Monday, July 16, 2012
The Sleigh Ride
The Sleigh Ride
“We'd better make our decision about whether or not we will return to the castle, Philip. It will be difficult for the children to leave Camden Corners and the longer we stay, the harder it will be for them if we do decide to go.”
“I have been thinking about nothing else Minerva. The children behave so differently here than they ever did at home. I don't want to take them away from the Crowleys or their new friends. I never told you this but I was approached by a gentleman who is interested in purchasing an old castle such as ours.”
“Philip, the castle has been in your family for centuries. Are you really sure you want to sell it? There will be no turning back if you do.”
“Yes, 328 years to be exact. Maybe that is enough time for one family to own anything. Minerva, the truth is, I have come to realize that living in that old mausoleum is not the place for young active children. Look how happy they are here. How can I even think about moving them back to that dark old fortress we call home? Of course they would be an ocean away from their grandparents. How would you feel about that?”
“Philip, my parents love to travel, you know that. They would look forward to an excuse to visit the United States. I will be happy wherever you are my darling, but I do find this town to be charming and I adore our new friends.”
“It's settled. I will wire my solicitor this morning. He can make arrangements for our belongings to be shipped. There is one other thing, Minerva.”
“Oh dear, I'm afraid to ask.”
“I noticed an empty shop in town. I was thinking of renting the space and opening a book store. You are aware of how many books I have in our library at home and that doesn't include the many crates that have been packed full of them through the years. I would also have modern books, of course. Camden Corners has a fine library but in order to purchase a book, the folks here have to travel to Greensboro. What would you think of your husband being a shopkeeper?”
“Philip, that is perfect. I do worry about you becoming restless. I could help you with the business side of the store when the children are in school.”
“We do have our work cut out for us. We will need to find a place to live. If you want to look into that, I'll see about the shop. Minerva, I feel like a new man. Just think, we owe all these changes to poor Miss Bridget Davies who became involved with the wrong sort, kidnapped our children and was murdered in the process.”
“A book shop in Camden Corners. We have needed one all along. I wonder why we never thought of it before this.” Oscar said. “It's too bad your own books will not be arriving before Christmas. I'm sure you have one or another that would interest any one in town.”
“I hope there will be some interest in some old English literature. I'm not even sure what I do have. Everything will have to be categorized. I'll be lucky if I'm able to do all that by next Christmas.” Philip laughed.
The papers were signed on the shop. Minerva found a house that was not too far from Nettie and Oscar.
“I'm afraid we will have to make some renovations, Nettie. I hope you don't mind our intrusion for another month or so.”
“I don't mind at all Minerva. In fact we are thrilled you and the children will be here on Christmas morning. Trudy and I have been planning some little surprises for Leah and Alfie. We hope to make their first Christmas in America one they will always remember.”
“Mama, may Alfie and I go with Cody and April on a sleigh ride? All of the other children are going.”
“A sleigh ride. That sounds like fun. Miss Nettie, do we know who Cody and April are?” Minerva had met so many people lately she wasn't sure who she knew and who she didn't.
“I don't believe you have met them. Cody Hill is Melvin Tanner's ward. Melvin is married to Alma Tanner, Vicar Will's housekeeper and his grandmother-in-law. You met Alma at the candy shop yesterday. She was with Kate and her new great granddaughter, Hillary. Cody is a very responsible young man. I'm sure the children will be safe with him.”
“Cody said he would come by to meet you in just a little while. Please Mama, everybody is going.”
“I'm sure it will be alright. Why don't you and Alfie find some dry mittens. Did you get your stockings wet in the snow? Let's get you into all dry clothes.”
Cody and April knocked on the door. “Hello Miss Nettie. How do you do Mrs. Clarke. April and I would like to take the children for a sleigh ride this afternoon. We have plenty of nice warm blankets and hot chocolate for them to drink along the way. I assure you, April and I have taken this ride many times before.”
“How many children do you have in that sleigh? Are you sure you have room enough for two more?”
“Oh yes, there is plenty of room. We won't be gone long. Maybe an hour at most.”
“I don't see how I can say no. You children go along and be good for Cody and April.” Minerva hugged them extra tight. “I hope I'm doing the right thing, Nettie. I have a bad feeling about this and I don't know why. Maybe it's just because of what happened in England.”
“Let's go bake some cookies for the children. That will get your mind off of them.”
Twenty minutes later Oscar and Philip walked through the back door. “I smell sugar cookies. My favorite. Just what we need to wait out the blizzard.”
“What blizzard?” said Nettie as she looked out the window. “When did this start, Oscar?”
“Maybe fifteen minutes ago. Just came up out of the north. Philip and I were walking back here and we couldn't see a foot in front of us. What's wrong Nettie? You look like you've seen a ghost.”
“The children!” cried Minerva. “The children are out in this. How far do you think they have gotten in that sleigh?”
“What sleigh Minerva, what are the children doing in a sleigh?”
“Philip, I knew I shouldn't have let them go. They are with the other children. There must be at least ten of them in that sleigh. Cody Hill has driven them right into a blizzard.”
“Cody is with them?” Oscar asked. “Cody is a very reliable young man. How long ago did you say they left?”
“It's been a little over twenty minutes now. Oh Oscar, we had no idea a storm was coming.”
“It came out of the blue. We had no warning at all. I'm sure Cody went through the forest and into the hills with the children. That is his usual route. He would head back home if he saw the weather turn.”
“I have to go after them.” said Philip.
“Philip, you wouldn't get beyond the corner. You know how difficult it was to reach this house and it has gotten worse now. Cody may have reached the ski lodge and if that's the case, the children will be safe there. Cody spent the first several years of his life in the mountains. He knows the terrain better than anyone. I'm sure he has found a safe place for them. I can't let you go after them, Philip. You don't know where you are going and even if you did, you wouldn't be able find your way with that snow blowing like it is.”
Joe Taylor knocked on the door. “I was hoping Cody hadn't left yet. Iris is with the children in that sleigh. It is too dangerous to take the team up there. I have faith in Cody but I wouldn't be telling the truth if I didn't admit that I am very worried about the children.”
Vicar Will and Melvin Tanner made their way through the snow. I see we are too late to stop the children from going on their excursion.
Melvin spoke up. “Cody would never have ventured out had he known this storm was coming. Just this morning he said it was going to be a lovely day and how would the boys like to go on a sleigh ride. Alma told him to be careful. Her knee was beginning to ache and that is usually a sign bad weather is on the way. Oh how I wish we had listened to her.”
Oscar said, “Does it look like there is clearing up north at all?”
“I'm afraid not Oscar.”
One by one all the parents of the missing children came to the Crowley's door. The cookies were ready to bake but long forgotten. Trudy made coffee and began filling cups while the men tried to determine which way Cody would have gone.
Earlier Cody looked to the sky. “April, I don't like the looks of it up ahead. I'm afraid we are in for some bad weather. I'm not sure we will be able to make it back to Camden Corners before it hits.”
“We passed the ski lodge just a little while ago, maybe we can turn around and go back.”
“I don't think we can make it in time. If we don't, the children will not have any protection from the wind and snow. Old Jed Finnegan's cabin is closer. If we can make it there we will be safe. I wish I'd listened to Miss Alma. Her knee was bothering her this morning. That always means bad weather is approaching. I just didn't think it would happen this soon.” The snow started coming down. Cody didn't remember when the weather was ever this bad. He prayed he would be able to get through the drifts that were piling up on the dirt road.
“Cody, we think we want to go home,” came a small voice from the back of the sleigh.
“You just sit still and huddle together. Get those blankets wrapped around you. I'm going to take us all to Mr. Finnegan's cabin.”
“Not Mr. Finnegan,” said Timmy. “He's scary. Abe says he eats little children for his dinner.”
April spoke up. “Timmy, Abe is just teasing you. I'm sure Mr. Finnegan is a very nice man and don't you dare say anything like that to him if he lets us stay in his cabin while it is storming.” April didn't want to admit it but Mr. Finnegan frightened her too. She knew he only came down from the hills a few times a year. He had a long gray beard. He rode his mule to the general store and barely spoke to anyone while he bought what he needed and left.
“Don't be afraid April,” Cody whispered. “I have visited Mr. Finnegan many times. He really is a very nice man, he just likes to be by himself. He's from the mountain, you know. He was married to Clovis Moon. I remember her. She was an old lady by the time I came along. My paw told me she would chase old Jed around with a frying pan when she caught him taking a swig from my grandpappy's still. She'd scoot him out of the house with broom if he had mud on his shoes. Up in those mountains it was pretty hard to stay out of the mud. One day he'd had enough. He started walking down the mountain and nobody ever saw him again. He built that cabin and started growing vegetables from seeds he found on the ground. He builds rocking chairs and small tables in a shop he has near the cabin. He sells those things when he heads out to town just a few times a year. He barters with Mr. Nichols and they are both happy. I was walking through the forest one day last summer and he was out picking some corn. I guess he thought I looked like my paw because he invited me in and asked about all the old timers who lived up there. He never did ask about Clovis and I never mentioned her name.”
They came upon the cabin. From the smoke coming out of the chimney, they could see Jed was home. He opened the door and scowled when he saw all the children.
“Hello Jed. We don't like to impose but we were taking the children for a sleigh ride when the storm hit. We have nowhere to go until it's over. Would you mind if we stayed here with you for a while? The children will freeze out here in the cold if we aren't able to shelter them.”
“What kind of a mountain man are you? You couldn't tell a storm was coming. Your paw would be ashamed of you. Well, I don't like it but come in. Make sure you wipe your feet.”
The children all walked quietly into the small cabin. If they hadn't been so cold and wet, Cody doubted any of them would have come within three feet of Mr. Finnegan.
Jed could tell the children were all frightened of him. He put his face right into little Timmy's and said, “Shall I cook up some lunch?” Timmy ran to his sister and wrapped his arms around her legs. “April, I want to go home,” he cried. April glared at Jed.
“Jed, don't scare the boy,” said Cody, “I told everyone what an old softie you are.”
“Why would you say that and ruin my image?” Jed laughed. “I've got a pot of beans warming in the fireplace. Why don't you all sit down at that big table over there and I'll dish some up.”
The children all squeezed into the table. The little ones had eyes as big as saucers. They were hungry though and cleaned their plates. They all sat around the fireplace while Jed popped corn for them. He told them stories of living in the mountains and the bears and mountain lions he fought off when he was a boy. They believed every word and begged for more stories. He made the children laugh with his impersonations of a big black bear who had gotten in the way of Jed's fist. While their parents were fretting back in Camden Corners, the children were having a wonderful time.
The skies began to clear and it was time to go. Each one of the little children hugged Jed. Billy and Butch shook his hand.
“Please come to Camden Corners to visit us Mr. Finnegan. Leah is going to be Mary in our Christmas pageant this year and my new brother will be baby Jesus, if he doesn't cry.” Cassandra said.
“I'm going to be Joseph,” added Timmy.
“Thanks Jed. You saved the day for us. I'd better get these children back to their parents. They may never forgive me for taking them out on a day like today.”
“You just follow your instincts, boy. Don't ever forget you are a mountain man.”
The sleigh traveled back down the mountain and the children were dry and happy.
“Mama, Mr. Finnegan gave us some beans.” said one
“And popped corn for us,” said another.
“He told us stories of fighting off bears.”
“And mountain lions too.”
“Cody, that was the best ride ever.”
“May we go to see Mr. Finnegan again sometime?”
The children were all talking at once. The parents who had been worried were relieved their children had been well taken care of.
“Cody,” said Joe Taylor, “how did you ever find old Jed's cabin in that blizzard?”
“I just followed my instincts, Joe. After all I'm a mountain man.”
Everyone celebrated the children's return with a cup of hot chocolate and a freshly baked sugar cookie.