by KD Miller
The Mueller and Woodrow family open the locked attic room, revealing secrets.(Millen-1911)
|This is an extremely long chapter, so I'm dividing it into three chapters on WDC, this is the second chapter. When the book is published, chapters 27, 28, and 29 will be one chapter.|
“Have the four of you figured out my announcement?” Ashton asked, his face brightening, as he unsnapped the locks on his trunk, and began removing his clothing.
I sat with my brothers in Grandpa Alex’s old room at grandfather’s house. Usually, when our cousin visited, he slept in my and Dylan’s room. Since returning from Sicily, Dylan and I have pushed our beds together. Having Ashton sleep with us would be quite odd. He didn’t seem to mind when our grandfather asked him if he would like to stay at his house. This afternoon we fully planned on putting on our detective clothing and opening the attic.
“Are you marrying your girlfriend?” Theodore asked as he leaned backward. He was perched upon a cedar chest, the same chest that held our grandfather’s boots. My fingers ached to dig through the decades-old clothing and fish them out.
Our cousin let out a sigh of happiness, and I felt a queasiness in my stomach. We were about to lose our best friend.
“Yes!” He pulled out a pair of pajamas and held them against his chest. “I’m going to ask Alice to marry me after the spring semester. She’ll have her nurse’s certificate, and I’ll have my Associate’s Degree. I plan on continuing for my Bachelor’s in business, while she works at the Tulsa Hospital.”
“Well,” Theodore stretched his legs. “That little boy I rescued six-years-ago from the locked closet has grown-up. Congratulations.”
“And, I’ll love you forever for it!” Ashton dropped his pajamas at the foot of the bed and reached down to hug Theodore. He pulled back and studied him. “You look marvelous yourself!”
“Thank you,” Theodore pressed the palms of his hands on the trunk lid, and stood up. “Here let me help.”
The four of us helped our cousin unpack his trunk, while we chatted about out last week together.
“Naturally, I want you to come to visit,” Ashton said, as he removed a wooden hanger from the armoire, and hung up his coat. “I don’t want any of this drifting apart.”
“Of course, we will visit,” Francis replied, as he plopped down on the bed. “It will be different, especially when you have children.”
“I know,” Ashton gave a little sigh, and leaned against the wall. “But, I can’t wait to have children. I want something of my own. I don’t have a real father or mother, and I want lots of children and grandchildren.”
I turned to Dylan and raised an eyebrow. I understood my cousin perfectly. There was nothing in the world I wanted more than a child of my own, but that wouldn’t happen. I could always betray myself and marry a woman, but I just couldn’t. That was how Dylan and I shared our news with our parents. After returning from Sicily, our mother questioned why Theodore helped me push my bed up to Dylan’s. She’d heard the noise, and my brother’s cursing as he accidentally hit his shin bone against the post.
I found myself sitting beside Dylan at the kitchen table babbling that I never wanted children, and Dylan’s been there for me since forever, we’re not blood-related, and I don’t have plans to move out. To my astonishment, mother and father started laughing. They both figured it out and were patiently waiting for us to break the news.
“I think it’s wonderful that you and Alice want many children,” I honestly told my cousin. “I’m extremely proud of you.”
“Thank you,” Ashton said with a smile. “I don’t want anything to do with my old family. They abandoned me, so…” He paused, as his eyes seemed to remember the events that unfolded from the tragic situation. “I will never forgive them, and it’s best to forget.”
“I forgave my father,” I found myself saying, and felt everyone in the room turning to stare. “It was difficult and tragic…”
“He didn’t abandon you,” Ashton spat, as he tossed his scarf on the bed. “I still remember standing in the entranceway to the orphanage in the bitter cold. My father told me he’d be right back. He slipped in the carriage taxi, and as it began its descent a terrible feeling crept through me, and I knew he’d never return. I screamed and began to race down the steps when Mr. Schweighoffer grasped hold of me by the arm and threw me back in the orphanage. He told me my father didn’t want me, that I was a bad child, and to be quiet. I kept crying and screeching, and only stopped when he openly struck my face in front of all the other children…”
“We understand,” Theodore interrupted. “Don’t make yourself ill remembering that horrible man at the orphanage. Return home, marry Alice after graduating from college and have more children than Jacob in the Old Testament if you wish. You deserve to be happy with the person you love.”
“Thank you, Theodore.” Ashton smiled.
A terrible feeling crept in my stomach. “I didn’t mean to upset you,” I said. “I only wanted you to know that it was difficult for me to forgive my father, and I love him. I’ve already received two letters since our return.”
Ashton nodded. “I understand completely. I just know I can’t forgive my father for what he did. His excuse was that he didn’t have the money to feed me anymore, so he abandoned me.”
Beside me on the sofa, Dylan gave an uncomfortable sigh. I'd figured that’s the reason why his real mother abandoned him. Either that, or she’d given birth to him out of wedlock.
“Well,” Francis clapped his hands together, trying to bring us all to another subject. “We have lots to tell you, and I know Dylan and Millen have an announcement.”
I felt my face growing hot with embarrassment.
“Oh, he's scared,” Theodore placed his hands on his hips. “It’s not that big of a deal.”
I watched Ashton close his trunk lid, and push it with his foot against the armoire.
“I’m excited, tell me!” He asked.
“Well, I..” I began, as I nervously reached up to twirl my hair. “It-it all started with a terrible incident in Sicily, but something good, no marvelous, happened from it.”
Across the room, Theodore rolled his eyes. “Quit stalling and just flat out say it.”
Ashton’s gaze traveled from my brother back to me. “Well,” he laughed. “Tell me.”
Dylan let out a snort. “You’re not the only one in a relationship,” he said in his calm voice,
“Oh,” Ashton clapped his hands in amusement, the childhood habit he never lost. “Who is she? What’s her name?”
I sunk back against the sofa cushions, as Theodore let out another snort. Francis picked up a small pillow off the bed and threw it at our brother.
“Well,” I began. This would be harder than I thought.
“His name is Dylan,” Theodore said, as he tossed the pillow back to Francis. “Goodness. Do you remember the letter they sent out after their birthday detailing their real parents? The twins aren’t even twins, they’re not even blood-related.”
For a brief moment, all was still in Grandpa Alex’s old room. I swear I could hear the wallpaper crumbling. Francis kept glaring at Theodore, who tossed his hair in retaliation.
“Oh,” Ashton repeated, his forehead creasing. “I-I-what?” He asked. “I’m confused.”
I felt like racing from the room. How dare Theodore bluntly announce this. This wasn’t the reaction I’d expected. I envisioned Ashton hugging me in support, not standing before me with a look of bewilderment on his face. I was saved by a knock at the door.
“Are you boys ready?” Grandfather’s calm voice called from behind the door. “We’re ready to head upstairs. I hope the five of you have changed into casual clothing it'll be quite dusty..”
I shot one more glare at Theodore, who responded by letting out a fake yawn. Taking hold of Dylan’s hand, I stormed from the room, fully aware of the look of surprise on Ashton’s face. What was supposed to be a joyful day, was swiftly turning into a headache.
“These stairs are narrower than I remember,” grandfather laughed, as he stood behind father at the attic door. “Then again, the last time I was standing in this very spot, I was sixteen-years-old, and about thirty-five pounds lighter.”
I forced my mouth to smile at the joke, while Dylan stood behind me. I could feel his hand slipping into mine, trying to comfort me. My body still shook furiously at Theodore, who stood casually in front of us, acting like he hadn’t betrayed us. My eyes drifted to Aston, who leaned against the wall beside Theodore. He hadn’t looked at us since slipping from the guest bedroom.
Once again, I felt my body grow cold, as tears sprung to my eyes. I refused to believe my cousin to have grown into a bigot. The sweet, lonely child we’d cared for at the Brooklyn Orphanage, who’d been lucky to have been adopted by Frank’s brother, to be disgusted by my relationship. Impossible. He must be in shock, I tried to convince myself.
“Everyone ready?” Our father asked as he inserted a crowbar into the door frame. “I’m going to need someone to help me with this.”
“Here, Frank,” grandfather said. “None of this would have ever happened if it wasn’t for me.”
I placed my hands on my hips. Behind me, mother let out a sigh. She’d dressed in a pair of women’s bloomers, something that was forbidden in public.
I watched my father and my grandfather grasp hold of the crowbar, and together they pulled it back. The door gave a loud groan, as the ancient padlock broke into two pieces. I heard the ping of several nails as they hit the wooden floor.
“Goodness,” grandfather wiped his hands on his trousers. “My father didn’t want anyone in this room.”
My body shook with anticipation, as I felt myself creeping up the stairs behind Theodore and Ashton. The perks of being tall, I watched father once again insert the crowbar into the doorframe, and give a pull. This time, the door split open with a sickening crack, and he pushed on it as decades of dust came pouring out causing us all to succumb to a coughing fit.
“Put your handkerchiefs over your face,” father gasped, as he gave several more sneezes. “God only knows how much dust is floating around.”
“Here, you ok?” Dylan asked me, as he fumbled with his handkerchief. “I don’t want you to be sick.”
I nodded my head and pressed mine against my nose, and mouth.
At the broken attic door, I watched father light an oil lamp, and hand one to grandfather. Behind me, mother and her brothers had their own.
“Let’s go,” he said, his voice taking on a sense of urgency. My hand tightened over my handkerchief, and for a moment I thought of something sinister. Dear God, please don’t let Jasper or Thomas be up here.
The first thing I noticed when it was my turn to walk into the room was how hot it became. The light from the oil lamps revealed the sheets that were covering the furniture.
“Here, let’s see if the balcony doors open?” Grandfather said as he fumbled with the doorknobs. “This is the original lock. My mother designed this!”
I found myself pressing against what felt like a cloth draped table, and watched in amusement as grandfather dug into his pocket, and pulled out his house keys. Grandpa Alex may have placed a new lock on the attic door, but the remainder of the house stayed the same, doorknobs and locks designed by Heather Woodrow.
“You have a key to the balcony?” Uncle Clinton asked in disbelief, as he swung his lamp around, revealing dust piles on the floor, and furniture.
I watched grandfather shake his head. “I have a skeleton key that unlocks every door in this house.”
We watched as he fumbled with the lock. Decades of bad weather had damaged the lock and turned it to rust. The key fit, but it wouldn’t turn.
“Here,” father said.”Let me run outside and fetch some oil from the barn. It will lubricate the lock.”
“Good idea,” our mother answered from the doorway. “We need light from outside.”
I noticed how she wouldn’t step into the room with the others. She stood in the doorway wearing those ridiculous bloomers that Theodore called “Rich women’s trousers.”
“Here,” father handed his oil lamp over to her. “I’ll be right back.”
I watched him disappear from the room and heard his footsteps grow faint as he walked briskly down the stairs.
“It’s hotter than an oven in here,” Francis complained, as he reached down, and grasped hold of his cardigan.
“This is nothing,” our grandfather said, as he gazed over the room. “When I was young, Sybil had to leave the kitchen oven door open during the wintertime to warm the house because it was so cold. We spent our evenings gathered around the fireplace in the parlor. Mother sewed, father recorded in his farm books, while Jasper and I did our school work. An hour before we wandered off the bed, Thomas would go up to all the rooms and light the fireplaces. I once went to bed, and when I awoke the fire in my room had gone out, and a thin layer of ice formed on the inside of my bedroom windows.”
“Reminds me of when we lived in Brooklyn,” Theodore said, prompting Ashton to burst out laughing.
“The closet,” he whispered. “I would have eventually froze to the ground.”
“Oh,” mother sighed, as she placed one hand on her hip, and turned the lamp into the room where the light landed on Jasper’s decaying canopy bed. “Don’t talk about such things, Ashton. That horrible man was fired from the Brooklyn Orphanage and is probably in the poor house. I doubt he took the job my husband offered him.”
In the glow of the oil lamps, I saw Ashton smile, as he turned toward Dylan and me.
“Honestly, I don’t think much of that man,” he whispered to us. “At least one good thing came out of that man’s horrible deeds. The five of us were --” Ashton was cut off as mother let out a gasp.
“Would you look at that?” She raised her oil lamp, as the others followed. “The bed is the only piece of furniture in the room that doesn’t have a cloth over it to protect it from dust.”
I inched a bit closer to the bed, grasping on to Dylan’s hand, and stifled a laugh. What was he protecting me against - a ghost? Decades of being exposed to the changing, harsh attic temperatures had deteriorated the quilt, turning it into a soiled rag. I felt my mouth turn up in disgust. Grandmother Heather probably sewed the once beautiful quilt, and for it to be covered in several inches of dust and possible mouse droppings, and dead insects was repulsive. A peculiar odor like burnt almonds and thick maple syrup rose to my nose.
To my disgust, Theodore reached out and scooped up a handful of dust as if it were sand at Crystal Lake Park.
“Theodore, that’s filthy,” mother said from her position by the door.
“I know,” he responded, as he emptied the dust back on the bed, and wiped his hand on his handkerchief. “I’m curious as to why Grandpa Alex didn’t cover the bed? Every other piece of furniture has a protective dust cover. Why not the bed?”
“I wish I knew,” grandfather said, as he walked closer to the bed. “It’s like my father wanted the bed to be destroyed. But, why didn’t he take it outside and chop it down to firewood? He could have -” This time it was our grandfather who was cut off as Theodore let out a scream.
In the darkness, I grabbed hold of Dylan, wrapping my arms around him. Theodore is scared. This wasn’t normal. This was out of character.
“Look,” my brother whispered. “Turn the lights to the bed.”
On instinct, mother, grandfather, Uncle Clinton, and Uncle Jasper drew closer, their oil lamps coming together to expose a long peculiar shape under the decaying cloth. It started at the molded feather pillows, and ended near the foot of the bed - a human shape! There was a body under the quilt.
“Dear God,” Ashton cried, as he took the Lord’s name in vain. “Theodore your dream.”
“What’s wrong?” Father’s voice called, as he stumbled back into the room, clutching a small can of oil. “I heard Theodore screaming, and I ran up.”
I was at a loss for words as my eyes trailed over the strange lump under the quilt.
“Oh, Frank,” mother gasped as she clutched his arm. “There looks to be a--a --” she stammered.
Ever the rational person he is, I watched my father place the oil can on the floor, gently take the lamp from mother’s hand, and walk to the bed. I wrapped my arm tighter around Dylan, as everyone in the room seemed to recoil from Jasper’s old bed.
“Here, let me take a look,” he said, his voice calm, collected, and cool. “Remember, I’ve seen a dead body before in my younger days when I helped relocate that old Indian burial site that was dug up on my daddy’s land.”
I stepped back, and felt Ashton grasp hold of my other hand, giving a squeeze. A smile appeared on my face in the dark. He wasn’t upset.
“Well,” father said, as he reached out to touch the cloth. “A corpse doesn’t smell faintly of chocolate, and maple syrup. I believe we have something else.”
On the other side of the bed, I heard my grandfather give a sigh in relief.
Father picked up the edge of the cloth. “Everyone ready?” He asked.
I turned to bury my face in Dylan’s shoulder as everyone agreed.
“Good,” father said and pulled back the cloth revealing a scattered pile of books. The smell of chocolate, maple syrup, and burnt almonds wafted into my nose. Must! What I was smelling was musty! The smell of many old books.
“My brother’s diaries!” Grandfather gasped, as he reached out to grasp hold of them, ignoring the layer of grime and dirt. “My father said he burnt all of them. Oh, but I knew he wouldn’t. I knew they would be up here somewhere.”
Theodore let out a sigh of relief, as did our mother.
“Grandfather,” Francis called out in the semi-dark room. “You were correct. When we were at the hotel in Dallas you believed the journals were up here.”
I watched grandfather reach for the journals, carefully turning the brittle books over in his hands. He was trying to find Jasper’s last journal, the one he bought the day he disappeared.
“I knew they were up here,” he whispered. “Father wouldn’t burn them.”
He kept awkwardly piling the books in his arms and reached to take hold of the last two, revealing what looked to be a small jar hiding under them.
“What is that?” Uncle Clinton stepped forward, his oil lamp illuminating a strange jar. Upon closer inspection, I noticed it was made from alabaster and had an Egyptian pattern around the top consisting of hieroglyphics. Time and the extreme attic heat during the summers caused several hairline cracks in the base.
“Here, father,” Uncle Jasper said, as he handed Francis the oil lamp, took the journals from his father, and handed half to Dylan. “There has to be at least twenty of these.”
But, grandfather wasn’t paying attention. I watched him absentmindedly hand over the journals, and lean closer on the bed, his fingers reaching toward the jar, where it rattled on contact, and fell over on the ancient straw mattress. The lid tumbled off, and several pieces of jewelry slipped out. In the light from the oil lamps, I saw an old pocket watch, knife, several rings, but on top, its gorgeous hue dazzling in the light was the jade ring. It was real. All of the stories my grandfather told us for decades were true. The jade ring existed. The cause of Jasper’s mysterious disappearance.
“Oh, my God,” grandfather whispered to the deathly silent room. “Father was correct. He took the ring back from Thomas in the barn, and in the process purposely broke the man’s finger.”
“Thomas was wearing the ring,” mother asked from her perch at the door.
Grandfather seemed to be at a loss for words, as he gently coaxed the jewelry back into the jar. “The morning we came up into the attic and discovered my brother missing, I overheard him telling Mr. Charles that he was thankful he broke that servant’s finger when he forced the jade ring off.”
I shivered despite the extreme heat. “You never told us that,” I said. “That’s another important clue.”
“That it is, Millen.” Grandfather took the jar in his hand, carefully placing the lid on top. “It seems I keep remembering things. Little things that didn’t seem to matter at the time.”
“I would say purposely breaking Thomas’s finger, and forcing the ring from it isn’t a little thing,” Theodore huffed, as he placed his hands on his hips. “That boy was arrested, thrown in jail, and escaped with a broken finger, possibly swollen hand, and living in extreme pain.”
"That poor child," mother whispered. "I hope he escaped safely."
"Me too, dear," grandfather sighed, as he picked up the alabaster jar, holding it in his hands with extreme caution.
I turned to my father, who silently reached for the can of oil, gestured toward Francis, and walked to the balcony door. My brother shone the lantern on the door, as my father stuck the spout in the keyhole, lubricated the rusty lock, and to our astonishment, the key turned.
"Will the door crack, and break?" Uncle Jasper asked, his voice rising in alarm.
My father let out a laugh. "If it does, we won't force the door open. There will be no way to close it, resulting in bad weather, and animals to sneak in the house."
"Not to mention thieves," I said, keeping my eyes on the door.
“Oh dear,” I heard my mother’s voice rise in alarm. “I never thought about that.
Grandfather must have thought the same thing.
“Frank,” he called out. “I have an idea. I know the walls of my house are in outstanding condition because they’re inspected every five years. The contractors are allowed to inspect by standing on the balcony, but not coming into the attic. Why don’t I have the door removed, and replaced tomorrow? It would be better, and safer. I can hire a --”
“I’ll be happy to do it,” father answered, as he placed his hands on his hips. “The boys have taken an interest in carpentry, and it will be a good learning experience. I’ll have to remove the door and the frame. If I start tomorrow after breakfast, I should be complete by nightfall. I’ll even purchase the materials today as not to waste time tomorrow at the lumberyard.”
“Oh, can we help?” Uncle Clinton asked, his eyes brightening at the thought. “My brother and I know nothing about carpentry work.”
I turned to Dylan and raised an eyebrow, as our father let out a laugh. “Of course, the two of you can help,” he smiled. “The more help I have, the quicker this project will go.”
Grandfather seemed to be at a loss for words. “Are you sure you wish to do this?” He asked.
I watched my father wave his hand in the air. “Not a problem!” He said. “I’m thrilled to help, and I know the boys are too.”
“I can’t,” Francis said, as he fumbled with the lantern. “I have a study session at the library tomorrow. Tuesday is my mathematics exam, and it’s terrible. I’m learning to convert medical measurements.”
“Medical measurements?” Mother’s face turned down as she pondered. “What on Earth?”
Francis shook his head. “Sometimes I wonder why I enrolled in medical school. This semester is a killer. I’m learning the different measurements I’ll be using regarding temperatures, vitals, medicines - “
My brother trailed off in fear, as mother’s face seemed to glare. “Don’t ever let me hear you say something like that again,” she fumed. “You’ll be a remarkable doctor someday! I’ll bet on it!”
Uncle Jasper and Uncle Clinton stifled laughter as they overheard their sister talking about the unladylike topic of gambling.
“Your mother is correct,” grandfather nodded, as he maneuvered around the bed. “You’ll be the best doctor in Sherwood someday. Your grades have been outstanding as well.”
A deep feeling of ice settled in my stomach as it dawned on me I couldn’t join my father, my brothers, and Ashton in our carpentry lesson.
“I can’t work on the door either,” I said, my eyes downward. How could I have been foolish and forgotten? “I also need to keep my grades up. On Friday we’re having a mathematics exam of our own, and I need to study.”
Beside me, Dylan’s face scrunched up in confusion. “We are?” He asked, then he shrugged. “I’ll be happy with a B grade.”
I couldn’t help but notice the look of annoyance on our mother’s face. It was Francis who saved the day.
“Millen can come with me to the library and study since he needs to make a perfect A score, and be our valedictorian in the Spring.”
“Then it’s settled,” my father nodded, as he began herding everyone out the room. “I won’t open the balcony door until I have a new one, and the boys will help me. Cleo, it’s no use trying to argue. I’ll be thrilled to help, and I know the boys will be too.”
I smiled at Dylan, who seemed excited over the idea of learning how to install a door and frame. I couldn’t help but feel relieved. Carpentry work was something I didn’t care for at all. I watched my father lead my brothers, Ashton, and my two uncles out of the room. They were headed toward the lumberyard.
“Come Millen,” I looked up at grandfather, who was smiling, the fragile jar in his hands. “Let’s go into the library and read the journals while we wait for the others to return.”
I smiled and nodded. Nothing pleased and excited me more than to read Jasper’s long-forgotten thoughts. I turned and headed out of the room. As I crossed over into the hallway, I overheard my mother saying to grandfather.
“Father, are you glad I demanded to marry Frank?”
A big smile appeared on my face, as I overheard my grandfather's reply. “Every day my love.”
“Hmm,” grandfather frowned, as he carefully went through the journals. “I’m not seeing the journal Jasper purchased the day he disappeared.”
I grasped a hold of my chair and inched closer to Grandfather Alex’s desk. We were sitting in the impressive library that my grandfather rarely entered. Grandfather Alex had been at St. Paul’s for almost ten years, yet his office looked remarkably the same as it had been the night he tripped down the basement stairs suffering the brain injury. My mother retreated to the kitchen to prepare some tea, and sandwiches, while my father took the others to the lumberyard. I stifled a giggle as Theodore rolled his eyes, and hurriedly threw on a dress and bloomers that he kept in our grandfather’s house for emergencies like this.
“It might be still up in the attic,” I said, reaching forward and taking a book with a fading greenish cover. “We didn’t search the entire bed.”
“Hmm,” was grandfather’s annoyed reply. I know he was becoming irritated with not finding what he wanted.
I took the journal in my hand, and ever so carefully began turning the brittle pages praying they wouldn’t deteriorate.
“Read it to me, Millen,” my grandfather huffed. “I might be able to decipher events you can’t.”
I glanced down at the gorgeous, old-fashioned handwriting and felt a tinge of envy. How wonderful would it be to find Jasper after all these decades.
“Today, I taught Thomas how to spell basic grammar school words,” I read, as I felt my grandfather’s eyes staring at me.
“He is the same age as me but doesn’t know how to read or write. At a young age, his mother secretly taught him her native Spanish, because my father forbade it in his house. After dinner, I waited for Thomas in my room. A short time later, he knocked, and entered, locking the door behind him.
Last month, he learned the alphabet, and how to add and subtract small sums. This morning, when me and my brother’s tutor arrived and lessons began, I found myself having difficulties with my conversions. I knew I needed to continue my high marks, so I could enroll in law school, yet a part of me wished to be a teacher.
I peered outside the parlor window and caught sight of Thomas hauling firewood. He’d never been to school. A feeling of giddiness traveled through my body. It was my idea to teach Thomas. I want him to come with me to college next year, and I knew my father would allow it. I was his pet, and I was using it against him and hopefully, he couldn't figure it out. For the life of me, I can’t comprehend my own father’s cruelty toward Thomas, and especially my brother.
“As I sat beside Thomas on my bed, and watched him spell out the words “cat,” “dog,” “horse,” and “chicken” my mind wandered to my beloved brother. Cleo received a reprimand from our father today. It was quite foolish, something I’d never be punished for. I’m almost nineteen, and I don’t understand my father’s consistent cruelty toward my brother. Thomas has noticed it too, and wishes to yell back at my father, but knows that he will be whipped outside. My eccentric Uncle William will be in Sherwood in several weeks, and it pains me knowing my father will purposely belittle my brother in front of --”
“Stop,” my grandfather interrupted.
I glanced up and saw him hunched over the desk, holding his head in his hands.
“I remember that day,” he continued.
I carefully slid an empty envelope into the journal marking the place. This had to be the last journal before the one Jasper purchased at the general store the day he disappeared.
“We don’t have to continue if you wish,” I said. “I’m quite positive the journals will bring back painful memories.”
I watched my grandfather raise his head, and give a halfhearted smile.
“Father yelled at me because I failed my math test that day.” He sighed and glanced out the window. “Jasper barely passed his conversions test with a low C score, but he didn’t get in trouble. I was punished and sent to bed early without dessert.”
“I see,” I murmured. “What did you exactly fail?” I asked, hoping to steer the conversation.
Grandfather shook his head at the memory. “I forgot how to multiply and divide fractions, and I somehow mixed up my ones and sevens. My father said I must have been daydreaming to forget the difference between the two numbers.”
“I’m sure you weren’t,” I said, my eyes downcast, studying the journals in front of me. I wonder how many secrets Jasper was hiding?
“You know it’s funny,” my grandfather continued. “Jasper expressed an interest in becoming a teacher after secretly teaching Thomas how to read, and write. Did you know he taught me a trick as well?”
“He did?” I asked, quite intrigued.
I watched my grandfather take a piece of blank paper, and fumble with a pen and ink set he’d brought with him.
“All my life I’d struggle with my numbers,” he said, as he wrote a one and seven on the paper. “Jasper came up with an idea. He told me to make a small line through the sevens so my brain wouldn’t mistake the two numbers. I’d been doing it my entire life. I passed law school with this trick!”
I laughed in amusement and watched my grandfather make a small mark through the seven.
“I find it odd that your brain confused the two numbers,” I said.
“Me too,” grandfather sighed. “My professor believed me to be slightly retarded, and I overheard him tell my father that I’d never fully pass my exams. My brother found me crying in my room and came up with the trick. The following day, I passed my fractions exam, and my father dismissed the professor. He hired another and told us that he’d fired the professor because Jasper made a C score on his paper. He believed the man wasn’t that qualified to teach his son who was headed toward law school.”
I watched a small smile appear on my grandfather’s face, as he pointed to the journal. “Jasper was correct. I caught him staring out the window, while I sat there in a panic trying to remember how to multiply and divide fractions.”
I laughed. It sounded like my grandfather had a remarkable friendship with his brother. I was even more determined to find out what happened to him.
“Please continue,” my grandfather gestured toward the journal. “I want to hear more about Jasper secretly teaching Thomas.”
I nodded, and picked up the journal, turning it so I could see the middle pages. The envelope stuck out, and I was about to grasp a hold of it when my eye caught something else. With extreme caution, I turned toward the back of the journal, revealing an old envelope, yellowish with age. A strange gasp escaped my throat, and my fingers began to twitch as my eyes read the names on the return address.
“What is it?” Grandfather asked, his voice rising with concern.
I raised my eyes to meet him. “I-I-,” I shook my head. How could this be possible? At that moment, I heard a commotion outside in the hallway. My mother entered holding a tray full of sandwiches, followed by my father, uncles, brothers, and Ashton.
“We brought food!” Mother called out, as she laid the tray on a side table.
“Did the two of you find anything interesting?” She asked.
I glanced back down at the envelope and whispered the names to my grandfather. Was it a coincidence that the woman had the same name as my mother? If my mother’s name wasn’t so foreign, and unusual, I would dismiss it, but something told me that there was more to it.
“Hester and Catrina Suarez from San Antonio, Texas,” I repeated to everyone in the room.
I noticed the puzzled look on grandfather’s face.
“I-” he started, but was interrupted by my mother.
“Dear, what did you say?” she asked.
I glanced down at the envelope and noticed the postmark date. The numbers were difficult to read, but I distinctly saw an eight, and a five. 1858? Goodness, that must have taken months to reach Sherwood from San Antonio.
“The envelope says Hester and Catrina Suarez,” I repeated.
“I remember you telling me about them,” Theodore called out, startling everyone in the room.
We all turned to my brother, who gave a slight toss of his head.
“Do you remember, mother?” He continued. “This was after we were adopted, and I was in my room, and you were telling me more about our new family history, and how you found a strange letter written in Spanish in Grandpa Alex’s library. This was a day, or two before you were sent off to boarding school.”
“I was about to mention that,” she placed her hands on her hips, and walked toward Grandpa Alex’s desk.
“A few days before I left for boarding school, I snuck into this library to read one of my grandfather’s books and found a letter on his desk. I became nosey and picked it up. To my astonishment, it was written in Spanish, but what startled me the most was the signature, Hester and Catrina Suarez. Not, Mr. and Mrs. Hester Suarez, but Hester and Catrina.”
I watched my grandfather throw his hands up.
“How come you never told me?” He demanded, his eyes seemed to sweep over the room. “Did you know -”
“I never said anything because I didn’t want to be punished for snooping around in Grandpa Alex’s library.” Mother spat back, her eyes narrowing. She pointed at the desk.
“The last time I saw that letter, it was in a folder lying on top of the desk, as if my grandpa was reading it, and was swiftly interrupted.”
Grandfather reached for the top drawer, tugged it open, and began searching through the papers.
“Go on, Millen,” he called over his shoulder. “Help me.”
I pulled open the bottom file cabinet drawer, as my brothers ran over to join me.
“It shouldn’t be too difficult to find a letter written in Spanish,” Father said, as he helped mother comb through another file cabinet. “All I’m seeing are farm records.”
“Hmm,” I muttered, as I felt Dylan peering over my shoulder. My fingers skipped over folders, reading the names in pencil: Yearly Spending, Crops, Cleo’s tuition costs, Cleo’s court cases, Cemetery Survey. I paused at that one and frowned. Why was Grandpa Alex surveying a cemetery? Too creepy. I reached forward and removed the file.
“Cemetery survey,” Theodore read over my other shoulder. “What does that have to do with Hester and Jasper Suarez?”
I shook my head, and opened the folder, revealing several pieces of fragile paper. “If I was going to hide a mysterious letter from my family, I wouldn’t label it ‘mysterious letter,’ I would give it a fake name.”
The first piece of paper was nothing but a sketch of the rose gardens outside the home, well what was once the gardens. At the bottom was the yearly cost of the plants. There was a small drawing of the old iron chair that once sat under the tree. A strange symbol had been added under the chair. Was it the letter G, or perhaps J?
“Oh for goodness sakes, Millen,” Theodore hissed in my ear. “We can look at the sketches of the garden later.”
With a sigh, I took the paper, and placed it on the desk, revealing the letter.
“I found it!” I cried, holding it up. “Is this it?” I asked, handing the paper over to my mother, who snatched it up.
“Careful, dear.” Grandfather’s head raised in alarm.
A big smile appeared on her face, as she skimmed over the letter. “Yes, this is the letter. But, look, another piece of paper is clipped to the back.”
With nimble fingers, I watched my mother remove the paper clip, and turn the first letter around.
“Hester and Catrina Suarez,” she let out a laugh. “This must be the letter that was in the envelope Millen found in Jasper’s diary!”
I turned toward the envelope on the desk. “That means Grandpa Alex was reading Jasper’s diaries before he locked them in the attic, and was using the envelope as a marker.”
Beside me, my grandfather let out a grunt. “So, that’s why he was up all night long,” he spat. “I couldn’t sleep because my brain was whirling a mile a minute, blaming me for Jasper’s disappearance. My father retreated to the library, and the candlelight stayed on to the early morning hours. After he awoke in the early afternoon, he had Jasper’s belongings packed up, and moved to the attic, where the door was sealed.”
“Something in the diary must have frustrated him,” Uncle Clinton said.
I felt myself nodding in agreement, as my mother turned the letter over in her hand, revealing the other piece of paper that was clipped to the back.
“Oh, my goodness!” She cried in alarm. “Father, this letter is written in English!”
All eyes were on my mother, as she skimmed over the letter. “The penmanship is beyond gorgeous,” she cried. “I can’t read it! It’s so old-fashioned, like lace carved on stone.”
“Let me see,” grandfather reached out to take the piece of paper.
On instinct, we all inched closer to him. I felt Dylan reach out to grasp hold of my hand, while Ashton pressed against my other side. A deep feeling of dread filled the air, and I knew something to be wrong as I watched my grandfather’s forehead creased in a frown.
“Mr, Woodrow,” he began slowly as if he were anticipating something awful to come from the letter.
“I hope this letter finds you in good spirits, or not, for I stopped caring about your health long ago. Or, should I say, I never once cared. As I’m writing this letter with my dominant right hand, my gaze travels to my left, and my slightly crooked ring finger, that you snapped like a twig roughly five years prior.”
A gasp rose from the room, as it dawned on all of us that the letter was from Thomas. Grandfather closed his eyes, let out a sigh, and ever so gently opened them again. His fingers reached to push his reading glasses up the bridge of his nose. A few seconds of brilliant silence filled the room, then grandfather gave a slight jerk of his head, and continued to speak aloud, one word at a time.
“You’re probably wondering how a lowly servant like me learned to read and write? I am proud to tell you that Jasper taught me. During the day hours you would scream at me calling me ‘worthless’ and a ‘stupid excuse for a human’ your beloved son, Jasper, would take an hour out of his bedtime every night to teach me how to read, and write. When I abruptly left your house, I had roughly a grammar school education.
“I am not going into my adventures of the last five years, or how I escaped. I am writing to tell you that I have completed my Freshman year of college, and am on a train ride back to my house for summer break. The beautiful person sleeping beside me does not know that I am composing you a letter, nor will he ever find out. I will secretly mail the letter to you at the next stop. Don’t bother to find us, for you won’t. The only reason why I am writing to you today, and I think the glass of whiskey the two of us drank on the train only an hour before is contributing to this, is to tell you that I have been accepted into university. Jasper taught me everything I need to know to pass my school exams and join him. This land is growing in all directions, and there are so many universities out there, that you will never find us, nor will you find out where we’re living. All I ask is for you to tell Cleo that Jasper is safe, and he thinks of his younger brother all the time, but we can’t return home. Nor, will we probably ever. I know damn well you will have me executed, and Jasper sent away. We’re happy living like fugitives. I only ask that you tell Cleo his brother is safe.
“Love, your ever devoted, former servant, Thomas.”
Grandfather trailed off, as he sat in full shock and disbelief.
“Oh, my God,” my mother gasped, taking the Lord’s name in vain. Something she lectured to me and my brothers about.
My grandfather’s hands visibly shook, as he gently laid the letter back on the desk.
“Cleo, would you like a glass of water?” My father’s voice called out from the corner of the room. “You need to rest.”
“I-I-,” he stammered, placing his hand on his forehead, as he tried to rise from the chair.
“Father, sit down,” Uncle Jasper raced to his side. “It will be fine. Your brother is safe.”
Dylan seemed to clutch me in his grasp. I wanted to fight him, and race to my grandfather, but I watched my two uncles beat me to it.
“He never told me,” the man spat, his eyes growing large in anger. “He knew all this time.”
“Father, sit down,” mother screamed, as she dropped a glass of water onto the Persian carpets.
It was too late. Dylan and Theodore had to restrain me, as I watched my grandfather place his hand on his chest, and tumble to his knees.
"Father, are you feeling better?"
I watched my mother place her hands on her hips, and press her lips together in concern. After grandfather's tumble, we all watched in disbelief as my father picked him up, and placed him on a couch beside a window overlooking the front yard. While Uncle Jasper and Uncle Clinton raced to Dr. Alexander's office, I stood behind Dylan and Ashton, as our grandfather mumbled, and fidgeted on the couch.
"I believe your father will survive, Mrs. Mueller," Dr. Alexander smiled, as he patted grandfather's face with a warm washcloth. "Your brothers say a letter disturbed him."
"I know opening the attic was a foolish idea," mother sighed, as she collapsed on a chair near father. "He found proof that Jasper and Thomas are still living, and it upset him because his father never told him."
"Ah, Alex Woodrow is full of secrets," Dr. Alexander smiled, as we all let out small laughs. "That poor man. I try to visit him when I can, and I can't get him to talk. Then again," Dr. Alexander shrugged, and reached up to run a hand through his black hair, "Your father never liked me much."
I looked over at my mother, who perched on the chair, a secret smile on her lips. Because of Grandpa Alex being in the hospital she married Frank Mueller. There is no way he'd allow his only granddaughter to marry a sharecropper's son. I remember mother's words to grandfather as we were leaving the attic "Are you not glad I demanded to marry Frank?" Grandfather's wonderful reply "Every day, my love."
"Bah, to my father," grandfather spat, as he kicked at the blanket mother placed over his legs before the doctor arrived. "I'd take Thomas's letter up to St. Paul's and yell at him, but he wouldn't understand me."
"Father, don't upset yourself again," mother said. "I don't want you to read Jasper's diaries until you've rested. There could be more stories and family secrets revealed."
"Your daughter is correct," Dr. Alexander reached for his bag. "It's best to gradually work your way through your father's shrouded past."
I watched Dr. Alexander prepare to leave when grandfather suddenly called out.
"Do you know anyone who can read Spanish?" He asked. "I was going to take this letter to the college and have the professor translate it, but he won't be in office until September."
"Father, what did we say about upsetting yourself again?" Uncle Clinton said. "The mystery of Hester and Catrina Suarez will have to wait--"
I watched Dr. Alexander's face grow pale, as he fumbled with his doctor's bag. "What did you say?" He asked, turning around to face grandfather on the couch.
"Oh," grandfather sighed, as he pulled himself up.``In one of Jasper's diaries, Millen found an empty envelope with the return address of Hester and Catrina Suarez from San Antonio. My daughter remembered finding the letter back when she was a child and becoming curious because of the names. Millen found the letter in my father's cabinet drawer. It's written in Spanish, but there is another letter behind it. A letter Thomas wrote to my father roughly five years after he and my brother disappeared. The letter is in gorgeous cursive handwriting and it says something like Jasper has taught Thomas how to read, and write, they're at university, and not to try to find them, because it would be impossible. I became so upset because my father knew the entire time, and refused to tell me."
"Mr. Woodrow," Dr. Alexander placed his bag on a table. "I speak fluent Spanish, and would be honored to translate it for you."
A hush fell over the room. I watched my grandfather's eyes grow large. In all the years I've known Dr. Alexander, we never knew he spoke Spanish. I caught Dylan's eye, who smiled.
"I never knew you spoke Spanish," father said, as he reached for the letters grandfather dropped on the desk before collapsing to his knees.
"I'm quite secretive about my personal life," Dr. Alexander walked toward father and took the letters. I couldn't help but notice how his hands slightly shook. "My heritage has been a secret since I graduated medical school, and traveled to Sherwood to help at St. Paul's."
"Heritage?" I asked in confusion. This was the man who traded letters for years with Uncle Joseph and my grandfather. This was the man who helped me out of a panic attack when I learned of my real heritage. This was the man who performed the dangerous operation on Theodore last year. I couldn't help but notice the way Dr. Alexander's face seemed to tint pink.
Of all the years the doctor has been a friend of the family, we didn't know much of his personal life except he had a well-educated wife, and they were fostering a baby girl.
"It's not that I am ashamed of it," he paused to look at the letter, his eyelashes fluttering. "My mother is Spanish, and she married a Texan. His family moved from Kentucky. Her parents are Spanish, and have lived in San Antonio since after the War of Independence."
We watched Dr. Alexander's eyes trace over the letter, as he digested the foreign writing. "They-their names are Hester and Catrina Suarez. They had two children, my mother, and her older brother. After the Texas War, my grandparents sent their son on a wagon to an unnamed town in North Texas. He-he wanted to go to medical school someday but knew he couldn't afford the expensive university. My grandfather told him he would have to start early. He placed the boy on a wagon with a bunch of workers, and eventually, they made it to this town. A man named Diez Woodrow, took a few of them to work for him, including my uncle."
An unearthly silence spread through the room. It seems Dr. Alexander was hiding secrets as well. My eyes traveled over my brothers, my uncles, my parents, Ashton, and grandfather. We all seemed to be looking at the doctor in a new light. It never dawned on me that he was half Spanish. I never noticed it.
"Pardon me for being blunt?" My mother's soft voice called out. "But, was your uncle the boy who drowned in Crystal Springs?"
We watched Dr. Alexander slowly raise his head, as he finished reading the letter. His face seemed to have fallen. He kept fluttering his eyes in disbelief.
"My uncle's name is Jasper Suarez," he said, ignoring the gasps that filled the room. "I always knew I was somehow connected to your family. Your father named his son after my uncle, and his granddaughter after my grandmother. I - I," he stammered and closed his eyes. "The first time I met him, I came to him to tell him about your condition, Mrs. Mueller. He took one look at me, his face turned white, his mouth dropped open, he whispered Jasper's name and stood there in disbelief as I told him that I need to operate on his daughter to save her life. I watched him continue to stare, then his face seemed to grow red. He muttered something I still can't understand to this day 'my father took him away.'" Dr. Alexander paused as he pondered the mysterious confession, and said: "Then, your father turned, and walked away from me."
Another eerie silence filled the room. Grandfather looked as if he were going to pass out again. Father stood beside mother in disbelief, while mother continued to stare at the doctor. Dylan reached to squeeze my hand, while Francis, Ashton, and Theodore stood like statues. I so wish my Uncle Joseph was here, and not taking care of family business in Brooklyn. I needed some family guidance.
"I would like for you to read us the letter," Uncle Jasper said. "I would like to know why my long-lost uncle was named after your uncle." He shrugged. "I seem to have inherited the name."
"Well, my goodness," grandfather commanded. "How come you never told me! I would have been happy to try to solve this mystery."
I watched Dr. Alexander shake his head. "Your father told me to never speak to his family ever again. All I did was inform him that his daughter needed an operation, or she would die. He called me an inexperienced idiot, and threatened to have my medical license taken away if I spoke to his family again."
"Sounds like my father." grandfather spat. "But, please," he continued. "Read us the letter. It seems your uncle is the boy my Uncle William found in Crystal Springs before my parents wed."
We watched Dr. Alexander sink to a chair. "Mrs. Mueller," he looked at my mother. "I apologize for not answering your question, but up until a few moments ago, I didn't know what happened to my uncle." He fluttered the letter in his hand. "It seems he is the boy that drowned, and my mother never told me, or she never knew."
"Oh, my goodness!" Our mother removed her handkerchief and pressed it to her mouth. "Your family never knew?"
Dr. Alexander shook his head as his brain puzzled over the contents of the letter. "My uncle mailed his parents letters and half his monthly payment every month for the time he was twelve until he disappeared at age sixteen. The last letter they received said he was coming home to San Antonio. A mysterious person from Sherwood was funding the remainder of his college education and would be coming with him. My grandparents waited for months for him, but he never showed, and they never received a letter. Two years after he stopped communicating with the family, my mother was born."
I turned to grandfather to see his reaction. He kept clutching at the blanket. "Jasper Suarez was my father's servant, the way Thomas was my brothers," he whispered. "Of course, until you just informed me, I didn't know the man's name. The only thing my father told me was that the boy had been found drowned in the spring, and Uncle William buried him unmarked at Crystal Springs Cemetery."
A sudden jolt of excitement rushed through my body, as bits and pieces of the Woodrow Family history made sense. "I wonder if Grandpa Alex was the mysterious benefactor, and Diez had Jasper Suarez drowned because somehow he found out." I blurted out, causing everyone to stare at me in bewilderment.
"Millen, I-" Dylan started and stopped. His eyes grew large.
"That would explain why my father never inherited any of Diez's money," my grandfather said, his ash-stricken face seeming to brighten. "The man was punishing my father because he was going to take what I can only assume to be an early inheritance and give it away to Jasper Suarez for medical college."
I watched Dr. Alexander turn the letter over in his hands, as he re-read it.
"What other explanation would there be?" He said after a moment's silence. "No wonder that man hated me," he fumed. "I look just like Jasper Suarez. I have the boy's letters he wrote to my grandparents and a small oil painting that someone in Sherwood drew for him on his sixteenth birthday. He mailed it to his parents. But, I," he stammered. "The letter Alexander Woodrow mailed to my grandparents, the letter they speak of in this letter," he glanced down at the paper in his hands. "I do not have it. It must have been lost, and I do not understand how. My grandparents passed away before my fifth birthday, and they never spoke to my mother about her brother except he never returned to San Antonio. According to this letter they wrote to Alex Woodrow, they knew the entire time what happened to him."
"Like my father knew the entire time what happened to my brother," grandfather spat. "What's with that man and keeping secrets?"
"You came to Sherwood to solve your uncle's disappearance the same way our family has been trying to solve the disappearance of Jasper Woodrow?" mother asked, and smiled. "It turns out both of our families have a connection."
"I apologize I never told you," Dr. Alexander raised his eyes. "I don't want you to believe I took an interest in your family because of the connection. I've always known my uncle worked for Diez Woodrow." He paused and looked down at the letter. "I was the only doctor at St. Paul's who understood Catrina Woodrow needed a life-saving operation, and I was determined she would get it."
I stared at the doctor in a new light, as he confessed. He looked worried that grandfather would be furious, but he wasn't.
"I am very appreciative you came to Sherwood and forced me to sign the paperwork to operate on my daughter," my grandfather said. "I believe you were meant to meet up with this family. Now, please read the letter, because like everyone else, I'm anticipating the translation."
A faint blush spread on Dr. Alexander's face, as everyone in the room laughed. He turned the letter around, cleared his throat, and began:
"My wife and I appreciate the letter you mailed informing us of our beloved son. For the past two years, we have waited patiently and prayed for his safe return. Unfortunately, the Lord knows best. It pains us to hear Jasper drowned in the springs behind your father's house. It also confuses us because he has been swimming like the fish since he was a baby. I have a letter he wrote informing us that he taught you and your brother how to swim after he came to live at your father's house. I believe, as you said, the weather and storms caused the water to rapidly rise, and flood. He must have gone down to fish, slipped in, and with the currents couldn't pull himself up. It gives me and my wife joy and peace to know you buried our son on your land. I pray your family will own the land for generations and care for his resting spot until the Saviour returns. It also brings us joy that you have married and named your first son after our son. The monthly letters our Jasper wrote to us for years sing his praise of friendship with you. My wife and I prayed he would be taken in by a loving family, and our prayers were answered. We knew he needed an education, and our bakery shop in San Antonio would not pay his hefty university bills. Alexander, you were the best thing that ever happened to our Jasper. He always boasts of how kind, thoughtful, and generous you are to him. How you would take him out to the general stores on Saturday to purchase candy. How you would sit beside him at church when it was respectable for servants to sit in the back. You treated him more like a brother - a twin than a servant. You gave him purpose to stay, and not return home. We will always cherish the letter you mailed us, to reassure us, that our son was given a proper burial. For the first time in two years, we can sleep soundly tonight. Please tell the generous benefactor we love and care for him as well. We so much wished to meet him, and welcome him into our home.
"The best of love,
"Hester and Catrina Suarez"
A hush fell over the room at the extraordinary confession. This was remarkable! Grandfather Alex named Uncle Jasper after Jasper Suarez! We have solved another mystery.
"I thought Jasper Suarez is buried at Crystal Springs Cemetery?" Uncle Clinton said. "Didn't you tell us that, father?"
"Well, this letter states Jasper is buried on Diez's property, which our family no longer owns," mother answered, as she shook her head in bewilderment. "Why on earth would Grandpa Alex bury the boy on his father's land? Why would Diez agree to it?"
During the reading of the letter, my grandfather sat back up against the couch pillows, a queer look on his face as if he'd eaten a lemon. I could only imagine what was going through his mind.
"Grandfather, will you be alright?" I asked.
"I'm sorry, I," he paused, his eyes searching the room. "My mind must have frozen upon learning that in my father's youth he was a nice man."
A much-needed laugh spread across the room. Dr. Alexander leaned forward, his hands on his knees. "Cleo, when I first arrived in Sherwood I believed your father to be a kind-hearted man."
I couldn't help but laugh at the look of disbelief that flashed over my grandfather's face. I ignored Theodore reaching out, and pinching my arm to be quiet.
"I have all of Jasper's letters," he continued. "They do sing praises of your father. My uncle and your father were good friends. I was in a joyful mood when I boarded the train from McKinney to Sherwood, and imagine my surprise, and bitter disappointment when I learned Alex Woodrow to be a cruel man. At that moment I did cease all contact with his family, as he wished, but was bound and determined to solve my own uncle's disappearance myself. I spent my off days combing the many family cemeteries in the area, but knew since Jasper was a servant he'd be in an unmarked grave." Dr. Alexander paused, as he glanced about the room.
"But, how, I wished to speak to Alex, but his fierce warning scared me away," he continued. "After his fall and being institutionalized, I felt relief and joy when Frank and Catrina chose me to be their family doctor. I pondered on how a man could have produced two generous sons and three lovely grandchildren. But," Dr. Alexander sighed, and looked at the letter. "Jasper Suarez's tragic death turned Alex into the cold-hearted person he was."
"Grandpa Alex had to have been the generous benefactor," Uncle Clinton announced. "In your letters, it says how he and Jasper were close friends for many years. Grandpa Alex was probably going to take his early inheritance and travel with Jasper to San Antonio, but somehow Diez found out-"
"And, had Jasper Suarez drowned," Uncle Jasper interrupted his brother. "Goodness, he leaned against the wall. "Three Jaspers! I might have to go by my middle name!"
"But, wait," mother called out. "Why on Earth did you name me after Jasper Suarez's grandmother if you didn't know who she was?" She demanded. Although my mother was sitting in a chair, in my mind I could see her placing her hands on her hips, and scowling.
A faint blush spread across grandfather's face. "About that," he sighed, as he nervously looked down at the floor. "I didn't name you, my father did."
"My grandfather named me?" I watched my mother's eyes grow large in disbelief.
"Well, yes," grandfather continued. "The day you were born, your mother wanted to name you after her mother. Before the doctor left, he came into the room and said that Alex Woodrow informed him the baby's name would be Catrina Woodrow. If your mother wasn't exhausted from the medicine he gave her before she gave birth, I think she would have hit her father-in-law, and me!"
"Well, my goodness." I could see mother fuming. "This Jasper Suarez must have been an extremely important man in Grandpa Alex's life for him to just up and name me after the mother."
"That's precisely what I've been trying to find out for years," Dr. Alexander sighed. "If you wish to read Jasper's letters, I'll be happy to bring them over. I know opening the attic was supposed to reunite you with your brother, instead, it's bringing out secrets of your father."
"It is perfectly alright," grandfather smiled. "Tomorrow, Frank is going to teach Theodore, Dylan, Ashton, and my two boys how to remove, and install a door and a frame in the attic. He's tearing down the old balcony door and replacing it with a new one so we can have lots of sunlight for exploring. Francis has a study session at the college library, and I believe Millen is tagging along so he can study for his exams. My grandson is on his way to becoming a valedictorian. I will have an entire day to read Jasper Suarez's letters if you translate them for me?"
"I will be honored," Dr. Alexander sighed. "But, there is one thing I am confused about. Where is my uncle's final resting location? In the letter, it says he is buried on Diez's land, but your father told you that his brother, William Woodrow, buried the boy at Crystal Springs Cemetery,"
"Perhaps, my father told a white lie so the Suarez family wouldn't be upset," my grandfather said. "I never knew Grandpa Diez, but I doubt he would allow my father to bury the boy on his property. My parents were married shortly after Jasper Suarez died. My mother was on a trip with her parents in Honey Grove from Virginia, and word reached Diez. He asked the father if his daughter would marry his son. They agreed on the contract." I watched my grandfather seem to spit the word in repulsion.
"Grandpa Diez probably forced the marriage because he was mad about your father taking the money, and giving it to a servant." My mother said as she nodded her head.
Grandfather paused, his eyebrows furrowing downward, as he clutched his blanket. "Bah," he spat. "Jasper Suarez is probably buried at Crystal Springs Cemetery. It's only a short ten-minute walk from the old Woodrow farm. It was the first public cemetery in Sherwood. Mr. Henderson owned the land, and deeded it to the town after his daughter died of scarlet fever."
"How wonderful that makes me feel," Dr. Alexander stood up and handed the letter back to my grandfather, who politely refused it.
"The letter rightfully belongs to you," he said. "I have my letter that has answered my prayers. My brother and Thomas were alive five years after they left Sherwood, and they attended college. But, unfortunately, I don't know what happened afterward."
My father reached out to take the letter off Grandpa Alex's desk, and hand it to grandfather.
"Once I have the door installed, and more natural light shines through, I'm positive there will be more clues," he said. "Your brother's last journal has to be up there somewhere."
"I agree," Dr. Alexander folded his grandparent's letter and slipped it into his pocket. "I'm going to drive out to Crystal Springs Cemetery and try to find some kind of marker. If Alex was good friends with my uncle the way it's described in the letters, I doubt he would leave the boy's grave unmarked. There has to be a patch of irises, a pile of rocks, or a long lost wooden cross somewhere toward the back iron fence to mark the grave."
I watched grandfather nod, as he turned to the window that overlooked the front yard. A terrible urge of fatigue rushed through my body, and I felt like sleeping all day.
"Speaking of flowers that refuse to die," grandfather shook his head, as he gazed out the window. "That blasted ivy will reach my front porch by tomorrow morning. I forgot to trim it back before heading to Dallas on Friday. Like irises, that foolish plant comes back every year."
"We'll do it, grandfather," Francis piped up, as he gestured toward me, my brothers, and Ashton. "It will give us something to do while you rest."
I shot my brother a look. I wished to spend the remainder of the day reading Jasper’s diaries, not pulling up an ivy vine.
“Then it’s settled,” I watched my mother nod her head. “We’ll all have a quick lunch, and then head our separate ways. Dr. Alexander, you’re welcome to join us.”
We all gathered around the library table while pulling up various chairs. Grandfather propped himself up and gathered his blanket around him like a security net. After a lunch of cucumber sandwiches, tea, and fruit, I headed outside in the warm autumn air with my brothers.
Dylan handed me a pair of clippers that he’d fetched from the barn, and we took to hacking the twisted ivy. The sound of Dr. Alexander’s car traveling down the dirt road onto the pathway that led to Crystal Springs caught my attention. I turned and waved.
“I hope he finds his uncle,” I said, grasping hold of the vine, cutting at the root.
“What if Jasper Saurez is buried on Diez’s old farm?” Ashton asked as he paused to wipe his forehead with the back of his arm.
The soft thud of Theodore digging a shovel into the vines, and pulling up the roots distracted me. I caught sight of a metallic object buried in the dirt where the roots once took hold.
“I doubt Diez would allow Grandpa Alex to bury a servant on his land,” Theodore answered with a snort. “We were once Jasper Suarez, remember?”
I ignored my brother’s sarcasm, and dropped to my knees, reaching for what looked to be a coin.
“I never thought I’d see you in the dirt,” Dylan laughed. “The last time you played in the mud we were living in Brooklyn.”
I ignored him and dug out the coin, and to my surprise, I saw a rusty chain attached through a clasp.
“What’s that?” Francis asked as he hauled me back up.
I turned the strange coin over in my hand. There were several layers of dirt on it, that I couldn’t make it out.
“Looks like some kind of necklace,” Dylan studied the object in the palm of my hand. “Why would it be buried in the dirt?”
I turned it over, while Ashton reached for the glass of water he brought with him.
“What if Grandpa Alex accidentally dropped it in his garden long ago, and over time the ivy roots pushed it underground?” He asked.
I shrugged. “That’s a possibility.”
We all watched as Ashton took the coin necklace from my hand, and dropped it in the glass of water to cleanse the dirt. After a few seconds, he pulled it back and wiped it clean with his handkerchief. I paused and looked over his shoulder as a woman’s silhouette began to appear.
“A cameo?” Theodore asked.
“Hmm,” Ashton murmured, as he ran the handkerchief over it again. “It looks like those religious necklaces of the Virgin Mary the vendors use to sell in Brooklyn.
I had a brief memory of Mrs. Tuscano before me, her evil eyes glaring into mine as I walked past her, and up the stairs to my parent’s old apartment in Brooklyn. The woman always wore a pendant with the Virgin Mary around her neck.
“I believe you’re correct,” I said. “It’s not a coin, it’s a religious necklace. Possibly Catholic.”
“Why would our grandfather have a Catholic necklace?” Theodore asked. “He’s been a Methodist all his life.”
I turned the pendant over, and to my surprise, a foreign word was etched in the back. “la protección,” I said out loud.
“For protection,” Francis transcribed. We all looked at him, and he shrugged. “I’m studying different languages in college.”
“Want it?” Ashton handed me the necklace. “Since you’ve converted to the Catholic Church and all.”
I took the rusted necklace and turned it over. Hopefully, Uncle Joseph could help me once he returned from his trip to Brooklyn. I gazed out to the fields behind grandfather’s house and saw the old barn and servant’s quarters. An idea formed in my head.
“I wonder if this is Sybil or Thomas’s necklace?” I asked. “They were Catholic.”
“One of them probably dropped it in the dirt one day while gardening.” I saw Theodore shrug, and turn to dig up another batch of roots. This newfound treasure did not affect him.
The sound of the front door closing diverted my attention. I saw grandfather heading down the front porch to the barn. I handed Dylan the gardening clippers and raced over.
“Shouldn’t you be resting?” I asked him, as we walked over to the barn.
“Bah, to my father.” He repeated and gestured toward his driver to prepare a carriage. “I’m headed to see him.”
I noticed how determined my grandfather looked in his autumn coat, and hat. I had a matching one for when school started in a few weeks.
“Grandfather, you’re going to make yourself ill talking to him,” I continued, as I opened the carriage door, while his two horses were being saddled.
“Well, now,” he replied, grasping my hand, as I helped him up the carriage step. “That’s a risk I’m willing to take.” Grandfather nodded. “My father has lied to me all his life. He knew Jasper was alive and kept it from me.”
I let out a little sigh of disgust. “But, grandfather,” I continued. “He’s not going to remember you, or anything that happened. Please, don’t yell and scream. You’ll come home even more upset. I-I don’t want you in the hospital.”
A little smile crept over the man’s face, as I felt him squeeze my hand.
“It makes me happy when you care for me.” He let out a sigh. “I’m going to tell him all about opening the attic, the letters, and Dr. Alexander’s confession. Perhaps, this will jog his memory, and he’ll say something?”
I gently let go of my grandfather’s hand and knew it to be foolish to try to stop him. His mind was made up, and if I’ve learned anything during the years he’s been mine, it’s that when grandfather has made up his mind, he’ll go through with it.
I reached in to kiss him on the side of his face.
“Be careful,” I whispered and pulled back to close the door. I stepped to the side and waved as Mr. Kusch drove the carriage from the barn onto the driveway. As I made my way back to my brothers, I remembered the necklace in my pocket. I had forgotten to mention it.