Friday, April 13, 2012

Mistaken Identity

It was a cold spring evening when Clarence Howell and his wife Miranda were coming home from a business dinner in Boston. The roads were wet with patches of ice. Clarence had plenty of staff to do the driving for him but he did like to get out occasionally and feel the reins in his hands. He was driving slowly when a clap of thunder spooked his horse who reared up and forced the carriage over on it's side with his passengers thrown into the creek by the road.
It wasn't until much later in the evening when a worried Hortense Hill persuaded her husband Julian to check the roads for their beloved employers. Julian came upon the wreckage and with grief in his heart carried them home knowing they would never see the light of day or be with their precious daughter Bethany again. Bethany awoke with a start. She knew something was not right but had never imagined when her mother and father kissed her goodbye earlier that evening it would be the last time she would ever see them alive.
Bethany was 11 years old and the only child of Clarence and Miranda Howell. Bethany was a beautiful child who was turning into a beautiful young lady. She was loved by all the Howell household staff as were her mother and father. Her very best friend in the world was the daughter of one of the servants. Gertie had turned 9 on her last birthday and loved Bethany and her life in the Howell household. Her only nemesis was Eloise Hanover. Eloise was the caretaker's daughter and had a mean streak a mile long. Bethany was even able to find some good in Eloise and refused to say an unkind word about her. Gertie was afraid of Eloise and just stayed away from her as much as she could. Bethany was devastated by the death of her parents. Not even her dear friend Gertie could help her with her grief. Gertie just sat by her side and held her hand while she sobbed until there were no more tears to be shed.
Behind closed doors, the Howell lawyer was accessing the situation. “The household staff will be let go with a large stipend according to the Last Will and Testament of Clarence Howell and his wife Miranda. The estate and all assets will be sold with the proceeds going to their only daughter, Bethany making her a very wealthy young lady. Bethany will be sent to live with her Aunt Isabelle Howell.”
Aunt Isabelle was a lovely elderly woman who had met Bethany only one time when she was 7 years old. She was happy to have the dear child come live with her although her heart ached for the circumstances.
Eloise kept a close eye and ear on everything going on in the household for the next few weeks. A plan was forming in her head. Not that her father would care, but she told him she was leaving Boston. She had found a position as a companion for an invalid 12 year old girl and would be living with her. Archie Hanover didn't know why anyone would want to have his daughter around their child but at least she would be out of his hair so she was welcome to move on.
Eloise hid out until the day Bethany was to leave. At the last minute, it was decided that Gertie would be joining her friend on the trip. Gertie seemed to be the only comfort Bethany had and she already had so much taken away from her everyone thought it best not to separate her from her best friend too. The train took off with the girls on it and hiding in between the mail pouches was none other than Eloise smiling her wicked smile.
Bethany was quiet on the trip but she was slowly coming around. Her grief was still with her but her better instincts were taking over and she knew she couldn't bring her parents back by wallowing in self pity. Besides, Gertie was looking so sad herself she decided she must make an effort to cheer her up. The train had been traveling for several hours when the conductor finally made it to the girls private car. Bethany was napping and Gertie assured the conductor that everything was satisfactory. Shortly after he left their car, Bethany woke up and looked into the evil eyes of one Miss Eloise Hanover. Eloise thought Bethany would be alone and was surprised when that sniveling little Gertie was gaping at her. Eloise was not happy and took it out on Gertie while she cowered in the corner. Eloise told her to be quiet and she wouldn't get hurt. With all the strength Gertie had in her frail little body, she picked up her umbrella and started striking Eloise on the head. In one move Eloise grabbed the umbrella and tossed it to the other side of the room with Gertie still clinging to it. Gertie's arm was terribly bruised but she didn't let the pain stop her from trying again to stop Eloise from harming her friend. Bethany grabbed Eloise by the arm and paid for the gesture by receiving a painful blow to the side of her head. Bethany passed out at that point while Eloise slipped off her fancy dress and put an old patched up garment on her. What did it matter what she wore, she would be dead anyway if someone found her before the buzzards did.
Gertie watched in horror as Eloise picked up Bethany's limp body and tossed her like a sack of potatoes from the train. The last thing Gertie saw before fainting dead away was a sign that said Now Leaving Camden Corners.
Eloise donned one of Bethany's beautiful dresses and fixed her hair with Bethany's combs. She was lucky that she and Bethany were the same size and had the same hair color. She looked in the mirror and was very pleased with her appearance. She knew that the new Bethany Howell was much more beautiful than the old Bethany Howell and she was out to impress the world with her new found money.
What Eloise didn't realize was that she would not have access to Bethany's wealth until Bethany turned 18. Could she keep up this charade for the next 7 years? Well, she was going to have to but at least she could enjoy all the things money can buy while she waited.
Gertie woke up from her stupor and cried uncontrollably at the fate of her dear friend. She had always known Eloise was evil but never realized how evil she was until that day. Gertie knew what Eloise had planned and she would not let her get away with it. She would tell the conductor what happened and he would stop the train and go back to find Bethany. Eloise would go to prison for what she did even though she was still a child herself.
Eloise could see the look of hate in Gertie's eyes and told her not to even think about reporting the accident or hers would be the next body to be found by the buzzards. Not only that, Eloise would find her way back to Boston and kill Gertie's little brother and sister.
Gertie knew she had to keep quiet for now but she willed herself to be strong. She would avenge Bethany's murder. It might take years but she would do it.
Aunt Isabelle welcomed Bethany and her friend Gertie into her home.
“Bethany is pretty,” she thought, “but she looks so different than I remember her. Her lovely honey color hair is the same and although she seems to have a hard streak in her it is probably because she just lost her parents. Gertie, on the other hand, is very sweet and gentle although it seems she is a frightened little waif.
The years went on and Eloise was just as sour as she had been the day she walked into Aunt Isabelle's house. She was terse with the servants and treated Aunt Isabelle like a senile old lady. All she could talk about was the fact that all the money would be hers soon and she wouldn't need Aunt Isabelle any longer.
Gertie had grown taller and stronger. The day of Bethany's murder still haunted her. She was determined to find a way to outsmart Eloise before she got her hands on any more of Bethany's money. She had come to love Aunt Isabelle and took comfort in the fact that Bethany had inherited many of the older woman's good qualities.
Gertie had taken pleasure in reading the daily newspaper to Aunt Isabelle. Isabelle's eyesight wasn't what it use to be and she enjoyed this time with Gertie as much as Gertie enjoyed being with dear Aunt Isabelle. There was a small article on the second last page.
Mystery girl found near railroad tracks in Camden Corners, New York. Authorities determined she had been a stowaway on the train headed to St. Louis. She suffers from a head injury and cannot remember even her name although she was wearing a child's handmade bracelet with the letter B on it.
Aunt Isabelle had dozed off and didn't see the light come back into Gertie's eyes. She knew her dear friend was alive and being cared for. She wanted to shout it to the rooftops but knew Eloise would find a way to get to Bethany and finish the job so Gertie remained silent. Gertie had become friendly with Sheriff Dingle and his deputy Hal Lawson. She had come close to telling them the whole story before she stopped herself for fear Eloise would be true to her promise of hurting her brother and sister.
On that fateful day, Bethany lie in a soft patch of land. She awoke when a floppy eared dog started licking her face. There wasn't a spot on her body that didn't cry out in pain as she tried to lift her head but found she couldn't do it.
She heard a boy's voice calling “Grover, come here boy. What have you got there buddy?”
Rusty Burke had been out hunting rabbits when his dog suddenly took off barking and just as suddenly stopped in front of a bundle lying on the ground. Rusty couldn't believe his eyes when he saw it was a girl. He could tell she was still alive but just barely. He told Grover to stay with her while he rode into town to get Doc McMillan.
He called to his brother as he rode by their house to bring the buckboard and meet him at the old elm tree down by the railroad tracks.
By the time Doc arrived on the scene, Bethany had been able to open her eyes. She knew she had a friend for life in the attentive little mutt beside her.
Very carefully, Bethany's body was lifted onto the buckboard and slowly driven into town to Doc's office. Grover ran along beside not taking his eyes off Bethany for a second.
Doc didn't find anything other than bruises on the girl's body that indicated she fell or was pushed from the train. He noted her worn out dress but his nurse noticed her very expensive looking under garments. She was definitely a mystery. Everything except the dress spoke of wealth and yet she had very sad eyes. Something had gone very wrong in her life to warrant such a sorrowful look.
After several hours, Doc determined it was safe to move the girl, Rusty insisted she be moved to The Burke house where she was welcomed as one of the family.
Sheriff Mendenhall had checked with the railroad and everyone had been accounted for on the day Grover found the girl by the railroad tracks. There were no leads and the newspaper article placed in every paper from Camden Corners to St. Louis had not turned up any information.
Jennie Burke had just turned 11 and seemed the closest in age to this young girl. She began reading Little Women to Bethany and every time the youngest daughter Beth was mentioned, Bethany showed signs of recognition. Jennie began calling her Beth and the name stuck. She was known from that point on as Beth Burke. Grover sat by Bethany's side through her recovery. Her head injury seemed to healing with the exception of the loss of her memory.
The months spread into years and Beth was a real part of the family. She loved being in the kitchen and watched and learned as her adoptive mother prepared delicious meals and made delectable baked goods for her family. Rusty had a soft spot in his heart for Beth and he knew she would always be the woman for him. Beth had fallen in love with Rusty too but was afraid there might be something in her past that would be unforgivable.
The Burkes celebrated Beth's birthday on the anniversary of the day Grover found her all crumbled and broken out by the railroad tracks. The Burkes and the Mackenzies gathered for Beth's celebrated 18th birthday. Unknown to them, it was just a couple of weeks shy of her actual birthday. They all encouraged her to make a wish before she blew out the candles and her wish was that she would remember who she was. She needed to know that before she could marry Rusty. Rusty didn't feel the same way. He loved Beth and nothing in her past would change that.
Meanwhile in St. Louis, Gertie finally had the courage to tell Sheriff Dingle about the incident on the train and how Bethany was thrown in a heap near a place called Camden Corners. Sheriff Dingle thought nothing could surprise him but this took the cake. He and the rest of the town had never cared for the girl they thought was Bethany. They knew she had been unkind to Miss Isabelle. It all made sense to him now. He had heard for many years that Bethany Howell was a lovely young girl who would win the hearts of anyone who knew her. He and Deputy Hal made a call to Miss Eloise Hanover and arrested her for the attempted murder and impersonation of Bethany Howell.
Eloise shouted at Gertie on her way out the door “Your little brother and sister are dead thanks to your big mouth.”
Gertie knew they were safe and the sheriff in Boston was aware of the threats. He told Gertie not to worry since her little brother had grown to be six foot four and he doubted any harm would come to either of them.
Aunt Isabelle was beside herself. How could she have believed for one minute that Eloise was the product of her dear nephew and his lovely wife. Everyone assured Isabelle that Eloise was a good actress and they all had been fooled by her.
The next morning, Gertie and Isabelle were on the train bound for Camden Corners. The sheriff sent Deputy Hal along with them to guide them on there way. Hal wasn't unhappy with his duty because he loved any excuse to be with Miss Gertie.
The sheriff sent a wire to Sheriff Mendenhall in Camden Corners telling him what had transpired. Sheriff Mendenhall was telling the Burkes and Beth the story Gertie had finally reported. Beth's wish had come true just a couple of days after she had made it.
Rusty and Beth waited for the train's arrival. Beth was nervous about meeting someone from her past and hoped to find some answers. As Deputy Hal and a pretty young girl helped an older lady off the train, Bethany looked into her old friend Gertie's eyes and everything came back to her. She shouted Gertie's name and flew into the sobbing girls arms.
“Oh Gertie, Mama and Papa are dead” the memory of that awful night came back to her. Aunt Isabelle knew right away that this beautiful young girl was her niece from Boston. She could also see that the handsome young man standing next to her was head over heels in love with her darling Bethany.
The girls giggled and laughed all the way to the Burke home where Gertie and Aunt Isabelle were treated as royalty. Gertie was a little embarrassed by the attention and reminded them she was a servant.
“Not around here you aren't” said Rusty. “We will take care of you from now on. You brought our Beth's memories to life again and for that we will be forever grateful.”
Several weeks later on Bethany's real 18th birthday, her solicitor from Boston arrived in Camden Corners. Bethany was an extremely wealthy woman. Bethany didn't want any of the money. She found her happily ever after with Rusty Burke right here in Camden Corners and couldn't imagine her life any different than it had been for all these years. The solicitor set up a foundation in Clarence and Miranda's name. Gertie was the first recipient of a full scholarship to a nursing school in St. Louis. Her brother and sister were the second and third. All of the children of the household staffs in Aunt Isabelle's home and those they could locate from Bethany's Boston home were given scholarships to the schools of their choice.
Several years later when the nurses cap was being placed on Gertie's head, Bethany, Rusty and baby Miranda Burke were there cheering her on along with Hal Lawson who was bursting with pride for his wife.
Eloise was sitting in her jail cell thinking about all the money that nitwit Bethany just threw away on her servant friends.
“What a waste!”

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