by KD Miller
Cleo Woodrow remembers the night his brother vanished. (Millen's POV - 1911)
|This is an extremely long chapter, so I'm dividing it into two chapters on WDC. When the book is published, chapters 27 and 28 will be one chapter.
End Part Three of Five
“Are you ready for a weekend of back-to-school shopping?”
I laughed at grandfather, watched him produce a key from his pocket, and unlock his suite at the Majestic Grande Hotel. After we returned from Sicily, and Dr. Alexander was informed of my incident, I lay in bed recovering from the operation he gave me, while Dylan stayed beside me. If my parents and grandfather knew about our new relationship, they didn’t say. Theodore seemed to finally accept it.
A month before the start of my senior year, my grandfather asked me to spend Friday night alone with him at his hotel suite in Dallas. He needed to talk to me. I knew what was coming and accepted. My siblings would be arriving on the trolley just in time for us to have lunch and then spend the remainder of our weekend shopping for school clothes.
“The hotel has a new head of security,” Grandfather called out, as he gently closed the door behind him. “Coincidentally, his hotel apartment is directly across the hall from ours.”
A smile crossed my face, as I glanced into the spare bedroom. The maids already unpacked my trunk. I still couldn’t comprehend how swiftly they took the maintenance elevator up to our suite, unpacked my trunk, and finished before grandfather and I left the lobby! It was magic.
“Grandfather?” I asked as I took two cookies from a jar sitting on a side table. “We’ve been coming down to Dallas with you since our parents adopted us, and you’ve always requested the same hotel suite. Why’s that?” I popped the warm cookie in my mouth.
A slight chuckle escaped his mouth. “Dear, you haven’t figured it out by now?”He asked, as he opened a desk drawer, and took out a key.
I shook my head and accepted the spare key he handed me.
“I own this suite,” he replied with a shrug. “Whenever I have a trial in the Dallas area, I stay here. I believe I’ve been staying here since the Albert Sullivan vs. Singh Chow Trial.”
A frown appeared on my forehead.
“Was that your first trial?” I asked. I seemed to recall whispered conversations of grandfather sending a Chinese man to prison. Mother and father never spoke of it to us, but I overheard them talking to Uncle Jasper and Clinton at times.
“Well, no,” grandfather sighed, his gaze seemed to travel across the room. “That was the first trial I won, and to be honest with you…” He paused, blinked, and slipped his hands in his pockets. “Oh, dear. I left my pocket watch on the lobby counter.”
I watched grandfather let out another sigh of frustration. “I’ll be back in ten minutes, or less. Remember, if you leave the room to take the spare key with you. The door locks by itself from the inside.”
“How’s that?” I popped the remaining cookie in my mouth and laid the key down on the table beside the jar.
“My mother, she was a blacksmith, remember,” Grandfather said, as he grasped the doorknob. “Father kept a few of her blueprints after her death. I found them in his library, and gave them to the hotel’s carpenter.” A bright smile appeared over his face. “Another way to keep you safe, my dear.” He laughed, opened the door, and left. I watched the door shut and miraculously lock safely behind him. How remarkable!
I spent a few minutes changing out of my train clothing, and into something casual to lounge around the hotel with. I still couldn’t believe there was a certain outfit to wear for traveling on a train! A feeling of deja-vu crept over me, as I slipped into my cashmere slippers. I found myself back at the hotel in Sicily. Pausing by the hotel door, I shook my head. Grandfather hired a security guard, and the door locked behind itself. I was safe here.
I grasped a hold of the doorknob and turned it in my hand trying to figure out how Grandma Heather designed such a remarkable object. I noticed that I could unlock the door by turning the doorknob in my hand, but when I let go, and the door shut, the lock locked by itself. How did she design this!
Opening the door, I walked out into the hall to see if I could figure it out from the opposite side. I know I put that spare key in my pocket. I closed the door, and turned the knob, and found it securely locked. Hmm. I reached into my pocket and pulled up lint. With a frown, I reached into my other pocket and in my mind, I saw myself taking the spare key from my grandfather and placing it on the side table. Of course…
With a deep sigh, I leaned against the door, grasped a hold of the doorknob, and slammed my body weight hoping it would open. Nope. Grandma Heather must have been a powerful blacksmith. It didn’t surprise me one bit that Mr. Charles stole her blueprints.
“What’s that ruckus?” A cheerful voice called out.
I turned and saw a boy about my age leaning against an open door. He cast me a sly smile while biting down on an apple. He must be the security guard or his son. He wasn’t standing there a few seconds ago.
“I did something rather foolish,” I admitted. “I locked myself out of my suite.”
I noticed the boy’s eyebrows shoot up in disbelief, as he chewed and swallowed his piece of apple. “Oh, your suite?”
I looked into this boy’s intimidating eyes and felt nervous. I had a good several inches on him, but he had what Theodore called “A snobby demeanor.”
“Well, my grandfather’s room” I laughed, while silently praying grandfather would come sailing out of the elevator doors at any minute. Who was this kid, and why the questions?
“Oh, he’s your grandfather,” the boy continued in a mocking voice. “You look so much like him.”
A deep flush spread through my body, and I knew the boy was bullying me. I wished Theodore was here, he’d know how to silence him with one glare, or insult. After all these years, my brother still hadn’t lost his Brooklyn street smarts. He could go from rich kid to Brooklyn thug in five seconds.
I took a deep breath and stood up taller. I could handle this myself. Memories of being in the alley with my attacker nagged at the back of my head, but I pushed them aside.
“Do you have a spare key?” I asked. “I assume you’re the security guard. I would like to go back to my room.”
The boy reeled back as if he’d been hit, then fury flashed in his eyes. “Why aren’t you a bold little street urchin? Say, how did you sneak into this hotel anyway? Did the delivery boys leave the backdoor open?”
“Wha…” I fell back against the door in disbelief. The boy believed me to be a thief? But, how? My clothes were more expensive than his. Everyone at the hotel knew Cleo Woodrow was my adopted grandfather.
I watched his eyes travel up and down my body taking in the sweater and trousers I purchased in England.
“I also assume you stole your clothing so you could try to blend in with the guests at Mr. Woodrow’s Hotel?” The boy continued, as I stood by in silent fear. “Don’t play dumb with me, kid. I heard you banging on the door, and I stepped out to investigate. All I see is an obvious Italian immigrant from the poor side of Dallas who must have snuck into this hotel, stole some clothes from the laundry room, and is trying to steal from the wealthy residents. Well, you picked the wrong room. That’s Mr. Woodrow’s suite, the owner of the hotel, and if you were his grandson, you’d know that.”
My body seemed to transform into the jello molds mother served us during Christmas and Easter celebrations. The boy was a liar! Grandfather didn’t own the hotel. He would have told me by now. A sense of relief pierced my body as the familiar ping of the elevator doors opening filled the hallway, then dread as an unknown man stepped out.
“Father!” the boy pointed at me. “I caught this thief trying to break into Mr. Woodrow’s suite. Says he’s his grandson! Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous! The boy isn’t white, he’s a foreigner!”
My heart began to beat in my chest, as the man turned to glare at me. So, this must be the new security guard. I’d give him kudos, he was quite good, unfortunately, his son was making a mistake.
“I am Cleo Woodrow’s grandson,” I pleaded. “His daughter adopted me off the Orphan Train several years ago.”
“Well,” the man spat. “Looks like you know the latest gossip on Mr. Woodrow, unfortunately, you’re wrong, boy. Mrs. Frank Mueller adopted four Irish siblings from Brooklyn, not four Italian immigrants!”
“My real father is Sicilian royalty, not an Italian immigrant,” I spat back knowing fully well how absurd I sounded. My body seemed to grow hotter at the outrageous claims. Then it dawned on me, the only people who knew about my Sicilian roots were my family. Nobody else would know, and why would they? It’s not like we put out a big Advertisement in the newspaper “Cleo Woodrow’s adopted son, Millen O’Connor is part Sicilian!” How absurd!
The security guard seemed to grow livid at being attacked by someone he misjudged. “Why aren’t you a saucy little sewer rat?” He hissed, as he reached out, and grasped my arm. Memories of Mrs. Tuscano trying to kidnap me in the Brooklyn Cemetery came rushing back. I felt the man place his hand over my mouth, and I responded by biting hard, and letting out a scream as I had when I was nine-years-old. This time it wasn’t Theodore who rescued me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mr. Vazquez, the long-time lobby manager, rushing down the hallway. He must have taken the stairs.
“That’s Senior Woodrow’s grandson!” He screamed, his eyes large, his face white as milk. “Stop! That’s Senior Woodrow’s grandson!”
The chime of the elevator filled the deathly silent hall. I turned and saw grandfather calmly walk off, and his face transforming to rage as he took in the sight before him. The new security guard had one arm wrapped tightly around me, and the other held high as if he were going to strike me. In front of me, his son looked deathly ill as it dawned on him that I’d been telling him the truth the entire time. Mr. Vazquez pulled me from the security guard, grasped his key ring, hurriedly unlocked the door, and pushed me inside. I could hear grandfather shouting as the door locked behind me.
An hour later, I nervously perched on the sofa in the sitting area of our suite. I watched grandfather’s hands shake with anger, as he poured himself a glass of Scotch.
“Want a drink?” He asked as he knocked the liquid down his throat.
“No, thank you,” I whispered. Since being thrown into the suite by Mr. Vazquez, I sat listlessly on the sofa, mindlessly swirling patterns in the silk fabric. My mind raced a hundred miles a minute. What if grandfather hadn’t stepped off the elevator at the right moment, would I have been thrown out on the street? Would the security guard who’d been hired to protect me, strike me because he assumed me to be a thief because of my skin color? It never crossed grandfather to inform the man that his youngest grandson was half Sicilian.
The slam of the glass hitting the marble table pulled me back to reality.
“I apologize for shouting in the hallway.” Grandfather shook his head and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. A cloth napkin lay forgotten near the Scotch bottle. He must be furious to commit such a horrid etiquette mistake.
“I fired Mr. Wallace,” grandfather continued. “He and his son have left.”
I kept silent. Because of me, another tragedy happened. I kept thinking of the incident in Sicily, and the boy who’d been paid to attack me. His poor family needed the money, and he’d been bullied into accepting. The people who chose him probably threatened his parent’s life if he refused. Uncle Joseph had taught me all about the crime families that ran the neighborhood.
“I think we should eat dinner here in the living area, and talk in private,” Grandfather said, his tone taking on a softer tone. “My God, there are so many things I need to tell you.”
“Don’t my siblings need to be here?” I asked. I knew I was stalling for time.
A smile appeared on grandfather’s face, as he walked around from the liquor cabinet, and sat beside me on the sofa.
“After firing Mr. Wallace, I sent an urgent telegram to your parent’s house requesting your siblings hop on the four o’clock train. They shall be at the hotel by six.”
A chuckle escaped my lips. My Dylan. He’d kill Mr. Wallace’s son. “You always know what I need to make me feel better.”
“That I do.” Grandfather settled back in the sofa cushions. His breathing relaxed. “We don't have much time for everything I must tell you. I was hoping to have the entire night, then again I didn’t expect Mr. Wallace to mistake you for a thief.”
“I haven’t been in this situation since mother and father adopted me,” I whispered. “In Brooklyn, we were profiled as poor Irish trash and treated with such disrespect. My brothers and I may have been blessed to have been adopted by a wealthy family, but I’ve grown older, and my Sicilian side is showing more than my Irish side. Being profiled is something I’m going to have to live with. You can’t protect me forever.”
“Oh, that’s ridiculous, Millen,” grandfather snapped. I watched him reach behind him, and remove the Scotch bottle from the table. “You’re my grandson, and I expect everyone to treat you like the royalty you are!”
I leaned forward and studied grandfather sipping the bitter liquid. I could see the frustration in his eyes, and knew he was thinking about his snobby past. My mind conjured up Singh Chow, the Chinese servant whom grandfather successfully sent to prison. The way my mother would speak in hushed tones to her brothers when they talked about the trial. How grandfather’s eyes cast down in pity as he mentioned it to me only an hour and a half ago when we arrived at the suite. He was going to say something then.
“Who is Singh Chow?” I asked, startling grandfather so much he coughed, this time remembering to grasp his handkerchief.
“Where on earth did that come from?” He asked. “How do we go from profiling to the Chinese servant I sent to prison for attacking Mrs. - Mrs. Sullivan?”
I couldn’t help but notice the hesitation in his voice, as he struggled to say the man’s name. Something wasn’t right. I shrugged. “You mentioned his name before running downstairs to find your pocket watch. I assume he has something to do with your past life?”
I trailed off and closed my eyes in disbelief. In all the years since grandfather’s transformation from the horrid ogre to loving grandfather, I’d never brought up his former self.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. A dreadful silence filled the room. Through my closed eyes, I could sense the man staring at me.
“Millen look at me,” my grandfather asked, and I obeyed. “Mr. Chow is one of the stories I must tell you tonight, I just didn’t expect it to be so sudden. His tragic story does involve my hateful past, and I regret it with all my heart and soul. I wrongfully sent him to prison to impress my cold-hearted father, and it backfired.”
I felt my forehead increase in a frown. “I don’t understand why you have to tell me this story in private?” I asked. “Why can’t my brothers be here too?”
Grandfather’s head shot straight up from concentrating on the Scotch bottle. A wave of fear swept through me. I hadn’t seen him giving me a look of disbelief since the day we walked off the cattle car almost eight years ago. “Your four are the dirtiest bunch of ragamuffins I’ve ever laid eyes on.”
“Because,” grandfather answered, his tone steady. “Singh Chow was wrongfully prisoned the same way you were wrongfully attacked in Sicily, and just now out in the hallway. I easily convinced a jury of rich, arrogant men to racially profile an innocent Chinese servant for the sole purpose of impressing my father, and it backfired!”
Grandfather slammed the Scotch bottle on the side table, and I jumped at the sound of glass coming in contact with marble. “My father could care less about how I illegally won my first trial, and I knowingly sent an innocent man to life in prison. I convinced a jury to racially profile him, the same way you were profiled out in the hallway!”
I stared back, my eyes blinking at the confession.
“Not once,” grandfather continued, “did I care. My father taught me to hate anyone not born with white skin, and money in the bank. I’m sorry to say for years I treated every foreigner I came in contact with - with disrespect. I used it to send Mr. Chow to prison, and I regretted nothing. That poor, innocent man has been sitting in jail since my children were young. I did it to foolishly impress my father, and he didn’t care one bit.”
I leaned forward, and took a hold of his hands, marveling at the matching moles on both our thumbs. I knew what he was about to say.
“Then you came into my life, and sat beside me on the couch when nobody else would,” Grandfather said. I could hear his voice trying desperately not to break, as he remembered.
I gave a short laugh. “You looked so remorseful,” I said squeezing his hand. “I remember our first Christmas morning and father explaining to us the meaning of the word. A few weeks later, there you sat, all alone on the couch, and you looked remorseful.” Re - mouse - full.
The two of us dissolved into laughter, as he reached up to pull me in for a hug.
“Oh, baby,” he sighed. “I shuddered to think how my life would have turned out without the four of you.”
“Hmm,” I sighed. “Tell me about Mr. Chow.”
The sound of air pierced my ear as grandfather let out a sigh of distress.
“If you wish, my dear.”
I could feel him settling down in the sofa pillows. I laid my head on his shoulder, which wasn’t easy when you towered over 6 ft, and grandfather was an average height.
“A few weeks before the incident, I lost my first case. I remember it to be a silly petty theft crime. I argued hard to send the man to jail, but in the end, his lawyer won and the man only had to pay a fine. I walked home from the court that day in a sour mood, and by the time I reached my father’s house I passed out in my room from exhaustion and the shame of defeat.”
Closing my eyes, I felt my grandfather’s fingers in my hair and knew this story wouldn’t be easy.
“In the morning, my father, your dreadful Grandpa Alex, wouldn’t talk to me at the breakfast table,” he continued. “I assumed word reached him that his son lost his first trial - how embarrassing for him. I recall reaching for a jar of honey when I felt his steel gaze upon me. I raised my eyes and met his. He called me a failure, and that Jasper would have made a better lawyer, but I had to become jealous of a jade ring.” Grandfather’s voice trailed off as he repeated the words his cruel father hissed at him.
“That’s horrible,” I whispered.
“It doesn’t become better,” the man continued. “The children were young then, and they never remembered their mother because she passed away after giving birth to the twins. I remember the morning after the trial they were sliding down the banister. My father caught your mother, followed by her brothers toppling down the stairs in hysterics onto a pile of blankets. He sent them to their rooms, and came to me and informed me I had one week to find them a boarding school. I looked at my father in bewilderment because it was my idea for them to slide down the banister for Jasper and I used to do it all the time only fifteen-years prior. After mentioning this to the man, he looked down his nose at me and said ‘the children’s laughter reminds me too much of my favorite son.”
“Grandfather, that’s awful,” I reeled as if I’ve been slapped. Poor Grandpa Alex all alone in the hospital, perhaps it was best that he’d forgotten his cruel self?
“He was always that way,” grandfather squeezed my arm. “Can I ask your favor?”
I looked deep into his eyes. “Of course, anything you wish.”
I wonder what he was getting at? Poor Mr. Chow, poor Jasper, and poor Grandpa Alex. Why was God punishing our family decade after decade?
“You can’t tell anyone what I just informed you?” He said, his voice steady. “I could go to prison.”
“How?” I spat back, feeling my body grow hotter. “All you could do is go to the judge and have him released - I believe you should!”
To my disbelief, a soft chuckle escaped his lips. “Oh, dear, if it were only that simple. As long as Mrs. Sullivan is still living, Singh Chow will be laboring in prison.”
I crossed my arms in disgust. “What exactly is her problem?”
There is nothing I loathed more than snobby women who intentionally start drama solely because of their rich, social status. Mother warned us about the different kinds of trouble wealthy women liked to pull on others. As a believer in Jesus, I would be too scared to even think of plotting against someone for a “game.”
“Her problem is…” grandfather swirled his drink. “She was spoiled rotten by her daddy, and currently her husband. A few weeks before I sent Mr. Chow to prison, the poor man accidentally walked in on her beating a young servant with a rod, the kind the gardeners use. He raced from the room, and out of the house. Fearing the man would turn her in for cruelty she went crying to her husband. He sent me an urgent telegram and offered me three - hundred dollars as a bribe. We met together at this very hotel, in the downstairs lobby, and discussed the case. We plotted how we would easily convince the jury that Mr. Chow attacked and raped Mrs. Sullivan as Joseph did to Potiphar’s wife. The only difference being Joseph was destined to be royalty, of sorts. Mr. Chow was nothing but an orphaned Chinese servant.”
“Grandfather that’s horrible!” I repeated, and immediately slunk back against the pillows. I’d never spoken to him in such a tone.
Instead of yelling back, grandfather let out a sigh, “I agree,” he mumbled, dropping his head in his hands. “That poor man, and there is nothing I can do about it.”
I found myself laying my head on his shoulder. “I won’t say anything to anyone, not even Dylan.”
Grandfather lifted himself and wrapped his arms around me for a hug. “Millen, I want you to know something,” he said, his voice taking on a solemn tone. “You remind me so much of my brother, and there was nothing wrong with him, and there is nothing wrong with you. Do you understand?”
I stared back at my grandfather, and It all made sense. Jasper and I were the same. Grandfather knew all this time that his brother preferred men, but how? Did Jasper tell him all those years ago? Did Uncle Alex tell him? Did he find his brother’s long lost diaries?
“How did you find out?” I whispered in awe.
A sly smile crept over his face. “Jasper carried himself exactly like you. He loved fashion, and despite the war still dressed every day as if he were on his way to a ball. His mannerisms and the perfection of the English language reminds me of you.” Grandfather trailed off and looked at his feet. “It clicked in my mind several days ago. I noticed the similarities between the two of you and remembered the night he disappeared. In the barn, Jasper told Thomas ‘We will use this ring to escape to San Antonio.’ He used the word ‘we,’ and for the first time in my life, it made sense. Jasper was running away with Thomas., not helping him escape as I always assumed.”
“Do you think they were seeing one another, the same way Dylan and I are-” I trailed off, as grandfather suddenly turned to stare, his eyes glazed over. A terrible shock raced through my body, and my stomach turned over. Oh, dear! I assumed he knew.
“I must unlock the attic,” he said, his eyes enlarging. “Millen, it’s coming back. I can’t believe my mind tucked this away for so many decades. The answer to his disappearance is in the attic, and I know where to find it.”
“That’s why Grandpa Alex locked everything away,” I answered, my body growing more excited by the sudden turn of events. “What is it?”
Grandfather shook his head in a daze “That ring,” he mumbled. “He must have written about it in his diary for me to find someday, but father beat me to it. That ring was going to get them to San Antonio, and the person who would help them escape came through, even though he was locked in the attic.”
“That means he and Thomas are still alive, and possibly living with Sybil in San Antonio!” I gasped, then frowned as grandfather shook his head.
“The town has been thoroughly searched,” he sighed in frustration. “Nobody with those names or descriptions live together.”
“Perhaps, they changed their names?” I asked, hoping to keep my grandfather’s mood cheerful.
In response, the man laughed and pulled me close for a hug. “Oh, baby, I hope so.”
The stillness of the room was interrupted by chimes either announcing the arrival of my siblings, or the dinner grandfather ordered.
“Come child,” grandfather pulled himself off the couch. “There is still much more to tell.” He wandered toward the door, while I dutifully followed. Grasping hold of the doorknob, he turned and smiled “I know you’re quite curious why I never told you that I own this hotel.”
“Does everyone have a piece of paper and a pencil?” Grandfather asked.
I slunk down on the sofa beside Dylan and placed my piece of paper on top of a newspaper for support.
“What’s this for?” Theodore asked as he lounged on the opposite sofa beside Francis.
My brothers had arrived on time, and we promptly ate dinner. Afterward, I took Dylan aside in our shared suite and told him what happened a short time before. I watched his face grow red, as he angrily removed his clothing and slipped into his pajamas and robe. Grandfather wished for us to retire to the parlor to hear a story.
“I’m going to tell you the entire story of the last day before Jasper disappeared, and I want the four of you to take notes,” Grandfather said, as he sat down in a smoking chair before us. “Here is your free lawyer tip, everyone sees and hears events differently. If the four of you were to witness a crime, I guarantee you, all four of you would notice something different.”
“So, you want the four of us to take notes because you believe we will hear or notice something from the story that the others won’t,” Dylan said, a little smile on his lips. “I see what you’re getting at.”
I watched grandfather lounge back in his chair. “It took me almost fifty years to conclude that Jasper wrote down where he was going in his journal for me to find. I cannot believe I couldn’t comprehend it until now.”
Theodore let out a yawn and moved to stretch his arms. “I’m guessing the two of them,” he pointed toward Dylan and me, “are your muses?”
I shot my brother a look, as Francis let out a snort.
“A muse is a mythological woman who inspires art and creativity, Theodore,” he laughed. “Millen’s mannerisms only pulled a hidden memory from grandfather’s brain. It’s all quite easy to understand. The human brain purposely tucks away the trauma, and it can come out in the most unexpected ways. Certain events, words, and even mannerisms can trigger the hidden emotion.”
I turned to look at Dylan in surprise, our brother was growing smarter every day.
“Well, thank you, Dr. Francis,” Theodore said, as he tucked his legs under him.
Francis reached over, and placed a couple of throw pillows behind him, and laid down, his feet mere inches from Theodore on the sofa. “I heard the sarcasm in your voice, little brother, and I love it! In only a few short years you will be calling me Dr. Francis daily!”
We all laughed, as Theodore shot his brother one last look of disbelief. “Don’t count on it.”
“Children, are we done fighting?” Grandfather asked with a smile.
A silly thought came to my mind.
“We will never be done fighting,” I laughed. “Someday, we will be old men arguing over coffee and cigarettes on our front porch.”
Theodore snorted. “You expect the four of us to be living together when we’re old and gray? Telling our life story to Francis’s grandchildren?”
“My grandchildren?” Francis asked, with a twinkle in his eye. “Am I the only one in this room capable of producing children?”
I looked at Dylan in amusement. The two of us were quite capable of having children, but our life would never steer us in that direction.
“I would love a child of my own,” I found myself saying. “But, I know that’s not possible.”
An uncomfortable silence filled the room, and I felt like running away. A look of pure disgust flashed over Theodore’s face at the word “child.” I noticed the way he glanced down at his stomach and turned back to his paper and pencil.
“Well, now,” Grandfather continued. “The Lord knows what’s best, Millen, and if you or any of your brothers were meant to have children, you will.”
This seemed to satisfy me. Perhaps, Dylan and I were to adopt? Two wealthy bachelor brothers adopt children from an orphanage in Dallas. The authorities would never question us. But, how I longed to have a child that carried the Tuscano bloodline. My father would be thrilled! A son, or daughter to carry our Sicilian roots.
I glanced down at my thumb, and the mole stuck out. Wouldn’t it be grand to have the Woodrow blood in me as well? Grandfather had to be correct. Somewhere along the line, our paths crossed. The Woodrows came from England, and the Tuscano Family never left Sicily. Perhaps, my unknown American great grandfather was from the branch of the Woodrow family that didn’t come to America in the early 1800s? Diez Woodrow was said to have several brothers and one sister who never sailed from Liverpool to Virginia. The Civil War deserter! This mysterious man stood my pregnant great grandmother up at the altar in Sicily, and his name was never mentioned again.
“Goodness,” our grandfather said aloud as the parlor clock struck eight at night. “Let’s continue with my story, shall we?”
I pulled a throw blanket over my legs, rested my head on Dylan’s shoulder, and twirled the pencil in my fingers. I couldn’t wait! After all these years grandfather was going to tell us the entire story of the night his brother disappeared.
“The day started with my tomcat Uncle William Woodrow announcing this would be his last day in town,” our grandfather said. “The bank would be giving him the remainder of Diez Woodrow’s inheritance one hour before they closed.”
“Grandpa Alex never received any of the money, correct?” Theodore interrupted.
Grandfather let out a little sigh. “Yes, and he never said why. Diez passed away in my house from influenza roughly one year after my parents moved in. The night he passed away was the day Jasper was born!” Grandfather’s eyes seemed to light up. “I can’t believe I forgot. My father took the newborn baby from my mother’s arms, wrapped a cloth over him, and took him to see Diez, which was quite foolish since influenza is contagious.”
I wrote “Diez passed away in grandfather’s house from influenza,” and paused. How foolish of Grandpa Alex to be in his father’s room, with baby Jasper, as the man died of a highly contagious disease
“Let me get this straight,” Francis interrupted. “Grandpa Alex takes Jasper, wraps him in swaddling cloth, and takes him into a room that’s swarming with influenza. Is he mad?”
Grandfather shrugged. “He wanted his father to see his first grandchild before he passed on.”
“But, that doesn't’ make any sense,'' Francis interrupted. “Your grandfather is in his room dying of influenza, and Grandpa Alex exposes himself and a newborn baby to the disease knowing fully well it could kill both of them.”
“Like I said,” grandfather continued. “Grandpa Diez didn’t care too much for my father. Uncle William was the golden child, just like Jasper. Something happened when my father was sixteen, and William eighteen. My father was abruptly married to my mother, and William took an early inheritance and went off around Europe. He came home, purchased a farm in Kentucky, and stayed.”
“He only returned to Sherwood twice. The first time is the first day my parents moved into their newly built home. He stayed for a week. When Grandpa Diez passed away, Uncle William was off on one of his many vacations, so my father had no way to reach him for the funeral. His lawyers finally caught up with him eighteen years later. Uncle William arrived in Sherwood ready to collect his inheritance, and never return.”
“That was the week leading up to Jasper’s disappearance,” Dylan asked.
“Yes,” our grandfather said as he leaned back in his chair. “It feels good talking about this after almost fifty years.”
A slight laugh escaped my throat, as I jotted down a few notes. “I guess I am a muse.”
I picked up my pencil, and turned my attention back to grandfather, fully ignoring the look Theodore was shooting me across the room.
“As I was saying,” grandfather continued. “I remember eating breakfast that morning with my parents, brother, and Uncle William when the announcement was made. Throughout the meal, Sybil kept nervously refreshing everyone’s coffee, and water. I noticed her hand shaking as she picked up the warm kettle and poured more of the liquid into my uncle’s cup. He didn’t even look at her. She was a servant, and not worthy of his time. My mother’s lips pressed down as she watched the scene unfold across from her. Sybil finished and flew back into the kitchen. The incident took less than a minute, but I knew something to be wrong. Sybil was noticeably upset, and my mother and I were the only two who noticed it.”
“Do you think he yelled at her,” Theodore asked?
Grandfather shrugged. “Possibly. My uncle didn’t care one bit about her.”
I snuggled beside Dylan, as my fingers flew over the paper. I know how hard it was when grandfather talked about his father, or grandfather abusing the servants. I know he’s never fully forgiven himself for how he treated us on the train platform.
“The remainder of the morning and early afternoon passed normally,” grandfather continued. “I took my school work out on my balcony to enjoy the crisp winter air before the temperatures dropped. I looked down, and saw my father in his usual spot in the gardens, relaxing in his chair, as he wrote in his journal. Uncle William passed him as he walked over to his horse tethered to the post. I heard something along the lines of ‘Having conversations with Jasper?’ I assumed my uncle had been talking to my brother. I watched Uncle William untie his horse, hop on it, and race off toward town. My attention drifted off to my father, as he continued to write. Not once did he acknowledge his brother-”
“Around four in the afternoon, my father took my brother and me to town to purchase a Christmas present for our mother. I noticed the cherry red ribbons tied on all the fence posts, the wreaths on all the shop windows, and the smell of burnt firewood-”
“We walked into the general store, and Jasper made a beeline to the stationary display. I noticed the shopkeeper laying out a new set of journals. Father usually purchased a new journal for him and Jasper at the start of the month. The book was dropped off on the parlor table for my brother to pick up after breakfast. Never in my life had Jasper paid for his journal, so I found it quite odd when he pointed toward one and paid the ten cents himself,” grandfather paused, a frown settling on his forehead.
“You think Jasper was giving you a hint?” Francis asked as he twirled his pencil. “You said earlier that your brother possibly wrote in his journal where he would be running off to.”
“You know,” our grandfather said, as he leaned forward. “I think he was. He made such a big deal out of pointing out the journal and paying for it. I always believed he was bragging because he received a larger allowance than me, but he wasn’t. He was telling me that he was buying a new journal, and when I found him to be gone in the morning, to look in his journal for answers.”
“Didn’t your father read Jasper’s journals?” Theodore asked.
“No -- I don't think he ever did,” our grandfather said, as he remembered. “I honestly don’t believe my father would ever invade Jasper’s privacy. On the other hand, if I were to write a journal, I knew he would read it.”
I stopped taking notes and accidentally dropped my pencil. “You never told us why Grandpa Alex preferred Jasper over you?” I asked as I removed the pencil from the folds of the blanket.
“Oh, baby, I have no idea,” grandfather sighed. “He always openly favored Jasper. My brother resembled him with his strawberry blonde hair and starlight blue eyes. If he ever returned, I would know him by his eyes. By a stroke of bad luck, I was the carbon copy of Uncle William with chestnut brown hair, short and stocky build, and stubby fingers. My father constantly fought with Uncle William, and I assume I reminded him of his brother.”
“I didn’t know you looked like Uncle William?” I asked. “How interesting. Too bad there wasn’t a photograph taken. Photography did exist during the Civil War.”
A small, sad, smile rested on my grandfather’s face. “There is a photograph of my brother, but it disappeared the day he did.”
I gasped, as well as my brothers. “Do you believe he took it with him?” I pressed my grandfather for answers. This was too intriguing.
Grandfather shook his head. “The day Uncle William arrived in Sherwood, and took up residence at the hotel, father invited a traveling photographer into the home. The man assembled his prop background in the parlor, and I remember standing beside Jasper, as our parents sat on a sofa in front of us. Afterward, he mixed his chemicals in his wagon and presented us with the finished project. Cost my father roughly three dollars. The photograph perched on the fireplace mantle, the same fireplace I sat before as I saw my brother for the last time. I remember seeing the photograph the morning after as father led me to the attic. By nightfall, I stumbled up to bed exhausted and hungry from joining the search party. I wished to see my brother’s face, and as I turned toward the fireplace mantle, my body grew cold. It was gone, just like him.”
“So,” Theodore interrupted. “A traveling photographer knocked on the door, and your father invited him in?”
“No,” grandfather said. “Jasper happened to be in the parlor with our father, and it was his idea for the photograph. My father was going to decline, but what Jasper wanted, he always got.”
A jolt of energy raced through my body at the confession. “Do you believe Jasper was giving another hint?” I asked as I propped myself up. “He knew he would be leaving with Thomas in a few days, and wanted his photograph left behind for his parents!”
Francis and Theodore turned to stare in awe. I felt Dylan reach over and squeeze my hand.
“You know,” grandfather crossed his legs. “You are my little muse! I never thought of that. Jasper was giving hints a week before he left.”
I closed my eyes and felt Dylan reach over to openly kiss the side of my face. Nobody batted an eye, or in Theodore’s case, gave a sarcastic retort. Why should they? Dylan and I weren’t related. What is the harm?
“But, back to my story,” grandfather continued, as I opened my eyes. “I remember Jasper and I choosing a bolt of linen cloth for our mother’s Christmas present, a long, trailing pre-sewn dressing gown, fur-trimmed slippers, and a new sewing kit. Jasper asked our father if he could purchase a gift for Thomas and Sybil. He agreed, as long as Jasper used his own money. I followed my brother to a display of riding boots and began to stare as my brother paid for a pair for Thomas. He chose a new wool shawl for Sybil-”
“I watched the clerk expertly wrap Thomas and Sybil’s presents in tissue paper, as I stared enviously at a pair of riding boots. I wanted them, and my fingers craved them. Jasper could ask our father for anything, and it would be given to him. I knew Christmas to be coming up in a few days, so I asked for them.” Grandfather trailed off, and I felt a drop in my stomach. We knew the rest of the story.
“I’m sorry, grandfather,” I heard myself say. “That was a mean thing for your father to openly embarrass you as he did.”
“It is what it is,” grandfather sighed. “My father knew what he was doing. All he had to do was politely decline, or say something like, maybe for Christmas. Instead, he raised his voice so everyone could hear, and announced that my feet were too big for such a beautiful object.”
Grandfather paused, reached for his bottle of scotch, took a few sips as if he were erasing the horrible memory, and placed the bottle back on the side table.
“We left the shop in silence. I trailed behind my brother carrying our mother’s presents. Jasper seemed to be in a cheerful mood, as he babbled about the gifts he purchased Thomas and Sybil. It was growing colder in Sherwood, and the snow looked to be on the horizon. The gifts would keep them warm-”
“In the distance, I spotted Uncle William step out of the First National Bank. A smile like a cat teasing a rat on his face. I assumed he had a money bag tucked securely under his coat. My father muttered ‘Another five thousand dollars,’ under his breath. Grandpa Diez presented Uncle William with five thousand when he turned eighteen. In return, the man spent the money on a lavish trip throughout Europe, and the remaining sum purchasing a farm in Kentucky. Now, that my grandfather has been in his grave at Crystal Springs Cemetery going on eighteen years, the remainder of the estate had been signed over to Uncle William-”
“I was still in a sour mood from my father’s retort, so I kept silent. The three of us passed Mr. Charles’s shop and Jasper happened to notice one of the clerks displaying the new merchandise in the window. A painted announcement on the glass read “New Merchandise in time for Christmas Season.” My brother let out an unearthly shriek, and disappeared into the store-”
“I silently followed my father into the blacksmith’s shop and found Mr. Charles fawning over my brother. Jasper had his left hand in the air, as he admired a ring. Mr. Charles informed father the jade ring had recently arrived from the far east. With a war going on, it had taken over a year, but arrived in time for the holiday season-”
“Father asked Mr. Charles the price, and he said fifty dollars. I slunk back in disgust, as father removed the money, and passed it over the wooden counter to the cashier. Jasper kept babbling about the beautiful ring. He gathered up Thomas and Sybil’s presents, and we returned home.”
“I always believed my brother to be gloating over the ring. He kept saying how expensive it was. How father announced to everyone ‘Anything for you my love.’ I felt disgusted at my brother. But, as I look back, I believe Jasper was giving clues. “The ring could be pawned and the money used to help Thomas and Sybil escape. At the time I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was upset at my father and sullenly ate dinner. Uncle William arrived shortly after we did, and stayed in the dining room with father after we all retired for the evening.”
“He bought the ring on purpose,” I asked. “He was showing you…”
“My father was openly telling me he loved Jasper over me!” Grandfather interrupted, his voice slightly raised in anger.
I cringed and felt Dylan’s arm on mine. The look of pure disgust on grandfather's face told me he would never forgive his father.
“Please, grandfather,” Theodore coaxed, “Continue with your story. Grandfather Alex has suffered for his meanness. We’re doing this for your brother. Hopefully, there will be clues to his disappearance in the attic, and we can bring him home for Christmas.”
Grandfather threw his head back in laughter. “Children, did you know the day you were adopted by Frank and Catrina happened to be the fortieth anniversary of Jasper’s disappearance.”
“No,” I gasped. “Our parents never told us!” I glanced over at Dylan, who was smiling back in awe. “That is a miracle.”
Grandfather crossed his legs. “Jasper disappeared with Thomas, and Sybil one week before Christmas day in 1864. The war would be over only five months later.”
I caught Francis pulling his legs up against his chest. “How wonderful would it be for Jasper to return for this Christmas?” His eyes grew large at the thought. “There has to be something in the attic. Perhaps a clue, diary entry, train ticket, letter?”
“Oh, baby,” grandfather let out a sigh at the thought. “I hope so.”
We watched him trail off, as he diverted his attention to a window. That also left another unanswered question. How come Jasper never tried to return? They were all adults. He could have written grandfather a letter, or came to visit? Perhaps, he loathed Grandfather Alex with such a passion after the man locked him in the attic, that he didn’t wish to see him ever again?
After all these years, our adopted cousin, Ashton, still hasn’t forgiven his real father for abandoning him at the orphanage. He told us he cried all night, and evil Mr. Schweighoffer openly spanked him in front of the others. Sometimes, people can never forgive. What exactly went on in the attic when Grandfather Alex threw Jasper in there? They had to have quarreled. Grandfather vividly remembers going up in the morning and seeing the blood droplets on the floor, and he knew Jasper had been struck with the whip. The favorite golden child was beaten by the man who openly favored him over his other son. How horrible for everyone.
“As I was saying,” grandfather turned his attention back to us, as we patiently waited. “After an uncomfortable dinner, I slunk back to my room, the same room I currently live in and tried to sleep early. After tossing around for a few moments, I heard loud, muffled, arguing. I flung the quilts off my bed, cautiously opened the door, and spied Jasper at the top of the stairs. We listened for a bit as Father yelled at Uncle William. We knew they were in the dining room, but we couldn’t hear the conversation, only certain words.”
On instinct, I grasped my pencil, as did my brothers. This could be a clue to Jasper’s whereabouts.
Grandfather closed his eyes, and said, “I distinctly heard my father yell the words: ‘Jasper,’ ‘Crystal Springs,’ ‘how dare you,’ ‘son,’ and ‘our daddy!’”
The four of us wrote the words down.
“I remember you taking us to the land in Crystal Springs where Grandfather Alex’s childhood house stood before it burnt down,” I said. “Why do you think your father was yelling those words?”
Grandfather shrugged. “I assumed they were arguing about the incident that happened when my father was sixteen, and Uncle William eighteen. I never thought anything of it. When Grandpa Diez and Grandma Patience came to North Texas from Virginia with their children, they settled in the Crystal Springs area which was named after the natural spring that flowed a few acres behind their house-”
“After my father was forced to marry my mother, Grandfather Diez used his own money to build a grand house in Sherwood, the house I currently live in. The town’s people recently voted to name the town after Diez Woodrow and his deceased wife, Patience Sheridan Woodrow, so my grandfather wished for him, my father, and my mother to live in a gorgeous home, the largest, to continually remind people that the town was named after him.”
Beside me, Dylan piped up. “Did he know that Grandma Heather designed the door locks and hidden staircase?”
Grandfather let out a laugh. “I highly doubt it. He would have stopped it on the spot.”
I heard Theodore snort. Despite his gender change, he still was a firm believer in women’s rights.
“Back to my story,” grandfather cast a knowing look in Theodore’s direction. “Jasper and I huddled together on the top of the stairs until the fighting stopped. We heard footsteps pounding across the floor, and caught the top of Uncle William’s head as he stormed out of the house.
Jasper abruptly flew back into his room. I remember my father yelling his name, and believed my brother to be upset because he was mentioned in the argument. I followed my brother’s advice and returned to my room. I laid in bed for about thirty minutes, and couldn’t sleep. I removed my bedclothes and slipped back into my trousers, shirt, boots, and coat. I thought a brisk walk would help my brain settle down. I knew myself to be still salty from my father openly embarrassing me that afternoon.”
Our grandfather paused, as we anxiously awaited the conclusion of his story. We knew he’d never fully forgiven himself for what happened in the barn, and how he betrayed his brother. Perhaps, that’s why Jasper never contacted his brother after all these years? He was still furious that he’d been betrayed by his brother, a person who he believed always loved him? What Jasper didn’t know, is that grandfather had been desperately trying to seek him out for decades so he could apologize.
“I reached the barn, and slipped inside,” our grandfather continued after a few moments of pristine silence. I felt myself grasping my pencil with such force, I feared it would snap in two. A swift look at my brothers told me they too were engrossed in the confession.
“I remember raising my lantern to see in front of me,” grandfather continued. “The sound of Jasper’s voice reached my ears. I maneuvered my way around stacks of hay and farming equipment. Hiding behind one of our wagons, I peered around and spotted Jasper talking to Thomas. Both of them were dressed in trousers, heavy coats, and gloves. I noticed Thomas was wearing the new boots Jasper purchased him for Christmas, and I grew disgusted and bitter all over again-”
“To my astonishment, my brother removed the jade ring and handed it to Thomas. ‘Here, we’ll use this to escape to San Antonio.’”
“They were going to pawn it!” Dylan remarked. “Fifty dollars would be enough to live for several years.”
Grandfather crossed his legs. “If Jasper didn’t want his privileged life anymore, then yes, fifty dollars could last a year or two.”
“Say, didn’t you tell us one time that Grandfather Alex purchased you the boots after Jasper disappeared?” Theodore asked.
I turned toward our grandfather who gave a slight shrug. “A few days after Jasper left, I found the boots wrapped up all nice in a parcel outside my bedroom door. I placed them in my armoire, and never wore them.”
“Do you still have them?” I asked out of curiosity.
“I do,” grandfather leaned back in his chair. “They’ve been moved to a cedar chest and placed in my father’s old room. I knew precisely what my father was doing when he purchased me the boots. He wanted me to feel bad for causing Jasper’s disappearance.”
“How horrible,” I said aloud, as my pencil raced across the paper. “I wish I knew what Grandfather Alex and Uncle William fought about.”
“As do I,” Grandfather responded, as he took a sip of Scotch. He placed the empty bottle on the side table. “To conclude my story, I remember crouching against the wagon and seeing and hearing Jasper and Thomas laughing over the ring. As my eyes traveled over Thomas’s boots, an evil deity entered my body, and stayed until the day I allowed Catrina to take the four of you home that winter’s day almost eight years ago.”
“Grandfather, there is no such thing as evil deities,” Francis called out. “What you experienced was pure jealousy.”
“Oh, but there is,” grandfather continued. “The scripture talks about evilness that preys on people suffering from depression, jealousy, and bitterness. I felt an extreme hatred at my brother, and especially my father that an unseen, evil spirit controlled my life for years after.”
I cast a look at Dylan, who raised an eyebrow. “Was there ever a time after Jasper left that you felt happy again?” I asked.
Another sad smile appeared on grandfather’s face. “Like my father, I was forced to marry my wife, Rebekkah Goyle. She was Jewish and that would make my three children Jewish as well. When she first appeared, I was so upset at my father, that I silently married her, and slept on the sofa in my bedroom. I’m guessing she felt sorry for me, because she awoke me in the middle of the night, and told me to come to sleep with her. After a month, we warmed up to one another, and within three months, she was expecting your mother. Two years later, Jasper and Clinton arrived, and she passed away while holding them in her arms.”
Grandfather paused. I leaned forward and felt Dylan doing the same.
“For the short amount of time I was married to her, I was happy,” he continued. “Despite still living with my own father, I had her waiting for me every day. For a brief, and glorious moment, I believed that evil deity left me, then she was unexpectedly taken away. Her body couldn’t handle giving birth to two babies at once, and she died of massive blood loss. The day of the funeral, my father tried to make me feel better by telling me that these things happen, and it was foolish to cry over such trivial matters.”
“What a horrible, old man,” Theodore spat from across the room. “I’m starting to think he is being punished for his wickedness.”
“I told him to go to hell,” grandfather laughed, causing all of us to gasp in disbelief, and then burst into peals of laughter.
“Please, don’t laugh quite yet,” he raised a hand. “A few days after the funeral, after a live-in wet nurse had been hired to raise the babies, I was once again reminded that Jasper was the favorite, and not me. Over dinner, he brought up the night Jasper disappeared, and how it was all my fault for lying to him -”
“I recall racing from the barn, and into the parlor, where I found my father having after-dinner drinks with Mr. Charles. I remembered the look of pure annoyance on his face, as I burst into the room like a wild horse. I paused as the two men stared at me in disgust. My brain finally conjured up words. ‘Thomas has Jasper in the barn. He forcibly removed Jasper’s ring and threatened to kill him. I believe he’s going to escape.’ At the mention of his favorite son, my father slammed the sherry glass on the side table, and bolted from the room, with Mr. Charles on his heels.”
Grandfather paused, and we knew that to be a hint something was about to happen.
“Boys,” he crossed his legs, and turned toward his bottle of Scotch, remembered it to be empty, snarled, and turned back around.
“I want you four to take careful notes. Something happened during this moment that has confused me for decades, and perhaps you can figure it out.”
“We’ll try,” Francis inched forward on the sofa. “I’m curious to hear this part of the story.”
After we all agreed, our grandfather settled back into his chair.
“I watched my father, and Mr. Charles raced from the room as if they believed Thomas really was going to kill my brother,” he continued. “A silence filled the air, and the room seemed to grow hotter. A queasiness settled in my stomach, and I could taste bile.-”
“Before me, our new silk sofa, and parlor chairs seemed to glare at me in disgust. I wasn’t worthy to sit in them. I slumped on the hearth and felt the warm embers of the fireplace tingling my neck. God was judging me. The evil deity seemed to laugh inside of me and settled in for a long wait. I’d betrayed my brother because of a stupid ring, and a pair of boots-”
“I pulled some marbles out of my coat pocket, and listlessly played with them. I heard noises coming around the side of the house. I instinctively recognized my brother’s usually calm voice rising in hysterics. I reached up and tugged at the muslin curtains and noticed the arc of my father’s lantern as it seemed to pause at the front of our home, near the rose gardens. His voice grew louder, and the two of them stayed there for a bit. I vaguely made out my brother’s shape in the dark. Why were they going around to the gardens? Father raced out of the back of the house toward the barns, should he return the same way? Why did they pause in the gardens?”
“That is so strange,” I interrupted my grandfather. “Why would Grandfather Alex take Jasper to the gardens in the middle of the night to yell at him?”
“I’ve been trying to figure that mystery out for decades,” our grandfather slammed the palm of his hand on the armrest. “I’ve dug around in the remains of those gardens for years and nothing. The day after Jasper disappeared, my father hired some of the men from the lumber yard to chop the tree, and destroy the rose bushes. To this day, that wild English Ivy is the only thing remaining of a once beautiful garden, the most envious in all of Sherwood.”
I felt my face twist in a frown, as I tried to imagine the neglected garden as a once gorgeous oasis. For years, I’ve studied the tree stump and the ivy that grew up out of the ground. Grandfather would go out every two, or three days and scale it back with a knife. The vine seemed to grow with a vengeance. It grew over Grandfather Alex’s rusty chair and the stump, as if something below in the cold ground was making it grow at an abnormal rate. A jolt of ice pierced my body at the disturbing thought. For a moment a terrible vision entered my head. I saw the mangled bodies of Jasper, Thomas, and Sybil buried under the earth. Perhaps, that is why Grandfather Alex had the garden destroyed after the disappearance. Perhaps he killed them, and was preparing the ground for burial? As swiftly as the morbid thought entered my body, I felt ashamed and it vanished. How dare I think of such a thing?
“Millen, are you feeling well?” Grandfather called out in concern.
I glanced up and caught everyone looking at me.
“I-I was just thinking of something,” I muttered, as my fingers fiddled with the blanket. “Nevermind, I don’t want to--”
“It’s alright,” grandfather gently interrupted. “I’ve had the same thought, and they’re not.”
I met my grandfather's eyes and smiled. “Do you know this for a fact?”
“Know what?” Theodore asked. “I’m genuinely confused.”
Grandfather slid his hands over his knees and leaned forward. “I believe Millen is having thoughts of Jasper, Thomas, and Sybil being buried in the garden?”
“Are you serious?” Theodore cast me a look of pure disgust. “That’s revolting!”
I felt Dylan squirm beside me. “It’s a natural thought process, Theodore,” he snapped back. “A detective or police officer would think the same thing.”
“He’s right,” Francis chimed in. “A doctor would think the same thing as well.”
Theodore responded by folding his arms. “Oh, shut-up!” He snapped. “It’s still ridiculous.”
“Your four have nothing to worry about,” our grandfather continued. “The day after Jasper disappeared, I watched several men from the lumberyard chop the tree down to a stub, and remove the brittle rose bushes. The ground had frozen over from the following night’s snow, and there was no way the men could have disturbed the ground. They used axes to destroy the tree and roses. In the summertime, the ivy began to emerge from the soil, and no matter how many times my father tried to kill it by pouring salt into the dirt, it grew back, and still does to this day.”
I pondered on why Grandfather Alex would destroy his personal oasis. Perhaps, he believed himself unworthy since his favorite son was gone. We knew the rest of the story. Jasper was forced to the attic, with his hands tied behind his back, his blonde hair falling in his eyes, as he bawled hysterically, fat teardrops plopping from his eyes. The following morning, grandfather noticed the dried blood splatters on the floor indicating his brother had been whipped. What went on in the barn? Who rescued them?
“Do you think Uncle William rescued them?” Dylan asked, and I had to smile. We were thinking the same.
“You know,” our grandfather said, as he crossed his legs. “I’ve thought the same thing, but there is no way. Uncle William left the house around nine at night. I laid in bed for roughly thirty minutes before slipping to the barn, give or take fifteen minutes to dress and wander down there. By the time father and Mr. Charles confronted Thomas and Jasper, over an hour had passed. President Roosevelt’s lawyer I hired a few years ago made the most progress on the case. He determined that if they escaped west to avoid the war-torn southern states, they would have gone to Greenville. He found the same hotel that’s been in existence for decades. In the attic, he discovered a ledger, and an entry marked ‘Abandoned wagon by a Mr. Woodrow - December 18, 1864. - 11pm. Sold to the livery.’ There is no way my uncle could have gone down to the Sherwood Hotel, packed his wagon, returned to our house, took everyone, and made his way to Greenville in less than two hours. It’s impossible.``
“He must have gone straight to Greenville after leaving Grandfather Alex’s house,” I said. “He probably checked into the hotel, abandoned the wagon in the morning, so he wouldn’t be caught, and purchased another with the money.”
Grandfather nodded at me. “Precisely. Our family lost not only Jasper that night, by my Uncle William, and to be honest, with his lifestyle, he purposely disappeared. God only knows if that man is still living.”
“How terrible,” I muttered. “Wasn’t his farm abandoned?” I asked.
I watched our grandfather give a short nod. “Yes. A few months after Uncle William left, his lawyers contacted my father. William never returned, and his farm was considered abandoned. His lawyers went over the paperwork and determined that he’d left everything to a family named Smithe who worked as farmhands. They were in such a state of shock, as was everyone else. The state waited for an entire year, as it was written in the will, when nothing, the estate was signed over to them.”
“How generous of him,” Theodore spat, as he reached up to tug on his hair. “Disappearing in the middle of the night, never returning, and leaving his estate to his farmhands.”
“Honey,” our grandfather let out a sigh. “Uncle William planned the entire thing. He knew he wasn’t going to return to Kentucky, and wrote out his will before traveling to Sherwood to inherit the remainder of our father’s money. The Smithe Family was incredibly fortunate, and to my knowledge, their children still live there.”
I raised my arms over my head, let out a sigh, and laid my head on Dylan’s shoulder. “Poor Uncle William,” I said. “I hope where ever he’s settled at, he’s a changed man. It wouldn’t surprise me if he has multiple children out there that he’s never met.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised either,” grandfather leaned back in his chair. “Did you boys write down everything?”
“Yes grandfather,” we all said.
I glanced over my notes, but couldn’t make anything unusual out of them. Perhaps, there would be something in the attic to help us along?
“Francis and I have news that could help,” Theodore announced. I raised my head and gave my brother a look.
“Don’t give me that look,” he snorted. “Our favorite cousin will be in town sometime Monday before noon to bring us wonderful news. We received the telegram before our grandfather’s. He’ll be another set of eyes when we storm the attic.”
“Ashton is coming to visit!” I clapped my hands. “I miss him. I wonder what his announcement is?”
“He’s probably marrying that girl of his,” Francis said. “He’s giving us one last week alone before settling in with a wife, and children on the horizon.”
I felt my mouth turn into an “O” of surprise. I turned to Dylan, who raised an eyebrow. Francis was probably correct. Our little cousin was growing up and wanting to settle down. He knew how important he was in our life, and was giving us a final week of being together.
“What a wonderful present that will be to both his parents and the four of you.” Our grandfather said. “I’m incredibly thankful Frank’s brother adopted him. I remember the first time he came to visit, and how tiny and bubbly he was. He stayed over at my house, and slept in the same bed with you two.” Grandfather pointed at me and Dylan.
I had to smile. I remember the three of us excitedly pulling on our nightclothes, and burrowing under the mound of quilts, while the enormous fireplace kept us warm. We giggled and told stories about our new lives until we eventually drifted off to sleep. The three of us had become the adopted children of wealthy parents, a far cry from the lost, and hungry children we once were living at a Brooklyn orphanage.
I closed my eyes and listened to my grandfather and brothers talk about Jasper, while my mind drifted. I was happy. I was always happy. Being surrounded by Dylan, my brothers, and our grandfather made me realize how important and special families are, biological, or not. I let out another silent prayer that grandfathers would be answered on Monday in the attic. I hoped to God Jasper was still living. Once again, I saw the two of them being reunited in my head. I could feel and sense it with such passion, that it became vivid. Our grandfather deserved to know what happened to his brother.