Charlie, Lucy and Jesse want to find out what treasures lurk behind the spring house door
The Treasure at Star Mountain
Charlie, Lucy and Jesse ran down the mountain drive. Their infectious laughter filled the valley. They slowed down slightly when they reached the rickety bridge but their bounding game of tag continued until they reached the spring house. The squishy ground between the road and the spring house sucked on their shoes as they gingerly tried to get to the best tasting water in the area.
Charlie waved to Grandma standing on the front porch of the farm house. From the spring house the family farm was all in view. Bill, the mule was ambling toward fence line; he knew if the kids were home, there would be a treat for him in one of their satchels. Grandma shook her head laughing as she turned to get out of the cold, knowing that the kids would spoil Bill rotten. Behind the spring house, the cows grazed in the pasture, taking their time getting back to the barn for milking. Behind Grandma's house was her big garden plot. Summer canning was done and the winter garden had been planted. Charlie couldn't see the chicken coup but Preacher Man was acting like it was early morning with his cock-a-doodle-dooing. The pig pen and big red barn set on a rise behind Grandma's house and beyond that was Star Mountain, a magical place filled with plenty of love and family lore.
Jesse and Lucy yelled for Charlie to come on. Charlie, being the oldest and tallest, was the only one able to reach the dipper. He kneeled at the pool of mountain spring water. He dipped a ladle of water for Jesse into his mason jar, then one for Lucy. Finally he poured himself a jar full of water.
"Grandma has the bestest water in the whole world!" exclaimed Jesse his eyes twinkled with pure satisfaction as he gulped the water down. Charlie and Lucy agreed with him whole heartedly.
The spring house had two parts; the front part was open so if someone came by and needed water they could get it. The back part of the spring house was like a little cabin with a front door and three windows on the other sides. Instead of having a flat floor, it had a stone walkway in the middle and step downs in the water on either side. The water bubbled up from the spring on the front side of the door flowed under the flooring into the spring house and out the back. The spring was the head of the creek that flowed through the valley.
Jesse was the first to finish. "Hey, what's that?" The door to the spring house was always closed but it never had a lock on it.
"What?" Charlie turned quickly to see what Jesse was pointing to and lost his balance. Lucy grabbed for him as his arms waved around and he teetered back on the edge of the pool of icy spring water. Lucy yanked Charlie flinging him into the wall of the spring house.
"Phew! That was close!" Charlie knew his little sister just saved him from having to run up to the house in ice cold wet clothes. "Thanks. Lucy, but did you have to do it so hard?"
"Why is there a lock on the spring house? It's never locked." Jesse scratched his head looking at the door. Curious as children always are, the three conspired to find out what the secret treasure must be.
Charlie pulled on the lock, "It's tight. There's no opening that door."
Let's check the window!" Lucy suggested. The three headed around the side of the spring house.
Charlie could reach the window, but he wasn't tall enough to see anything that would have been sitting on the water covered stones. Lucy could barely grasp the window sill, so she couldn't see in either. Jesse stood on his tip toes and stretched with all his might, but all he could see was the side of spring house.
"Now what?" Jesse whined.
Just then the dinner bell rang. All three children knew the rule, when you hear the bell ring; you'd best be making your way home, toot sweet! All three looked at each other, ran back to clean up their spring house mess. They rushed back to the house stopping only to give Bill his apple treat, seemingly forgetting the mystery of the locked spring house.
Dinner was served, cleaned up and evening chores done before the siblings had the opportunity to talk about the locked door on the spring house. These three were even more curious about what could be on the other side of the spring house door.
All tucked in for the night, they started whispering, conspiring, and letting their imaginations take flight. The moon shone on Star Mountain that night as the children made their plans for the morning. Grandma would be gone to the quilting bee all day, and the children would be able to find out what was in the spring house, for sure.
Early the next morning Preacher Man started his usual crowing. The whole valley would be awake before long, especially those that lived close to Grandma's farm.
The children slowly got up and started getting dressed. The bedrooms didn't have any heat, so dawdling wasn't wise when the temperatures were so cold. Frost covered the windows and Jessie drew a picture of the sun coming up over the rise with his finger on the window pane.
Grandpa called the kids. They ran into the kitchen. Oatmeal sat in their bowls on the table. Charlie said grace. Jesse and Lucy shoveled in the oatmeal, warming up from the inside out. Charlie asked Grandpa what the plans for the day were.
"Well, the men folk are going to see about hunting for the wedding dinner. I'll meet up with them as soon as Grandma comes home."
The wheels started turning. "Oh, Grandpa, why don't you go ahead, I'll watch out for Lucy and Jesse until Grandma comes home." Charlie figured if Grandma and Grandpa were both gone, they could find out what was in the spring house and not get caught.
Grandpa scratched his chin whiskers. "I don't know, there are some chores that need to be done. I'll meet up with the men later, after your Grandma gets home." He nodded, as he considered the offer.
"I'm sure we'll be fine." Charlie looked up with innocent eyes.
Grandpa really did enjoy hunting with his friends, but this seemed a little fishy.
Lucy chimed in. "We promise to behave," knowing exactly what Charlie was thinking. "We won't fight or argue and we promise to get all the chores done before Grandma comes home."
Grandpa thought about Grandma. She would be tired after the quilting bee. It would be a treat for her to have the chores all done. It seemed like it was a good idea, after all, the children were almost always well behaved and they had promised to be good. Even if he didn't go hunting, it would give him a chance to get some of the work mending the fence around the pig pen done. He'd be close by if the kids needed him and Grandma would be surprised with a clean kitchen and her chores already taken care of.
"Alright," Grandpa said. "I'll get my coat and hat. You make sure the kitchen is tidy, just like Grandma likes it, and the hen house is all cleaned up. I won't be gone too long."
The merry threesome listened intently for the sound of the front door closing. Charlie yelled, "Let's go!"
"Oh no, we're not going anywhere." Lucy stood her ground. She put her hands on her hips and gave Charlie the kid sized version of the Grandma stare. "We promised to clean the kitchen, and we're going to do it."
"Alright," Charlie sighed.
Jesse's eyes got big, a goofy grin spread across his face, and he snatched the bowls off the table. He knew it was best to do what Lucy said.
Lucy grabbed the kettle of hot water off the stove and poured some in the sink. She poured in a little cold water from the pump so she wouldn't burn her hands. She washed the glasses they had drunk their milk in. She washed the bowls and silverware from their oatmeal breakfast; finally she washed the oatmeal pot. Jesse rinsed the dishes and Charlie put the dishes away. Lucy wiped the table up and folded the dish cloth on the freshly rinsed basin.
Charlie headed for the coat rack.
"Oh, no you don't. We haven't swept the kitchen."
Charlie threw his hands in the air in frustration. "We're never going to find out what's in the spring house at this rate!"
"We promised!" Lucy harrumphed right back at him.
Jesse had already grabbed the broom and dust pan. "Here Lucy!"
Lucy took the broom and smiled at Jessie. "We'll be done in no time, wont we."
Charlie grabbed his coat, and looked at Lucy. "I guess we're going to clean the chicken coup first?"
"We certainly are." She held the broom just like Grandma. She stopped sweeping and looked up at him, "The sooner we get done, the sooner we can go to the spring house."
Charlie conceded defeat. "Jesse, you come on with me. Let's get that coup cleaned up and the eggs gathered."
Jesse bounded toward the door. "Let's go!"
"Coats first!" yelled Lucy.
Preacher Man was the orneriest rooster in the county, but he and Jesse were best friends. Around Jesse, Preacher Man acted more like a playful puppy than a loud and crazy rooster. Charlie knew that cleaning out the coup would be a lot easier if Jesse distracted the rooster.
Charlie set to work while Jesse entertained the loony rooster. Lucy joined him as soon as she finished mopping the kitchen floor.
They had the chores finished and the egg basket safely stored in the larder in no time flat.
When they finally started down the drive to the spring house, they all felt a sense of accomplishment. They knew Grandma would be surprised when she came home.
Grandpa worked steadily on the pigpen. He'd mended on section that the hogs had dug up. He was getting ready to start the second side when he saw the kids heading down the drive. "I wonder what they're up to?" he thought scratching the whiskers on his chin.
Charlie, Lucy and Jesse once again, gingerly stepped through the squishy ground around the spring house. They went to the side window. "Here Lucy, let me give you a foot up." Charlie squatted and held his hands together for Lucy to put her foot in. Lucy stepped up and pushed up. About that time the ground sank under Charlie. He toppled back with Lucy landing right on top of him.
Charlie stood up. His whole backside was muddy and soaked through. Mud and grass were on the front of Lucy, as well as her jacket and dress. Jesse fell back laughing at the two making him muddy mess as well.
Grandpa laughed as he watched the children falling time and time again as they tried to spy in the spring house window. He watched the foot up for Lucy, and the foot up for Jesse. He watched Charlie try to get Lucy on his shoulders and then stand up, only to see Charlie fall face first in the soft ground. It was the best entertainment he'd seen since the last Christmas Pageant when the Melton boy stepped on one of the three king's costume and it ripped right off leaving the king walking down the aisle in his overalls.
Grandpa finished up the mending and headed toward the farm house keeping out of sight of the children, just in case they looked up that way. He rounded the back corner of the house and rang the big dinner bell. Watching the children, he saw those three innocent faces from breakfast change into three guilty faces. He nodded back at them and headed into the house.
The muddy siblings slowly headed back to the farm house. Lucy and Jesse had already started sniffling. Charlie was determined he wasn't going to cry but he sure did feel like it. The toot sweet run of yesterday, turned into the slowest walk back to the farm house ever.
Bill followed them along the fence line. His head as heavy as theirs, he seemed to know the worst was about to come. He heehawed his farewell as they headed up to the front porch.
Grandpa met them at the door as Grandma started walking up the drive. The urgency of the moment hit a new high. Now, Grandpa was in just as much trouble as the kids were since he promised to keep an eye on them and keep them out of trouble.
They didn't have long. If Grandma was tired, maybe a little bit longer. Grandpa ushered the kids into their bedroom. "Get out of those dirty clothes, quick, Grandma's on the way." Three sets of eyes widened and the tornado of clothes started hitting the floor. The only words they said were, "Yes, sir," in unison. Grandpa started going through the wardrobe, pulling out clothes for the three kids. All three changed as quick as a flash.
Grandma reached the front steps. She wondered what had happened. The steps and the front porch had cakes of mud in three little paths leading up to the front door. She opened the front door, and looked down the hall. There were clumps of mud all down the hall. Grandma turned around and headed back out the door, quiet as a church mouse. She pulled her coat tighter around her and sat down on her favorite rocker. She started rocking.
Grandpa came down the hall from the children's bedroom. The front door was open, but Grandma wasn't in the house. He walked to the doorway, looking down the drive when he heard the rocking. Oh no, he thought. She's rocking mighty fast; he knew that wasn't a good sign.
"I know you're there." She said quietly. "All you had to do is watch the children while I went to help the quilting bee ladies. That's all."
"I'm sorry, dear. I was just working on the pig pen this morning. I left them enough chores to keep them busy." He paused," I thought."
"Well, I expect there's as big of a mess inside as there is outside."
"The children and I will get it all cleaned up. Did you ladies get the Preacher's wedding quilt finished?"
"Stop trying to change the subject. Have the three rascals come out here right now."
"Charlie, Lucy, Jesse, Grandma's home. Come on out here, right now!"
With mud still on their faces and in their hair, the children slowly came out to face Grandma in their sock feet. She was still rocking really quickly. She bit her lips together to keep from laughing out loud at the motley crew.
"Well, what do you have to say for yourselves?" Grandma adjusted her most stern face. She stared them down, three sad heads dropped. The sniffling started again. Lucy and Jesse had tears running down their muddy faces. Charlie just stared at his toes. Nobody was volunteering anything. "I asked a question," she paused. "I expect an answer."
Jesse started. "It's all my fault."
Lucy chimed in. "No, it isn't all your fault, Jesse. I should have told you that we didn't need to know."
Charlie stood silent.
Grandma looked at Charlie, "Is there something you'd like to add?"
Charlie looked at Grandma. "I'm sorry Grandma. I should have done better." He sighed, "We were just so curious about why the lock was on the spring house door."
Lucy took over, "We thought there might be a special treasure in there. We just had to find out."
Grandpa interrupted, "You should have seen them! He laughed his big loud guffaw and slapped his knee. They were doing everything they could think of trying to get a peek in the window." He started laughing again, "First, Charlie tried to give Lucy a foot up." He snickered, "Ended up flat on his back, and, and," He slapped his leg again, "Lucy fell right on top of him. Little Jesse started laughing, then all of the sudden he fell flat on his back." He continued to laugh as he told about Jesse's foot up and Charlie flinging him almost to the creek. You should have seen them when they got up!" His laughter abruptly stopped when he realize he was getting the same Grandma stare the children were getting.
Grandpa cleared his throat and started to stare at his feet. "Well, it was funny."
Grandma's rocking slowed down. "Well, I'm going to tell you a little story. A long time ago, when I was really little all of my brothers and sisters had to carry water buckets up from the spring house, until my Grandfather dug the well close to the house and put in a pump in the kitchen. So, I think it's only fair that you enjoy that privilege too, since you all chose to make such big messes."
Grandma stood up and walked to the front door. "There's going to be plenty of extra work before supper tonight. So, Grandpa you need to go get the water buckets. Charlie you and Lucy will have the middle sized buckets. Jesse, you'll have the small bucket. Grandpa, you'll be carrying the big buckets." She went into the house, mumbling to herself. "All you had to do was keep them out of trouble. I can't believe it, I just can't believe it."
Grandpa went to the shed and fetched the buckets. Charlie, Lucy and Jesse fetched their shoes and met him on the front porch.
"What are we supposed to do with the buckets, Grandpa?" Jesse innocently asked.
"Fill them up with water and take them to the house."
The bucket brigade began. Three children and an old man walked down to the spring house, dipped their buckets into the pool and headed back up to the house. The first trip wasn't so bad. When they walked into the kitchen, they saw a huge copper pot that covered the whole stove top and the old washtub was sitting in the middle of the kitchen. Grandma was nowhere to be seen.
Grandpa said, "Let's fill up the big pot on the stove first."
Jesse stretched, trying to see into the tub. "We filled it up, didn't we?"
Charlie stood on his tiptoes; he shook his head, "Not even close."
Several trips later, three tired children were released from bucket duty. They found themselves with Grandma at the old wash tub beside the shed. They'd never seen the wash tub being used. Grandma had lit the fire under the pot. The children learned how laundry was done on Star Mountain when Grandma was a little girl. Their muddy clothes were washed and hung out to dry.
Grandpa made a few more trips to fill the old bath tub.
Once the laundry was done, Grandma brought the children in. Lucy was handed the broom. Jesse got the dust pan and Charlie got the mop. The three cleaned the floors, porch and steps to the old farm house.
Grandma yelled just as they finished. The three ran back inside to see what was next, they were hoping for supper.
"Well, you've still got mud in your hair, so even though it isn't Saturday night, you're all getting a bath."
Jesse whined, "But Grandma!"
Grandma put her hands on her hips, "You're first. Go on, the tub's filled with hot water.
Jesse got in the tub and Grandma scrubbed, just like her Grandmother had scrubbed her when she was little. Jesse was pink all over by the time she finished. She put his pajamas on and called for Lucy. Lucy came in; Grandma added some more hot water to the tub. Lucy looked at Grandma. She couldn't believe she was getting in Jesse's bath water. She started to complain. Grandma raised one eyebrow. Lucy got into the tub without another sound. Charlie was last to get a scrubbing from Grandma. Once he had his pajamas on, Grandma yelled for Grandpa. Charlie laughed when Grandpa looked at the tub and looked back at Grandma. He shook his head slowly from side to side. Grandma put that stern face on, and told him to empty the tub and clean up the mess.
The sun had long gone down behind Star Mountain. Dinner was a quiet meal of cold biscuits and a slice of country ham. Once the children were fed, Grandma asked them, "Why didn't you ask why we put the lock on the spring house?"
No one could come up with a good answer.
"Well, I guess you all were just curious, as all little children are. I put the lock on the spring house", she told them. "I went down while you all were at school last week, some of the stones in the spring house were loose. I put the lock on it to keep anyone from going in there and getting hurt. There's no magical treasure in the spring house, just really good ice cold mountain water. Now you all get in there, say your prayers and go to bed. It's been a really busy day."
Grandpa followed the children to their room. They obediently said their prayers, asking for God's blessings for all of their family. When they finished they all crawled up into their beds snuggling under the quilts that the ladies of the quilting bee had made for them. Grandpa blew out the lamp and pulled the door to.
"Well, they're all snuggled in for the night," Grandpa whispered to Grandma. "I didn't know there were any loose stones in the spring house. I'll plan on fixing that in the morning."
Grandma grinned and winked at Grandpa. "I'm sure there's bound to be one or two loose stones as old as that spring house is, after all my great-grandpa built it." She paused, "The children were right; there is a treasure in the spring house. They just don't need to worry about it."
"It's where the ladies stored all of the canned goods we're giving the Preacher and Mary at their wedding."
Grandma chuckled. Grandpa just shook his head, "Well, I'll be."
The moon shone over Star Mountain and the quiet little farm house on the rise. Three very tired children slept soundly; no longer curious at all about the treasure in the spring house.