Emily and held out her hand. Emily gave her the paper.
“Dearest Holly, how far you’ve come! I am glad you remember things well, though you must have had to do research on the steps of the war soldiers, because we never actually talked about that. Good job. Now, I must tell you something. Those steps you just took were two of ten clues. Each clue gets slightly harder, until you will find the last piece, and the puzzle will simply fall together. Yes, I know that I probably disappeared from the battle. If not, I will. There is a reason that will be revealed in the end. Until then, know that I will always love you. Always. Now for that clue. This one is in the form of a riddle.
I am very old but do not live. People use me, but do not favor me, because I lead to death and destruction. I can be pulled off of a native’s back or drawn beside a tight string. Only men can shoot me, but I can shoot more than men. I could shoot a cliff, for instance. Or an animal. I only work with a stick, for no other companion will do. And I usually need two companions, as I cannot be very flexible, and I need someone who can or I will not go anywhere. I am usually found in water, especially where it flows. I have been worn and pulled at, but only grew softer.
Do not lose hope, darling. Although you have many clues to go, I am near you. Ever yours, Father.” Holly looked up. Emily smiled at her.
“You were always good with riddles, right? This ought to be easy!”
“I think I’ll work on it tomorrow. I mean, I have plenty of time, and we need to find the culprit of all the stolen items.”
Emily snickered rather nervously. “Only three things have been stolen, though.”
“As of yet there have been only three missing items. Maybe more will be stolen, you know.”
“Don’t talk like that. For all we know, the person might be leaving, never to return.”
“Fine. Let’s say that the person is gone. Then my locket is gone forever, along with the axe. We might have to sell the piano, or worse, the harp!” Holly moaned.
Emily shook her head. “Just a few days ago, you wanted more than anything to sell that harp. Now you wouldn’t sell it for the world.”
“I’d sell it for my father.” Holly stated bluntly.
“I’d sell it for mine.” Emily rolled her eyes. “But I won’t, because I know you wouldn’t like it. Honestly, my old plantation would probably sell my father to have such an exquisite harp.”
“It’s not that nice,” Holly protested.
“No, but neither is my father. At least in looks. And he must be at least fifty by now. Maybe fifty five. They don’t need him.”
Holly looked sadly at her friend. She wasn’t even a servant anymore. She was a sister. They had been through everything together. When word came that Daniel had died, Emily had cried too, and lent Holly her shoulder. When Mother got sick, Emily was the one feeding her and giving her medicine alongside Holly. Now they were bonded. Maybe it would be possible to free Emily. Someday maybe… Holly turned the thought aside for now. She wanted to talk to Hank, find out what he had been doing while she was looking for the next clue. Suddenly Emily shouted out.
“Holly! Look!” she pointed at the board. A shining purple something was poking out of the wood. Holly picked up the board and threw it across the barn. Of course, it fell apart completely, revealing a small shiny purple bracelet and another note.
“I thought that this would go well with your locket. –Father.” Holly smiled. She slipped the bracelet onto her arm, where it shone brightly in the sun filtering in the barn door.
“I hope we never move the cows in here,” she whispered.
“I agree.” Emily nodded. “But now we should get going. Hank won’t wait for us if he doesn’t know that we’re coming.”
Hank saw Emily and Holly before they saw him. He scowled. Emily was helping Holly far too much. If he was going to find the locket and the axe first, he would have to dispose of Emily somehow. Maybe tonight, when all the negroes met for church. Seeing as how they needed a white man to be there… he could volunteer. Holly walked up the hill and saw him working on a paper.
“Schoolwork,” he apologized.
“I understand. I wish my schoolwork consisted of papers and things. Instead, I have to learn manners.” Holly shuddered.
“So what brings you here?”
“What have you found out about the locket?” Holly asked quickly. Hank almost panicked then and there. Then he remembered that Holly had actually asked him to help her.
“Not much, unfortunately. There is no trace of a thief, even fingerprints on the window.”
“Oh. Well, keep looking. I have urgent business right now, so I can’t be bothered with it. So if you care to find it, please do.” Holly was getting suspicious. That look in Hank’s eyes when she had asked him about the locket… but it must have been nothing. However, she would continue looking for it today, and tomorrow also. Emily had church tonight, so maybe she would come with her. It was rather frowned upon by both colors, but she really didn’t care. She could go if she wanted. Holly told Emily her plan, and the two smiled.
“I will free you,” Holly promised.
“There’s no need,” Emily replied smilingly. Hank looked away, disgusted.
“Why would you free a slave? It’s not like they have feelings!” he muttered. Holly either didn’t hear him or didn’t care to reply.
A few hours later, Holly was walking towards the small building where the negroes met up with the people from the other plantation to have church. Suddenly, a loud and somewhat deep scream rent the air. Holly didn’t notice the depth of the voice as it cried out, “Holly! Come quick! It’s Mother!”
She thought that it was Esther and dropped everything. Emily gave her a glance as if to say, “It’s okay. But come back soon!” Holly nodded and ran towards the house. After jumping all four steps and kicking open the door, she took the stairs three at a time and skidded to a stop in her mother’s room. She was sleeping hard, like usual. Holly glared at the open window as if it had screamed and walked over to slam it shut.
“Your mother’s fine.” Hank said from a corner of the room. Holly did scream then.
“What is wrong with you? Who invited you here?”
“Esther. She thought that maybe I could cure her. But I cannot. So I will be off to church now.” Hank laughed at the look on Holly’s face.
“I am eighteen now, and a grown man. I volunteered to be the one there when the meeting commenced. After all, they always need a white man there in case something gets out of hand.” Hank snickered. “I bet something gets ‘out of hand’ tonight!” He cackled evilly and swept out of the room.
Holly’s first thought was: “Such dramatics. They aren’t necessary.” The second one was:
“Holy Cheese! Emily!” she ran downstairs, tumbling the last few steps, yanked open the door, and ran outside, falling down the hill and rolling to a stop several feet away from the large cliff thing that made up one side. Holly got up and started running again, not stopping until she reached the little church. The meeting was being held inside. The little congregation was singing hymns and praising the Lord vigorously with their deep negro voices that Holly so admired. She looked around for Emily. She wasn’t there. Hank wasn’t there either. Another man sat in his place. Holly rushed up to him.
“I thought that Henry was supposed to watch tonight.”
“He skipped, so I came instead. Silly boy. Always forgetting himself. He’s gone and found a negro girl to tend his every whim now. She won’t stay but a minute, though. He doesn’t care for girls much. The only purpose they have for him is doing his chores and making his breakfast.” The man looked away again, sighing. This must be Hank’s father! Holly realized. She got into his face again. “What was the girl’s name?”
“Ellie or Emmy or something like that.”
“Emily?” Holly asked, her worst fears slowly being confirmed.
“I don’t remember, hon. Sorry.” Hank’s father looked back at the congregation again. They were now sitting down to hear the ‘preacher,’ a big black guy who had learned to read, amazingly. He started reading from an old, possibly stolen, Bible.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…” he started. Holly knew this verse well. But she had things to do. Now, along with the clue and the locket, she had to find Emily! Holly ran out of the building to walk through the forest to the other plantation, where she would be sure to find Hank, and possibly Emily.
Holly crashed through the door to Hank’s study, where he was calmly reading a book.
“How could you?” she breathed, staring at the welts on his hands where he had undoubtedly been handling rope.
“Miss church? My dad had also volunteered, so I just left him to do it while I attended some unfinished business.” Hank looked up, finally. His face was menacing.
“Do you want me to do you some business?” he asked. Holly gulped.
“I thought you liked me.”
“Well, you thought wrong.” Hank said, and then repeated himself. “You thought wrong.”
“Whatever. Now give Emily back.”
“What if I don’t want to? What if she went to play in the creek with a shovel?”
“You are so cruel!” Holly threw herself at Hank. He got up at the last second and Holly fell into his vacated chair. “Monster!” she yelled as she stormed out of the room. She ran the door of the house and out of it. In fact, she ran all the way to the other side of the forest, where the creek that marked the boundary of the plantation lay. There was Emily, bound and gagged. She was lying in the creek with her eyes closed. A shovel had been hastily thrown aside by a tree. Emily’s head and arms were bloody. Holly gave a loud cry and ran to her. She quickly untied her arms and legs and pulled off the gag. Emily’s lip was bleeding slowly, red liquid trickling down her chin. Her legs were bruised and beaten, and her wrists were cut from the tight ropes. Weeping, Holly tried to drag her friend out of the creek. Emily opened her eyes then, probably because of the sharp stones underneath her.
“Holly?” she murmured.
“Emily!” Holly almost threw herself on her friend before realizing just how much it would hurt if she did. “Are you okay?” she asked, then rolled her eyes at her stupid question.
“No, but maybe soon. Hank is not to be trusted, Holly. Never again.” Emily said before passing out.
“Emily, the stakes just got higher.” Holly muttered to her most trusted friend’s body.
Hank was quite happy with himself. He had disposed of Emily easily. She wasn’t dead when he had dropped her in the creek, but she would probably drown anyways. Thank goodness for that shovel. If it hadn’t been leaning in a notch in a tree, he would have had to let the girl go. Still, Holly would hate him now. Unless he could find the locket, he would never gain her trust again, and even then it would be quite hard. Of course, if it was possible that Emily was still alive… but she could not possibly be. No. Of course not. Hank settled himself in his chair and continued to read his book. He would resume looking for the locket later.
Holly decided to take a break from everything while Emily recuperated. She was much more important than the locket, or the clues. Instead, she was trying to get something done. A promise that she had to fulfill. She hurried up to Esther’s bedroom and knocked on the door.
“I’m busy! Go away!” Esther called from behind the closed door.
“It’s Holly! I need to talk to you about Emily!”
“Has she gotten in trouble?” Esther sighed and opened the door. Her bed was made behind her. Her dresser was very messy, as if she had just been using everything on it. That was probably true. A little mobile spun from the ceiling, covered in little bronze shapes. There was a hairbrush, a face, a dress, a teardrop, and a bird.
“Kind of. Will you come see her?” Holly asked. Esther nodded and they walked over to Holly’s room, where Emily was lying on her bed, completely still except from her eyes. Her eyes darted hither and yon, looking around. Holly’s bed was slowly getting stained a darker and darker red. Esther cried out in shock and ran over to the poor girl.
“How did this happen?” she cried to Holly.
“Henry did it. He kidnapped her from church today and tied her up, beat her with a shovel, and threw her in the creek. I barely found her in time.”
“Oh, that foul… that disgusting… that evil… oh, curse my tongue that I cannot think of any titles bad enough for him.” Esther moaned. Holly beckoned her outside the room.
“Esther, I would like to free Emily. I don’t think that she will run away or anything. But I want to give her that liberty if she so wishes it.”
“I agree.” Esther said surprisingly. “Of course she must be freed. And I believe we will adopt her. Do you know anything about her parents?”
“Her mother is dead, and we know next to nothing about her father.”
“I see. I will ask Eli. He is older and will know more, hopefully.” Esther walked away, murmuring to herself. Holly grinned. If anyone could figure it out, it was Esther. She was good with ridiculous little problems that didn’t really relate to the big picture at all. She would find Emily’s dad with no problem.
Esther walked up to Eli. “Hey, I need to know something.”
“What is it?” Eli blushed slightly. He was about Esther’s age and thought that she was really pretty.
“I need to know the name of the plantation that you used to work on, and your father’s name, and where it was.”
“Alright, it was Waterscrest Plantation, in Georgia. My father’s name is David.”
“Got it. Any clue where in Georgia?”
“Just under the borderline, by the water.”
“Easy day. Thanks!” Esther ran off, feeling happier than she had in a long time. Since three years ago, in 1861. That was when her father left and her world turned to stone. Now everything was coming to life again, slowly.
Emily had thought at first that she must have died. Where she had gone, she did not know. She hurt all over, but her best friend was standing over her. Then she realized that she must be alive. Over the course of the week, she got a little better. She would be bed-ridden for quite a while, however.
“You’ll have to continue without me.” She told Holly bluntly as she lay in bed. Holly had offered her her own bed, seeing as how Emily’s normal bed was made of straw and mud. That would not do, so there Emily lay in great comfort, other than her hurting head and limbs.
“No! You’ll live, silly.” Holly rolled her eyes at what she thought was unnecessary drama.
“Not like that. You must continue looking for the clues and the locket without me. Wow, you’re brilliant.”
“Right. I knew that.” Holly laughed. “I feel like there is some other factor in this, some unknown equation thrown in the mix. Maybe a hidden person somewhere, one with a shovel and a… an axe.” Holly sat down on the floor. “Someone stole our axe to kill Honey for food. They stole the eggs for food. So they must be living… in my tree house.” Holly felt rather shocked at this conclusion. “But I can’t go up there now. The person… he or she or whoever… has an axe, and obviously isn’t afraid to use it.”
“Don’t be scared of whoever it is. They obviously have a reason for taking most of those things, and they probably just want food and a hiding place. If we can offer them that, then we should. They could use that other cot, and share Charles’ food. He has more than enough, you know.” Emily suggested.
“Well, first I have to find him. And I’m scared to leave you alone too long. What if something happens to you again? I couldn’t bear it, not when I’m about to… well, I don’t want to lose you.” Holly finished lamely, not wanting to spoil the surprise.
“I know. But I’ll be fine. I think you could hear me screaming from a mile off right now, cause if anyone tried to pull me off this bed, it would hurt so badly… I’m kind of attached to it, you know.”
“Don’t say that. We’ll get you off there soon, I promise.”
“You promise too much,” Emily told Holly, grinning nonetheless.
“We will see.” Holly smiled and left the room. “I’ll be back soon.” She ran off to find Esther.
“What did you find out?” she asked quickly when she reached her sister, who was staring down at an atlas.
“Emily used to live on Waterscrest Plantation in northeast Georgia. Her father’s name is David.”
“Oh. Wonderful. Georgia. What do we do now?” Holly asked.
“We look at a map and get over there to find her father, if he is still alive. If not, then we can legally adopt her. Sort of. But maybe this war will turn out with the Union winning, and we will be able to adopt her a bit more legally. Until then, it will only be half legal.”
“Whatever! If what we’re doing is illegal no matter what, then why do we need to find out whether her father is alive or not?”
“To bring him back with us.” Esther answered. Holly nearly fell over in shock and joy.
“That’s perfect! Thanks, Esther!”
Holly was gone before Esther could answer, “You’re welcome…”
“Emily!” she screamed as she ran into her room.
“What?” Emily mock-screamed back.
“I have to go to Georgia soon. There is something, some business that Esther and I must attend to.”
“I see. Well, when will you go?”
“Soon. I am putting Eric in charge while we will be gone. He is one of the only other people who know about the secret room, or at least the niche in the closet. He will leave food there twice a day. He will also see to your wounds and keep Hank- or Henry- off of the plantation. So you are in good hands.”
“Definitely.” Emily agreed. “We’ll all be fine here. You should pack. When DO you leave, anyhow?”
“Tomorrow.” Holly’s answer was short as she pulled out a large trunk. “We might be gone for up to two weeks. You are not allowed to move except for going to the outhouse (Charlie Will just built one). I want you to get well, and you can’t do that working.”
“Okay,” Emily nodded. “I’ll see you in two weeks then.” And the girl turned over and fell into an exhausted stupor. Holly chuckled softly and started piling clothes and books into her trunk, including the journal that she had torn the first page out of. She ran downstairs with her trunk and put it in the wagon. Esther was loading dried food into a large wooden crate covered with canvas.
“Will you be ready to go tomorrow?” she asked.
“I’m ready now. I have a lot of clothes. I have a journal and pen, and my hairbrush and some soap.”
“Okay, you are ready.” Esther decided. “I am too. How about we start early? I’ll go notify Eric.” She walked off to a negro who was sowing seeds off in a field a little way beyond the hill going down. Holly looked up towards the chicken coop, which stood up the hill on the other side. Michael was going in with some dried corn to feed to the hens. In the distance, a rooster crowed.
“You silly rooster!” Holly said aloud. “It is nowhere near dawn now.” A bird sung in the forest somewhere. “I’ll miss you, forest. I’ll miss you, chickens. I’ll miss you, corn and tobacco fields.” Esther came back then and got in the wagon.
“Let’s go, Holly. Georgia awaits us.”
Hank glared at the small girl cowering before him. “She is gone, you say? She is alive, and recovering? How could this be?”
Linda shook her head. “I does not know, sir. I just knows that mistress Holly found her in the stream, all bloody-like.”
“Dang them. Alright, Linda, would you like to earn your freedom?” Hank asked.
“Yes sir, very much, sir.” Linda nodded vigorously.
“Then take the shovel that is sitting by the creek and, while Emily is outdoors, finish her off.”
“What? But she is my friend!” Linda’s jaw quivered.
“Then get out!” Henry screamed, frustrated beyond the breaking point.
“No, no, sir. That is not what I meant! I will do it! I will do it, sir!”
“Are you certain?” Henry must have been very tired that day.
“Yes, sir.” Linda nodded.
“Then you may be free now. Completely free.” Hank spread his arms. “I am generous when I am served correctly. Go now and do my bidding.”
“Yes, sir. Going, sir.” Linda backed out of the room. Once out, she lost her breathy, annoying airs. “What an idiot. I’m free!” she ran from the house and back to Easternview.
Holly sat shotgun in the wagon, carrying a small gun. It was to keep away large animals and, sometimes, bandits. The road was bumpy and the oxen slow, but they were making steady progress. Already, it seemed, they were to the edge of Virginia. But it was growing dark, so Esther slowed the wagon and got out. She walked along the side, slowly unhitching the oxen and tying them to nearby trees. Holly turned around and grabbed the box with the food.
“Can I eat?” she asked without any forethought.
“Sure, but not much. That’s all we have.” Esther replied. Holly unlatched the canvas cover from the wooden box and dug out some beef jerky. She bit into it and chewed hard. It filled her up quickly, so she only ate one piece and lay down in the back of the wagon. After a minute, Esther joined her.
“Don’t forget to hold onto your gun.” Esther reminded her.
“Of course.” Ten minutes later, the gun lay forgotten on the ground as Holly and Esther snored. The stars twinkled mischievously down at the wagon, as if to say, “We have some surprises in store for you.”
The next day, Holly woke up with a start. Her hand felt around for the gun and clutched it tightly. Something felt very wrong. Then she looked around and saw another wagon parked beside theirs. She shook Esther awake.
“Esther, there’s a wagon outside.”
“Ours?” she asked sleepily. Then she woke up more fully and realized what Holly was trying to say. “Hmm. Probably trying to be safer. I don’t blame them.” She got up and started dressing, yawning. Holly did the Tome. After putting on a new frock, she looked outside. The oxen were still tied to the trees, and the wagon wheels were still on. Nothing was wrong other than the other wagon outside. Holly jumped down and looked inside it. The wagon was full of food and clothes. A lone girl stood there, eating a corn cake.
“Hello, miss. Who might you be?” the girl asked.
“I’m Holly Swift. And yourself?”
“Ashley Greene. Where are you going?”
“Georgia, Waterscrest Plantation. What about you?”
“We’re going to Easternview Plantation, Virginia.”
“How odd! That is my plantation. What do you need from there?”
“We wanted to visit Linda, the negro. She used to be ours, you know. We at first sold her to Allblacksky, the plantation beside yours, but then I heard that she was working for you, so I wanted to see her, and possibly buy her back. She is very loyal, you know.”
“No she isn’t.” Holly argued. “She is always on Allblacksky, flirting with the boys. She hasn’t done a straight day’s work in her life!”
“What? Our Linda? Are you sure? She was the hardest worker ever on our plantation.”
“The only reason she does anything is because of Emily. Emily is her best friend. It’s as if she didn’t belong to us… oh Lord.” Holly suddenly understood. “And now I can’t get home, because they aren’t expecting me for a whole two weeks. What do I do?”
“Can I help?” Ashley asked.
“Well, let’s see… actually, you can! Our plantation is only about a day away. Linda is loyal, very loyal indeed, but not to me. I always wondered why we bought her. But we didn’t. Buy her, I mean. She was pretending this whole time. Oh, that Henry… if I wasn’t a Christian… listen, Linda is probably going to do something terrible. Tell Eric, the negro in charge while we’re gone that you want to buy her, and that you have our permission. I’ll write him a note. When you buy Linda, take her away. Far away.”
“All right. Then you get what you want, and I get what I want. I’ll do it.” Ashley looked rather happy about getting her best negro back. Holly looked rather happy about avoiding disaster. Neither of them knew that it would be too late by Tomorrow.
Linda called on Emily in Holly’s room.
“Linda! This is a surprise!” Emily said happily.
“Yes, it certainly is.” Linda agreed nervously. She wasn’t very sure if she could do this. Emily was her best friend, but if she didn’t do it, then Master Henry might take away her freedom again. Then Emily noticed her shovel.
“Um, Linda? Why are you holding a shovel? Especially that shovel.” Emily recognized the tool that had beaten her over and over again.
“I’m going gardening in a minute. I just had to stop by to see you. I found this shovel in the woods.” This, at least, was true, and Emily seemed to believe it.
“Alright. Well, thanks for seeing me, and thanks especially for doing some actual work. You can go away now. I don’t like that shovel.”
“Okay, I’ll go away… soon. Emily, my master doesn’t like you. You’re making things very hard for him.” Linda grew cold as she had so many times before. “So you need to go away. If you don’t leave now, I’ll have to kill you.”
“Linda!” Emily’s shocked voice startled some birds outside the window.
“I never worked for Holly or Esther, or even their mother. I work for…”
“Don’t say it.” Emily moaned. “I know the answer.”
“I work for Master Henry. But if you leave- permanently- then I will be free. Free, Emily. Imagine it!” Linda’s voice held some desperation, as if she was asking her to understand her motives for killing her. “Freedom.”
“I don’t need freedom, I have friendship.” Emily’s voice grew contemptuous. “If you knew that, you wouldn’t need to kill me. For I will never leave Holly. She is my master, my friend, and my sister. I couldn’t leave her. I could never be that disloyal.”
Linda glared at Emily, but somewhere inside her she remembered that once she had been like that, able and willing to do anything for her friend and master. She lifted up the shovel and walked over to the blood-soaked bed.
“Please, Linda.” Emily’s voice held a slight quiver. “Don’t do this. Don’t you remember? We were friends. Just because I’m just as loyal as you, more because you actually wish to be free, doesn’t mean that I have to die, does it?”
“You are not as loyal as me. I have killed for my master. I have forgotten my friends…”
“As you are about to do again!” Emily shouted.
“True, true. But he will free me, and I can go to live in big Yankee cities and make money and meet other people like me!”
“Traitors?” Emily snarled. Suddenly, Linda snapped. She brought the shovel down onto Emily’s head with a snap. Then two other things snapped. One was Emily’s ear. It was broken. The other was Linda’s conscience. She broke down and threw the shovel out the window. Emily smiled through the pain.
“I knew you would make the right choice.” Then she blacked out. Linda ran out of the room, screaming for Eric.
Holly had traveled for several days. Her food was almost gone, and her patience with her sister was wearing very thin. They were in Georgia now, heading towards the coast. Esther wouldn’t let her drive, nor carry the shotgun anymore. She said that Holly was ‘too irresponsible.’ Well, I’ll show her, thought Holly. They had almost reached the coast and were just sitting there in complete silence. Holly thought back to their argument yesterday.
“I am too responsible! I was the one who found Emily lying in the creek and knew what to do! I was the one that decided that Linda couldn’t be trusted!”
“We don’t know if she can be trusted or not.” Esther pointed out.
“But she works for Hank! And he is a maniac! He tried to kill Emily!”
“How do you know?”
“He told me so!”
“In those exact words?” Esther questioned. Holly pondered that for a second.
“No, he told me that Emily might have been playing in the creek with a shovel.”
“Then he thinks her a little girl. He probably wouldn’t murder a fifteen year old girl.”
“Oh, he would. The guy is evil. He almost killed Mother by giving her faulty medication!”
“He didn’t know any better!” Esther protested, determined to prove that Hank was one of the good guys.
“Maybe so, maybe not. We won’t know until we catch him and prove him guilty.” Holly flared.
“And if you don’t prove him guilty?” Esther demanded.
“Then I return to my life and he says no more of marriage.” Holly declared. Esther was getting red in the face.
“Maybe marriage is exactly what you need! Maybe Henry is innocent, and a few years with him will prove that to you. In fact, if you can’t come up with some conclusive proof that he is a murderer or worse, I will force you to marry him. I can. He has been asking me for months, you know.”
“I know.” Holly glared at her sister, but returned to her seat. “At least can I carry the shotgun?”
Holly sighed. “Esther?”
“Yes?” came the weary voice from the person beside her.
“I’m sorry, okay?”
“I know. I’ve been thinking too. I hold firm to what I said before, but you may hold the shotgun. You did know what to do when Emily was in the creek. So you are responsible. You might just have your evidence wrong.” Esther sighed. “So I’m sorry too.”
They sat in silence for a long time after that, but this time it was an almost friendly silence. It was still the early morning. After a few hours on the road, they came to a high hill.
“The ocean!” Holly cried. It was beautiful and blue, with little shimmers all around. Waves splashed on the shore down below, creating a loud roar. A turtle basked in the sunlight.
“We’re here, praise heaven.” Esther turned the wagon and drove down the hill. Below the hill, back towards the west, lay a large farm. “See? There it is!”
They drove down to the plantation and hopped out of the wagon. Holly brushed her hair and put on a new skirt and blouse. Esther started applying make-up. Finally they were ready. Holly walked up to the biggest house and knocked firmly on the front door. A second later, a black girl opened the door. She was wearing a maid’s outfit and carrying a duster.
“Yes hello?” she said in a very Georgian accent.
“Hello, I’m Holly Swift, and I’m here to see the owner of the plantation. I have a business deal.”
“Come right in. Master will see you shortly.” The girl led Holly and Esther to a well-furnished sitting room. “Just make yourselves at home.” The girl bobbed a southern curtsy and walked out of the room. Holly looked around. The room was light blue with white trim and purple furnishings. The owner of this plantation was obviously very well-to-do. Soon, the man arrived. He sat down in a purple armchair and leaned toward them.
“Well, now, I heard from Suzy here that I have a business proposal. What can I offer you?” the man chuckled gently. He seemed very nice.
“First of all, we are here on account of one of your charges, a David? He is an elderly negro whose wife died many years ago, and whose children were sold about nine years ago.”
“Hmm… David. David. Oh, yes, David! He is a very nice elderly man. We have kept him around solely for his laughter and jokes. How he misses his children, though. The youngest was only a baby when he was sold. The plantation that took them, Easternview, wanted to keep all the children together. So what do you want with my David?” the master talked as if David was his own child.
“We would like to buy him, sir.”
“Why? He is of no use except for jokes.” The plantation master looked confused.
“We are the children of the owners of Easternview, and we hoped to surprise the children with their father.”
“Oh. A very good reason. Well, make me a deal. One I can’t refuse.” The man looked at their empty hands. “Do you not have any money?”
“We do, sir, we do. It is in our wagon. We will give it to you once we have gotten David. I will make you an offer of twenty-five dollars. That is my maximum.” Esther offered.
The man licked his lips. “Well, David is very old, and he has no real purpose here… I suppose you may have him. I will go fetch the man now.” He walked out of the door. A few minutes later, an elderly black man was escorted inside. He was rather thin and frail. His face, however, was completely covered in smiles and smile lines. His curly hair matched Emily’s own.
“I hear that you are going to bring me to my children!” he rejoiced.
“You have very good hearing then, sir.” Esther said politely. She took the old man’s arm and escorted him outside again, leaving Holly to fish the twenty-five dollars out of her sock.
“Here is your money, sir. I hope you spend it well.” Holly skipped out of the house, laughing at the man’s astonishment. She met up with Esther and David at the wagon. David was eager to learn everything possible about Emily, Eli, Michael, and Charlie Will.
“What does my Charlie look like? How has Michael handled coming here? What about Emily? Does she look like her mother? Oh silly me, you can’t answer that. What does Eli look like? Do they all live in the Tome place? What sort of things do they work at?” The questions went on and on. Finally, David stopped for breath and Holly started answering questions.
“I don’t remember all of your questions, but I can try. Charlie and Michael have remarkably straight hair. They are as dark as you, and Michael is taller. Emily and Michael didn’t handle the move very well at first, but they adjusted. They’re fine now. They like what they do. I don’t know what Emily’s mother looked like, but I’m sure she was very pretty, if Emily herself is any judge. They all live in the Tome house. Michael does all the farm chores like feed the chickens and move the cows. Charlie Will makes all the furniture, as well as the smaller buildings. Eli works in they fields. Emily is my friend and helper. She stays with me and helps me with anything that needs to be done. They have been treated very well, and they all like it there.” Holly told the old man everything that she knew about the lives of the four children.
“Good, good, good. I cannot wait to see them!” David said with glee as they rode down the road towards Virginia.
Five days later, they made it back to the plantation. Holly jumped into the back of the wagon and pulled out her trunk. She pulled it out of the back and lugged it to her room. It was very light, so it was easy to pull. After it was safely stowed in her room, Holly turned to Emily.
“So how was your rest?” she asked.
“Um, not all that eventful. Only one thing happened, but as you can see, I’m all healed, pretty much.”
“Oh, Linda decided to start working on something useful the day before somebody came and bought her.”
“Really?” Holly was really quite surprised. “What was she doing?”
“With what? She doesn’t own any tools.”
“That shovel. She found it in the forest.” Emily decided not to tell the whole story.
“Oh. Well maybe it finally did something good. So Ashley did pick her up?”
“Then the note wasn’t a phony!” Emily nodded approvingly. “I thought maybe… never mind. I thought maybe the girl was faking.”
“Nah. That’s why I wrote the note.” Holly explained.
“So did your business work out?” Emily asked.
“Yeah, it did. And I brought you something.”
“What?” Emily was very curious.
“Come see!” Holly beckoned downstairs. The two rushed downstairs, to where Esther and David stood talking to Eric.
“DADDY!” Emily screamed. She flew down the stairs and pulled her father into a huge bear hug. David just stood there, too happy to move or react or anything. Then he hugged his girl right back.
“Oh, Emily! How you have grown! You’re my big girl now!” he exclaimed.
“Come on Daddy, where will you stay?” Emily asked.
“You and your family will be staying in our house now. You can stay in the upstairs bedroom. Nobody uses it anyhow.” Esther suggested. Emily grinned and hugged her too. Esther smiled. “You’re welcome.”
Emily helped her father up the stairs to the old bedroom. It was, of course, new. But it looked quite old because of the dark floorboards. It was completely vacant except for two double beds. Emily helped David into one, then lay down in one herself.
“Your brothers can have my old bedroom. I’m moving into Mother’s room to be able to care for her better.” Esther said from the doorway. Emily looked up, the picture of ecstasy.
“Thank you, Esther!”
“Now, if you don’t mind, I need to talk to your father about something.”
David got up and walked over to the door. Esther and he conversed for about ten minutes, and then returned to the room.
“Alright, it is decided. The Swifts are going to adopt all of you. Including you, David.” Holly yelped in surprise. She had known that they were going to adopt Emily, but not the whole family. Then the shock wore off and she screamed and started dancing around the room.
“Thank you thank you thank you!” she hugged Esther, then Holly, then her father, then Holly again. “I’ll go get Eli and Michael and Charlie Will!” she rushed from the room.
“Well, that worked out well.” Holly grinned lopsidedly. Esther grinned back.
“I have to go check on mother now. Please do not faint in pleasure.” Esther swept from the room. Holly laughed.
“Wow. I think she was serious about that.” She commented to David. He nodded.
“Your sister is an interesting person. I don’t really know what to think of her. First she is funny, and then she says the strangest things without any humor. Very interesting…”
“Esther is just tired. She has lived for a few months now without any help running the plantation. I didn’t think to help her because I was too busy grieving for Father and Daniel. And Mother was sick. Esther had never had to do anything before except play with her hair and practice her grammar. So when such responsibility fell upon her shoulders, she kind of… cracked. She forgot her sense of humor. There was no place for it in the work she had to do.” Holly explained. David simply nodded.
“Yes, that is what happened. I am sure of it.”
“You have much better grammar than what Emily told me.”
“I learned to speak properly from Master. He loved my jokes, but not my grammar. So he kept me there, under one condition: that I would learn to speak properly. I agreed because of what I had promised Emily: that I would stay there and wait for her. I always knew that we would be together again. And now we are. You see how everything works out?” David asked. Holly nodded.
“You are a very wise man, sir. And now you are… my brother? My father? My cousin?”
“Some family member like that, yes.” David chuckled. Emily came rushing into the room then, followed by Eli, Michael, and Charlie Will. Eli screamed in a very deep voice. It was very hard to listen to.
“Dad!” he yelled.
“Oh, Eli! You are a grown man now!” David chuckled. He smiled at his children. “And you, Charlie. You’re a big boy now.”
“You’re my father?” Charlie Will asked doubtfully.
“Yes. I’m your father, though you probably can’t remember me. You weren’t even a year old when you left.”
Michael the soft-spoken raised his voice then. “Daddy, you’re old.” This caused everyone around him to burst out laughing, including David, and the speaker.
“Yes, I am. But not too old. I’m only fifty three.”
“That IS really old.” Charlie Will gasped. He was really out of breath from laughing so hard. Of course, this caused even more hysterics. Which caused Esther to come back.
“What’s all the racket?” she asked.
“We’re just having fun.” Eli answered.
“Well don’t have too much fun. We want you alive tomorrow.” Esther walked out of the room. Charlie Will stared, unbelieving, at the door.
“She was serious about that. I can’t believe that.”
“Believe it, Charlie.” David said. “Believe it.” He smiled sadly. “Esther is a very worried girl.”
“I know.” Charlie Will answered. “But maybe she will get better!”
“Yes, possibly.” Holly agreed. “And soon, if I can start looking for that clue.” She grinned at Emily. “Party time.”
“Yes!” Emily walked out of the door hand in hand with Holly. David smiled out at them.
“I believe that I’m home now,” he announced.
“Yes, Dad. You are home.” Eli smiled down at his father, who was a head shorter than him. “You are home.”
Holly was in the barn again, staring down at the paper in front of her, the one from the rotting board.
“I am very old but do not live. People use me, but do not favor me, because I lead to death and destruction. I can be pulled off of a native’s back or drawn by a string. Only men can shoot me, but I can shoot more than men. I could shoot a cliff, for instance. Or an animal. I only work with sticks, for no other companion will do. And I usually need two companions, as I cannot be very flexible, and I need someone who can or I will not go anywhere. I am usually found in water, especially where it flows. I have been worn and pulled at, but only grew softer. What is that? A rock?” she wondered.
“Nah. Why would a rock need sticks?” Emily asked rhetorically.
“Well, it doesn’t live, so it isn’t a person. And it must be some sort of tool, because people use it.”
“No, a weapon, because it causes death. It can be pulled off of a native’s back. Some kind of explosive mole?” Emily asked with a strange look on her face.
“Be serious!” Holly told her. “I don’t know. Let’s skip that part. It can be drawn by a string. But strings cannot draw anything.”
“Maybe the answer is nothing.” Emily suggested.
“No, nothing can not point to something.”
“True. Forget that. Go on. What is the next part?”
“Only men can shoot me.”
“Obviously. Men are the only people or animals that can shoot anything. It must be something soft or breakable then.”
“But I can shoot more than men.”
“Some sort of glass gun?” Emily asked.
“A glass gun? It would shatter whenever it fired.” Holly said doubtfully.
“Exactly! Only men can shoot it. It causes death and destruction, and maybe it is possible for it to have some sort of holder on someone’s back. And it can be triggered by a string!”
“All right, maybe. Let’s keep going. It says that it could shoot a cliff, or animals. So that rings true for a glass gun. And it only works with sticks. How could that be true for a glass gun?”
“Maybe you fire sticks out of it.” Emily said, smiling.
“Whatever. But it needs at least two.”
“Would one stick do any damage at all?”
“Good point.” Holly was starting to believe that it really was a glass gun. “And it needs flexible sticks so that they can fit into the hole for the bullets. Nice. Now where do we find it?”
“In the water in the creek.” Emily decided. “The only place near here that has flowing water.”
“Right. Let’s go.” Holly started walking up the hill towards the chicken coop. Emily followed behind. Once they were on top, they walked right down the other side and down past the long lane that led to the house and down towards the tobacco fields. Beyond that lay the creek. They walked all the way down and jumped over the creek.
“Okay, we’re looking for something shiny and old.” Emily said.
“But it will be covered with silt and dirt.” Holly objected.
“Not if your father just planted it a few months ago.” Emily explained.
“Right. Gee, you’re smarter than me sometimes.” Holly shook her head in disbelief.
“I try.” Emily joked. They started looking around for a glass gun. After about half an hour of searching up and down the creek, they were forced to say that it was hopeless.
“Maybe it’s something else!” Holly pointed out.
“Right. Okay. I have an idea. Let’s get two sticks. One has to be flexible.”
“And a string. Don’t forget the string.” Holly chimed in. They started looking for sticks and string. After a few minutes, they came across two sticks. One was long and flexible, the other short and hard. Beside them lay a long string. Holly grinned.
“We’re definitely on the right track,” Holly decided.
“Obviously your father wanted us to have these. Let’s go back to the creek.” Emily started walking back. Holly followed, thinking hard. When they reached the creek, she came to a conclusion.
“Emily, I think we’re looking for an arrowhead.”
“What?” Emily asked, puzzled.
“Well, it fits. It fits into the clue completely. And didn’t we see one of those in the creek bed?”
“We did!” Emily said in awe. She rushed over to where they had seen the arrowhead and pulled it out of the water. It was old and smooth, with notches for sticks to fit in to make a real arrow.
“I bet we have to shoot it.” Holly sighed.
“All right, but first we need to make a bow and arrow with these sticks and this string.” Emily started playing with the string and the more flexible stick, which turned out to be more like a young sapling. She tied the string to both ends of the sapling, bending it nearly double. “Whoa, this is really going to have some kick.” Emily noticed. Holly nodded briefly, and then went back to trying to fit the stick into the notches in the arrowhead. Finally there was a small click.
“That doesn’t usually happen.” Emily told Holly, thinking back to when John had showed her how to make an arrow with an old arrowhead he had found in the woods.
“This fits in here, and then you tie the stick to the head with some string.” John told Emily.
“Really?” she asked, interested.
“Watch.” John pulled two pieces of string out of his pocket. He used one to tie the arrowhead to the stick he had found to make an arrow, and tied the other one to the two ends of a sapling he had whittled down to make a bow. Then he tied a pigeon feather onto the end of the arrow and pulled back the string of the bow, notching the arrow. After a few seconds, he fired the arrow into a nearby tree trunk. “Ta Da!” he exclaimed. Emily clapped. “And that is how you make an arrow.”
“Hmm. Well, this isn’t your average arrowhead.” Holly snapped Emily back to reality. “After all, most arrowheads don’t have clues leading to them. And most arrowheads aren’t magnetic.” Holly pointed to her metal blouse buttons, which were desperately trying to get to the arrow.
“True. It’s probably magnetic for a reason.” Emily said.
“Yeah. Let’s fire it.” Holly said. “At the cliff. That’s where the clue said to fire it at.” She picked up the bow and awkwardly notched the arrow. She fired it, meaning it to go towards the cliff. Emily had to duck.
“Not me, the cliff!” Emily squealed. Holly rolled her eyes.
“I’m trying, silly. I’m trying.” She picked up the arrow and again tried to fire at the steep part of the hill that was called the cliff. Again she missed. But not by quite so much this time. The arrow embedded itself in a tree.
“Let’s get closer,” Emily suggested.
“Probably a good idea,” Holly agreed. They jumped over the creek and walked until they were about five yards from the cliff. Holly fired the arrow again. This time, it soared toward the cliff, then turned sharply and embedded itself next to a small metal point sticking out of the hill that Holly had never noticed before.
“Hmm. Let’s look at the metal thing.” Emily directed. Holly laughed.
“Yeah, let’s look at the ‘metal thing’.” They walked over to the cliff and pulled the arrow out. Now there was something stuck to the end. A small box was attached to the arrowhead. Holly pulled it off and opened it. Of course, there was a note inside.
“Good job. I am very amazed that you made it this far, quite frankly. If you will notice, the piece of metal jutting out from the cliff beside you is a clue. Your clue is this: find the match of the metal and mix them together to get your next clue. The next two clues are not written on paper, but objects that need to be found. Each will lead to the next. Easy, right? Have fun. –Father.” Holly stared at the clue. “Really? Really? So the next two clues are things, not riddles or math problems. Great.”
“Well, at least that is a clue.”
“No, it’s a clue about the clue.”
“Which makes it a clue.”
“Oh whatever. Well, let’s see. We got the clue from the paper in my book. That’s one. Then we found the clue in the harp. That makes two. Then we followed that and made it to the paper in the barn. Three clues there. Then we got the clue about the arrowhead. Four. And now we have this clue. Five. So we’re halfway there. Thank goodness.” Holly sighed with relief. Emily grinned at her.
“This is wonderful. Two clues without any riddles to solve. Let’s pull out the metal thing.” This proved easier said than done. Holly tugged and pulled at the metal, but it wouldn’t budge. After five minutes, Emily told Holly, “Okay. We can’t get it out. We’re done.”
“Hey hey hey. Don’t give up now. We have to figure out a way to pull it out.” Then Holly thought of something. “What about the arrowhead? What happens when we try and pull it out with the magnetism of the arrowhead?” she touched the arrow to the metal. This seemed to be the right thing to do, as the ground around the metal crumbled and they could pull it out easily. Then Holly realized that it was most definitely not the right move. The whole cliff began to crumble.
“Run!” Emily screamed. The girls ran as fast as their legs could carry them towards the creek and safety in the shelter of the trees. They jumped over the stream and ran up towards Holly’s tree house. The cliff was crumbling to a stop, but the dirt continued to race down the hill towards Holly and Emily.
“Up, up, up!” Holly screamed.
“I can’t find the notches!” Emily screamed back.
“Great.” Holly moaned. They ran around the tree, looking around for the notches. At last they saw what they had missed: a part of the tree had been shaved right off. The notches no longer existed.
“Run!” Holly shouted. But then the ground matter reached the creek and stopped, splashing into the stream. “Never mind.”
“Thank goodness we thought of your tree.” Emily gasped, panting.
“It didn’t do us any good, did it?” Holly sighed. “Someone either is living up there, or was and has moved out.”
“I bet you are right about that.” Emily decided. “We ought to go look at the damage.” They walked right over the stream, as it had become smaller after being choked with dirt, and saw that the cliff had disappeared, becoming like a dirt-covered patch of the rest of the hill.
“Well, at least now we won’t always be falling over it!” Holly laughed, glad that nothing terrible had happened. “The stream will clear up with time.” And then she saw the paper.
“No kidding? Another clue hidden in the cliff itself?” she murmured to herself. Emily ran over and snatched up the paper.
“Dearest Holly, I am so sorry that I had to ruin the cliff, but in order to continue your quest, you must not be allowed to be injured. And seeing as how you broke your leg on that thing a few years ago, the cliff had to go. So I really hope that you weren’t hurt in the falling of the cliff. And the metal is much needed, so keep it on hand. Love, Father.”
Holly sighed. “Ah well, at least I can’t get injured on the cliff now, like Father said. And I still have the metal. Let’s take a look at it.” Holly pulled out the large chunk of metal from her shirt, where she had stored it when they were running. It was grey and definitely magnetic, for the arrow was desperately trying to get onto it. Most of it was circular except for the small point that had jutted out of the cliff. In fact, it looked rather like a teardrop.
“I wonder why it’s shaped like that.” Holly thought aloud.
“Maybe there’s another metal thing somewhere that looks like that…” Emily pondered where another teardrop metal thing could be. Holly knew she had seen something like that a while back, but she couldn’t remember where… maybe Esther knew. Then she remembered.
“Esther’s mobile! It has a bronze teardrop shape on it!” Holly jumped up. Emily stood there, lost in thought.
“What? Oh, really? Okay, let’s go!” Emily shook her head clear of stray thoughts and followed Holly. They ran up the stairs to the bedrooms and knocked loudly on Esther’s door. Eli called from behind it, “Who is it?”
“Emily and Holly.” Holly said firmly. Eli opened the door. Michael and Charlie Will were wrestling in the background. The floor was cluttered with every little wooden thing possible. Charlie Will had obviously been whittling. Michael’s only accessory, a comb, was laying on Esther’s old dresser. The mobile was still spinning on its string. Emily reached for it, but was too short. She could not reach it. Nor could Holly.
“Eli, could you do us a favor?” she asked politely.
“Yeah, sure, what?” he asked.
“Just get that teardrop shape off of the mobile for us. We need it.”
Eli reached up easily and pulled the shape off of the hanging mobile. He handed it to Holly. “Here. Have fun with whatever you’re doing.” He pushed the girls out of the room and shut the door. Holly laughed.
“Your brothers are kind of funny.”
“You don’t have to live with them.” Emily protested.
“Yeah, I do. Now anyways.” Holly explained.
“Whatever. But they aren’t your brothers anyhow. You don’t know them as well as I do.”
“Well, they are my brothers. Now anyways.” Holly repeated herself. “So you know them better than me, but they are my brothers now. And you’re my sister.” Holly hugged Emily. “Now let’s go figure out what to do about those metal things.” Emily laughed.
“You can stop teasing me about that now.”
“Nah, it’s too much fun.” Holly explained. “I think that those ‘metal things’ require our attention now.” She took the teardrops and set them on her desk in her room. “So, we need to somehow get a clue out of these things. Maybe we figure out their volume? Then compare and find two things with the Tome ratio?” Holly pondered.
“I think that we need Charles for this.” Emily told her. Holly nodded.
“I think that you’re right. Let’s go see him.” They walked down the stairs carrying the metal teardrops and opened the secret door. Charles was inside, reading a book. He looked up as they walked in.
“Hi, girls! What is it?” he asked, looking at the things in their hands. “More math problems?” he guessed.
“Yes. Can you try to figure out the ratio of these volumes?” Holly asked Charles, crossing her fingers behind her back for good luck, even though she didn’t believe in luck.
“I can try. I’ll need to measure them, though.” Holly produced a ruler she had had the forethought to bring from her room. Charles measured the objects for several minutes and weighed them in his hands. After a while, he looked up at Holly and told her, “Four over one. Graphite over bronze, of course.”
“Graphite isn’t that heavy. And besides that, graphite isn’t magnetic.” Holly told Charles.
“But no other metal would leave my hands looking like this.” Charles showed Holly his blackened hands.
“Oh. Then there must be some other metal inside of it.”
“Probably iron. But why would someone go to the trouble of making an object like that?” Charles asked Holly.
“My father. This is the sixth of ten clues that lead to… something. I don’t know what.”
“Ah. I see.” Charles still looked rather puzzled, but nodded and pretended to know what Holly was talking about. “So what was the clue?”
“These metal things.” Emily told him. “Holly’s father told her that the next two clues would be things, not riddles or math problems. So this is the first object clue.”
“Oh, I see now.” This time, Charles really did understand. “So you’re looking for another item or two.”
“Right.” Holly agreed.
“Then my best guess would be to find two items with the Tome ratios as these.” Charles sat back on his cot. “I’ll be up and helping you soon, don’t worry.” Holly walked out of the room, barely sparing a glance for the harp in the corner. Something seemed different about it. But she didn’t notice. Emily walked out behind her, waving goodbye to Charles. He smiled and continued reading. The harp glittered in the corner, hugging the arrowhead that Holly used to have in her pocket.
Henry was getting anxious. He couldn’t find the locket, and Holly was doing something strange. She had destroyed the ledge on her property today. It was as if she had already found the locket. But surely she would tell him when that happened… no, he realized, she wouldn’t. She hated him. But he had a glimmer of hope in Esther. She was so caught up in her work that she didn’t realize what he was doing. Soon she would give the okay without knowing it, and Holly would be his. Henry pumped his fist. He just needed to wait until Holly accused him of something again, and he would deny it, and Esther would tell Holly that she would have to marry him, to see that he was actually a nice person. It was perfect. But to speed it up, he ought to actually do something bad. Something so terrible that it was unbelievable, that Holly would catch him in the act of doing and tell Esther about. If only he could find that shovel… Linda had disappeared after chickening out on killing Holly’s girl. The shovel, also, had vanished. It was probably in that honeysuckle garden of Esther’s. Hmm. What could he do with that shovel? He had noticed Holly looking at Johnny Bradshaw interestingly. Maybe at the youth meeting on Saturday he could do something unpleasant that ended in death. Nobody would believe it. Johnny trusted Henry a lot. It was perfect. If he tied Holly up and brought her with him, then she would obviously tell Esther. Yes, it was very perfect. And Saturday was tomorrow…
Holly decided to take the weekend off. After all, Sunday was the holy day, and Saturday was a day of rest for all teenagers, and all the youth met then, too. She told Emily this. Emily approved. “That will be good for you. You need the rest, you know.”
“Yeah. I hope nothing happens over the weekend.” Unfortunately, on Saturday, something happened.
Holly was walking toward the church down the road when Henry joined her, along with Johnny.
“Hi,” she said nervously. Her biggest crush walking with her biggest enemy? Not good. And even worse, her biggest enemy had a shovel. The Tome shovel that had almost killed Emily. “Hey, that’s my shovel. Did you steal it?” she asked Henry politely.
“No, of course not. I saw it and liked it so much that I got one made just like it. They do such good work, after all. I bet that Johnny could work with it, no?” Henry smirked.
“You wouldn’t.” Holly stared at Henry.
“I think I have proved that I would, have I not? Didn’t Linda try to start gardening with Emily using this shovel?”
“No way! Emily didn’t tell me that! You monster!” Holly couldn’t try to hit him with Johnny right there, it would be very undignified. Then, realizing that he wasn’t going to care if he was dead, rushed at Henry anyways. Johnny just stared at them. Of course, Holly was no match for Henry, and he soon overtook her. He pulled two lengths of rope from his pocket, and quickly tied Johnny up with one. He didn’t even have a chance to protest. Then he did the Tome to Holly and pulled them into the forest. Holly stared at Henry.
“No way would you do your dirty work yourself! You always use someone else! Like Linda!”
“Not true. The first time I tried to kill Emily, I did it myself. And now I’m going to do it again, before your very eyes.” Henry picked up his shovel and kicked Johnny to the ground. Holly closed her eyes as she heard the Tome terrible rhythm over and over again. Henry would hit Johnny with the shovel, and Johnny would cry out in pain. And it would happen again. And again. Finally, the screaming stopped. Holly opened her eyes. Henry was gone. Johnny lay, tied up and bloody, on the ground. He was just barely breathing. Holly hopped over to him, trying to untie herself. Finally she managed to get her hands undone and she quickly untied Johnny. But it was too late. Johnny Bradshaw was dead. Holly screamed, a sound terrible to hear. Then she started crying and sobbed and sobbed over the dead body. She knew that she could never tell anyone, lest they tell Esther. It was too horrible to believe true, so she would just make her marry that cruel boy. He was not a man. He was not even human. Holly picked up Johnny’s slight body and carried him out of the forest to his house, a large manor with many servants and slaves. She laid him gently down and knocked on the door. Soon, his mother opened the door. She had long black hair and a gentle face.
“Yes, who is it?” she stared at Holly for a moment until comprehension dawned.
“Oh, it’s Holly. How are you? Oh. OH. Dear, what happened to you? Can I get you inside? Do you want something to drink?” Holly simply turned around and picked up Johnny’s body. Mrs. Bradshaw understood.
“Johnny! Oh, what happened? Please tell me. I’ll kill whoever it is that murdered my son!” she pulled Holly inside and closed the front door. Holly knew that Esther didn’t know Mrs. Bradshaw, so it was rather safe to tell her.
“I was walking to the youth meeting and I saw Henry and Johnny walking down the road, so we started walking together. Then Henry tied me and Johnny up, and took us into the woods, and took a shovel, and killed Johnny with it. That’s all I know.” Holly shook her head sadly. “I’m sorry, ma’am.”
“Oh my word. This is just dreadful. Oh you poor dear. Oh, my poor Johnny!” As the woman collapsed into tears, Holly slipped out the door. “But you must not leave, dear! I can fix you up, heal your bruises…” but Holly was already gone. She ran all the way to the youth meeting, determined to be there despite the pain. Her vision was rather hazy from tears. Henry was actually at the meeting. He looked like he was enjoying himself. Holly stayed well away from him throughout the meeting. The youth preacher, Mr. Harris, was an old fashioned man in his early thirties or late twenties. He was a very good teacher, though he rambled a little bit. The lesson today, ironically, was on pain and suffering.
“Well, I have a story. My friends and I were playing a game of Horseshoes back when I was your age, and I got hit in the head with a horse shoe. Even though it really hurt, I kept on playing. Eventually, I won. So it is with pain. Because if you let the pain get to you and quit, the other team or your opponent is going to beat you. No matter how much it hurts, you have to keep on going. This doesn’t mean that it won’t hurt anymore, because it will. But you can’t let it get to you, because if you aren’t strong, it will get to you, and your opponents, your enemies, they will win. Now, everyone please turn to Psalm 34:19-20. Holly, will you read it, please?”
Holly swallowed and turned to the correct Psalm. “A righteous man may have many troubles/ but the Lord delivers him from them all. /He protects all his bones/ not one of them will be broken.”
“Correct. The Lord will deliver you from your troubles with time…” Mr. Harris continued on with the lesson, but Holly stopped listening then. She needed to know that the Lord was with her. But with Emily getting hurt, and Johnny dying… nothing was safe anymore. Nothing.
Holly arrived home glum and depressed. Emily rushed up to her.
“Holly, what’s wrong? I know that something has happened. So tell me.”
“Do you promise not to tell Esther?”
“I promise.” Emily crossed her heart. “Now, what is it?”
“Well, I was walking along the road…” Holly proceeded to tell Emily everything. After all, if she couldn’t trust her, who could she trust? “And so the stakes have been raised even higher, and we need to get a move on.” Holly finished. Emily shuddered.
“You poor thing. Even I never had to witness a murder. Gross, and sad. Gee, it’s like the Terror of the Traveling Shovel. The thing goes everywhere! First Henry had it, then Linda, then me, then you, then Henry again. I wonder if there’s a pattern in here somewhere…” Emily stopped talking, lost once again in thought. Holly squeezed her shoulder, and then went upstairs. She had to be alone.
Hank was very pleased with himself. He had done something bad, and it was going to pay off. Just because Johnny was his friend didn’t mean that he didn’t do it. He was strong. He fought off the pain. Hank didn’t believe that he was disobeying anyone Christian, except maybe Christ himself. But hey, he could get forgiven for that, yes? Still, Johnny was one of his only friends. If only it hadn’t have had to be that way. But it did have to be that way, and if all went correctly, and then Holly was his. Forever. Hank smiled and lounged in a love seat in his study, starting to read a book.
Holly got up Sunday morning with fire in her eyes and vengeance in her heart. She would pay Henry back for that murder. But before she could do that, she had to attend Johnny’s funeral. The funeral was Monday, or so the notice had gone out. Today, Holly was going to visit Mrs. Bradshaw once more. She got dressed in her best black velvet dress and flats. Emily tried to help her, but Holly pushed her away. She had a sort of nervous restlessness that would not go away. She quickly pulled her hair into a pony tail tied with a black ribbon and walked downstairs. Esther was making corn cakes for breakfast. She looked up at Holly as she walked through the door, but didn’t say a word. She, too had heard about the murder, although the official story was that nobody knew who had done it. Holly walked up the hill towards Johnny’s house. No, Mrs. Bradshaw’s house. Johnny didn’t live there anymore. Holly knocked briefly on the door. Johnny’s mother opened it at once.
“Oh, Holly, I’m so glad that you’re here. I wanted to talk to you about something.”
Holly came into the sitting room and perched herself on an armchair.
“Yes?” she asked. “What is it?”
“Well, I was wondering if you would say something at his funeral. After all, you were there at his death. It would mean so much to me… since his father died…”
“I understand. I’ll do it.” Holly assured her. “But please don’t tell anyone why I’m saying something there. Esther wants me to marry Henry because she thinks I’m lying about what he does, and she said if I accuse him of one more unbelievable thing, she’ll force me to marry him. I can not marry him. No possible way.”
“I understand. Nobody could marry a murderer. I won’t say a word.” Mrs. Bradshaw shook her head forcefully. “And besides, you are much too young for marriage. If not, my son… oh my son… he liked you a lot, you know. He was always embarrassed to sit by you in church in case you realized that.”
“I didn’t like to sit by him for the Tome reasons!” Holly cried out. “Oh, Emily was right, as usual. Is there any chance that he might be alive?”
“If there is, then you would be able to decipher it. After all, he is right upstairs. I laid him on the bed in the upstairs guest bedroom.” Holly ran up the stairs. She could hear a man crying in a room to her right. She saw a dusty room ahead of her and went inside. Johnny was lying on the large bed inside, as if sleeping. Maybe he was only sleeping… Holly ran over to him, acutely aware of Mrs. Bradshaw peering inside of the room from the doorway. Holly felt his wrist for a pulse. After almost five minutes of feeling around, when she was about to give up, when the coldness of the body was about to get to her, Holly felt something. A pulse. It was slow, and weak, but there it was. Holly screamed.
“He has a pulse! He’s alive!” Mrs. Bradshaw screamed too and ran into the room. She felt her son’s forehead. It was still warm. Barely. She pressed on his chest. Johnny hiccupped.
“Oh, I’m not qualified for this. Please, Holly, are you any good at this sort of thing?”
Holly thought back to when she had started Emily breathing again when she had choked on some air and stopped breathing.
“No, not really good, but I can try.” Holly pressed gently on Johnny’s chest. Then, bolder, she pressed hard. All of the air came out of his lungs. It was now or never. Holly put her mouth against Johnny’s and breathed out, hard. She waited until she could feel his lungs inflate, and then pressed against his chest again. She waited for a second, and then refilled his lungs with her recycled air. Finally, Johnny hiccupped again and opened his eyes. Mrs. Bradshaw screamed again.
“Johnny! Are you all right?” she asked him. His eyes were spinning around the room, taking in everything, from the dust on the furniture to Holly leaning over him.
“I’m all right, I guess. I hurt all over, and I’m kind of out of breath. But other than that, I’m okay. I’m alive, anyways. I think that must count for something.”
“It does.” Mrs. Bradshaw and Holly spoke at the Tome time, the giggled.
“Oh, I’m so glad you’re alive.” Mrs. Bradshaw hugged her son tight. He groaned.
“Mom, that hurts!”
“Oh, sorry. I’ll stop.” Johnny’s mom pulled away. Then they both seemed to remember that Holly was there. Johnny’s first rude question was “Why are you here?”
“I was the one that brought you home, that made you breathe again. I saved you.” Holly said, annoyed at being talked to like that. Johnny’s eyes widened.
“Oh. Never mind, then. Um, thanks…” he trailed away. Holly grinned.
“All in two day’s work.” She turned to Mrs. Bradshaw. “So, do I still have to talk at his funeral?” she asked sarcastically. Mrs. Bradshaw didn’t seem to mind.
“Thank you, Holly. Do you want to stay for a while? We’ll take you to church.”
“No problem. I’ll stay.” Holly didn’t say that that was the thing she most wanted in the whole world. Johnny smiled shakily.
“I wouldn’t mind if you stayed in here. So we can talk, you know,” he offered.
“All right, I’ll stay.” Holly sat down in a chair by the door.
“I didn’t mean that you have to!” Johnny looked rather worried.
“No, I want to. Talk to you, I mean.”
Mrs. Bradshaw left quietly.
“So what is it? What did you want to talk to me about?”
“I wanted to say that I’m sorry. I thought that you didn’t like me anymore, and I got sort of weird, probably. Especially when you wanted to see my eyes to figure out what color they were for one of your stories. I mean, I think you wanted to use them for a soldier’s eyes, right?”
“Yeah. You freaked out, I remember. I wasn’t trying to be… what would you say?”
“One of those, yes. I just wanted to know what color your eyes were.”
“Anyways, I was just rather embarrassed by you. I didn’t mean anything by it. I realized just how strange I was being when we were walking toward the youth meeting with Henry. And then he tied you and me up, and I was just thinking, ‘What on earth?’ and then I realized everything. And now you’ve saved me. So thanks, and sorry.”
“No problem. After all, it takes courage to say that you’re sorry. And I’m sorry too. I didn’t mean to be awkward. I just didn’t realize what I was doing until I started cooping myself up in my room this winter and I got out once and we all played around for a while. Then I realized how weird you must have thought me, so I stopped. I kind of started avoiding you.”
“I know. I thought it was rather strange. First you were like my personal bodyguard that I didn’t like nor hire, then you started hiding from me.”
“Yes, I know what you thought. But I really didn’t care. I was just relieved to get away. I needed that.”
“You probably did. So what were you and Henry talking about when we were walking towards the youth meeting?”
“We were talking about that shovel. He had used it to almost kill my friend Emily. And then her friend, Linda, betrayed her and also tried to kill her with it. And then he told me in a sort of code that he was going to kill you with it.”
“But he didn’t quite manage that.” Johnny sounded rather happy then. Holly didn’t blame him.
“Correct, and here we are.”
“So how did you manage to save me anyhow?”
This was a rather touchy subject. “Um… I got all of the stale air out of your lungs and filled them up again a time or two. You did the rest of the work.” Holly didn’t say more. Johnny understood.
“I see. Well, I’m alive now, so I suppose that worked. I wish I hadn’t been unconscious, however.”
“Are you saying something?”
“Let’s keep it at maybe.” Holly decided.
“Yes, maybe sounds good. Oh, and there is one more thing you should know.”
“My first name isn’t actually Johnny.”
“It isn’t?” Holly was shocked.
“No. It’s Benjamin. And in case you didn’t realize this already, my last name is a fake too. I had to change it when we moved here, in case of being recognized.”
“Then what is your last name?”
“Benjamin Gerald. Why does that sound familiar?” Holly wondered.
“Because I’m the Confederate number one most wanted child. Well, almost nobody pays any attention to that list, because children can not do much damage, right? Wrong. I help single-handedly with the Underground Railroad. I use this room as a hiding place because we never get visitors. In fact, there are people in a secret room in the closet right now.”
“No kidding?” Holly suddenly realized something. “My family works on the Railroad too. Your people must go straight to our house because it is so close.”
“Really? Okay, the world is flat now. Or just spinning backwards. Something strange like that. Maybe it’s falling apart. Because this is just too strange to be true. But you don’t mind me being the most wanted child in the Confederate States of America?”
“Not a bit. We’re doing our part too, after all. I’m sure that I’m on the list too, somewhere.” Suddenly, Holly remembered a time when her father had called her Rosemary. Back when she was little, before Emily had arrived.
“My name isn’t really Holly, either. It’s Rosemary.”
“Rosemary? Rosemary…” Johnny pondered.
“Yeah. I’ve been Holly for like eight years now, however. So you can call me that.”
“Oh. Hey, I think I know you. From the list, I mean. Number eighteen, Rosemary Albert. Last seen in eighteen fifty three! Perfect. Whoa, that’s crazy.”
“Are you comparing me to a horse?” Holly complained at the use of “Whoa.”
“Not at all, simply telling you to slow down, because my poor little brain can not process all this information.”
“Right. Well, you’d better get ready for church, if you feel well enough to go.” Holly told Benjamin.
“Yes, I suppose I’ll go. After all, we don’t want people to try to come to my funeral. And besides, I don’t hurt too much, just my arms, and legs, and head… never mind. I hurt. But still, I can make it. And we have those nice uncomfortable pews to sit on, too.”
“Very true. I’ll go downstairs, then.” Holly left Benjamin to get ready. She went downstairs and entered the kitchen, where his mother was making bacon and biscuits in celebration. “Mrs. Gerald?” she asked. The lady jumped in surprise.
“I haven’t been called that in six years. So I suppose Benjamin told you everything?”
“Yes. Oh, I didn’t mind, or do anything crazy. In fact, I’m number eighteen on the Confederate Most Wanted Children list. Rosemary Albert.”
“Oh. I see.” Mrs. Gerald looked rather flustered. “Well, it’s nice to know that there’s someone around here who cares about those poor people.”
“Yes, we own around twenty negroes, but they love it at our plantation, because we take good care of them and don’t make them work too hard.”
“Hmm. Well, I don’t approve too much of that, but as it seems that you are kind to them, I approve of your family, at least. Now, down to business. I’ve been thinking. I believe that we need to get Henry behind bars. That young man is unsafe to have around here.”
“I agree. But Esther will not help, nor Eli, nor Eric.”
“But my whole family will help you. As, I’m sure, will the church.”
“Esther is not going to church today; she is staying to help Mother. She is recovering slowly, and Esther feels that it is necessary to have someone there at all times.”
“A very good idea, and very beneficial for us. We can put out an announcement around church about who tried to murder Benjamin and your friend, Emily.”
“She is my sister now.” Holly pointed out as Johnny came banging down the stairs, dressed in his Sunday best.
“Very true. Oh, and dear, you do not want to go to church dressed like that when nobody died.” Mrs. Gerald pointed out.
“True, but I have nothing else to wear.” Holly mentioned.
“True. All right, you shall go to church in that, but at least let me redo your hair. I have a nice red ribbon that will set your brown hair off quite nicely.”
Holly allowed Mrs. Gerald to undo her hair, then pull it up slightly into a very pretty up do that had her naturally wavy hair partially pulled back into a high pony tail, tied with a red ribbon that accented the red highlights in Holly’s hair. Johnny whistled, and then laughed at himself. Just then, his older sister came stomping downstairs. She stopped once she reached the kitchen, staring at Holly, then at Benjamin, who was helping Mrs. Gerald find some better fitting shoes, as Holly’s hadn’t been worn in months and had grown much too small.
“Um, who is this, Johnny?” she asked.
“This is… what would you prefer?” Benjamin asked Holly.
“Um, Rosemary. Sounds better.” Rosemary answered.
“Her name is Rosemary Albert. She is number eighteen where I am number one and she knows my real name.” Johnny answered.
“Oh. Well, I’m Patricia, or Rose, whichever you prefer. My real name is Rose.”
“Okay, since we’re going by real names here, nice to meet you, Rose.”
“Okay, question time. I thought Benjamin was dead. I mean, I’m happy, but I thought that he was dead.”
“Well, technically that isn’t a question, but I’ll answer you anyways. I made him start breathing again. Then he woke up.”
“Right. And you made him start breathing again how?”
“I pushed the air out of his lungs and then filled them back up again.”
“Oh. I see. Well, I’m hungry, so I’ll leave you two lovebirds alone.” Rose pranced away to get some bacon. Johnny stared at Holly for a second, and then they burst out laughing.
“Your sister is…” Holly couldn’t find a word to describe the eccentric teenage sister.
“Odd? A girl? What word are you looking for there?”
“Odd, possibly. There is no denying that she is a girl.”
“Which makes her odd.”
“Does that make me odd?”
“Of course! But you’re odd in a good way.” Benjamin told her.
“Glad to hear it.” Holly smirked. They stared at Rose for a few seconds longer, and then started talking again.
“So what should I call you?” Rosemary asked Benjamin.
“Um… I’m kind of more used to Johnny by now, so if you want, you can call me that.” Johnny answered. “What about you? Holly or Rosemary?”
“Holly. Only my father has called me Rosemary in a long time, and I don’t know what happened to him.” Holly told him. “Hey, you could seriously help me with something.”
“What is it?”
“Well, I’m working on a mystery sort of thing.”
“Like Sherlock Holmes kind of mystery?”
“Sort of. My father planted ten clues all over my house, plantation, and even the woods beyond the fields and barn. I’m on the sixth clue, and I’m completely stuck. I have two little teardrop shapes. One is bronze and the other is graphite with lead at the center. I have to find two more shapes with the Tome volume ratio as them. The graphite one is to the bronze one as four is to one. Got it?”
“Pretty much. Could it be referring to buildings, possibly? Because what I’ve seen of your plantation, your chicken coop is about a fourth of the size of the barn.”
“Well, one of the clues was already inside the barn, so the seventh clue must be in the chicken coop!” Holly exclaimed. “And it has to be an inconspicuous object or two. So maybe the next clue is a special egg or something. A hidden egg. Like an Easter Egg!” Holly suddenly remembered that Easter was next week. “If it is an Easter egg, then I can find it on Sunday without any suspicion.”
“Perfect. Is that all you need?”
“Well, if you ever catch wind of a person hiding in the forest, come over to my house and tell me where. Because he or she stole my lucky locket from my father and our axe. And some eggs from the chicken coop!” Suddenly everything was fitting together in ways that Holly did not like.
“Great. So the guy might have stolen your next clue. Let’s hope he can’t open it.”
“I bet he did. And the clue will be in my tree house, because he was living there for a while. He killed my chicken.” Holly told Johnny.
“Cool! Do you still have the chicken? I mean,” he shook his head quickly, seeing Holly’s expression, “I’m sorry. So how do we get to the tree house?”
“There used to be notches in the tree trunk for a ladder, but someone scraped them all off, three guesses who.”
“Great. So we make a ladder or something.” Johnny suggested.
“Sounds good to me. Now I think it’s time for church.” Holly pointed out of the window at the clear morning outside. Johnny nodded.
“You’re right. Let’s go.” They walked quickly out of the door, followed by Rose and Mrs. Gerald. The church was only a little ways away. The whitewashed wooden doors were open already and a man stood outside, greeting everyone.
“Hello, ma’am. Hello, sir. Hello, Mrs. Bradshaw. Hey, I thought that he…” the greeter trailed off.
“He is alive now.” Mrs. Gerald walked into the church and sat down stiffly in a pew, followed by Johnny and Holly, then Rose, who was snickering at them behind their backs. Not that they didn’t notice.
“She is so annoying!” Holly whispered to Johnny. He cracked up, earning the evil eye from the people in the row in front of them.
“Got that right.” He answered once he had contained his laughter sufficiently. “But she’s harmless. She just likes to make fun of me.”
“Humph.” Holly rolled her eyes as she dropped a penny into the offering basket. They went silent as the preacher started to talk about the evils of doing this and that and the other thing. Holly was sort of daydreaming about her mystery. Johnny was just daydreaming about her. After about an hour, the service ended and the two snapped back to attention. They looked rather guiltily at each other, then smiled and did what children always did while their mothers talked to anyone and everyone they could find willing to listen: they ran away to the other side of the church to talk to their friends. Unfortunately, Henry was there, so away they went. Holly asked Johnny, “Should we hide? He’ll be terribly angry that we’re alive, after all, we should be dead if all had gone as planned: me of starvation and you just plain dead.”
“Yes, we should hide. But we won’t because, for one, it would look rather… badly. And for another thing, he wants to keep his Christian reputation, so he will not do anything to us here in public. But we must get away from here before he does, so that he will not ambush us on the road and do away with us once and for all.”
But that did not seem to be the plan. Slowly, Henry started wandering around, looking for wherever they were hiding the snacks those days. Meanwhile, all the ladies and men that Mrs. Gerald had talked to were slowly forming ranks around him, trying, most likely, to surround him and make a citizen’s arrest. Finally they managed it. Henry looked around him at last and saw all the people.
“Hello! What is it? Why are you all so angry? What have I done wrong?” he asked.
Henry knew that he was in a tough spot. Apparently word had gotten around about Johnny’s near death and who had caused it. The only way out would be to blame it on someone else, the only other person who had been there at the time. But he would wait until they told him what he had, supposedly, done.
“What is it?” he asked again.
“You are under arrest for attempted murder!” one bold lady called out. Henry stared at her as if he didn’t know what she was talking about.
“Attempted murder? Of who?”
“Johnny Bradshaw!” another person called angrily. “Don’t try to deny it!”
“How can I try to deny it when I have no idea what you’re talking about? All I know is that Johnny didn’t show up for the youth meeting yesterday!”
“Don’t lie! Mrs. Bradshaw herself told us! And she got her story straight from the mouth of her son Johnny, the one you tried to kill!” the preacher himself announced.
“No, you have your story all wrong. I will tell you what happened.” Henry told them.
“I was walking along with Johnny when Holly comes along and starts talking to me about shovels. Then she starts talking about killing people, and so I find the piece of string I had in my pocket from working earlier and tie her up. I tied up Johnny too so that he wouldn’t hurt me for tying up Holly. Then I try to take her along a back route to her house, because how would we look going down the street? So then she starts fighting, and Johnny fell over, and I picked up a shovel that I had found on her property and tried to knock her unconscious, and she untied herself and took the shovel and started beating up Johnny. I was helpless to stop her. Then I ran away to get help, and she took his body back to Johnny’s mother and told her the whole fake story. Why don’t you believe me?” Henry asked, seeing the still angry faces surrounding me.
“Because you are lying. Johnny himself is here with us. Johnny, do your thing.” Mrs. Bradshaw pushed Johnny through the crowd. He looked terrible from his beating, but he was alive, unfortunately.
“I arrest you for attempted murder!” Johnny shouted. Then Henry knew that the game was up.
“All right, all right. So I did it. Who cares? After all, nobody likes him except Holly.” Henry tried. All it did was make everyone angrier, especially Johnny and Holly. They burst through the crowd, shouting at Henry. Their words were impossible to make out, but that was probably a good thing. Especially for Johnny, as his mother would not approve of the words streaming out of his mouth. The crowd closed in around Henry as he continued to try to make things better, but instead only made things worse for himself.
Holly was so angry on the way home that she could barely breathe, much less speak. Johnny was the same way. They stormed home, barely able to say goodbye at Johnny’s doorway. He went inside, followed by his family. Holly started to calm down then, and took deep breaths as she ran down the hill towards her house. Once she had made it down and up the hill and down the driveway, she banged open the kitchen door. Esther was eating brunch at the table with Emily’s whole family.
“We thought that you would never get here!” Emily exclaimed. “Whoa, you look riled. What happened?” Holly told them about all that had taken place that morning. Esther was shocked.
“You know, if you had told me that a few days ago, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
“Exactly why I didn’t tell you.” Holly explained. “But all’s well that ends well, so I have some clues to find. Emily, I got a lead.”
“Really? What is it?”
“Well, what if the objects with a four to one ratio are actually buildings?”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, girl. Who told you that?” Emily asked incredulously.
“Oh.” Emily smiled slightly. “So… the house and the barn?”
Holly hadn’t considered that possibility. “Maybe. But Johnny and I were thinking that it might be the barn and the chicken coop.”
“Oh. Good point. So, since we’ve already found something in the barn, then it would have to be in the chicken coop!”
“Unless it looks like an Easter Egg to make it easier to find amongst all the other eggs, and it was taken at the Tome time as the other eggs were stolen earlier.” Holly wiggled her eyebrows, waiting for Emily to catch up to her logic.
“Oh my gosh! We have to find the crook who stole your locket and the axe now!” Emily gasped.
“Wait, what?” Esther was very confused. “What are you talking about? Holly’s locket is missing? I mean, I heard about the eggs and the axe, but Holly’s locket? What? What?”
“Okay, so my locket is missing and we decided to find out who took it. Then we figured out that the harp opened up on top, and so we found a clue from Father, and another, and another. So now we’re looking for the seventh clue, and we think it might have been stolen when the person who took some of our eggs noticed it. We think that it’s an Easter egg that would just look like it was hidden early.” Holly filled Esther in on the details. Esther frowned.
“Well, that isn’t very safe. Now I know why the cliff is gone, too. Was there a clue hidden there?”
“Of course.” Emily rolled her eyes. “I have a feeling that there are clues everywhere. Anywhere.” She walked out of the room. “I’m going to find the person who took that locket or die trying.”
“Well, that was melodramatic.” Holly smiled. “I better catch up. If we’re going to get that locket…”
“But you haven’t had any breakfast or dinner!” Esther complained.
“It’s okay; I’m not all that hungry at the moment.” Holly turned and walked out of the room after Emily.
“Well, that was melodramatic.” Esther copied Holly. She turned to David, who had watched the entire thing with a knowing smile on his face. “What is it?”
“Those girls are onto something good. I can feel it in my bones.”
Holly and Emily walked outside. They were deeply immersed in conversation as they strode towards the forest.
“Well, we could always make a ladder,” Emily suggested.
“We would need someone to help us, though,” Holly agreed.
“Well, wouldn’t Charlie Will help? He loves working with wood.” Emily made an about-face and walked towards the house, on the front porch of which Charlie Will was whittling a little bird perched on a nest. Holly kept walking.
“I’ll meet you at the tree. Bring Charlie Will if he will help.” Holly strode quickly towards the forest. She was so deep in thought that she plowed right through the tobacco field, earning stares from some of the older negroes. She didn’t notice, however, and kept on walking, past the little weeping willow tree that was just beginning to sprout, right through the creek, and into the woods. She snapped out of it then, feeling the cold water intruding into her socks and shoes, and walked over to her tree. Still, the tree was devoid of all notches. Holly had been beginning to hope that it had just been a dream, and that the notches were still there, and maybe Honey would be clucking up on top, waiting for her. But no, it was not to be. Thank goodness for Emily and Charlie Will. They burst through the trees, both talking at once.
“So this is the tree? What do I do?”
“Charlie Will agreed to help. Holly, you look as if you’ve seen a ghost. What happened?”
“Everyone calm down. First of all, nothing happened. I was just hoping that I had just been dreaming, and that Honey would be there, waiting for me, and the notches would be there just like always. And Charlie, you could either help us build a ladder, or you could cut new notches into the tree to make another way up.”
“Notches would be easier.” Charlie Will set to work, carving large platform things into the wood of the tree. When he had worked his way up the tree, it was so whittled out that it looked like a huge mountain filled with caves. But they were much easier to step into, and Holly was grateful.
“Thanks, Charlie Will. By the way, is there anyone up there?”
“I didn’t check.” Charlie Will scrambled up the side of the tree. “No, no one here but this really old guy who’s sleeping holding an Easter egg.”
“What!” Holly climbed quickly up the tree-ladder and looked at the man in her tree house. He was indeed asleep. A fire was lit in Holly’s little grate, blazing up towards the high heavens. An egg was roasting on a pan on the fire. Beside the fire, a beaten-up Easter egg sat, looking sad and old. The paint was wearing off and it was dented all over, as if the man had tried to crack it open and failed. Holly quietly slipped onto the platform and stole towards the Easter egg. The man started to open his eyes, and Holly grabbed the egg and retreated down the steps in the tree. She high-fived Emily and they hovered under the tree. Above them, the man snorted and woke up.
“Huh? Who is there? Soldiers? You can’t get to me! I’m up in a tree! You can’t get to me!” the young man yelled down. He looked like he was actually in his thirties, and scared to death.
“We’re not soldiers, sir. We’re kids!” Holly called up to him. The guy looked even farther down and finally saw the three kids.
“Oh hello! Is this your tree house? Terribly sorry that I had to remove the steps, but I can’t have soldiers trooping up here to hang me!” The man called down.
“What’s your name, Mr. Old Guy?” Charlie Will called up. The man laughed.
“I’m Billie. Billie White.” Billie smiled down at them. Holly gasped.
“I have to find Charles. What a coincidence! If you’re the same Billie…” Holly ran through the trees toward the secret room.
Emily looked up at Billie. “Do you want to come down?”
“Not if there are soldiers with you. I’m sorry, but they’ll hang me if I come back. After all, they probably think that I deserted them. I was just going to find some water or something, and I collapsed because of my leg, and the next thing I knew, my troop was gone. Later, they came looking for me, so I hid up in this tree. It was really nice, so I built myself a ladder and came on up every time someone came around. But then I was roasting a deer that I found in the forest, and this guy came around, and he threatened me and told me not to help a girl named Holly. Then he chopped all the steps up to the tree off so that I only had my ladder and left. Strange guy.”
“The guy you met was Henry. We don’t know his last name, or his parents. His father goes to watch the black church sometimes, but other than that, they all are sort of… invisible. Except for Hank. He is just plain evil. He tried to kill me once, then turned one of my best friends on me and got her to try to kill me. Then he tried to kill someone else, and almost managed it. But Holly saved him.”
“Ah.” There was nothing else that needed to be said.
“You know, we have a place where you could hide from the soldiers. Our friend Charles is living there right now while he recuperates from his injuries.”
“Not Charles Usherst?” Billie looked down, interested. “Surely not!”
“Yes, it is Charles Usherst. He came to stay at our house a few weeks ago, and will leave as soon as his troop comes back.”
“But that’s my friend Charles! What a strange coincidence!” Billie looked happier than Emily thought possible, given the state of his face. His nose appeared to be broken, and there were scratches all across his cheeks and forehead, and a large gash on his chin. His whole face was covered in dried blood. His eyes looked tired, as if he had seen too much for anyone, and he was completely drained from the stress. His clothes were ripped up and bloodstained. From what Emily could see, he was probably barefoot. But apparently, he didn’t care at the moment. Billie’s face was almost ripped at the seams from smiling. His eyes shone in exhausted happiness, as if he had stayed up until three in the morning to meet a friend in another state. Then Holly and Charles came rushing back, and both men yelled at the sight of each other.
“Billie!!!” Charles screamed.
“Charles!!!” Billie shouted. Billie nearly jumped out of the tree in excitement, then remembered the new stairs on the trunk and climbed quickly down, jumping off of the last two and running to hug his friend. Charles sighed in happiness.
“Let’s get you inside, old friend. You look exhausted.”
Holly walked with Billie and Charles on the way back to the house.
“Well, Esther needs to know that you are here. That way she can get you food without you having to steal it.” Holly looked pointedly at Billie until he apologized.
“I’m sorry, okay? I needed to eat, and I also needed to stay away from all people, in case they turned me over to the government.”
“Alright, apology accepted. Do you have my locket?”
“Oh, that pretty thing? I’m sorry I stole that too, but I needed to buy some coals for the nice little fireplace you have there. So I sold it to a jewelry store for about thirty dollars. A fine price, wouldn’t you say? Why is it so important, anyways?”
Holly nearly screamed right then and pushed him into the creek. “You SOLD my locket?”
“Yeah…” Billie looked up at Holly, mentally beating himself. This girl would not be a good enemy.
“About a hundred of them, with fifteen dollars left over.”
“Great. Just great. Now I got to get thirty dollars to get my locket back.”
“Thirty five, if I know jewelry stores. They’ll always charge you more than you sold it to them for. That’s how they make money, you know.”
“AIIIIIII!!” Holly screamed at last.
Charles laughed to himself and whispered to Billie, “I knew it was coming!” Billie nodded sadly. They entered the secret room, where Esther was waiting. She had been informed that another man was going to be staying there by Emily, who had run ahead.
“Hello. You’re Billie White?” Esther asked promptly.
“That’s me! Do you have room for another man over here?” Billie asked, inspecting the room and playing with the strings of the harp. He removed the arrowhead from the harp with some effort and put it in his pocket. It promptly tore his pocket off and resumed clinging to the harp. Billie laughed. “This arrowhead over here really seems to like this harp!”
“Hmm.” Holly pondered this phenomenon. “I didn’t notice that earlier.” She felt around in her pocket. As she had expected, there was a small hole. Then she remembered the Easter egg. “Oh, shoot. Emily, did I give you the egg?”
“Yes, you did.” Emily held out the little egg. Holly took it and examined it.
“Well, this is the seventh clue.” Holly held it reverently. There were no hinges that she could see, nor any way to open it. “How do we solve this one? I don’t think that we open it.”
“No, you probably don’t.” Billie agreed. “I tried everything to get that egg open, I even took an axe to it, but it still wouldn’t open.”
Then Holly noticed the pictures all across the sides. They were numbered, like instructions. The first was a girl holding an Easter egg and smiling. The second picture had a mouth open, as if someone was talking. The third picture was of an open door, and a girl standing inside with the Easter egg. Strangely, this picture was turned sideways, making the open door look like an oven until Holly turned the egg so that she could see it properly. The last picture had a small loaf of bread, and the girl was staring at it like it was a book.
“How very odd. Look at these pictures!” Holly called to Emily. Emily walked over from where she had been talking to Charles and Billie and examined the egg.
“Weird,” Emily breathed. “I think that those are our instructions.”
“Yeah, but what do we do?” Holly asked.
“I think that we just follow the pictures. The first one is of a girl holding the egg. Done that. Then we have an open mouth. Maybe we have to eat the egg.” Emily theorized.
“But it’s hard as rock. Not possible.”
“Okay, forget that. Maybe we have to say something to it.”
“Let’s move on to the next one.”
“It is either an oven with an egg inside or a girl standing inside a door with the Easter egg.”
“So we combine the two pictures and say that we have to put the egg into an oven.”
“I didn’t try that!” Billie called from the corner.
“Let’s do it.” Emily ran from the room into the kitchen, presumably. Holly followed her and found her putting the egg into the bread oven.
“Hey, I have an idea. If this works, then we have to actually have the egg’s insides, probably. So we put it inside a bowl. Then, if it cracks open, we collect the remnants and make bread with them.”
“Okay. Maybe, possibly, we should use Father’s new recipe. He was going to try it right before he left but he didn’t. Maybe that has something to do with it. I’ll go get it.” Holly ran over to a big recipe book sitting on the cabinet. It was open to a corn cake recipe, of course. Holly turned it over to the last recipe in the book, a barely finished bread recipe. There was a little note on the corner that Holly had never paid much attention to before. It was from father.
“Holly, if you’re reading this, good job. You’ve made it this far, or maybe you just want to make bread. If your reason is the second, then stop reading this now and go look at that harp over in the honeysuckle garden. It is very special. As is the journal I left you. Now, if you are here for the second reason, very good job. The egg indeed must be baked. When you make my bread, leave the shells in. They are there for a reason. Oh, and the bread is actually very good to eat, even with the strange egg. I am sure that Esther and Mother will be pleased. All right, I’m done. I love you! –Father.” Holly grinned.
“I’ll get the ingredients together for some bread.” Holly called. She quickly gathered together the flour, yeast, salt, and all the other ingredients, including one normal egg. Holly figured that only one was actually needed for the recipe, but the Easter egg was needed for something special to happen. Suddenly, Emily cried out in surprise.
“The egg is melting!” Holly rushed over to see. Indeed, the egg was melting, revealing a black paste. She grinned.
“That’s okay. I think that it’s supposed to do that.” Holly put on some oven mitts and grabbed the egg out of the oven. “Now let’s make some bread.” Over the course of the day, Holly and Emily made bread. They kneaded the dough and put it in the oven to bake. After an hour or two, they took it out. The bread was rather cake-like and nice. In fact, the only strange thing about it was the large black writing on top. Something in the bread had formed words on the surface.
“Holly- you are simply amazing if you have managed to bake this. Your next clue is, as I have promised, another riddle. No more object clues for you, I am sure. So, here it is: where Honey doesn’t flow, where fire does not burn the tree, I am there. Nobody knows just where I lie but you and I. I lie outdoors, but inside too. A fire burns through me but I am not hurt. I also give you a clue if you want to look for a clue. Lovingly, your Father.”
Holly grinned. “Back in my world! Finally, something that I can figure out. So, where honey doesn’t flow. Honey flows anywhere. Wonderful, Father. Thanks for clearing that up.”
“But it does clear that up!” Emily exclaimed. “Your pet chicken was named Honey!”
“Oh. Well, that Honey doesn’t flow. Okay, so where Honey was. That’s my tree house!” Holly rushed outside, remembering just in time to turn off the oven. By this time the sky was growing dark, so they had to hurry. Holly jumped up the steps into the tree house, still holding the loaf of bread.
“Okay, I can’t see. Did you bring any matches?” Emily asked Holly. Holly shook her head. “Dang. Well, then what do we do?”
“We get my magnifying glass and use the setting sun to make a fire. I always keep it up here just in case.” Holly retreated into the room and brought out a magnifying glass. It was easy to use, so they soon had a roaring fire blazing.
“That’s better.” Emily sighed, warming her hands. “So, it lies inside and outside. How is that possible?”
“Well, my tree house is outdoors, right? And the room over there is inside. So that narrows it down a little bit. The clue is inside my room.”
“Cool. Now, one last question. A fire burns through me but I am not hurt. What the heck?” Emily asked Holly, raising her eyebrows.
“Um… maybe it is something that makes a fire but doesn’t actually burn. Um…” Holly looked around. The tree house was really messy, but there was nothing special.
“All right. So we’ve narrowed it down to the stuff in here that can make a fire. And it says that it gives you a clue, but only if you want to look for a clue. Maybe it’s like a match or something. I’ll get my… magnifying glass. Oh. Right.” Holly grabbed her magnifying glass and studied it carefully. In the light of the fire she saw three words inscribed into the surface. “Underground Railroad, Carpet.”
“Really? That’s it?” Emily said incredulously.
“That’s all it says.” Holly confirmed. “But this one is really easy. I think. Well, does the secret room have a carpet?”
“No…” Emily said, much to Holly’s annoyance.
“Then what is Father talking about?”
“Maybe there’s more. Somewhere, there has to be more to this clue than there seems.”
Holly turned over the magnifying glass. Unfortunately, there were only two more words written there. “There are two more words. Rosemary Johnny. What… oh. My name. Okay, this has something to do with Johnny’s family.”
“Your name is Holly.” Emily pointed out. Holly had ‘forgotten’ to mention her sudden change of name.
“No, it’s Rosemary. Rosemary Albert. I’m number eighteen on the most wanted list of Confederate children.”
“No kidding?” Emily looked doubtful.
“Why would I kid you?” Holly returned. “I found out when Benjamin told me his name.”
“Johnny.” Holly clarified.
“Right, I should have known that Johnny’s name was Benjamin. Don’t tell me, he’s number one most wanted.” Emily guessed sarcastically.
“Correct.” Emily’s jaw dropped.
“Now, there’s a pattern here. Something about the Underground Railroad and the Gerald’s.”
“We should go to their house. Maybe the entrance to their hidden room is under a carpet.”
“Hmm. I didn’t check on that! Let’s go tomorrow, however. It’s too dark to work tonight.”
“But we have a full moon!” Emily protested. “We could go for several hours more!”
“But the Gerald’s don’t.” Holly clarified. “We’ll go tomorrow.”
“You have lessons tomorrow,” Emily remembered.
“Who cares?” Holly said airily. “I’ll skip!”
“Oh, Holly. Don’t say that. It isn’t necessary to skip school. You’ll see Johnny there, won’t you?”
“Correct. All right, I’ll go. But don’t believe for a moment that I want to, because I don’t.”
“I know it. But you have to go, or Esther will get all worried again.” Emily tried to convince Holly. Holly brushed it off.
“Esther is always worried. She’ll get over it.” Holly turned to climb down the steps to the ground, clutching the magnifying glass. Emily hurried after her.
“Okay. Fine. But you’re still going to school tomorrow.”
School was a whole ‘nother experience after the terror and riddles of the past few weeks. Holly barely remembered the way as she stumbled past the church and onto the small path into the woods. After a minute, the path led out into a large road. People were traveling all up and down it. Holly saw Johnny walking in front of her and hurried to catch up.
“Hey, Johnny!” she called. He looked back at her and smiled, beckoning for Holly to join him. She grinned and started walking alongside him.
“So, what have you found out?” Johnny asked.
“Not much. You were right about the egg, however. There was an Easter egg hidden in the coop at one time, but the Tome person who stole my locket stole the egg to try to crack it…” Holly filled Johnny in on what was happening. “… And so now I need to figure out what you have to do with anything, and a carpet.”
“Hmm. Well, I can’t really help you. I don’t have anything, a carpet or anything, in my secret room except a few cots and some food. Maybe you need a flying carpet…” Johnny laughed. “But why would you need to know your real name? Assuming that you didn’t know your real name when your father wrote this clue… that’s where I came in. You needed me to tell you your real name. And I did. So we can cancel out Johnny and Rosemary. What about Underground Railroad, carpet? What does a carpet have to do with the Railroad? And I should know, as I run a station all by myself. As in, I make the food, I buy the beds, and I actually found the room and disguised it. Hmm. I wonder if maybe there’s some sort of carpet in a real underground railway system.”
“There is no such thing.” Holly shook her head. “Wonderful. Wait. Hold it all.” A thought suddenly came upon her so fast that Johnny could almost see her fall over backwards from the shock. “My secret room is behind a little niche in a closet… that has a rug inside. Maybe… no way. No possible way. I gotta go home!”
“But school’s about to start!” Johnny protested.
“I still have to go home.” Holly did a 180 and started walking back the way she had come.
“I’m coming with you, then. I can be of a lot more help to you than the arithmetic. It needs to learn to solve its own problems anyways.” Johnny laughed giddily. He hated school. Holly understood completely. She only went to school every other week, and she didn’t like it much either. And she hadn’t been there for two and a half weeks. She had gone on Friday last week, but had to make up for some this week.
“So we’re looking for a rug that might have something under it or something like that?” Johnny asked, making Holly clarify.
“Of course.” They fell silent as they walked back towards Holly’s house. Rose stared out of the window of Johnny’s house as they walked by, brushing her hair. Holly was worried for a second, until she noticed that the older girl was simply staring into space. They ran down the hill, allowing gravity to give them a lift. Johnny ran much farther than Holly, and she again cursed her dainty little shoes that her large feet had been crammed into. After running to catch up, she outpaced Johnny in running to her house and shot into the secret entrance to the Railway Station, or the secret room. Johnny followed, beaming. Holly, being in front, didn’t notice. Billie and Charles were, of course, deep in conversation and barely noticed Holly until Johnny ran in after her. Billie whistled, but was quickly silenced by Charles. Holly gave them both dirty looks. Johnny grinned appreciatively at them, and then left the room after Holly. They ended up at the other end of the secret room. Holly motioned for Johnny to step off of the carpet. He did so, and she pulled it off of the floor with a flourish. Underneath was a little note from Father. Holly read it aloud.
“Holly, did you really think that I would make it this easy for you? This still counts as the ninth clue, since you could have gone straight to the last one from the magnifying glass. So I’ll explain the carpet, since it is obviously troubling you. I didn’t mean this rug, though you might have inferred that from my use of the Underground Railroad. But did I honestly mean the Underground? Did you take that good of a look at that clue-finder? Look again in the daylight, as you would have figured it out near the sunset. Maybe then you’ll understand. –Father. Well, really. You would think that he would have been more helpful than that.” Holly sighed and shook her head. “My magnifying glass is in my room. Shall I get it?” She walked around and up the stairs to her room. Johnny followed, smiling slightly. Holly opened the door to her room and walked in. Her magnifying glass was lying on her desk where she had left it. Johnny looked around, taking in his surroundings.
“Your room is really messy.” He commented dryly. Holly grinned.
“And yours isn’t?” she teased. Johnny shrugged.
“Guilty as charged, I suppose. So is that the offending magnifying glass?” he asked Holly as she held the thing toward the sunlight, then quickly pulled back for fear of burning her papers.
“Yes, and we need to go outside with this thing. It will burn anything. That’s why I usually kept it in my tree house, in case I needed to start a fire. It’ll even work during sunset.” Holly skipped out of her room and tripped downstairs. Johnny followed at a run, trying to catch up. At the door, Holly removed her shoes. “These hurt, and I don’t need them here,” she said before running out the door and onto the soft dirt outside. She slid down the part of the hill where the cliff used to reside and ran into the tobacco fields. One hadn’t been planted or plowed yet, so all it was was hard packed dirt. Holly focused the magnifying glass on the ground and stared as words appeared on the dirt.
“Holly, I’m sorry I had to replace your magnifying glass. The old one is hidden in Mother’s bureau. I was hoping that you would pull that white carpet from the railroad station out to the ground and decipher Underground to mean that you needed to set the carpet on the ground. Good job about that if you actually got it. Even better if you got my other half-clue. Now for your tenth and last clue.
I have already been found once, and though not lost, must be found once again. If you are tired of search and find, or just tired of clues, then just review all that you have done. Something that once worked will no longer work, and something that didn’t seem to work before now works. You might have noticed it when searching for number six. If so, you are very observant. Now if you find the one thing that will set me off, you will find the end of the rainbow. Very lovingly, Father.”
Holly nearly screamed. She had bungled the clue, and now she had an even harder one.
“So, it’s already been found once. It isn’t lost, but it needs to be found again. What could that be?” Johnny asked, puzzled.
“Maybe one of the older clues that I need to re-decipher. All right. So now I review all my old clues to see which one needs deciphering again. That much makes sense. So something that worked before won’t work this time. Let’s start at the beginning. My first clue was on a piece of paper that Father left me. I had to bake it. I could do it again.” Holly ran back up the hill. Johnny followed, of course. He was up to his ears in this mystery now. He couldn’t back out. Holly jumped up the stairs to her room, hearing the exclamations from Billie every time she landed and laughing. Johnny just walked up the stairs, chuckling just the same at Holly’s antics. They entered her room and Holly pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of her desk.
“This is it.” She murmured respectfully. “The first clue.”
“So are we going to burn it again?”
“Yes. I’ve copied both messages onto other papers. Let’s go.” Holly led the way downstairs into the kitchen, where she put some hot coals from the fire into the bread stove and put the paper onto the little metal rack that Esther had erected so that the bread wouldn’t burn. After just a few minutes, even more writing appeared. Holly reached into the oven and quickly pulled out the now-brown paper. The writing said “Good job for following instructions, Holly. Please continue.” Holly grinned at Johnny.
“We’re on the right track.”
“Definitely,” Johnny agreed. “So what was the second clue?”
“The paper in the harp. Let’s go get it.” Holly quickly pulled Johnny into the staircase and they entered the secret room. Charles looked up.
“Are you two hiding for some strange reason?” he asked with a smile.
“No, not hiding, searching,” was Holly’s witty reply. “For all of the clues all over again.” She tapped the harp. “Help me undo the strings?” she asked Johnny. He quickly obliged, pulling the strings off the pegs with scrawny arms that didn’t look like they could lift a chicken, much less unwrap annoyingly tight harp strings. But he somehow managed it, and Holly pressed the pegs in the right order. But nothing stuck. Again she tried. Again nothing happened. The third time, she somehow set off a little phonograph in the heart of the harp. It was her father’s voice.
“Holly, that isn’t working. Maybe you should stop and think about the clue I gave you.”
Holly frowned at the harp. “All right then, Mr. Smarty Harp, what should I do about it?” but the harp gave no helpful reply.
“Maybe now you need to use the rest of the clue,” suggested Johnny. Holly nodded.
“Something happened that I should have noticed while I was searching for the sixth clue. What was the sixth clue…?” Holly thought back for a while, and then lit up light a candle. “That was the magnetic arrowhead.” She tried and failed to pull the offending arrowhead off of the harp. “Yep, something happened here. What was it?” she tugged at the arrowhead again. This time, it came off with a sucking noise like someone pulling themselves out of the gooey mud at the bottom of the lake near the school house. Behind it was a bald patch where the gold covering the metal on the harp had stuck to the arrowhead. It was the exact shape… “Of a rainbow…” Holly breathed. Johnny nodded. So where do we find a rainbow?”
Holly was stumped on that one. “I have no clue. Literally.” Johnny nodded.
“Well, maybe if we just put a magnet on there or something in the shape of a rainbow, it’ll open.” Holly agreed and ran to her mother’s room. Her father liked to play with magnets and often kept some in his bureau drawers to mess around with while he talked. She pulled open the drawer in which Father kept his magnets, and to her ultimate surprise, found six little colors of semicircles. She picked them up and hurried back downstairs. Johnny raised his eyebrows, but grinned when Holly fit the six colors into the rainbow shape. But there was still space left. She had red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and indigo.
“I need a violet magnet!” she clenched and unclenched her fists. There hadn’t been any purple magnets whatsoever in her father’s drawer. Then Holly felt her arm being drawn towards the harp. “What on earth?” she looked down. Her purple bracelet was slowly working its way off of her arm and onto the harp. “My bracelet is magnetic! Oh, Father thinks of everything.” She slipped her bracelet off and retreated several feet before pulling all around the bracelet. Naturally, one side fell off easily and made a small semicircle shape. Holly pushed the magnet into the rainbow shape and watched as the BOTJOHNNY of the harp opened, revealing a lot of pieces of paper. One was rather white, though it was getting rather yellow from years of dust and dirt. The rest were green and crispy. “Money,” Holly gasped. Johnny stared at the greenbacks in amazement.
“What’s the old paper?” he asked.
“It’s not actually all that old; it just looks that way because of all the dust.” Holly picked up the largest piece of paper and unfurled it. There was a map on it. It went all the way from Florida to Canada, with a lot of dots in the middle, and lines all over the place.
“There aren’t that many rivers in Virginia,” Johnny noted.
“No…” Holly said softly. “It’s the Railroad. Look, there’s a star over in New York, and a little line going from this dot here all the way to it. This must be our plantation here. And this one is yours, because it’s so close.”
“Right. Your father is going to meet you in New York!” Johnny figured out.
“But that can’t happen until Mother gets better.” Holly sighed. “Maybe there’s an address here somewhere, so that we can send word to Father to just come back via the Railroad.” And indeed, on the back of the paper, there was a small note from Father.
You are amazing. You’ve made it all the way from the note to the harp to all the other clues to the harp again. You found the map, you collapsed the cliff, and you’re still alive to tell about it. Here is some money for you to get all the way to New York. I will meet you there. Do not worry, I didn’t desert the military, I got leave. I am very injured now, and probably disabled for life, so I got a pass to get out of the ranks. I don’t think they cared; I was not that good of a soldier. My address is 1802 West Avenue. If you cannot find me, just look around for a tobacco company. I’m only in business in the fall, but my house is just on the other side of the avenue. Lovingly, your Father.”
Holly smiled slightly. “I’ll have to go get him and bring him back here. After all, he certainly couldn’t get here by himself. And if I’m transporting wounded Union soldiers from the battlefield to their families… Charles and Billie! How would you like to live in New York?” she called over to the cots.
Billie answered first, “I’d love to. I’m not safe anywhere here and I would be in New York. I’ll go if you’re willing to take me.” Then Charles answered.
“I have absolutely no family here. But I’m getting better now, and I can start fighting for our country again soon. As soon as Major Willis returns, I will go with him. Count me out.”
“All right. So I’ll be transporting a wounded Union soldier back to New York and his family. Good story, right?”
“Definitely.” Johnny agreed. “But you should send a letter to your father first, ask him if that would be okay.”
“Yes, that would be smart,” agreed Holly. Just then, Emily walked into the room with food for Charles and Billie.
“Holly! Why aren’t you in school?” she exclaimed, dropping the plate on Billie’s cot.
“I figured out the ninth and the tenth clue. We’re rich, Emily. And I found out where Father is. The official story is that he’s missing because he hasn’t returned home, but he’s living in New York, running a tobacco shop.”
“Ah. So what are you going to do? After all, you wouldn’t be Holly if you didn’t do something.”
“Correct. I am going to take Billie to New York and he will run the tobacco shop in Father’s place, while I bring Father home.” Holly spoke with certainty.
“I see. Well, I’m going with you.” Emily announced. “You can’t do this alone.”
“And me,” Johnny promised. “You need a man’s strength to manage a trip like this.”
“All right, but don’t think that I’m not onto you,” Holly warned. Johnny grinned.
“You’re onto Johnny, not Benjamin.”
“I’m onto both of your names, silly.” Holly playfully pushed Johnny’s head back. “And I will not stand for any ridiculousness.”
“Yes sir.” Johnny snapped to attention and saluted Holly. Before she had a chance to laugh, Charles and Billie were saluting too.
“What on Earth?” she frowned.
“You’re a higher rank than me in my book,” Charles responded.
“Mine too. You pretty much saved me,” Billie added. Then Holly laughed.
“Oh, you guys!” she hugged everyone. “Thanks for all your help. Now I have a locket to retrieve.” She walked out of the secret door, not caring who saw her. Fortunately, it was only Charlie Will walking past the porch on the way to measure Esther for a new bed. He grinned at Holly and continued into the front door. Holly started whistling as she walked towards the main road.
The jewelry store bell rang, the tinkling sound filling the whole dusty room. A bored clerk looked up from his book and put it away as Holly entered. She spotted her locket at once. It was sitting in a glass case in front of the cash register.
“Hello, ma’am, and welcome to Fuller’s Jewelry. Is there something you wish to purchase today?” the clerk said in a well rehearsed monotone.
“Yes, actually there is. I’m looking for a locket today, a golden locket.” Holly said with authority.
“Oh, we just got one of those the other day. Would you like to see it or try it on?”
“I’ll see it please. I’ve tried it on before. It used to belong to me, but was stolen.” Holly didn’t think that the clerk heard any words that left her mouth but that she would see it.
“Here it is, ma’am.” The clerk held out Holly’s locket. She ran her hand over the edge and opened it. The picture was missing.
“Where’s the picture that came with it?”
“In the back room. It is of one of the local men who went to fight in the war against the Union. This locket previously belonged to Holly Swift, but she gave it to a Billy Black, who sold it to this store for thirty-five dollars. That is the price, if you wish to buy it.”
Holly didn’t bother to point out the mistakes in Billie’s name, or the price. The clerk probably wanted to sound more fair, and he was bored, too. Holly forked over thirty five dollars and fastened the locket around her neck.
“Thank you!” she called as she swept out of the door. The spring was back in her step as she skipped back down the road towards the school and, beyond that, home.
Esther was worried. Mother was very slowly getting better, but every now and then she would stir to cough and wheeze, then close her eyes and not move until ten minutes later when she would do it again. And Holly was very distant again. She had been making so much progress. Now she was cooped up in her room again, with only Emily and that Johnny boy for company. Esther had forced her to keep her door open, just in case, but she stubbornly refused to tell anyone what she was doing in there. Just writing, it seemed, but then why would she need to have Emily and Johnny with her at all times? It was so strange. And she had her locket back, and wouldn’t say how she got it. Why all the mystery? Esther hoped that nothing bad was happening right in front of her very nose. She really hoped so.
Holly was writing yet another list. She had so many lists now. Lists of clothing that they needed to take, lists of fake names and parents and parent’s jobs, of Railroad stations that they would need to stop at, and of things they would need to pay for. Now she was writing a list of dangers. She already had written about wolves and capture. Now she was adding Johnny’s, as they would be traveling at night in the forest, and even the Confederate soldiers. So now she needed to figure out what she would tell soldiers that were usually on her side when they were on their way. Maybe they would say exactly what they were saying to the Yankees: that they were transporting their father, a wounded soldier, home from the battlefield. They would buy that. Probably. Holly could pass for sixteen in a pinch, as could Johnny. All he had to do was brush his dark black hair into his eyes, obscuring their happy youthful look, and stand a little taller. This was rather hard to do, as he was only around five foot four anyhow. Maybe taller, but Holly doubted it. It was rather hard to believe that he was more than a year older than her. She was more than two inches taller than him. Still, it was the best they could do. Holly sighed. She was almost ready to go, as were Johnny and Emily. She had sent them away to pack not even ten minutes ago. Emily, as she was closer, was almost ready. Johnny would probably take another hour or so. Suddenly, Johnny burst through the door.
“I’m ready!” he exclaimed. Holly sighed. She had forgotten to figure in the fact that he was a boy. They didn’t pack as much, or maybe they just packed faster. Who could know? Emily burst into the room a second later. Holly picked up the note from her father, received just yesterday. It read:
“Dear Holly, Emily, and Johnny (and Billie, if you are there),
I would love to return. The problem earlier was that if I went back, then people would know that I was a Confederate and try to kill me. So I stayed and made a passably good Union soldier, trying to make a decent living after being grievously wounded. So come right over. With Esther’s permission of course. And your parents, Johnny. Billie, I am so thankful for your service. Your helping me run the business will increase our tobacco sales at least fifty percent. Most sincerely, Abraham Swift.”
“All right, people. Let’s move out.” Holly told everyone. She grabbed her trunk and hauled it out of her room. Emily ran into her room and brought out her trunk as well. Johnny was already holding his. They made their way outside and met up with Billie, who had gone out to get the wagon ready. He had all the oxen hitched up to the wagon bed. The food was all stashed in the little canvas-covered box. Holly pushed her trunk inside and opened it. The clothes had all formed a little bed so that she could be comfortable. Emily had decided that she, as eldest, would take the first shift at the watch. She and Billie sat up front, one holding the reins, the other a lantern. Johnny opened his case also and lay down.
“I’ll wake you up when your shift comes,” Emily promised Holly. Holly nodded and closed her eyes. Sleep came easily to her tired bones, and it seemed like it had been barely a second before Emily was whispering in her ear. “Oy, Holly. You’re turn at the lantern, girl.” Over on the other side of the wagon, Billie was shaking Johnny gently. After a few seconds, he woke up and sprang to the reins, which were in danger of falling from the floor of the front seats. Holly took the lantern from Emily and got in the shotgun seat. However, all the animals were asleep at the moment, and no bandits traveled these roads, so they were pretty safe. All Holly had to do was hold the lantern for Johnny. He had his hands full with the reins, so that was the only reason that that particular job was even needed. Johnny smiled slightly at the bright light and shook the reins. The oxen started up again and the wagon began crunching on the dirt road. They hadn’t reached the forest they would be traveling through yet, so they just stayed on the little dirt roads that traveled all over, that no one paid any attention to. Johnny was completely focused on the oxen and the road. He was kind of cute when he was not focusing on actual problems. Holly grinned. Here she was, with her two favorite people, on her way to rescue her father. The watch passed boringly. Nothing important happened but Johnny almost drifting to sleep before Holly caught him.
“Whoa, there, sleepy. You still have to drive,” Holly reminded him.
“Hmm? Oh, sorry.” Johnny straightened up and continued to drive. The rest of the night passed completely without incident. At around sunrise, they pulled over into a niche in the trees and got out. Any one who wondered at the wagon would just have to wonder, because they were napping in the back all day. Holly woke up at about three in the afternoon and decided to start driving, since it was still light outside. She picked up the reins and started driving along the path. A few minutes later, Emily woke up and joined her up front. They drove in silence for a long time. Then Johnny woke up, and he started talking loudly, waking Billie up, and so they drove along noisily for quite a ways. Johnny was conversing with Emily about the map route, and what they were going to do going back. Billie had brought along the harp at the last minute, and was twanging it annoyingly. Holly just sat there, listening. It seemed like Emily and Johnny were saying things that she couldn’t quite make out, but Holly didn’t really care, as long as they didn’t go off the road. After a while, Billie took the reins, thankfully for Holly. Johnny noticed Holly coming back, however, and jumped into the front seat.
“He is nervous around you, you know,” Emily commented, noticing Holly’s suspicious glance. “Doesn’t know what to think. He said that it seemed like first you did one thing, and then you would change your mind and forget about it and start doing the exact opposite. Of course, mere mortals like you and I do that sometimes, as does he, but I guess it happens to you more at school and the youth meetings than at home,” she guessed.
“Yeah, I can sort of be myself at home, and I don’t worry as much about everything there.”
“That’s not true…” Emily started to say, but Holly cut her off.
“Did I ever cry at home?” she asked quietly.
“No, you were too wrapped up in your books and papers.”
“Did you ever see me at school?”
“Once. But you only cried a little then…” Emily faltered, realizing what Holly was trying to say.
“I’m under a lot more pressure there, pressure to be like the others, pressure to hang with the girls and not the guys, but to talk about guys all the time. It’s so awkward, because the boys I’m supposed to talk about are my real friends there. They taught me games and things, and helped me with stuff, so finally when I got pressured enough to be more like a normal girl, I kind of cracked. I ended up more like a monster girl, a mixture of emotions and goodwill and annoyance. It was too much. I started crying all the time. I couldn’t stop myself.” Holly explained, frustrated at the school girls that she hadn’t seen in quite a while by now.
“Ah.” Emily didn’t fully understand, but she got one thing: peer pressure was getting to Holly in a very bad way, making her do things that she didn’t want to do, and wouldn’t do in any normal situation. “But you’ve been gone for more than a month now, so do you think that you’ll go back to normal?”
“No, I’ll be girly and weird for the rest of my life, I suppose.” Holly sighed. She looked very tired, like she was carrying the weight of about five people on her shoulders. If you thought about it, she was. The worries of Esther, the… the boyishness of Johnny, Billie’s injuries, and Emily’s worries about Holly herself, and then Holly had herself to think about. It was just too much. Emily sighed too and turned away to get some food out of the canvas box.
“You are not weird.” Emily returned with a piece of salted meat and started chewing while she spoke. “They just don’t know you well enough. And you aren’t very girly, either. After all, what other girl learned to play chess from boys, and started racing horses with the boys because she was bored?”
“No other girl that I know of,” Holly admitted. “I guess that you’re right, as usual. But still, I never cried before.”
“Whatever. You’re still Holly. Now let’s talk about something else, like what are we going to do once the roads end? We can’t just leave the wagon there; someone will steal it, or take all of the things out of it.”
“We just have to take a chance here. Nobody goes on these roads; they’re too small and shaky. And besides, there will be nothing to steal; we’re taking it all with us. The canvas box is small enough to carry. Our trunks…” Holly pondered this for a second. “We’ll take a lot of clothes out of the trunks and put them on.”
“No, it’s the beginning of summer. We can’t just pile all our clothes on our backs.” Emily protested. Johnny spoke up from the front.
“I say we hide them. After all, my wagon has a false bottom. What about yours?” he asked Holly. Holly frowned, surprised. She tapped the floor. It did sound hollow, slightly. She tapped again. This time, it just sounded like the floor of a wagon. And yet, hadn’t she always wondered why the bed of the wagon was so thick? Holly started feeling around for a handle of some sort, maybe a doorknob. Finally she found it, unexpectedly. She was walking around the wagon, looking for a door in the side or something, and then Emily screamed. Holly ran around and jumped into the wagon. Emily was halfway stuck inside the false bed. She had been walking towards the front of the wagon to take the reins from Billie when she stepped on a large knot in the wood and crashed through a secret door. That’s when she had screamed. Holly grinned at her and helped her out.
“Thanks, Emily. You just found the secret hidey-hole. Now we can put our trunks in the real wagon bed and just carry our clothes on our backs.”
“We’re gonna get really smelly,” Emily complained, stretching her back and groaning.
“Not if we bring an extra set and wash them in the stream that we’ll be following.”
“I see…” Emily nodded and grabbed an extra set of clothes out of her trunk before kicking it into the hole. Johnny just grabbed another shirt and pair of trousers and shoved his in. Holly nearly fell into the hole herself before Johnny grabbed her and pulled her back. She blushed mightily and pushed her case in. Johnny was blushing too. Holly thought back to the old days, when the boys would skip school to do horse races and play loud games in the lake, much to the teacher’s annoyance. Holly sometimes joined them. She was one of the guys for quite a while, in fact. They laughed crazily around her and pushed her around. Not that she minded, because they were her friends. Now she had missed school for around a month or two, and she was starting to forget the people she had hung out with. There was Rodger, and Peter, and Johnny… Holly’s mind went blank after Johnny. She sighed. She had been sighing quite a lot lately, but nobody noticed for all the clamor of getting ready to leave the wagon behind. Holly shoved Billie’s case in for him, and then climbed out of the wagon. Emily jumped to the ground behind her, and Johnny helped Billie slowly to the ground. It would be hard going, what with Billie’s injured leg. They started walking towards the small creek that Holly had found in her endless map-searching. She had spent at least a week looking for all the tiny little creeks that didn’t end up being seen or used by most people, so that they would not be spotted. She jumped over a large tree root and finally found the stream. It was small and muddy, but would get clearer as they headed towards the ocean, where they would end up walking. This could take up to a year, but Holly really hoped that it would only take a month at longest. Sadly, that was not to be. They followed the creek for weeks, stopping for a few days at a time for Johnny, and Billie sometimes, to shoot at birds and other animals for food. Holly would then use her magnifying glass to start a fire, and they would roast the poor animals, then eat half and save half for the next leg of their journey. It was tiring, and Emily wasn’t doing too well, or Billie, or Johnny, though he didn’t say anything. He still had not fully recovered from his beating with the shovel, and seemed a lot of the time to be distant, like he was dreaming of things far away. Or maybe just things that couldn’t happen, but had to in order for his story to end properly. All of their stories. Holly was the only one who managed to keep a cheerful face from day to day after a while. She only did this for Emily and Johnny and Billie’s sake, however. She was just as tired as them, although not as injured. So tired. After about five weeks, she almost gave up. They had just about reached the ocean near Maryland, but they still had so far to go. The trip seemed just about impossible. Or maybe it was impossible. It was hard to know.
Johnny was almost dead with exhaustion. His head hurt, his legs hurt, and his arms hurt. He could barely hold the fowling piece with which they got dinner every so often. If it weren’t for Holly, he doubted that the group would hold together. It seemed so long until they would reach New York. They still had to go through almost the whole of Maryland, plus Delaware and New Jersey. Then they would reach New York, probably a whole year later. Hopefully his mother wouldn’t worry about him, he had left her a note saying that he had to take some special people up to New York by himself, and he would be back as soon as possible, although he didn’t know how long that would take. Hopefully they would be back before the year was out, he had told her. Then he had signed his name ‘Benjamin Gerald’ and rushed away. Now he was walking endlessly through forests close to the shores of Maryland, and hoping that no soldiers came to find them. Maybe soon they would find a deserted wagon or something…
Lucky for Holly, she had her locket on when they had left for New York. Finally, its luck was going to have some effect. She had seen a deserted wagon on a road nearby. Its owners seemed to have just left it there, or maybe they died. Not a happy thought, but the horses were still there. If she could get Billie into a saddle, then they could travel on the roads easily. He would just be a father taking his children on a trip. But Emily… Emily was their slave, coming with them on the journey to carry their things and care for the horses. It sounded plausible enough. If the father had been honorably discharged from service in the war, as he would have been easily enough with his large injuries, then it would be quite sensible for him to take a trip northwards. All right.
“Hey guys! I have an idea! Listen, I just found a wagon that has been abandoned…” Holly outlined her plan. Johnny started laughing. “What? Do you think that it won’t work or something?”
“No, no, it’s just that I was just thinking about finding an abandoned wagon…” Johnny succumbed to laughter again. Holly shook her head and smiled slightly. She found some saddles in the bed of the abandoned wagon, where they had been laid so that the horses could get some rest, probably. She heaved the blankets out of the wagon and laid them gently on the four horse’s backs. They whinnied, annoyed. The saddles hadn’t been used for a long time, obviously. Emily helped heave the large and heavy saddles out of the wagon bed and put them on the frustrated animals, while Billie quietly soothed them with soft words whispered into their ears.
“I was a farm boy a long time ago,” he told Holly quietly. “I seem to have a way with horses.”
“Yes, you do,” Holly agreed. Soon, they were calm enough to buckle the saddles on and ride. Holly helped Billie up first, and then had to help Johnny as well, because he was too short to get on the horses by himself. Then she and Emily jumped into the stirrups of their horses and kicked them to a quick start up the road. Finally, the riding that Holly had snuck in with the boys came in handy. She sat light in the saddle, and the horse, which she had decided to call Faintly, was grateful and rode quickly down the road. Johnny, of course, was a boy, and therefore even better than her, not to mention lighter. He sped along at about the Tome speed, but they had to slow down frequently to let Emily catch up with them. Billie rode along at a perfectly normal pace, not hurrying nor dragging, about the Tome as Emily. They rode in silence for quite a while. Finally, they came to a crossroads and Holly had to pull the map out of her pocket. She had designed it to show all of the rivers they would be seeing, and the roads nearest to the shore so that they could stay quite out of sight of any soldiers. It appeared that they were getting towards the middle of Maryland now. They just had to stick to the roads to the right and they would continue on their regular path. Every so often, the horses stopped to graze, or Emily would cry out in disgust behind them as one of the horses made a stop to do his business. At dawn, they stopped to lie down. Holly tied the horses to trees behind them and yawned sleepily. She had been traveling all night, in front of the pack usually, and so had dozed off before she knew what had happened. The morning passed, and the afternoon, and it was evening before she woke up. The others were already up and moving, getting the horses ready for travel. Emily noticed Holly sitting up.
“Glad you’re up! We’ve got a bit of traveling to do!”
“Don’t I know it?” Holly responded. They were finally going to get a good long start, and it made everyone more cheerful. Johnny was already helping Billie onto his horse. Holly gulped down some food and helped him onto his own horse. She then mounted Faintly and they started off, racing down the coastal road. The night passed very quickly, and Holly was very surprised to find the sun coming up the next morning. Surely it had only been about an hour? But when she got off Faintly to look at her map, she saw that they had passed straight through Maryland in the night.
“Thank the Lord, we’ve made it to Delaware!” she cried, throwing her arms up in victory. Emily and Billie cheered. Johnny fell out of the saddle on his horse and lay on the ground. Holly’s moment of celebration over, she rushed to his side.
“What on earth?” she breathed. An arrow was sticking from Johnny’s side. There was absolutely nothing that they could do. Holly pulled the arrow out, but he was turning green. There had been poison or something like that on the arrow. He was still breathing, in fact. He sighed shakily, barely moving his mouth.
“Holly? Tell my mother that I tried. I tried.” Then he closed his eyes and did not move.
“Johnny is dead,” she cried, getting up and walking shakily over to where Emily was standing. She was crying hard, and Holly was about to join her. Then a man walked out of the woods. He was wearing a large hat and boots, and carrying a quiver full of arrows. He was talking to himself as he walked.
“I wonder what I shot this time. Maybe a bear, from the sounds it was making.” Then the man saw Holly and Emily weeping, and Billie still sitting on his horse. He then saw Johnny, lying there on the ground. He ran over to him.
“Can you do something?” Billie asked the unspoken words in Holly’s mind. She couldn’t force herself to speak for fear of her voice cracking and not being able to be fixed. The man nodded. He leaned over Johnny and gave him a drink of something. After a moment, his eyes opened and he swallowed the disgusting-looking bluish liquid. The green faded from his arms and legs and he fell asleep. A real, non-dead sleep. Holly breathed a sigh of relief. The man walked over to them.
“Your friend will be alright, ma’am. Though what you people are doing traveling at this hour is beyond my comprehension.”
“First of all, sir, we are not at liberty to tell why, because this is a wounded soldier here,” Holly pointed to Billie, still wiping at her eyes.
“Oh, so I see. Well, are you Confederate or Union?” the man asked.
“Union,” Billie responded promptly. “We’ve been taking this girl with us as we went, posing as a Confederate family on a vacation. Now we have gotten here, I must get back to my old tobacco shop in New York.”
“Well,” the man whistled, “That’s quite some distance. Where have you been traveling from?”
“Virginia, from the large battle there. These are my children, who could not run the shop by themselves, my wife being dead these past… twelve years, so I would say. They are nearly of age, however, being sixteen. Might I ask your name, good sir?” Billie played his part perfectly.
“I am George Leonard, caretaker of a house-building crew here in Delaware. And what is your name, pray tell.”
“I am Billy Black,” Billie answered airily.
“I see. Well, I must be getting along now. I am sure that you will allow me to pass, for I have a house to oversee.” George swept his over-large hat off of his head and sank into a bow. Then he replaced his hat and started walking on his way, pointing his bow at every animal that shivered in the trees. Holly sighed with relief.
“I am sure that he had an antidote so that once the animals he shot were dead, he could remove them of poison, making them safe to eat,” she theorized. Emily nodded.
“That makes sense. But I hope that Johnny won’t be dead when all the poison is gone.”
“Right.” Holly hadn’t considered that. Then Johnny’s eyes opened.
“Are you talking about me behind my back?” he asked laughingly.
“No…” Holly and Emily answered at the Tome time. Holly ran to hug him.
“Listen, I’m pretty sure that I’m more dangerous as Benjamin. After all, when I’m Johnny, I’m nearly dead about all the time,” Johnny declared, feeling his side for the grotesque arrow wound.
“Yes, you are probably right,” Holly agreed. “And I shall be Rosemary, here. Emily will still be Emily, however. She needs no disguise.” Emily nodded gratefully.
“Good, we have our names now,” Rosemary decreed. Benjamin nodded. Emily hugged him all of a sudden, causing Rosemary to jump back in surprise. Benjamin grinned and hugged her back. Then he got up weakly to his feet and hugged Rosemary. She was shocked, but accepted his hug with a grin and a yawn.
“Dang, I’m tired now,” she said, laying down on the ground beside Faintly, then, thinking better of it, got up and tied the whinnying horse to a tree first. Emily tied the rest of the horses to the trees and lay down beside Holly. Billie had managed to slip down to the ground during all of the commotion, and was sleeping already with bags under his eyes. Holly looked at him, sighing. “Poor man,” she murmured to Emily. Emily frowned, shaking her head. They fell completely silent, and soon the morning was filled with the sounds of snoring teenagers. Again.
It was fall before they made it into New Jersey, due to an unfortunate bout of map-losing. Meaning that it blew out of Holly’s hands and right into the water.
“No! Come back!” she yelled at it, hoping against hope that it would obey and the tides would blow it back within reach. Johnny sighed.
“I guess that’s that. Don’t we stay on the shore roads all the way?”
“Not all the way,” was Holly’s vague reply. Johnny sighed.
“All right, be mysterious if your heart desires. But we don’t really need the map, do we?”
“We will if we ever want to get to New York City. Now, how shall we get it?” Holly rolled her eyes and looked out at the agitated water. “It’s already too far out to just wade in, and it is already getting towards September. So I’m not swimming.”
Johnny looked rather surprised. “For the eighteenth most dangerous kid in the Confederate States, I’d say you weren’t very dangerous. But hey, I’m number one, right?” and with that, he took off his shirt and plunged into the salty water. Emily and Holly gasped as the cold liquid salt hit them.
“Is he crazy?” Emily gasped at Holly. She only shrugged and stepped into the grass on the edge of the beach to try to get all the sand off her feet. She had long since given up wearing shoes on the road. The grass was way too soft for that anyways. So now she struggled to get all the annoying wet sand off of her ankles, and then gave up when she realized that she would have to step back onto the beach anyways. Emily laughed at her. Johnny, swimming in the coarse waves offshore, grabbed at the map. Suddenly, a wave brought it right to his hand, and he took it and dived through the waves back to shore. Holly, Billie and Emily cheered. He came up panting for breath, but smiling just the Tome. Johnny held up the weather-worn map. It looked none the worse for the dunking, thankfully. It had been through quite a lot. Holly had jumped on it in anger when she messed up, creating footprints straight through New Jersey. Faintly had walked over it when Holly had dropped it on the road a ways back. Now it had been blown into the ocean, but all the ink was still there. Holly snatched it from Johnny and sighed in relief.
“Okay, we’re all right. Let’s stop here for a while. I mean, it’s nearly morning.” Holly gasped as she realized just what Johnny had just done. “You just jumped into the ocean in the middle of the night. What were you thinking?”
“That we needed the map?” Johnny answered questioningly. “It had to be done. So I did it.”
“Good job, soldier!” Billie mock saluted him. Johnny bowed low and grinned at his feet. Holly shook her head at their antics and went back to the road to find Faintly and the other horses and tie them up for the day.
A scream rent the early-morning air. Emily looked up in surprise from where she was examining the map to where the sound was coming from. It was Holly. She ran down the beach towards them, yelling all-out.
“The horses! They’re gone!” she cried, panting. Johnny gasped, a sound most unlike him.
“What happened? Did they wander off? But they couldn’t have, remember? We tied them to the trees earlier!” he exclaimed questioningly.
“No, they weren’t. I had just gone off to tie them up for the day so that we could sleep when I saw that they were missing. Oy vey!” Holly sighed. “Now we have to find them, too, besides getting to father.”
“We could start walking again.” Billie suggested. “I’m feeling much better. Really,” he added pathetically. “And besides, we’d be on the roads, so I wouldn’t always be tripping over roots and things. Serious, I’ll be fine!”
Holly rubbed her forehead, pondering. Billie did seem much better, and they would be traveling on the roads, even if they were small and dusty. “Okay, we’ll walk,” she decided, trying not to waver. Man, was it hard to be the leader. Not that she was an official leader or anything. But they all seemed to follow her, no matter what she said. It was really quite impressive, the lengths they all seemed to go for her. She smiled tiredly and lay down. “I believe that now, since we have decided to rest, and walk later, we should go to sleep.”
“Maybe not, though.” Johnny spoke up suddenly. “If we travel the roads at night much longer, we’ll be in New York, and people will be doing the Tome thing there, to avoid any traffic. So I think, in order to keep our heads down, we need to start traveling in the daytime. What say everyone else?” he asked, looking around at all the others.
“I completely agree,” Emily nodded, frowning and looking rather impressed that Holly wasn’t disagreeing. “That needs to happen for Billie, since we’ll be walking now. Horses help us; we’ll need to use every advantage we can get. So we ought to use the daylight to our advantage as well.”
Billie spoke up next. “Yes, I agree. I’m tired of walking in the dark for hours on end. Maybe now is the time to show ourselves to the world. Holly, do you agree or not?” he asked. Holly pondered for a moment, trying to figure out her answer.
“Yes, I think maybe you’re right. Let’s just say that we keep on walking at night, however. We’ll make it all the way to New York completely undetected. Then we go into the city in the daylight, leaving Emily behind, of course. She cannot be seen here.”
“Why not? This isn’t the Confederate States; this is the ‘Union.’ She’ll be safe there.” Billie remembered for Emily’s sake. She was pouting a little and basically making a big deal of it.
“That’s right. Silly me, I forgot.” Holly wiped her forehead in mock relief. “Emily can come with us. No problem.”
“Do you not want me along?” Emily asked, annoyed.
“It’s not that, I’m just scared.” Holly answered.
“Of what?” Emily wiggled one eyebrow. “That the soldiers will get us all and we’ll be forced to leave the country? Or countries, I suppose…”
“No, I’m scared that something will go wrong, and we can’t find Father, or that someone will see you and try to take you… I don’t want to lose you two!” Holly burst out. Johnny and Emily stood there, shocked.
“Why didn’t you say so in the first place?” Johnny asked.
“Well, I didn’t want you to think that I cared so much. I mean, wouldn’t that be a little awkward?” Holly asked.
“Not really,” Emily responded. “We just knew that you were being weird and distant. We couldn’t figure out why.”
“Oh.” Holly sat there, puzzling this new piece of information out. “Well, I wanted you guys to think that I was really a leader, one who was always focused on the road ahead.”
“So you pretended not to think about us?” Johnny asked.
“Pretty much,” Holly blushed, embarrassed beyond belief. “Sorry!”
“Apology accepted,” Emily and Johnny spoke at the Tome time, and then laughed.
“So shall we go?” Holly asked, then got up and made for the woods.
“Yes, let us go.” Johnny walked stiffly towards the woods, pretending to be an extremely obnoxious general. Emily stifled a laugh. Holly couldn’t see, because she was in front of him, but she heard the muffled snort. She turned around to see what Emily was laughing about, and giggled as well when she saw Johnny marching towards her. They laughed all the way up the road, until exhaustion set in. Then they walked in silence for quite a few miles, until the afternoon.
“I have an idea that we’ll sleep for quite a while,” Holly slowly closed her eyes, and then hurriedly opened them. Johnny nodded sleepily, his head falling towards his chest. Then it popped back up again, embarrassed. Everyone was about to fall asleep.
“We ought to get towards some shelter,” Billie pointed towards the trees. “We don’t want anyone to spot us at the moment, especially not bandits, of whom there will be many more from here on out,” he pointed towards the road, which was gradually widening into a large lane. Holly nodded and walked towards the shelter of the trees, which were growing thinner and thinner as they walked on. Not five minutes had passed before the whole company was asleep, or about to nod off.
Johnny woke up the next morning refreshed and ready for the first time in weeks. At first, he thought that he was home, and his mother had let him oversleep. Then he felt the annoying tree root underneath him and remembered where he was. He groaned and got up, stretching. The others were still sleeping peacefully. Holly snorted something and turned over, making Johnny laugh slightly. This caused Emily, who happened to be a very light sleeper, to wake up.
“Morning, sunshine,” she mumbled sleepily towards Johnny.
“Good morning,” he responded cheerfully. “Nice day,”
“Not really. We have to walk all the way through New Jersey, to New York, New York today. Maybe we’ll make it halfway. If we’re lucky. Which we never are, seems like.”
“True…” Johnny walked over to Holly. “Does she like me? Or one of my brothers?”
“She likes you for sure. Not sure about the brothers, though. How many do you have again?”
“Eight. I’m the middle one, however. I have Brian, Patrick, Alexander, Daniel, Joseph, Frederick, John, and Dennis. Dennis is the oldest. He’s twenty-one.”
“I see,” Emily nodded, half laughing. “I only have three siblings. Doesn’t having nine get rather annoying at times?”
“Who said anything about only having nine siblings?” Johnny asked, pretending to be shocked.
“What? How many do you have, then?” Emily asked. She was actually shocked. Who knew that you could actually have that many?
“Fourteen. I have six sisters as well. Rose, as you probably have been told, Madeline, Arianna, Brenda, Caitlin, and June. Quite a handful, I am sure. Thankfully, we own an enormous manor house, and so are safe from each other. Sort of. We get on each other’s nerves quite a lot. But Mother puts up with us, and for that I am very grateful.” Johnny told an astounded Emily. Her mouth had fallen open around the time he had started naming his sisters.
“Wouldn’t that make it hard to change everyone’s names when you had to move six years ago?” she asked, dumbfounded. Johnny shook his head.
“Everyone kept their names but the ones ten and older, meaning that only Frederick, John, Dennis, Rose, Brenda, and I had to change our names. Everyone else was too little to know. Or they weren’t too little, but they didn’t know anything anyways. Tomato Tomahto, right?”
“Right,” Emily chuckled. She walked towards Holly to wake her up. “It must be time to go by now,” she said as she started to roll the poor sleeping girl over. Holly woke with a start and jumped up.
“Time to go?” she asked Emily with a smile.
“Yes, it is.” Emily responded. Johnny stretched his neck and strode over to where Billie was sleeping. He started mock punching his face, making a theatrical pop every time, until the man woke up with a groan.
“What did I do?” he asked playfully, seeing Johnny’s fist swinging towards him. He ducked unnecessarily. Holly gasped with laughter.
“That’s mean,” she said, pulling Johnny’s fist back from where he was about to pretend to hit Billie again.
“I’m not hitting him,” Johnny complained, but stood up and walked over to his pack he had made out of his clothes. It was carrying some dried meat and extra clothing. In fact, that small bundle carried all of the food that the group ate. He sighed slightly, examining the sparse amount of food it held. “I’m not sure that we’ll make it, and we’re out of gunpowder since we could only carry a little to begin with. Does anyone have a knife or something?”
“No,” Holly answered, “None of us have anything except for that gun. We have to find something, or starve, I suppose?” she asked.
“That seems to be the case,” Johnny replied, looking at the bit of dried squirrel wrapped in a shirt. He quickly popped a piece into his mouth. “This is disgusting,” he commented, hastily swallowing the gross morsel of food.
“But it’s food, yes?” Holly frowned at him. Johnny shrugged an apology. They picked up their bundles of clothing and started down the road once more, Billie and Emily trailing slowly behind.
They made quite good progress, and soon the forest was behind them completely. Holly smiled slightly.
“Soon we’ll be in the city,” she told everyone, especially Billie. He nodded gratefully.
“Another two days, maybe?” Emily asked hopefully.
“Three if we’re lucky, a month if we’re not.” Holly answered. Johnny snarled slightly, then frowned.
“What was that?” Holly asked him, rather surprised.
“Oh, nothing. I was rather annoyed, is all.”
“Okay,” Holly frowned, not completely believing him, but willing to trust him just the Tome. They were in the Tome boat, after all.
“All right, guys, let’s go a bit further. I see people up ahead. Maybe we’ll find a place to stop for the night, for once.”
“All right,” Emily agreed enthusiastically. They trooped down the road a bit further, finally finding a small house by the side of the road. The windows were lit and welcoming, and the door stood open, allowing the sound of laughter to escape into the night. Holly grinned.
“Where there’s a party, there’s food!” she exclaimed, rushing towards the door. Emily and Johnny quickly followed. Billie stood there for a minute, taking in the scene and looking rather doubtful. His doubts were appeased, however, when Holly reappeared at the door with a chunk of bread in her hand. “Come on, they’re almost out!”
Inside, people were dancing around and basically having a fun time. One man was swirling around with a small paper crown on his head. He must have been the one that the party was for. Holly was standing by a table, laughing at the gaiety amassing around her. Every so often, another person would enter the room, uninvited, and join the crowd in dancing, sometimes twirling a girl or being twirled by a boy. Such fun. It made him remember his birthday party almost twenty years ago.
“Billie! Dance with me!” Lila Bruins called from the other side of the room. She had on a small black frock that showed her knees, or at least her socks, something completely unbecoming for a young girl such as herself. Nobody really cared, though. They were all having too much fun. She danced around, prancing across the dance floor. She was so graceful…
“All right!” Billie’s friends gathered around him, clapping him on the back. “Have a dance!” they pushed the not altogether unwilling Billie towards Lila. She giggled and they started dancing around the room. Around and around the whirled. Faces flashed by, faces belonging to Billie’s greatest friends. Charles, Harold, Fred… the people blurred as the couple picked up the pace. Such fun…
Such fun. Billie sighed, remembering Lila and her merry parties. That had been a surprise party in his honor, for his sixteenth birthday. Lila had been twelve at the time, and cute as a button. Not that he thought that buttons were cute, but still… Holly snapped her fingers in Billie’s face, annoyed.
“I asked you a question! Do you want to dance?” she asked for what was obviously the second or third time.
“Oh. Sure!” Billie started dancing around the room with this funny little teenage girl. She smiled gratefully. Billie could almost see stress floating away from her, lifting her shoulders and curving her lips into a wonderful smile. “Are you having fun?” he asked her, laughing merrily.
“Oh, yes,” Holly promised, unable to hold back a smile. “Such fun. I haven’t had such fun since the day we had the May Day dance!” she pantomimed a May Day pole dance, sweeping around the floor carrying an invisible ribbon, which she finished tying onto an invisible pole in the center of the room with a flourish, laughing. “That was almost two years ago now. Ah, that was so much fun… I would do it again if I could.” She sighed happily, remembering old times with her friends and family at church. Tying up the Maypole, playing Don’t Let Go with the boys, her father teaching her the proper way to play chess… no, she would not think of her father until she had found him. That way she could not be hurt again. Not so soon after getting ‘well.’ No, she would find him, and she would be happy, and Mother would get well, and they would be all together again, except for Daniel… no, don’t think about him either. Was nothing safe? Holly sighed and gave herself fully to the music, Billie sweeping her off her feet and pivoting on the spot.
Johnny was jealous. Instead of asking HIM to dance, him, the other guy, the one who was about her age, Holly had asked the old guy, Billie, to dance. Three times, before he snapped out of it and said yes. Who wouldn’t say yes? You would have to be off your rocker. Suddenly, he noticed a man entering the room. He was rather scruffy, as if he had been walking for days. Now that you think of it, the whole party from Virginia looked like that. But this guy was even more so, like he had walked all the way from Florida or something. Or maybe he had to fight in order to get here… what an odd thought. Johnny then noticed a carriage pulling away from the driveway. The Waterscrest coat of arms was on the side. What? Johnny studied the man very closely. If he was right, then they were all in danger. And, of course, he was right. His instincts were usually right about such things. It was Henry. A beaten and annoyed Henry, of course, but still it was the same man. He was looking towards the floor. That could only mean one thing. He was going after Holly, and he wasn’t happy. Johnny gasped again for the second time in a single day and ran towards Holly and Billie, who were dancing gracefully to the county music.
“Holly!” he yelled, tackling the two and pushing them out of the way seconds before a shot rang through the air, just in time. Holly and Billie were safe… but it wasn’t them that Henry was shooting at. It was Emily. She had been standing by the food, methodically picking out the healthiest food to take on the journey, when Henry fired a gun at her. She fell slowly, swooning down towards the floor in a dead faint, something most unlike her. Sudden pandemonium forced Holly away from her friend and sister who lay… what was she? Asleep? Fainted? Dead? Struggling through the crowd, Holly made it to Emily’s side. Yes, she was alive. But just barely. A bullet wound pieced her arm, making a pool of blood on the other side, where the bullet had shot all the way through to.
“That’s for arresting me!” Henry shouted before firing again. This time, he fired at Billie. He hit the soldier in the side. However, this bullet didn’t go all the way through. “That’s for betraying me!” Then he turned to Johnny. Johnny didn’t faint, or duck, or anything. He just ran towards Holly.
“Don’t you dare shoot Holly!” he screamed at the maniac holding a gun. Henry simply laughed and shot at them. Johnny stood strong, though. The bullet seemed to move in slow motion as it headed towards where everyone could see that it would land: Johnny’s heart. Of course, it hit right there and pierced through his skin. A fire seemed to fill the bloody hole. Johnny stood strong, though. For Holly’s sake. He didn’t cry out, though every bone in his body longed for him to do so. Then the darkness closed on him, and he fell upon the ground. Dead or alive, nobody knew.
“Now your boyfriend’s not around to save you. So who will?” Henry sneered at Holly.
“How did you get here?” she asked, stalling for time.
“Oh, so you want to know how I got out of jail. I simply told the judge my version of the story, and as you weren’t there, nor any of your churchy friends, he believed me and set me free. You’re no longer welcome in Stafford,” Henry announced. “Now, what will you do? Beg for mercy? Or scream in pain as I shoot you like I shot all your friends.”
“But why did you do it? Why did you murder everyone? Or at least Johnny?”
“I couldn’t let him get in my way. You see, I’ll only shoot YOU if I have to. Otherwise, I’ll take you home with me and we’ll be married. You see, I offered the judge your pardon if you did so. And he agreed, so it’s settled. The choice is yours, Holly. Death…” Henry paused for effect. “Or me?”
Holly stumbled backwards, as if his cruel words had pierced her like a bullet from his disgusting rifle. “You… you monster! I thought that I liked you! At one time, I thought… I thought… I thought that you cared! About someone, at least! Your best friend, the church, school… anything! Something at least!”
“But I do care about someone,” Henry laughed annoyingly. “Me!” he shoved the rifle towards Holly’s forehead. “So what’ll it be? Death or me?”
“I choose…” Holly considered for a moment, and then grasped a sudden hope. “I choose death to you!” she grabbed the rifle and jerked it out of Henry’s hands. He wasn’t expecting this and relinquished it easily. Holly smirked at him, waving the gun towards him. “Good thing I hung out with the boys a lot when we skipped school! I know how to use this, and I happen to be a pretty good aim,” she bluffed, hoping that Henry would buy it. He didn’t.
“Yeah right. We were on horses the entire time, or teaching you how to play chess and Don’t Let Go. Never hunting. So you have no idea how to use that.” Henry clung to the hope that she was actually bluffing.
“But what about the two months I spent with Emily and Johnny and Billie without any food and just one gun? When the boys couldn’t shoot at squirrels, who did? Me, of course!” Holly clicked back the lock on the gun and loaded it. Her finger went to the trigger. Henry gasped.
“You wouldn’t actually shoot me! I was in your youth meetings! I was good to you! I never hurt you! I helped you with your mother, or at least I tried!”
“But you hurt my friends.” Holly stated the obvious, slowly backing Henry out of the door. He never noticed.
“Who cares about friends? They’re never there for you when you need them. They don’t help you. Ever. As a rule.” Henry stated blandly. Holly frowned at him.
“That isn’t true. My friends always help me. As a rule.” She contradicted Henry with his own words. He laughed nervously, realizing the trouble he would be in if he couldn’t save himself. Holly laughed too. Her plan was working. She had Henry falling over himself to get away from her, and she didn’t blame him. After all, she held the gun, and she had many reasons to hate him.
“Okay, okay. I’ll just… leave now!” Henry noticed that he was outside and ran towards his coach, yelling at it to get going. Holly watched him go, savoring her victory for a few seconds before running to her friends’ sides. The frantic guests had laid them all on a hastily cleared table and one was starting to get the bullets out of Johnny and Billie’s wounds. Emily was being bandaged.
“Will they be all right?” Holly asked, nearly in hysterics now that the time to be calm and cold was over.
“We don’t know,” was one man’s honest answer. “I hope so. I really do. Who are you people, anyways?” he asked.
“We were going up to New York to get our father and bring him back to Virginia, because he was too wounded to get there on his own.” Holly told the man the truth without thinking. Thankfully, he understood.
“I see. Well, if you need any help, which I’m sure you will, this is my house, and you are welcome to stay until you are better. Were you bluffing with that gun?” he asked.
“Sort of. I barely know how to shoot, but I’m sure that I could hit a big guy like Henry with it. I did have some practice when we ran out of food on the road.”
“I see. Well, please stay. Your friends will need the rest, if they live. I am Jacob, by the way.” The young man introduced himself. “I am from the south myself, and moved here so that my house would not be raided or burned. That way, I understand your need for your father. I miss my own very much, you see.”
“Yes, I understand, but now can we attend to my friends?” Holly asked, turning her attention to the obviously dying Johnny. He was half conscious, moaning and groaning. The wound was starting to knit itself up, but not fast enough. He was losing quite a lot of blood.
“Well, he will not need to be bled, that is for sure,” Jacob joked to try to release the tension in the air. It didn’t really work. Holly stared at him for a minute, and then returned her gaze to Johnny.
“True, but he will need to be in bed for quite a while, until he actually has enough blood,” she said, not realizing that it was a joke.
“You are right. I have three extra bedrooms here. If he shares with the older man…”
“Billie,” Holly interjected.
“All right, Billie. If he shares with Billie, then you can have a room, as can your negro.”
“Her name is Emily, and she is my sister,” Holly snarled touchily.
“All right, whatever you say. You two can have your own rooms, as I was saying. Breakfast is at eight thirty.” Jacob stated and walked up the stairs to his bedroom, leaving Holly and the rest of the guests alone.
“He is a strange one, that Jacob,” a guest told Holly. “He leaves when you least expect it. But he has a good heart, and throws good parties, so I am his friend. As for your friends, I expect that they will be fine. The boy’s wound was not deep, and so he will live. The other two did not have mortal wounds, anyways, so they will be fine as long as they do not run out of blood. Look, the black girl is waking up as we speak,” the girl pointed out. Indeed, Emily was slowly coming alive. She looked at the hole in her arm and spoke a single, profound word.
“Ow,” she proclaimed, trying to sit up. It was quite impossible, however, and she soon gave up.
“You’re alive!” Holly exclaimed, rushing toward her friend. Emily tried to at least lift her arms to hug her, but could not quite manage it, so gave Holly a small one arm embrace.
“Just barely. My arm hurts,” Emily told Holly. Holly brushed away a small tear. Whether it was from sadness, relief, or happiness, she didn’t know. Maybe it was a mix of all three. Whatever the cause, Emily was alive. The others would not wake for quite a while. But Holly could wait. She could always wait. The only problem was if Johnny would be alive to end the wait…
Emily’s arm really hurt. She remembered the dark, heavy blackness closing in on her, making her fall unconscious. You see, fainting is not like falling asleep. When you fall asleep, you never know when you’re going to sleep. But when you get knocked unconscious, you can tell when you’re about to go black. Figuratively, of course. Emily was already black. And woozy, by the fact that she was reasoning like this, so oddly, and making jokes about her skin. But she was alive, so that was one good thing. Now if only Billie and Johnny were awake, then they could rest for a while, and get back on the road. Yes, rest would be nice… peaceful rest… Emily fell asleep, exhausted from lack of blood.
When Johnny woke up, he was in a bed with crisp white sheets. His head and chest hurt badly. Emily and Holly were sitting anxiously by his bed. When they saw that he was awake, they screamed in delight.
“You’re alive!” Holly screeched, laughing with relief. “We were so worried! And Billie is here, too, but he had to stay in bed, so we came over here without him. He’s right over there.” She pointed to the other side of the room, where, if Johnny tilted his head, Billie was lying, fast asleep. Above him, a window pane was covered with white snow and frost. An icicle was hanging from the roof that was covering the window.
“What day is it?” he asked groggily. “I’m sure that we don’t get snow in September, even here.”
“It’s December, silly.” Holly told him. “In fact, it’s Christmas Day!”
Johnny struggled to get up. His wound wouldn’t allow it, though, and so he fell back to his bed.
“What’s wrong?” Holly asked, trying to peel back the bandages covering Johnny’s chest to check on the gaping hole underneath.
“I’ve been out for that long?” Johnny gasped, pushing the warm hands off of his chest and trying again to get up.
“Sort of. It’s like you were asleep, but you let us give you food and water. Jacob is very nice. He’s taken us in since September, and given us all the food we need.” Emily answered, trying to explain something she herself didn’t understand.
“Whatever. Well, I’m alive, and that is what matters, no?” Johnny grinned sleepily.
“Yes, that is what matters. We were so scared that you would die these past few weeks…” Holly broke off, wiping her forehead. A single tear escaped her eyes and betrayed her calm face. Johnny smiled.
“Merry Christmas, then, Holly.”
“What a wonderful Christmas present!” she smiled at him. There was nothing more Johnny wanted to do at the moment but sit up and kiss her. But his own body would not allow that, so it would just have to wait. After a moment, he succumbed to the exhaustion that was pressing on his head and fell asleep.
Holly sighed and turned from the sleeping boy.
“Now we know that he is alive, and I can sleep.”
“Yes, you can.” Emily pushed Holly towards her bedroom door. “You haven’t slept in days. Now he is awake, and you can actually sleep. So do it.” She shoved Holly onto the soft white bed. Holly smiled and lay down on the bed. It was so comfortable, she could just sleep forever. Sleep sounded nice… soon she was conked out. Emily smiled at her and left the room. The wooden walls of the cottage loomed triangularly out at her. She made for the kitchen downstairs, slowly meandering down the hall. The peace and quiet of this house was very nice. Everything was white and clean. Jacob was never there, as he made frequent trips to New York City to find a job and a new house. Apparently, this one wasn’t quite good enough. The bedrooms were really large, yes, and the kitchen had one of those new kinds of ovens, and a stove as well, and an icebox, but that wasn’t good enough. He wanted a house in the city, with gas lamps and wealth, as opposed to candles and relative poverty. Not that this was a poor house. In fact, it could rival even Holly’s old house in Virginia. The one that they had to get back to. They had left almost six months ago. Surely people were worried about them. They had left only one note for Holly’s mother, and that was hidden in the secret room with Charles. So Esther might figure it out, and she might not. Holly didn’t care, because they were really close to her father, and so they would be back much more quickly than they had gotten here. It was only a two day’s ride in a wagon to New York City, where Abraham was. If all went well, then they would ask Jacob if Holly could go with him to retrieve her father, and by the time they got back, Johnny would be well enough to move, and they could get taken back home by Jacob, who loved traveling. But for now, he was away, and he would not return for at least three days. Usually it was longer, as he stayed for several days in the city to do business. He had left about two days ago. Emily opened the icebox and removed a small jug of milk, which she poured into a glass and drank quickly. It tasted good and creamy, like it had just come from the cow yesterday. As a matter of fact, it had. She made herself a dried meat and cheese sandwich with some remnants of breakfast, which had consisted of cornbread, some of Jacob’s precious cheese, and bacon. What a Christmas celebration, Holly had snorted, but gulped up the delicious meal just the Tome. The sandwich was perfect. It was crispy and sweet and salty and soft, all at the Tome time. It was too bad that Jacob hadn’t been there to celebrate with them. Ah well, he would be there in a few days. But hey, this was a very good Christmas anyways. Emily had never really gotten any presents, but almost nobody did, so that was okay. And now Johnny had come back to them, so there sort of had been a Christmas present. But all of this was making much of something that they had always known would happen. Emily settled down at the crude kitchen table to eat her sandwich and think.
Billie sat there, pretending to be asleep, listening to the girls exclaim over Johnny’s wakening. Holly had not left his side for three days, and was growing quite tired on Christmas when Johnny awoke. Now Billie sat up, looking over at Johnny. He had been sleeping quietly for a while, and whispered at him.
“Johnny, are you awake?”
“Rather tired, but awake,” came the scratchy answer. “I see that you were only pretending to be asleep. Johnny was astute for one who had been in a comatose state for most of two months.
“Oh, yes. I do not like being exclaimed over, so I feign sleep whenever the girls come in. I see that you fancy one of those two, and so allow yourself to be woken. An interesting practice, but I was young once, as well.” Billie teased, commenting on Johnny’s hidden interest in Holly.
“Not fair,” Johnny chuckled. “I’m sure that you still dream sometimes. Me? I only dream of things that do not happen, and cannot. What girl would like an outlaw?”
“One who is an outlaw herself, perhaps?” Billie suggested.
“Oh.” Johnny pondered this for a minute. “Well, you have a point in that, but what of it? Holly does not like me much, or at least hardly at all.”
“Must you be so redundant? Holly does like you, and you know it.” Billie cracked his neck and grinned at Johnny, who smiled slowly back. They were friends, bonded by pain and work. Everyone knew it. And deep inside Billie’s soul, there was still a little teenage person trying to escape from where it had been pushed when he went to war.
“I know that I am very redundant, I try to make my point stronger that way,” Johnny explained.
Billie frowned, trying to figure out this logic. “Hmm. Well, I think that only saying a thing once is much easier to follow and follow up. Do you not agree?”
“Maybe,” Johnny wiggled his ears, causing his companion to burst out laughing. “But back to the point that I was trying to make. Holly does not like me, unless you have been told that by her, herself.”
“I have, maybe…” Billie trailed off, leaving Johnny to figure out this riddle. Johnny laughed.
“Are you playing with me, sir?”
“Since when have you called me sir?” Billie asked, confused.
“Since I regained my manners, sir. You see, you are an adult, and my father always told me to address my elders as sir or ma’am.”
“What of Emily, then? She is older than you and you still call her by her name.”
“That is quite different!” Johnny protested. “She is only a year older than me, and just barely that. She isn’t my elder in any way but age.”
Billie snorted at that. “Listen to yourself! Your elder in anything but age? That is the very meaning of elder!”
“Just as Cromwell was a king in everything but title. Do you not understand?” Johnny produced this information quickly.
“So Emily is only your elder by title, and not height or maturity?” Billie gasped with pain and laughter.
“Okay, okay, you win. But she…”
“She calls everyone sir, miss, ma’am, or master. Everyone.” Billie produced even more information.
“Humph. She does this on orders only, and not because she has been brought up that way.”
“But she is not a slave any longer, but a full member of the Swift household,” Billie wiggled one eyebrow, causing Johnny to crack up.
“I give up, sir. She is my elder, I suppose. But not willingly. I mean that I do not suppose that willingly, not that she is not my elder willingly.” Johnny told Billie confusingly.
“Umm…” Billie took a moment to sort that sentence out. “Oh, I see what you are saying. Yes. Well, Holly told me that she favors you.”
Johnny looked up, impressed. “How did you get her to tell you?”
“I asked.” Billie stated this plainly. “I’m sure that she would tell you that as well if you asked nicely, telling her that you liked her yourself.”
“What? I asked her before, and she said no, she did not like me in any other way but as a friend.” Johnny exclaimed. Then he pondered for a moment, and nodded. “I see. Okay, I’ll ask again. But I will not mention you, do not worry.” Johnny added, seeing Billie’s face.
“Good. Here comes Emily!” Billie warned, lying down again and closing his eyes only seconds before Emily entered the room, carrying two sandwiches for the boys.
“Billie, I know that you’re awake. And Johnny, I’m glad to see you alive and well once more. Here is some lunch for the both of you. Enjoy!” Emily laid down her sandwiches and walked out of the room.
“That was dramatic,” Johnny commented coolly.
“Correct. It was. Emily always will be a girl, so she will usually be rather dramatic about everything that she does.” Billie added, overruling Johnny’s sarcasm.
“Eh. Well, what were we saying?” Johnny asked.
“Something about going to sleep?” Billie yawned, growing tired.
“Maybe you’re right, sir. I’ll see you later in this timeless mess,” Johnny said before turning over and closing his eyes. Billie nodded and lay down. It was a timeless mess, indeed. Either they were asleep or they were awake, with nothing to do but eat, sleep, and talk. They couldn’t get out of bed, but they couldn’t just sit there, so they fell asleep again. What an existence. What a long, boring life they lived. Billie had been ‘awake’ since November the fifteenth. He had understood what was going on since December first. Grabbing a sandwich, he thought about all of the goings on. First Emily had been shot, then him, then Johnny, apparently. And then Holly had scared Henry off. And then they had sat there, waiting for life or death, whichever came first, to appear. And it had been life, thank God. It had been life.
Holly was so tired. She had slept for several hours, but to no avail. Her head refused to clear, her heart to mend, her body to rest. Nothing was clear anymore, except that Father had been waiting since July for a rescue party that had not come yet. Who knew what could happen in five months? Anything. And if their luck held out, then it would be the worst. They had been stopped for months on end, waiting for Johnny to wake up from a seemingly never-ending sleep. The map had floated away in the night onto the ocean. But they had had some good luck, too. They had wandered into the house of Jacob, who was also from the south, and who went to New York often. They had found horses to take them down the road. Johnny was brave enough to retrieve the map. Maybe there had been more good luck than bad luck after all. But then they would probably be overdue for something bad to happen. Or maybe there was no reason to worry about mundane matters like luck. After all, they were here, weren’t they? Wasn’t that all that mattered, in the end? Everyone was alive, although just barely. Holly wasn’t sure if Johnny could survive anything else. But they had to press on, come what may. Now that he had woken up, they were good to go if Jacob would drive them back to their wagon. But how would that work? After all, they had left it at a dead end, marked with only an X on the map. But all in good time, yes? They would figure something out when they were ready. But for now, they had to figure out how to get Father back. If she could sneak to New York with Jacob… he wouldn’t let her go otherwise. Not unless she hid the entire time. Then when they got to New York, she could pop out, get her father, and… then what? They couldn’t both sneak back, then just say, ‘Surprise!’ to Jacob. He’d kick them out, probably. And that would not be good. So she had to get permission to go, or be able to take a different wagon or something to get there. But the only person around here who had another wagon, or something like, was the one in jail at the moment for causing mass panic and attempting murder. Henry. She had to go see Henry.
Henry looked up from the small stone ledge where he was sitting. The bars prevented him from seeing the whole of her, but there she was. Holly. His savior, probably. He hadn’t hurt her, and she was now grateful. Hopefully.
“Whaddya want?” he snarled at her. Whoa. He didn’t usually sound that gruff. “Sorry. What do you want?” he tried again. Better, but still gruff. What had happened to his voice?
“I want your coach.” Holly tried to sound brave and failed miserably. “I need it to get to New York.”
Henry nearly laughed out loud. “You’re still trying to get to New York?” he spat the words out like they were something disgusting that had been in his cereal.
“But of course. I have to find my father.” Holly stepped up the bars, looking rather disdainful. This was not going well at all. No, not well at all.
“Of course. I only meant… well, aren’t your friends still hurt?” Henry tried a different tactic. Bad move. Holly flamed up. Her head reared back and she actually moved closer to the bars of the cell.
“Don’t you dare talk to me about your annoyingly, incredibly stupid antics. Johnny will be fine, I’ll have you know. He is recovering quite well. He actually woke up yesterday.” Holly threw the words at Henry. He ducked. Well, flinched, more like. How dare she speak to him like that? He had spared her life.
“Oh. How… how nice,” he stuttered. Look at this. Henry of Waterscrest Plantation, stuttering. “I mean, that’s… that’s… that’s ridiculous! How could he live through that? I hit him in the chest! The… the chest!” Henry protested. He was still stuttering! How embarrassing.
“Yes, but we carried all of our clothes on our backs. He was wearing three shirts. Your bullet barely penetrated his heart, and we got it out fast. He will live,” Holly said, clenching and unclenching her fists.
“How do you know?” Henry asked stupidly. “I mean, if he woke up today for the first time in four months?”
“I know because he did wake up. And he’ll stay that way. Forever and ever UNTIL HE DIES.” Holly lost her temper and started screaming unheard words at Henry, who had by now crawled under the stone ledge and was cowering in fear. “So, will you give me the coach?” Holly regained herself and backed away from the bars which she had been clutching with white knuckles.
“Yes, yes, whatever you want.” Oh, Henry, you’re such a big coward, he told himself. “Take it!” he just couldn’t stop the words coming out of his mouth. He heard himself stutter something to a guard, who led Holly out of the room. It sounded like “Please… please give this amazing, lovely lady my carriage. She needs it more than I do in this God-forsaken place.” Oh, how strange these words sounded, coming out of his mouth, as if he hadn’t had any control over his mouth as he spoke them. Or maybe he didn’t have any control over his brain. How terribly odd. Holly pranced back into the room a second later.
“Thank you, kind sir. I’ll be sure to note your generosity to the judges if they ever decide to actually try you to see if you are worthy to get out of here.” Holly smirked, then curtsied and waltzed out of the room. Henry growled at the bars and rolled his eyes. The arrogance of some people these days…
Holly drove home in the new coach. Emily was sitting on the porch, swinging on a hanging loveseat. Her face was pale and she looked really tired. She waved half-heartedly as Holly drove up. Seeing the expression on her friend’s face, Holly jumped out of the coach and hurried onto the veranda.
“What is it, Emily? What’s wrong?” Holly asked, studying Emily’s face for untold answers.
“It’s Johnny. He’s…” Emily closed her eyes and opened them. “I think he’s dying.” Holly was on the verge of running from the porch, up the stairs, into Johnny and Billie’s room, and standing over Johnny, begging him to live, when she remembered the horses.
“I have to do something with the horses first. They are really nervous, and I think that they would probably run off if we let them.” In fact, they were straining to budge the parked carriage at that very moment.
“I’ll take care of the horses. Johnny asked me to tell you to go up as soon as you got home. Nice wagon, by the way.” Emily offered, starting to get up to tend to the jumpy horses. Holly nodded her thanks and ran inside. Johnny’s room was the last door on the left, and Holly kicked it open, banging the wall on the other side. Billie jumped. He had been kneeling by Johnny’s bed. The sheets were slowly turning a faded red color, and Holly had a feeling that it wasn’t Tomato juice.
“What’s happening? Is there something I can do?” she asked quickly. Billie shrugged and pointed at Johnny. The short, thin boy looked even more small because of the large bed, and pale from blood loss. He did, indeed, look half-dead. But his eyes were open. Holly leaned over Johnny and whispered a prayer to the heavens. Johnny smiled slightly.
“I really am alive, although probably not for long. I believe that I am dying. It’s okay, though. It doesn’t seem like I can be of any more use to you, and that is what I signed up for. The wound stayed unnoticed for long enough that I believe it got infected. I might be wrong, of course, but I have never hurt worse, even at the hands of Henry. I mean, the earlier encounter. You know what I mean. But I really do think that I am almost dead now.”
“No, you’re not!” Holly protested. “You have to live. We really do need you, even if you don’t think so.”
“Nobody needs me,” Johnny countered, “I am too injured to be of any use to anyone.”
“Maybe now, but when it gets well, then you will be perfect again.” Holly covered her mouth too late. Johnny saw the gesture and smiled slightly.
“So I was perfect before?” he asked. Holly made faces for a minute to give herself some time to think.
“Not quite perfect,” she answered after a minute or two of hard thought. “You were only perfect twice.”
“When was I perfect?” Johnny sounded interested.
“When you woke up.” Holly smiled at him and left the room to let him think on that. She hoped that she had been cryptic enough. She probably had. But for now, she had to pack. She and Billie had to get on the road the next time that Jacob came back and left, so they had to pack essentials for three. That included food, water, and clothing. Holly sighed and walked into her bedroom. She had to start packing.
Johnny pondered over Holly’s answer to his question. He was only perfect when he woke up? But which two times was his waking perfect? Probably when everyone had thought that he was dead, that was one. The other was probably when he had woken up just yesterday. Yeah, that was probably it. So Holly thought that he was perfect? Amazing. And he hadn’t even had to ask. So Emily and he were probably going to stay there with Jacob while Holly and Billie went to New York. That shouldn’t be too awkward, Johnny thought sarcastically. Then he remembered that ‘Emily was his elder,’ and shrugged, causing his shoulder to just about disintegrate. “OWWW!” he moaned loudly. Billie stared at him for a moment, but he managed to shrug again without crying out in pain and the older man turned away, frowning sympathetically. What Johnny wouldn’t give to be well and whole and, according to Holly, perfect. But that was life, and he lay there, mangled and imperfect. Billie walked out of the room, calling to Johnny, “Be back soon!” He was probably going to talk to Holly about packing and things. Oh, if only there was room for one more in that coach. But there was only room for two, and that had to be reasoned with before they could leave anyways. Johnny closed his eyes and managed to roll over (painfully) onto his side to go to sleep. Painful, awful sleep.
Billie sat on the porch with Holly two days later, discussing the trip to come. They were expecting Jacob back soon, and so they were finally packed and ready. Their suitcases lay open in Emily’s room, where Jacob never dared walk, in case he got attacked by an angry Emily, as she had kicked him in the rear when he got back from his previous trip. He had tried to make sure that she wasn’t doing naughty things in there, and she kicked him out. Literally. Of course, this could be explained by the fact that they were actually doing naughty things in there, namely plotting to escape to New York to get Holly’s father back. Which was rather naughty, considering that Jacob had taken them in so graciously. But still, she had to do it, and it had provided them with a space to store everything that they needed on the trip. Suddenly, wagon wheels could be heard crunching on the rocks in the driveway.
“It’s Jacob!” Holly shouted to Emily, who had been listening from a window upstairs. Emily poked her head out, nodded once, and closed the window with a bang. They all knew what to do. Emily would get the luggage. Holly would ask Jacob how long he would stay this time. Billie would take the bags and trunks from Emily and stow them away in the carriage. Finally, when they would be about to leave whenever Jacob left, Emily would go into her room with Holly and Billie and they would leave via the roof. Her window looked right over the roof of the front porch, thus making it a safe way to get to the coach hidden in the barn near the other side, which had a ladder in the loft, and a window next to the porch connected to the loft. It was foolproof! Completely foolproof.
“Hey! How are y’all?” Jacob called from the somewhat dirty wagon.
“We’re good, you?” Holly replied as he hopped from the wagon and clicked for someone to manage the wagon. Billie emerged from the house carrying some trunks, which Jacob was considerate enough to ignore completely. He piled them inside the wagon and drove it into the barn. Jacob nodded appreciatively at this service.
“I’m fine, thank you. I got what seems like a proper job on Monday, so I’ll be going back to New York in about two days.”
Holly groaned, hoping that she sounded realistic. “Again? Will we ever be able to fully appreciate your hospitality?” she asked him.
“Maybe someday. But how was your Christmas?” Jacob asked her merrily.
“Well, Johnny woke up.” Holly grinned at Jacob happily, showing her true emotions for just a second.
“Really? That is simply marvelous!” Jacob smiled broadly and lifted Holly up, grabbing her by the hands and twirling her like she was a little girl. “So where is the surviving veteran, hmm?”
“He is upstairs, of course!” Holly pointed towards the window she knew to be Johnny’s.
“Well, then I will go to see him! Oh, this is marvelous!” Jacob fairly danced upstairs. He really wanted them out of his house, Holly thought. He never said anything, but they all knew it. He was growing tired of the many southerners there, reminding him with their obvious accents of home and the life that would await him there, given the chance. But he had made up his mind to become a Union citizen. Surely soon he would remember his senses and try to return, but he had surely sold his soul to some evil being for him to try to become a Yankee, those most misunderstanding of people. They refused to see the good in people, even when that good was staring them in the face, or even punching them in the nose. How could Jacob want to become that? He must be crazy. Surely that was all. He was crazy, or going to be so soon. They had to get out of there quickly, or face the wrath of a Yankee. They had to get out. Thank the Lord that he would be gone in just two days. Two days in which they had to get ready. Ready to escape.
Esther was so worried. Mother had regained her strength faster than anyone thought possible, and after several months of grueling pain, she had finally become well again. But Holly had been missing since August, and nobody knew what had happened to her. Billie was gone as well, and Emily. They did not matter too much, in themselves, except as one more mouth to feed, but just the fact that they were missing was enough. And apparently, Johnny Bradshaw had been missing ever since Holly, Emily, and Billie had left too. They were probably together, getting into who knew what kind of mischief. But where? And why would Emily and Billie go as well? All Esther had found was a single note, telling her that they hoped to be back within the month. If not, she was not to worry, because they would be back within a year at most. Well, it had been almost half of a year, now, and no sign of them. Holly had better have a really good story to get out of this one.
The day had arrived. Holly watched as Jacob’s little wagon crunched out of the driveway. The sound was all she had to go on for a minute as the road twisted out of sight, and then it faded as well.
“All right, let’s go!” she raced into Billie and Johnny’s room. “Billie! Time to go!”
As planned, he was ready and waiting by the door. Suddenly, Johnny cried out. “Holly! Don’t go yet.”
“Why not?” the young girl was immediately concerned. “Are you still hurting? Should we call this off for now?”
“No, no, no. It’s nothing like that. In fact, I am very well. Let me demonstrate.” Johnny stood up, slowly and shakily, to prove his point. This was surprising, but it was nothing compared to Holly’s shock when he walked over to her and kissed her on the lips.
“Nope, you’re still sick,” she managed to say. “After all, who in their right mind would have done that? I would slap you, were it not for the fact that it would hurt you a lot more than it would… some other boys.” In truth, she would never have slapped him, but was very worried about him walking at that time. Who cared about kisses? As long as he didn’t get injured, then everything was okay.
“Okay, then. But I am quite well, Holly. Not well enough to travel long distances, maybe, but well enough to walk from the bed to you. I’ll always be well enough to walk to you. Always.” Johnny hugged her hurriedly, rather embarrassed at himself, and staggered back to bed. Holly smiled at him.
“Don’t walk again until I get back, hero. You’re not strong enough, no matter what you say. You understand me?” Holly was businesslike once again. Johnny nodded once, and then lay down. “Billie! Time to go, remember?” Holly turned to Billie and walked towards Emily’s room on the other side of the hall.
“I thought that you were the one that forgot!” Billie reminded her. Holly shrugged and jumped onto Emily’s windowsill.
“Whatever. Just go.” Holly slid onto the roof and grabbed the wall to stop from falling off. Who knew that the ledge was that small? Billie climbed out after her and almost fell off as well.
“Whoa. That’s tiny,” he complained, scrambling up the shingled surface. How rare that was, a shingled roof, instead of plain thatch or wood or tin. Jacob just didn’t know how good he had it. Holly slowly sashayed towards the window of the barn several feet away. It was tough going, as the shingles were very old and rather slippery for lack of actual covering. Finally they made it to the large window and Holly slipped inside. Billie followed her. They were inside the barn, in the old sawdust-covered loft. The hay stored there was several years old and moldy, and the ladder was missing several rungs. Holly had to be VERY careful on the way down, that she didn’t miss a rung, or step onto air where a rung was supposed to be. But they made it safely down to the ground, and into the coach. Holly sat inside, organizing the luggage, as Billie hooked up the horses. They were off in about half of an hour. The horses were fresh and clean from the long rest, and moved fast down the road. Holly soon discovered why it took two days for Jacob to get to New York. They passed him on the way. He was trying desperately to free his horses from the grass that they were chewing morosely, refusing to pull the wagon until they had had their fill. Jacob did not recognize them because of the spectacular paint job on the coach, which had been painted a sloppy black color in case someone recognized it. This was probably a good thing, as it was so shabbily done that it could have been a stagecoach, the infamous carriages that got held up and whose paint blistered in the hot sun of the west. They did not run in the winter much for any snow that happened to fall. Thus, their paint got so bad that they were known as the sloppiest ride in the west. Not that Holly had ever been west. That was just the rumor, of course. It probably wasn’t true at all, but Jacob probably believed it. He either believed something or was really, really skeptical of it. In this case, he didn’t look too surprised to see a sloppy black coach driving down the road. Holly watched as his horses looked slowly up at the coach, decided that it was nothing, and sank down to the grass again. Thank goodness.
Other than that, the trip was completely uneventful. They made it to New York in a single day, because of the short distance that they had not counted on. The street slowly widened and more and more houses filled the sides. They were large and painted bouncily, like the houses were made of laughter. Some shops lined the streets they passed.
“Okay, we’re looking for West Avenue,” Holly told Billie, who was driving. He looked down at her for a moment, then up at the sign ahead.
“I’d say that we were there, Holly.” He pointed at the small street sign. It did indeed read “West Avenue.”
“All right, we’re looking for 1802 West Avenue, then.” Holly responded without hesitation. She had long since memorized her father’s address. The street was long and wide, and filled with all sorts of shops. Tailor shops, barber shops, grocery stores, and… a tobacco store! “There it is!” Holly pointed at the small tobacco shop. It looked rather out of place amongst all of the other stores. There was an apartment on top, with two large windows that would be very nice, granted that they were open. But they were closed, and the sign outside the shop said “Closed for the Weekend, Gone Shopping.”
“Darn. He’s not here.” Holly sighed. Just one more roadblock on the way to home. She hopped out of the coach. There was absolutely no chance that the door to the shop would be open. The goods inside were too valuable for the store to be left open while Father was gone. She tentatively tried the handle. To her enormous surprise, it was unlocked. She slowly opened the door. It creaked heavily on its hinges. The little shop was quite clean inside. The bins of tobacco gleamed in the sunlight streaming from the open doorway. The floor looked like it had been polished recently, and the hard wood shone with vigor, showing off for Holly’s amusement. The counters were the only dusty part of the store. They had not been cleaned in quite a while.
“Very strange,” Holly murmured. Suddenly, a voice from behind the counter spoke up.
“Holly? Is that you, girl?” the voice was gruff and familiar. A man, clothed in shadow, stood up and walked around the counter. “It is you! Oh, my girl!”
“Father!” Holly screamed and ran into his outstretched arms. He scooped her up and twirled her around, just like Jacob had done only two days ago. She giggled and put her hands on his balding head. “You are so silly, Father!” she laughed. Then she noticed his leg. “Oh, Father! What did you do to yourself?”
His leg was an ugly and grotesque shape that nobody could quite make out.
“I injured myself in battle, Holly. No need for alarm.” Father straightened himself. “Do not worry, I can still walk and ride horseback, and write and play chess. Just like normal. I just need to wear pants, not short britches. So how is Mother? How is Esther? Are they all right? Why didn’t they come?”
“I don’t know how they are because I haven’t seen them in about four months. We got sidetracked on the way and just now managed to make it here.”
“And I had thought that you had forgot about your poor old father,” the man laughed and twirled Holly about. Then he noticed her clothing. “Holly, dear, your clothing is so torn up! What is wrong?”
“Well, we only brought two pairs, and we could not find places to wash them, and it got torn up when I used it as a bandage for Emily’s arm. She got shot in the arm and is still healing, you see.”
“She got shot in the arm?” Father looked a bit more alarmed than Holly had ever seen him.
“It’s okay, Father, she’ll live. I mean, if Johnny is still alive although he got shot in the heart…” Holly paused, waiting for Father’s reaction. When it came, it was violent.
“Johnny came too? And he was shot in the heart? Oh Lord my God, please help me.” Father looked heavenwards. “So did you get shot, honey?” he looked at Holly again, searching for wounds.
“No, Father, I’m fine. In fact, I’m more than fine. Now that I’ve found you, I’m perfectly well. For you see, I didn’t get shot. Billie did, as well as Emily and Johnny, but they’re perfectly well now, except for Johnny. He’s still healing. But Billie’s in the coach, waiting for us to come out and get him, you know.”
Father stood up, mopping his brow and looking for all the world like an old man, one who had seen way too much.
“Let’s go get him, then. And then we’re getting you some new clothes. Those old rags won’t be good for much this winter.” Father noticed Holly’s goose bumps where her sleeves had been torn up. They walked outside to where Billie was sitting on the coach’s seat. “Well, so you’re the famed Billie?” Father asked.
“Yessir. And I’m here to take your place so that you can go home with your daughter, if that’s okay.”
“It’s more than okay! Come on inside, and I’ll fetch you some coffee, and cocoa for Holly.” Father motioned for Billie to hop off of the coach, which he did with obvious pleasure, and walked inside. The two travelers followed him and jumped up the steps into his cozy little apartment.
“It’s not much, but it’s home.” Father gestured towards two chairs on the side. Billie took one eagerly, but Holly was not so keen, and stood by her father’s side as he made some cocoa.
“So how are you, sir? Healing well?” Billie asked by way of conversation.
“Just barely, but I will be quite all right as soon as I get home. How are you doing yourself? I heard that you got shot sometime earlier.”
“Yessir. But it’s healing quickly. I am almost fine now, and can function fully.”
“What, are you a robot now?” Father laughed. Ah, it was good to hear him laugh. Holly sighed with pleasure. Father finished grinding the coffee and put it into the pot to boil. He started boiling some water as well for Holly’s hot chocolate. Holly grinned at him and sat down on the other chair, leaving the whole couch on the other side empty. “So, have you much experience with tobacco?”
“Yessir. I was grown up in Virginia, sir.” Billie’s accent grew slightly deeper as he spoke to the wounded man. “I knows tobacco well, sir.”
“Good for you, soldier. But lose the accent. People will notice, and I’ve had a good New York accent for quite some time now. At least you look the part of a battle worn soldier.”
“That I do, sir. Most likely because I am one, sir.” Billie chuckled at his joke. Father finished with the coffee and started pouring the steaming brew into two mugs. He turned and gave one to Billie, who accepted it gratefully. Holly grinned at Father and went to grab her cocoa. It was steaming and piping hot, so she had to wait for a while to drink it, but she smelled the steam, and that was quite good all by itself. Oh, how good it would feel to have new clothes on her back, to be back in Virginia with Mother and Esther, and for them all to be well again. What she wouldn’t give for that!
Holly finished drinking her now a bit cooler hot chocolate. Father looked at her from the sofa.
“How would you like to go shopping, Holly? To get some new clothes, and a haircut, and a warm bath?”
“Oh, my,” Holly sighed dreamily. “I’ll go shopping, sure enough, if I get all that.”
“Well, let’s go then!” Father jumped off of the couch and deposited his mug in the barrel that served as a sink. Holly put her mug in as well and hopped down the stairs, listening to Father giving Billie instructions.
“Nobody much comes in here when the sign is up, as I have dogs, apparently, that bark whenever the bell tingles. Honestly, the barking is from next door, but nobody needs to know that, and so they don’t enter the shop when my sign is up. Don’t let anyone in, and lock the door if you don’t feel safe. Understood?”
“Understood, sir.” Billie replied. Father hurried down the stairs after Holly and they trampled out of the door.
“To the barber first, shall we?” Father offered Holly his arm.
“To the barber.” Holly agreed, and they walked boldly down the street. The barber was, of course, open for business. He looked up and clicked his tongue at Holly as she answered.
“That hair is no good. I will fix it for one dollar.”
“A high price,” Father chuckled gently. “But I will pay. Do your best, sir. Make my Holly a gentlewoman.”
For the next half-hour, Holly directed the seemingly French barber the way she wanted her hair to look. It was still quite long, and beautiful, but curly. She left the shop with her head held high. Her curls cascaded down her head, contrasting mightily with the dirty and ripped clothing she wore. The next stop was the tailor’s place. This stop took a little longer, as Holly had to be measured all around her body for perfectly fitting clothes. In the end, they decided to come back the next day, as the tailor didn’t have any other customers. The next place on the list was home, to take a nice, long bath. They tramped through the cold and snow and made it back in record time. Holly jumped up the stairs to the apartment and nearly knocked down the bathroom door in her haste. Billie had already been preparing water for the bath, and steam was curling up from the tub in pretty little waves. Holly quickly locked the door and got in, barely remembering to remove the dirty clothing first. Ah, my how that felt good. So good.
Johnny and Emily were having quite a time guessing what was happening without them.
“Surely they’re having more adventures without us!” Johnny decided.
“Oh, no. not without us. They couldn’t have adventures without us; we’re the ones that cause them so much bad luck in the first place.” Emily fingered the four-leaf clover that had been pressed and covered in glass that she wore on a necklace. She wore it always, no matter what happened, to give her luck.
“You don’t honestly believe in luck, do you?” Johnny asked her warily.
“Oh, not really. But you never know, right? I mean, anything could happen, and it’s probably a good idea to have luck on your side, right?”
“Probably,” Johnny agreed, sighing in defeat. “But just the Tome, there is no such thing as luck.”
“Whatever. But I’m keeping my necklace, no matter what YOU say.” Emily bared her teeth at Johnny. He laughed.
“Okay, okay. What, did your BOYFRIEND give it to you?” he teased. Emily reddened slightly.
“No. I have no boyfriend. That you know of,” she added under her breath. Johnny didn’t catch the barely spoken words and so just shrugged and turned away. “Whatever. Where did you get that, then?”
“I got it on my old plantation, and it reminds me of my best friend there, John.”
“Your boyfriend?” Johnny asked. Emily growled at him. “Never mind.”
“I thought not.” Emily nodded, satisfied with herself.
“So where do you think they are?” Johnny asked, going back to the first topic of conversation.
“New York, by now.”
“Already?” Johnny asked skeptically.
“Of course. We went pretty fast when you think about it, and they have that ugly old coach now, too.” Emily answered without a moment’s hesitation.
“Okay, maybe you’re right.”
“I am your elder, after all.” Emily looked quite satisfied with herself.
“Don’t remind me,” Johnny grumbled. The two stared at each other for a second, and then burst out laughing.
“Whatever.” Emily pushed Johnny’s head gently, trying not to hurt him.
“Hey!” he pushed her head as well.
“No fair! That hurt!” Emily laughed.
“So what?” Johnny replied, chuckling. “I think that means I’m getting well.”
“Maybe it does, short stuff. Maybe it does.”
Holly felt quite refreshed the next morning as they walked into town again to pick up her new clothes. She had requested them to be long, wispy, and blue. Blue was her favorite color of all time. They entered the shop, listening to the bell ring.
“Hello, hello! Come in!” the big lady boomed from the corner. “I have some clothes for you!” She held out the dress and petticoats. They were perfectly fitted, and the dress was just barely blue, more black and purple than actual blue. It was quite dark, but rather thin, so there was an under dress of a lighter color, but it was thicker and made of heavy cotton that was nice enough that it didn’t scratch Holly’s skin as she pulled it on that afternoon. The petticoats were made of lace and felt good when they swished around her feet. All in all, she was ready to go home. They were both ready to go home.
Billie waved from the doorstep as Father hopped onto the coach, barely recognizable in a tuxedo. They were about to leave, and Holly was grateful. The two days there had been perfect, but it was time to go home. They had to go home.
Johnny and Emily looked up as the coach crunched down the gravel driveway.
“They’re home!” Emily nearly screamed as she raced outside. Johnny followed, limping slightly. Holly jumped lightly from the coach and ran to embrace her friends. She was only wearing the cotton dress, so as to save the other one for when they made it home. Johnny whistled at her.
“You look like a rose. Maybe now it’s time to call you by you real name, Rosemary.” Johnny announced. Holly shook her head.
“I don’t like my real name. It just isn’t me. I like being a Swift. Even if I’m not.” She looked at father. He smiled in approval.
“Nobody would know you with your new name, you know.”
“But I like knowing them. And they like me, just the way I am, with my REAL name.” Holly was sure of this, as sure as she was of knowing that the sky was blue in the daytime.
“Good for you, Holly.” Emily hugged her friend again. “Let’s go home, girlie. Let’s go home.”
The ride home was rather long and uneventful. In fact, all that ended up happening was them getting lost on the way to the wagon. But they found it quickly afterwards and split up, Johnny and Holly taking the wagon, and Emily and Father taking the coach. Emily winked at Holly, and Holly laughed. She just laughed.
“What?” Emily asked happily.
“Oh, come on. Don’t pretend! You think that we’re in love or something.” Holly guessed. Emily nodded, smiling broadly.
“What else? I mean, he,” she made kissing noises, “you.”
“Whatever. We’re not ENGAGED or something.” Holly rolled her eyes and chucked some pretend flowers out of the window. Emily almost died laughing.
“Can I come to the wedding?” she asked, bending over with laughter.
“Of course, silly. If there is one, which there won’t be.” Holly decided firmly. Johnny beamed at her goofily. He looked happier than Holly had ever seen him, and that was saying something.
“What’s up, silly? Not you, Emily. Johnny.” Holly looked at him, and he stopped smiling immediately.
“Nothing, I’m just happy to be going home.” But his eyes decided otherwise. He was staring straight at Holly’s eyes. It was rather disorienting, in fact.
“Um… no comment,” Holly grinned lopsidedly. Johnny smiled back. Then Holly slapped him on the head and he stopped grinning quite so much.
“What was that for?” he asked bemusedly.
“That was for kissing me.” Holly frowned at him, and then out of the blue, she reached out and hugged him.
“And what was THAT for?” Johnny asked, even more confused now.
“That was for kissing me, idiot!” Holly answered.
“Oh, right.” Johnny wiggled one eyebrow.
“Whatever, goofy. Now no monkey business or I will force you to walk.” Holly sighed, rolling her eyes.
“Anything for you!” Johnny laughed.
“Whatever.” Holly repeated firmly. “Now take this,” she told him, pushing a shotgun into hands that were slowly creeping towards her.
“What for?” Johnny asked.
“To ward off creatures that might try to steal our valuable food, or anything that we might have.”
“Oh. Okay.” Johnny nodded at her and they didn’t speak for quite a time. Later, when the sun had set, Holly pushed Johnny out of the wagon and told him to get into the coach and send Emily over.
“What is it, girlie? What’s wrong?” Emily asked, grabbing the shotgun that holly had taken from Johnny.
“Oh, nothing’s wrong. But I couldn’t stand having Johnny in here much longer. He really likes me, and I don’t really like him that much. I mean,” Holly blushed, “as much as he likes me. I think he was trying to kiss me. Again.”
“So why didn’t you let him?” Emily asked.
“I don’t want to get romantic at this time. I’ve got so much going for me, boys will just get in the way. Especially gross teenage boys. He’s older than me, but younger than you, and feels trapped in the middle, probably. So he wants to feel older by doing immature things like kissing girls.”
“Not just any girls, though. He wants YOU,” Emily pointed out.
“Whatever,” Holly replied.
“You’ve said that a lot lately.” Emily noticed.
“I just don’t seem to care much anymore. It’s like now that I’ve gotten what I wanted, I don’t have anything to live for.” Holly shrugged and started to pull the wagon towards the side of the road.
“I see what you mean, but I don’t approve. What do you want to do when you grow up?” Emily asked.
“I used to want to be a writer. Now it seems rather futile.”
“Why?” Emily looked at her friend, rather concerned.
“Well, why would a girl be able to write a book, or even a short story?”
“For her kids?” Emily supplied. Holly raised her eyebrows, considering.
“Possibly. But I don’t have kids.” Holly frowned at Emily.
“But within several years, if your mother does you the Tome way she did herself.”
“And then I’ll be married to someone I don’t like. I say we skip this conversation until it is entirely necessary.”
“Good idea.” Emily smiled and turned away. “What should we talk about, then? The past? The ugly past?”
“No, you’re right, the future is much more hopeful. Maybe I’ll just become a working woman, like so many others, or help with the war until it is over.”
“That would require much slitting of throats.”
“Never mind.” Holly looked quite disgusted at the thought. “Um… so…”
“So, do you like Johnny?” Emily almost burst out laughing while she said it.
“Do we have to go back to that AGAIN?” Holly asked in disbelief.
“Yes, yes, yes we do.” Emily made a face at Holly.
“Okay, then I do like him. Happy?”
“Not particularly. You like an outlaw!” Emily batted her lashes a few times.
“I’m an outlaw too, remember?” Holly reminded her friend.
“Oh, right.” Emily made another face. “But whatever.”
“HA!” Holly pointed at Emily.
“What?” Emily complained.
“You said whatever!” Holly pumped her fist into the air.
“Oh, fine, fine, fine. Be that way, then.” Emily rolled her eyes. Holly got out her mat of bedding and started to unroll it to go to sleep.
“See you in the morning, sunshine.” She yawned. They fell asleep quickly and quietly.
The rest of the trip was spectacularly ordinary. Nobody died, or even almost died, nobody got kissed, and nothing happened overall. So when they returned home, they were happy and bored out of their minds. Holly saw the plantation first.
“Oh my gosh! There it is!” she screamed. Heads turned in both wagon and coach as they approached. The trees lining the roads were gaining blossoms fast as spring approached. Holly sighed in relief.
“Oh, I hope that Mother is well, and Esther hasn’t been worrying about us.”
“Don’t worry,” Johnny assured her. “They’ll be fine.”
“But Mother wasn’t fine in the first place!” Holly exclaimed, quite worried.
“But surely she will be by now.” Emily patted Holly on the back. Holly felt encouraged, although rather distantly. They rounded many curves in the road before anyone managed to see the actual driveway. The coach turned up the drive first. The house had been refurbished while they were gone. While before it had been rather blue and a strange color, it was now white and shining brightly. The porch had been replaced with new boards, and a swing hung from the ceiling. The patch of ground where the cliff had been had grass sprouting from it, and a short little vine of honeysuckles hung from the little bush. The wall of the honeysuckle garden had been painted green to match the forest, so that it would be more secret, and the chicken coop had been painted to match the house. It was a beautiful sight to behold. Holly nearly screamed when she saw Mother sitting on the porch swing. The lady looked her age again, with rosy cheeks and a smile on her face, although she looked rather worried, and those wrinkles surely hadn’t been there before. Holly jumped from the wagon and ran, screaming, towards Mother. Father followed quickly, although he was silent. Mother looked up, as though from a distance, and saw the two running towards her. Maybe she thought that she was dreaming, because she quickly looked down towards her embroidery again. Or maybe she didn’t want them to see her cry. As Father caught up to Holly, she noticed that he was crying himself. Holly beamed at him, and he mopped his eyes with one trailing sleeve. They raced onto the porch, Holly noticing that the floor didn’t creak anymore. Mother stood up then, and called in her melodious voice that Holly had so missed, although she hadn’t realized it before then, “Esther! They’re home! Father and Holly are home!”
Holly ran and hugged her mother so tightly that she would swear for years afterward that she had heard Mother’s back crack. Father waited patiently for them to separate, then ran over and hugged his wife tightly, and kissed her, a little peck on the cheek. Holly looked away, giggling. Father tickled her on the stomach. Emily drove the wagon up to the porch just as Esther’s feet could be heard on the staircase. A moment later, they saw her slam the door to the porch open. She didn’t look anything like herself. Her hair was mussed up and the ribbon was sticking out and unraveling. Her dress was plain and dirty. Her feet were bare, and she looked quite tired. She wore no makeup what so ever.
“Oh, Holly! Oh, Father! You’re all right!” she cried happily, hastily wiping tears from her eyes. Johnny jumped from the coach behind them and ran up the porch steps, but nobody noticed. He put his hands over Holly’s eyes, and she screamed and turned around.
“What on earth?” she shouted at him. But then she regained her nerves and grinned. “Hey, can you take care of the horses?” she requested. Johnny nodded and ran off to take care of the wagon and the coach. Holly turned back around and resumed talking to Mother. Father and Emily were talking mega-fast to Esther, who was absorbing it all with the speed of a dry sponge. She nodded again and again, finally beaming at Father one last time and running inside. Emily nodded in victory and turned to Holly, who was talking to Mother about how she had gotten better.
“It was that man, Hank, who did it.”
“Henry?” Emily and Holly exclaimed at the Tome time.
“Yes, him. He came here sometime in the winter looking ragged and cold and waited until Esther was asleep and then he came upstairs and gave me some medicine. Of course, I’m mostly guessing, as I cannot remember much about this time. Then he woke me up, told me to tell Esther thank you, and left without another word. But I’ve gotten ever so much better since then, and I heard that he had disappeared after being released from jail. Jail, I tell you. Can you believe that?”
“No, not at all, not him,” Holly and Emily spoke at the Tome time, laughing slightly. Finally, Mother was well.
“So, who wants hot chocolate?” Esther appeared at the door with three steaming mugs and the promise of more to come for the rest. Everyone started clamoring for the delicious drink, and they all went inside, Johnny appearing at the very end and rushing inside to get the last mug. Holly beamed at him, and he wiggled his eyebrows again. Finally, they were home.
Emily made a decision later.
“I have a journey to make. I need some money, and I might need to take another person with me.”
“What for?” Father asked her.
“I want to free my friend, John.” Emily looked around at her assorted friends and family, daring any of them to contradict her. To her great surprise, Johnny spoke up from the corner of the room.
“Well, my mother is okay with me going on long journeys now, as long as they don’t take nine months again. I could go with you. We make good partners, don’t you know.”
“That’s true,” Emily agreed. “Yes, you go with me. It’ll be a Railroad Rescue like none we have ever seen before.”
Everyone agreed, and the two left the very next day.
“Well, they’re off to great adventures,” Holly remarked to Father. He smiled down at his quickly growing daughter and nodded.
“Yes. I am quite surprised that you didn’t offer to go with her, actually.”
“I almost did.” Holly frowned a little, waiting for her father’s reaction.
“Well, why didn’t you? I mean, they’re your best friends.” Father raised his eyebrows.
“Well, Emily is, but Johnny… he likes me, and I like him, but we’re much too young for that sort of thing.”
“Well, actually, you’re not, if you remember your lessons. As long as parents give their consent,”
“Girls over the age of thirteen can get married,” Holly finished, sighing. “I know. But I’m still too young, and you know it.”
“I know it.” Father fondled his daughter’s hair, messing it up and causing Holly to run several paces away.
“Don’t do that!” she screamed, laughing a little.
“No?” Father asked, tickling her. Holly screeched with laughter and ran away. A moment later she came back with her arms outstretched. Father held out his arms too, preparing for a hug, but Holly wasn’t about to hug him. She tickled him. They both laughed for a long time. Finally, Father straightened up.
“Well, let’s just wait and see what happens. I’m sure that they will do well together.”
“I’m sure they will,” Holly agreed.
Emily and Johnny were quite amiable on the journey. They went all the way to Georgia without much talking, but there was a peaceful silence that seemed rather delicate, and neither of them really wanted to break it. On the last day they talked, but of bargains they might strike, and offers they could make, and if they would allow Emily to be seen at all.
“Well, you did come from there, so surely someone would recognize you.” Johnny protested.
“But I was the one who decided to go in the first place, and besides, I want John to recognize me.” Emily contradicted.
Johnny sighed. “Very well, then, you will be seen. But I’ll do the talking.”
“I’ll agree to that one,” Emily blinked a few times, nodding a little. “You’re supposed to be the master, after all.”
“True, true. So come on, I think we’re almost there.” They rounded a curve in the road and reached the plantation. It was surrounded by slowly blooming cotton plants. Emily nearly jumped out of the coach in an effort to reach the place quickly. This was her old home, like Virginia was to Holly. Johnny slowed her, though.
“You need to learn to act more like a slave. That’s what you’re supposed to be, right?” Johnny asked rhetorically. Emily nodded slowly.
“All right, I’ll take care of the coach. But then I’m coming after you.” She shoved Johnny in the direction of the houses. “Go. Master will be having his afternoon tea around about now.”
“See you later!” Johnny called, making his way through the trees. Emily rolled her eyes. Now she had to deal with the horses. They were quite a highly strung lot, and they had pranced down the road as they pleased. Once they had almost gone down the wrong path as a result of these horses’ frivolousness. Emily was tired of them, and maybe didn’t handle them quite as gently as normal. She found the barn easily and hitched up the horses there, giving the saddles to a slave there who was already working. He frowned at her, then studied her face carefully.
“Um… would you be related to a girl who used to work here? Emily? She had three brothers…”
“I AM Emily.” Emily looked at the boy, careful not to miss a single detail on his face. It was clean and free from blisters, though rather dark. As in, darker than most negroes. His hair was quite ordinary, but it had a strange streak of brown in it that didn’t seem to belong there.
“Tom?” Emily asked cautiously.
“Emily?” he asked just as cautiously.
“Lord a’ me! It is you!” Emily laughed and hugged the boy. He had been so tiny when she had left, only a toddler. But she remembered that dark skin, that streak of blonde.
“Why are you here? The master’s out to just about murder your masters.” Tom looked at her mournfully.
“What?” Emily asked him, rather confused, as one might be when finding out that one’s old master was out for your new master who you owed your life to because she had freed you.
“He said that he just found out that your masters want to buy out our whole plantation, and he’s roaring mad.” Tom looked quite nervous. Emily blinked twice.
“Excuse me?” she asked again.
“You heard me. Now if I were you, I wouldn’t be seen around here. Shoo. Be off with you.” Tom motioned towards the door of the barn. “I can do nothing for you here.”
“You can hide me in the coach until Johnny gets back,” Emily decided, and jumped into the black coach.
“Whatever.” Tom shook his head and continued tying up the horses.
Business was quick and easy, all Johnny had to do was offer the greedy man ten dollars for his hardest-working negro, or so the man said. Johnny nodded at him, trying to look professional, and walked smartly out of the room.
“But… but… don’t you want to buy anyone else?” the man sputtered.
“No, thank you, just one.” Johnny bowed deeply before leaving the room to satisfy the old man. Then he turned and ran from the room. There must be something wrong, or Emily would already have been there. It wasn’t a problem though; surely she would be at the coach when he got there. Johnny strode through the grounds, looking for the barn Emily had said was there. Soon he saw it, a bright white thing standing out amongst all of the other, dark brown buildings. Johnny ran into it and saw a nearly black negro calmly working on the horses, feeding and brushing them. When the little guy saw Johnny, he pointed at the coach with his thumb and went back to work. Johnny peered into the coach window and saw Emily, curled up in the bottom, not moving.
“Hey, hey you!” Johnny called to the negro.
“Yes, sir?” Tom answered.
“Why does Emily look like that?”
“She is hiding, in case the master was to come in here.” Tom rolled his eyes. “The master never comes in here. He would get his shoes muddy.”
Emily sat up in the coach. “Why didn’t you tell ME that?” she snarled at Tom.
“Well, you didn’t ask!” he explained. Emily lowered her eyelids and stared at the smaller boy until he apologized. “All right, all right, I’m sorry. Now you’re okay, right?”
“Yeah, yeah.” Emily growled. Then she turned to Johnny. “Where’s John?” she asked him, very calmly.
“Oh, right. Little help, little man?” Johnny apologized, turning to Tom.
“I’m Tom, and John, (I’m guessing you’re referring to Jonathan) is usually working in the fields. He hasn’t been the Tome since David left.” Tom shrugged. “Poor guy,” Johnny commented. Tom nodded.
“Well, are you going to get him?” Emily asked impatiently. Johnny laughed.
“You would think that you were the master and I was the slave.” But he did what she asked and walked towards the field. The cotton was just barely starting to bloom. Several men and boys were working on the field, plowing the fields that hadn’t been planted yet, planting, and weeding the existing fields. Johnny started with the first boy, a little guy who happened to be shorter than him.
“Do you know where a boy name Jonathan is?” he asked.
“Yes, he’s in the fields planting seeds.” The boy answered. Johnny nodded briskly and walked towards the two fields that were being planted. He next asked a young man about his age.
“Do you know where a boy named Jonathan is?”
“Yes, he’s in the other field, right over there.” The guy pointed to the other field being planted. Johnny smiled, thanked him, and ran to the other field. There were only three people working on this field. One was a tiny little boy, no older than twelve, and one was obviously an old man that was being forced to work until he had no value whatsoever. The last one looked like he was just a few years older than Johnny, maybe two. This was him. Johnny walked over to him.
“Hello.” Johnny winced. He sounded much too formal. “Um… hi. I just… um… bought you… you know… so if you would just… um… come with me?” he winced again. The boy nodded curtly and stepped off of the field.
“I have to go, George. I got to go, Jesse. I dunno when I’ll see you,” he called to his co-workers. Johnny sighed. This had always been hard for him. These men didn’t need to be in such persecution. They were people too. But the guy was coming to work for the Swifts, so he would be okay there.
“You’re John?” Johnny asked the boy. He had been completely silent other than telling his friends goodbye.
“Yes, I’m John. But I think that you’ve made a mistake.” John lost all of his cool demeanor. “Listen, I need to stay here. There’s this guy, he’s really cool, and he got bought, but he promised me that he’d come back and get me, so you really gotta let me stay here, okay?” John pleaded. Johnny pondered on this for a minute, then hit on one idea that could save this moment.
“I’m thinking that this ‘guy’ that you’re talking about isn’t actually a boy at all, is ‘he’?”
John stared at Johnny. “How would you know?” he asked, bemused.
“Would her name be Emily, by any chance?” Johnny guessed again, feeling rather more confident.
“What? How do you know?” John asked, now trying to keep up with Johnny, even though he was much taller. They reached the barn in record time and Johnny dramatically opened the coach door. Emily was waiting inside, of course. John nearly fainted in shock, then recovered himself.
“Emily?” he asked, trying to regain his wits.
“Yes?” she asked, trying not to laugh.
“You came back…” he blinked several times, staring at her like she was a ghost.
“I did. Now hop in, or I’m leaving without you.” Emily motioned to the seat beside her. John climbed in quickly. Tom, who was still working there, grinned a little and started to hitch up the horses. Soon they were out of there, and Johnny didn’t even want to hear the conversation in the back of the coach.
Holly watched as the coach pulled into the driveway, almost exactly two weeks after it had left. Johnny was sitting on top, wearing a tuxedo and looking for all the world like the driver of a fancy coach going to a ball. Emily jumped out of the coach door behind him, and Holly was half-surprised that she wasn’t wearing a flouncy dress. But she was wearing her normal cotton dress, and another guy hopped out of the coach after her. It had to have been John. Holly noticed the expression on the guy’s face when he noticed Holly. But then he saw David, Eli, Michael, and Charlie Will behind her, and he grinned. They both ran towards the porch, shouting at Holly. Johnny followed quickly, unhitching the horses and letting them run free as he went. They went straight into the forest and began munching on leaves and things. Johnny grinned and walked up the porch steps. Emily was talking rapidly to Holly, and John was speaking to David so quickly that you almost couldn’t make out what he was saying. Johnny covered Holly’s eyes, laughing. He didn’t expect her to do anything except scream and push him away. So maybe Holly still had a few tricks up her sleeves. She turned around and punched him in the gut.
“Ow!” Johnny complained, but laughed slightly as well. Holly smirked at him.
“Maybe later is the best time for romance,” she decided. Johnny nodded.
“I’ll go home now, and pick you up in four years, how about?” Johnny offered.
Holly considered for a while. “Yes, I think that will do nicely.” She shoved Johnny off the porch, laughing. He ran all the way home.”
“It was the big day. I looked up at the sun, smiling. It was my eighteenth birthday, and I was getting married. Emily looked at me.
“Dang, don’t you look a sight to behold,” she commented. She looked equally beautiful in her bridesmaid’s dress. Esther was my other bridesmaid, and they were wearing dresses with many colors on them. But my dress was special. It had several pictures on the back, pictures of eggs and magnifying glasses, of bows and arrows, of tears and barns. Those days were quite special to me, and they were going to be at my wedding. Perfect. Finally, after several hours, everything was ready. I left my room and went downstairs and onto the porch, where a small platform had been hastily constructed for a preacher to stand. It was Mr. Harris. He had gotten a better job in the church and now did weddings and such, and he did mine. I had asked him to earlier that week. Ahead of me, a dark-headed man stood by the platform, waiting for me. His best men smiled down at me. It was John and Henry. Henry had realized how terrible he had been while in jail, and had come back and formally apologized. We didn’t forgive him at first, but then we remembered Mother’s story about him curing her and we hastily apologized for not accepting his apology. On my side, Emily and Esther went in front of me, with Esther’s little girl, Hannah, scattering petals in front of me. She had gotten married. To Hank. They were the Tome age, and he had gotten much nicer, as I’m sure I have told you before. So I advanced down the aisle and came to rest beside the handsome young man I had known and loved for so long. He had come back for me four years later, as promised. Johnny winked at me and wiggled one eyebrow and Mr. Harris started to speak. It was quite boring, unlike most of his sermons, and we were both glad when he was done.
“You may now kiss the bride,” he said. Johnny grinned at me for a split second, then reached out and hugged me, and kissed me for the second time in my life, with whistles from Charles, Emily, John, and Hank.
“And so we lived on for quite a time. Johnny died when I was about thirty. His wounds killed him. They had never quite healed right, and I’ve always been scared that it was that one punch that ended up as the death of him. But he had the last laugh. Until he died, he joked about how many times he got into sticky situations, and how worried I always got, even when he lived.”
“Well, good story, Mom. Now pass the butter, I’m starving.”
“Don’t you want to hear the end?”
“No, I’ve heard it too often. So you had me, and Emily and John ended up married, too, and we all lived in the same house. Like we still do.”
Emily laughed. So did Hank and Charles. They all lived in the same house, as my daughter had mentioned. She was thirteen now, the same age I had been when I, my husband, my sister, and my old mentor had made that long trip. Billie spoke from the end of the table.
“Don’t forget me.”
“Oh, yeah, and you got Billie back and he decided to live as roommates with Charles. Now PASS THE BUTTER, MOM.” Holly ranted at me, and I passed her the butter, smiling.
“All right! A hand for the amazing butter-passing Aunt Rosie!” Hannah spoke up. I laughed. She finally finished her story. “And Holly and Johnny lived together until he died.