Saturday, June 23, 2012
The incident with Billy, and Marzetta Le Claire's claims to be his mother, were long forgotten. Billy went on with his life in Camden Corners without a worry about his past. Will Duesenberry could not forget his fear when there was a possibility his son would be taken away from his family.
He knew his next step would be to find any information he could about the biological families of both Billy and Butch.
He and Oscar Crowley were discussing the matter when Neville Merryweather walked through the doors of the coffee shop in Merryweather's, the antique shop operated by his sister, Millie.
“Good morning gentlemen. I can see you are involved in a discussion and won't disturb you,” said Neville.
“Nonsense, please sit down Neville. In fact, I wouldn't mind your opinion on this matter since you have a son you didn't know existed until recently,” said Will.
Will explained the circumstance in which Billy and Butch came into their lives and the scam that Marzetta and Anton tried to pull off.
Neville listened intently as Will told him the whole story. He thought it was incredible that the two boys were able to fend for themselves all these years and that Billy had lived like that since he was seven years old.
“Kate and I haven't spoken to Butch yet about his memories. I think with a little prodding both boys will remember more as time goes by. At the present time we are concentrating on our new baby who will be arriving any day now. Oscar knows about waiting, he is waiting for two babies.”
“And I wish they would both hurry up. I'm not getting any younger,” Oscar added.
“I had dealings with some folks in Pittsburgh when I was still active in the agency. I do remember seeing the orphanage. I use to walk from the train station to my client's plant. The orphanage was on my way. On warm days when the children were out playing they would run up to the fence to greet me. It was as though they were craving any contact they could find outside of those high fences. I got in the habit of filling my pockets with peppermints and offering them to the children as I passed by. Don't think I haven't wondered about James growing up in a place like that. If it hadn't been for Chester Robinson, Helene might not have had a choice. I'm at loose ends now. I've all but given up the insurance agency. I was thinking of buying a house here so I have a place to bring a bride should the occasion arise.” Neville look a little embarrassed but his friends knew the circumstances and understood.
“Neville, I don't know why you aren't courting Helene now. It has been several months since Prudence died. No one would fault you for moving on with your life.”
“As much as I would like to be with Helene, I feel I owe it to my daughters to respect the memory of their mother. They argue with me about it all the time. Granted Prudence wasn't much of a mother to them but she was still their mother. I blame myself for her unhappiness. If I hadn't been such a coward years ago, Helene and I would have been celebrating our thirtieth wedding anniversary by now. Instead I let my father talk me out of marrying the only woman I ever loved. Money was so very important to me back then and look what it brought me. A marriage with a woman I never loved and who never loved me. On the plus side, I have two beautiful daughters who I adore.
“Back to what I was saying. I'm not doing anything productive these days and wouldn't mind a trip to Pittsburgh. I could inquire at the orphanage. Maybe they would be able to give me some information. I've always wondered what it would be like to be a private investigator. Maybe this could be a start of a whole new career for me.”
Oscar spoke up. “That's not such a bad idea. I'd go with you myself but Nettie would wring my neck if I left when my grandchildren are so close to arriving. Do you know Max Harcourt? He has done his share of investigating. I'll bet this would be something he'd like to be involved with.”
“Yes, I know Max. Not very well but he seems like a nice fellow. Maybe I'll stop by his place when I leave here.” said Neville. He was looking forward to the adventure and wanted to get started on the investigation right away.
“I'll go with you. I haven't seen Max in a while.” Oscar said wanting to be involved in this latest mystery.
“You fellows are the greatest. Thank you for your help. Maybe we will have some answers soon and then we can start worrying about Butch's family,” said Will.
Max welcomed the challenge Neville and Oscar presented to him. Sarah served the men coffee and was invited to sit with them and hear the plan.
“Max, I'll pack your bag,” said Sarah “I can tell by the look in your eyes that you are ready to board the train to Pittsburgh.”
“How soon can you be ready Neville?”
“As soon as I can get back to the boarding house and pack a bag myself. I'll meet you at the train station.”
“How do you know there will be a train going to Pittsburgh any time soon?” asked Oscar
“We have strategy to work out and there is plenty of room at the station to do that.” said Max.
Neville dropped by the library to let Helene know he would be out of town for a few days.
“Thank you Neville for letting me know. It's nice of you to think of me.”
“I'm always thinking of you,” replied Neville. He knew this adventure would help pass the time until he would be able take her in his arms. Maybe he was being foolish to wait. All his life he had been impulsive without regard for anyone or anything. Why did he have to choose now to be sensible?
Within the hour both Max and Neville arrived at the train station. The train to Pittsburgh was leaving in two hours. Plenty of time to devise a plan to get information from the folks at the orphanage.
The men walked in through the front doors of the orphanage. It was so dim they had a difficult time adjusting from the bright sunshine outside. Max used his charm on the receptionist and she was instantly smitten. It wasn't often a handsome gentleman greeted her with such a beautiful smile. She informed Miss Walker, the administrator of their arrival.
Miss Walker greeted the gentlemen without any hint of friendliness. Max knew his charm would be wasted on this woman and deferred to Neville. There was a small spark of interest when Neville spoke softly to the woman. He made the rookie mistake of mentioning that Billy had run away from her facility. She immediately shut down.
“No child has ever run away from this institution. I have no information for you gentlemen. Now if you will excuse me I trust you are capable of finding your way out.” Miss Walker turned on her heel and left the room in a huff.
“Me thinks thou doth protest too much” whispered Max.
As they were leaving, they almost bumped into the receptionist who had obviously been eavesdropping.
“Meet me at the coffee shop around the corner at 4:35. I have information for you.” she said as she opened the outside door for them.
“Sorry I messed that one up. I know now that I should never have told Miss Walker about Billy running away.”
“No harm done, she wasn't about to tell us anything anyway. I wonder what Miss Sanders has to say. She is a nervous little thing but she was adamant about meeting with us.”
“Maybe your charm worked too well, Max. I wouldn't be surprised if she was hoping you show up alone this afternoon.”
Max laughed. “I know my charm is irresistible but my guess is the lady really does have some information and doesn't want her boss knowing she is about to tell us what it is.”
Neville and Max arrived at the coffee shop at 4:25. They knew Miss Sanders was meeting them after work but didn't want to miss her if she arrived early. At exactly 4:35 Miss Sanders opened the door to the coffee shop. She walked past Max and Neville and whispered for them to follow her. They did as she asked and sat at the very last table in the shop.
“I'm sorry to be so secretive but if Miss Walker discovers what I am doing I will lose my job.
I remember a sweet young boy named Billy disappearing in the early morning hours of September 26th 1899. I will never forget that date as long as I live. One of the older boys found an unlocked door in the basement. The janitor forgot to lock it after he emptied the trash the night before. Cal told some of the older boys that he was planning to escape the following day. Cal was almost 18 so would have been leaving soon anyway. Apparently Billy heard Cal talking about his plan and took it upon himself to follow him. That is the story we heard from several of the boys when neither Billy or Cal reported for breakfast that day.
“It was Miss Walker's duty to make sure all doors to the building were locked before she left for the day and the night shift took over. I followed Miss Walker to the basement after the boys were discovered missing and watched her lock the door and then take a crowbar and break it open. Miss Walker didn't know I saw her. I only followed her because I was worried about little Billy and was afraid something dreadful had happened to him. I hid in the basement until I was sure Miss Walker was back upstairs and in her office. Before long the sheriff arrived and was questioning Miss Walker. She told the sheriff she couldn't imagine what happened to the boys. She said security and safety were her top priority. The sheriff looked through the building and discovered the broken basement door. He told Miss Walker it was a case of runaways and he doubted they would ever be found. Miss Walker bid him farewell and went to her office with a very satisfied grin on her face.”
“Miss Sanders, do you think you would recognize Billy if you saw him today? He is 12 years old now.”
“I'm sure I would. Billy was one of my favorites. He was left at the front door when he was about 3 months old. I came to work that morning and discovered him there. He had a note pinned to his blanket that said his name was Billy. That was before Miss Walker came to work for the orphanage. Miss Tanner was the administrator. She left two years later to get married. Miss Tanner was a very special person. She was warm and friendly and all the children loved her. Miss Tanner let me care for Billy. I did my job during the day and spent time with him during my lunch break and after work. Billy was a happy little boy. He looked for me to come to see him every day. I loved that little baby.” A tear rolled down her cheek.
“Miss Sanders, if this talk is upsetting you too much, we can postpone it to another time.”
“No, I'll be fine. I need to tell you the whole story. After Miss Tanner left and Miss Walker took over, everything changed. She didn't allow me to see Billy anymore. She said I was too attached to him and I was spoiling him. When she left the building I would find an excuse to see him. When he got older I explained that I wasn't allowed to see him like I had when he was younger because Miss Walker didn't think it was right. He was just a little boy but he seemed to understand. Then that horrible day came and Billy was gone. The sheriff never did come back to tell us where he was. I have worried about him ever since.”
Neville patted the back of the girl's hand. He felt sorry for her and sorry for Billy. Maybe she would be able to identify Billy. He wondered if she would be willing to travel to Camden Corners with him and Max. Just then she continued on with her story.
“It was just a few months after Billy disappeared that his sister Ella came to the orphanage. She asked to speak with Miss Walker. Ella explained that her parents died of influenza when Billy was just a baby. Her mother's aunt Beatrice came to get Ella and Billy to take them home with her. It seems Beatrice's husband did not want a crying baby in his house disturbing his sleep. He insisted the boy be delivered to the orphanage that very night. The next morning Ella woke up and her aunt told her that her brother had died during the night. Ella was only 8 years old and had lost her entire family. Her aunt took care of her as she was growing up. Shortly after Ella turned 18, her aunt became very ill. On her deathbed she confessed to Ella that her brother didn't die and that she had taken him to the orphanage.
“That very day Ella came to the orphanage looking for her brother. Miss Walker asked her to step into her office. She closed the door but, of course I listened at the key hole. Miss Walker told Ella her brother had died when he was 6 months old.
“Poor Ella, she was beside herself. It was as though she lost her brother all over again. I stopped her before she left that day and asked her to meet me right here in this coffee shop. I told her about Billy and how he left with an older boy. I tried to assure her that Cal would take care of Billy although I wasn't sure I believed that myself. Ella and I have since become friends. I'm afraid to ask if you two know anything about what happened to dear Billy.”
Max told her that Billy had a memory of a train station that had a sign that read Pittsburgh. He explained that he and a younger friend had been adopted by a vicar and his wife and was very happy and secure in his life.
“Miss Sanders would you be willing to travel to Camden Corners to meet Billie, we would gladly pay your way.”
“Mr. Harcourt I do have some money of my own. I would be able to pay the fare but I would want Ella to come with me. Even if your Billy is not the same one I remember, I wouldn't feel right about not telling her about this.”
Neville spoke up. That would be fine. I know this is an imposition with your employment. If there is any way we can smooth it over with your boss we would be willing to speak with her.”
“No, I have an aunt who lives in Greensboro. Miss Walker knows she has been ill. I will tell her she has taken a turn for the worse and I need to have a few days off. I hope the Lord forgives me for this lie but I must see Billy if there is a chance he is that special little boy.”
Max and Neville waited for Miss Sander's return. Miss Walker wasn't happy that Charlotte would be leaving town for a few days but she did understand and wished her well.
They went directly to Ella Pritchard's home where Max and Neville told her of the possibility that her brother could be the boy known to them as Billy Deusenberry.
“I don't care how improbable it is that my brother is alive and well and living with a good family. I want to see the boy myself. If he is indeed my brother I want to assure you I have no intention of disrupting his life. I can be packed and ready to go in 20 minutes. Charlotte, I'm so glad you will be going too. I'll gladly pay for your ticket.”
“Do I look like a pauper? Everyone wants to buy my ticket. I can well afford the passage and it will be worth every penny if this young boy is truly our Billy.”
The group arrived at the train station separately to avoid any suspicion should Miss Walker happen by on her way home from work.
Miss Walker did indeed pass by the station and glanced in the window. She saw Charlotte Sanders sitting by herself on the bench. Behind Charlotte were the gentlemen who were inquiring about the child who escaped her care a number of years ago. Good, they are leaving Pittsburgh she thought to herself. There was another young lady who looked vaguely familiar. She was seated three rows back and studying her ticket. Miss Walker had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. Something does not seem quite right she thought but dismissed it. No one will ever find out that it was my fault those boys escaped. I can't afford any kind of investigation into my operation of the orphanage.
The train pulled into the station. Neville's carriage was just where he left it that morning. There was no way to alert Will and Kate about their arrival with the young ladies so they went directly to their house. Kate opened the door and welcomed them all into the parlor.
Ella and Charlotte could feel their hearts beating wildly when the front door opened and a young boy called out. “Miss Charlotte? Is that really you?”