rated *

 

The Underground Quilt Mystery

By K. O'Connell

 

Chapter 1

    A light rain began wetting the road as Honey Wheeler jogged from her family’s estate to the Belden farm. She dashed onto their porch just as the rain began to fall harder. Brian Belden, home early from college for the weekend, opened the door as she raised her hand to knock and ushered her in, taking her coat and umbrella.

            “Thank you. Welcome home! Where’s Trixie?” she asked, quickly fixing her honey-hued hair with her fingers. “I’m about to burst with a surprise for you all and a mystery for her.”

            “Another mystery?” Mart, Trixie’s seventeen-year-old brother, moaned from the doorway. “Can’t we have even a minute amount of time to recuperate from all the prior ones?”

            “I think you’re safe from this one, Mart,” Honey laughed. “Only a part is coming here, and its stay is temporary as well as unconnected with any clues for the mystery. Trix would have to search far and wide to even be close to solving it.”

            “She’ll try to find a way, knowing her. But, on the off chance that you’re right, I’ll tell you where your compatriot is. She’s upstairs actually attempting homework before our evening repast.” Mart made a dramatic face, emphasizing the rarity of such an event and the difficulty Trixie was having.

            “I think she can stand a small interruption when she learns what I have to tell her,” Honey said.

            “You’re not going to share with us first?” Brian pretended to act put out, shaking his dark head at Mart in mock disappointment.

            “Hardly.” With another laugh, Honey ran up the stairs and burst into Trixie’s room with a knock on the doorframe as she entered.

            “Just wait till you hear what I have to tell you!” she cried.

            “Anything will be better than geometry,” Trixie declared, running a hand through her sandy curls. Though she had passed the class sophomore year, she was repeating some of the curriculum at the request of her algebra two teacher.

            “We are getting another horse!”

            “What does Regan have to say to that?” Trixie asked, after a squeal of excitement.

            “He actually didn’t complain of being overworked. He was rather thrilled, I think. And the story of why she’s coming to us is so romantic!”

            “This ought to be interesting,” Mart said from the doorway.

            “What could possibly be romantic about a horse?” Brian added with a grin that told the girls he was egging them on.

            “Her name is Emily’s Moonrise, and Dad agreed to host her when her owner, who’s an old family friend, passed away. The horse’s trainer had a family emergency come up and the rest of the staff is too busy with the other horses to give Emily’s Moonrise all the attention she needs. We get to have her until Mrs. Carmichael’s heir is found.”

            “Emily’s Moonrise,” Brian mused. “I’ve heard that name before.”

            “Regan was talking about an Emily’s Moonrise when he was reading the racing scores a few weeks ago,” Mart said.

            “She’s a racehorse?” Trixie asked, eyes lighting up.

            “Not just any,” Honey said, bouncing on Trixie’s bed. “She was predicted to win all three of the Triple Crown races this year until she had an injury in a race not too long ago.”

            “We won’t be able to ride her at all, then,” Trixie moaned. “Where’s the fun in that?”

            “Don’t you mean, ‘Where’s the romance in that?’” Mart teased.

            “Oh, that reminds me! The best part is, Mrs. Carmichael’s heir is her niece that she hasn’t seen for twenty years because the niece eloped with the family’s horse trainer and they have been shunned ever since. Emily’s Moonrise is a direct descendant of the horse he was training before they ran away together.” Honey sighed with the thrill of it. “Mrs. Carmichael was given the original horse by her niece, and has been maintaining the bloodline since in hopes that her niece would return and her husband would train the horses once more.”

            “You said there was a mystery,” Mart prompted.

            “Yes, there is. No one can find the niece, a Mrs. Katherine MacDougall. Her family blacklisted her husband James from any horse training positions where he might make a decent living. The last anyone heard of them was after a race in Charles Town fifteen years ago, when one of his horses won. Katherine disappeared after that.”

            “So your family will have the horse indefinitely?” Mart asked.

            “No…” Honey said slowly. “Mrs. Carmichael wanted Katherine to reconcile with her family and gave her a deadline of when to respond. Katherine has a month to answer the advertisements and reunite with her family before her inheritance passes to her next of kin. It’s already been a week and half.”

            “Did she and James have any children?” Brian queried.

            “Two; a boy and a girl. Dad doesn’t know their names, but he said the girl was around my age.”

            “Who’s Emily?” Trixie asked. The others stared at her and she waved her hand with impatience. “Maybe the horse’s name is a clue.” Mart groaned and hit his head against the wall.

            “Not again,” he muttered.

            “Mrs. Carmichael’s name was Elizabeth,” Honey answered.

            “The private investigators need to find Emily, and then I bet they’ve also found Katherine,” Trixie speculated.

            “That’s farfetched,” Mart scoffed.

            “In other news,” a new voice said from the doorway. “A family has moved into the Darnells’ old home, and the girl is around the same age as you two shamuses. Di called to say she’s a darling and that she’ll start school with you tomorrow.”

            “Jim!” Honey exclaimed, turning to greet her adopted brother with a smile. “Where’d you come from?” Eighteen year old Jim Frayne was also home from college, having caught a ride with Brian.

            “I came to fetch you home in the car before the rain gets heavier, and to invite the rest of you to see Emily’s Moonrise tomorrow afternoon. And Trix, you might be on to something. I think Elizabeth Carmichael knew more about her niece than she left for her lawyers to go off of in their search. Emily isn’t one of their family names, but variations of the word ‘moon’ are common in names for that line of horses.” Trixie smiled warmly in thanks at Jim who nodded back and held up two fingers discreetly. Before he’d left for college, they’d arranged a special code for when they could meet, using Longfellow’s line “one if by land, two if by sea”. One finger up meant they could meet later that night while two meant meeting early the next morning. Trixie was fairly certain Honey and Brian had a similar system, but she knew they too didn’t like having attention drawn to them, so she politely never asked.

Honey threw a triumphant look at Mart as she hugged her friend goodbye. “Trixie may solve the mystery after all. Let’s all meet at the bus stop together so we can talk more in the morning. Have a wonderful night!”

* * * *

            The next morning Jim greeted Trixie with a hug in the gatehouse.

            “It’s good to see you,” he said fondly.

            “You say that every time.”

            “It’s true every time.” Trixie blushed at his words and he chuckled. “Have you had any adventures this week?”

            “Di, Honey, and I visited Mrs. Vanderpoel on Tuesday and had an impromptu lesson on Dutch baking, but aside from that this week’s been pretty quiet. Now with you three home, things are looking up.” They continued to converse until Trixie glanced at her watch and had to rush home to get Bobby ready for school.

Not too long after, Trixie waited at the bus stop, anticipating seeing the new student joining the Bob-Whites in boarding the bus. While the Beldens waited, they caught Diana Lynch up on the exciting news of Emily’s Moonrise, Trixie’s theory about the horse’s name, and then inquired about Di’s new neighbor.

            “Trixie’s not concocting a new mystery, is she?” Dan Mangan asked at the end of their retelling, coming up with Honey and Jim.

            “You bet she is,” Mart grumbled. Anyone listening to him would think he despised his sister’s inquisitiveness, but secretly he was proud of her sleuthing skills. He filled Dan in with Trixie’s speculations, ending with, “I think this is one mystery that’s safe from her though. Katherine MacDougall will contact her aunt’s lawyers and everything will easily be resolved. Who would turn down an inheritance when they’re in her shoes, raising two kids with little means of financial support?”

            “Some people might hold on to their pride, though, and refuse reconciliation,” Dan said.

            “It will be great having another girl in our neck of the woods,” Diana declared in an effort to avoid another lengthy and generally pointless conversation, flipping her blue-black locks over her shoulder.

            “Yeah, that way we won’t be outnumbered by the boys anymore,” Trixie agreed.

            “Gleeps,” Brian said to the boys. “You would think we never let them have their way in anything.”

“I thought it was the other way around,” Jim teased.

            “Ha ha,” Trixie scoffed.

            “If the girl has any sense, she’d do well to avoid engaging in silly prattling with these three squaws,” Mart added.

            “Speaking of being outnumbered by boys, aren’t you working for Mr. Maypenny this morning?” Trixie asked Dan.

            “I am. The bus stop is a minor detour on my route.”

            “Methinks he wants a glimpse of our neighbor,” Di teased.

            “We all do,” Honey said sweetly. “Trix, who do you think Emily might be?”

The bus arrived then, and they climbed aboard, Trixie, Di, and Honey peering through the window for the new girl while also waving goodbye to Brian, Jim, and Dan.

            “I guess we’ll have to meet her when we get to school,” Honey said, disappointed.

            “Lucky boys, getting off a day early from college,” Trixie grumbled. “Why do they get a free day to study for midterms, and we don’t?”

* * * *

            The Bob-Whites had to wait until lunch before meeting their neighbor. Diana led her through the cafeteria, trying to hide the slight frustration on her face at the admiration her companion was starting to draw from some of the boys. Trixie nudged Honey and they shared a knowing glance of amusement over Di’s vanity. The girl was around the same height as Diana, slender as a reed in a yellow sweater and brown skirt, and moved with a small skip in her step. Her reddish-brown hair flowed in old-fashioned waves past her waist and she glanced with a friendly face at the students in the cafeteria. Trixie had the thought that she had seen someone with the same sharp facial features before though, and had an unpleasant feeling that the person, if she could only remember who it was, had been sinister. Scanning the faces of her friends, she realized she was the only one who had the same thoughts.

            “This is Emily,” Diana said when they neared. She arched an eyebrow at Trixie teasingly. “She’s in Mart’s grade, but we have art class together and I offered to show her around.”

            “Everyone at my old school called me Mari though. I’d be rather lost if you called me Emily.” Mari smiled with a sweet frankness and shook hands with everyone as they were introduced. Trixie wondered to herself how such a personable face could be coupled in her mind with such a menacing one.

            “Is Mary your middle name?” Honey asked when Di and Mari were seated.

            “My mother named me Emily Marigold, after two of her favorite characters created by the author L.M. Montgomery. Mom’s a bit of a bookworm.”

            “Where did you live before coming to Sleepyside?” Trixie asked.

            “New York City, but I’ve always enjoyed smaller towns better.”

            “Have you lived in lots of different places then?” Mart asked.

            “Heavens, yes. I was born in West Virginia, but my family moved to California not long after and we lived in several places there. Then, four years ago we returned to Bolivar, West Virginia. Dad passed away a year later, and soon after Mom and I moved to New York.” Honey touched her hand in sympathy.

            “How did you get to school today?” Honey asked after a moment of silence.

            “I caught a ride with the friend who helped us move. He spent the night and had to drive home early this morning. I’ll ride the bus this afternoon with you.”

            “Why move from The Big Apple to a sleepy little town like this one?” Di wanted to know, her violet eyes bright with interest.

            “We missed living in the country, and always wanted to move back. The timing and location happened to align perfectly, so here we are.” The conversation turned to different topics and when the bell rang Trixie stood to go to class, still troubled about Mari’s similarity to an unknown person. A girl who had been sitting at the table next to them caught her elbow before she could walk away.

            “I saw her drive up today with her friend. He’s young and quite a looker too. I wouldn’t wonder if she’s left a bit of her heart in New York.” Trixie nodded and walked off to class, sharing what the girl had whispered to Honey and Di as they moved along.

            “Hmm,” Di said. “Another romantic mystery for you to solve, Trix.”

            “No, what I want to solve is who she reminds me of. It’s someone I don’t trust.”

            “But who none of the rest of us know?” Honey asked.

            “That’s what gets me. Who do I know that you don’t?”

            “We have the weekend to figure it out.” Honey patted Trixie’s shoulder. None of them saw Mari, who had been walking and chatting with Mart before the girls entered their classroom, standing a few feet away with eyes wide, biting her lip.

* * * *

            Mari disembarked from the bus first and began walking up the road toward her home beyond the Manor House, head bent against the wind that was starting to pick up.

            “Did you girls have a spat already? That is the new student, right?” Jim asked with concern in his voice. He and Brian had walked down the steep drive of the Manor House to greet the other Bob-Whites.

            “Mari and I overheard them talking about her in the hallway,” Mart explained. “Trixie is convinced she’s either untrustworthy or connected with someone who is.”

            “I am not,” Trixie disagreed. “I said she reminds me of someone I don’t trust, but it’s not anyone Honey or Di remembers, and it’s not as though I don’t trust her personally.”

            “Trixie,” Jim said softly. “You can’t always spout off what comes to your mind, especially if you pay no heed to who’s around you.”

            “I know,” she said with a sigh. “Mari, wait! I need to apologize!” she called, running after her. Mari turned with a surprised expression on her face, and walked back to meet Trixie halfway. The Bob-Whites watched Trixie talking earnestly. Mari nodded at the end of Trixie’s speech and returned with her to the group, where Trixie introduced her to Brian and Jim.

            “Mari, do you like horses?” Honey asked as they walked up the driveway.

            “Yes, very much,” Mari answered shyly, but her sea-blue eyes sparkled with such joy that the Bob-Whites knew that was an understatement. “My father was a stable manager for a place that rescues retired show horses, but his passion was training racehorses and steeplechasers when he got the chance.”

            “Then you are in luck!” Honey exclaimed. “We’re boarding a real live racehorse for a family friend and she arrived today.”

            “Regan and Dan have had a little bit of a rough time getting her settled in,” Jim warned. “Regan called Dan in because her trainer had to leave right after unloading her. He’d gotten word that his nephew might have been found.” Jim led the way into the stable. “The trainer is Katherine MacDougall’s brother, and the reason he’s having Regan train Emily right now is because he’s joined in the search for Katherine,” he added for the benefit of watching Trixie’s face transform into her perturbed, sleuthing expression, but it was Mari who commented first.

            “Katherine MacDougall, the missing heiress with the romantic story?” Mari asked.

            “The one and only, and Emily’s Moonrise will be her horse if she claims her inheritance,” Di explained. Everyone stopped short then, catching sight of a stunning grey Arabian in the far stall, Regan at her head.

            “Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce Emily’s Moonrise, our guest at the Manor House stables,” Regan say with a flourish and grin.

            “A moonrise is not an apt enough description for the living silver that is her coat,” Mart marveled.

            “Thank you, Mart,” Dan said, entering from Regan’s office. “I brushed her myself not too long ago.” He spotted Mari then, and a frown quickly passed over his face before he walked over and introduced himself. Ah ha, Trixie thought to herself. Dan recognizes the resemblance too. Who do Dan and I both know that the others don’t? Honey and Jim saw his reaction also and shared a look with her. No one saw Regan start when Mari gave her name, and examine her shrewdly. They were all watching Dan and Mari curiously.

            “I know you from somewhere,” Mari said earnestly to Dan. “You’ve changed, but I know you.”

            “I was friends with your brother, once upon a time.” Dan looked straight at Trixie as he said this, and Trixie gasped, memories of Dan’s illustrious arrival in Sleepyside coming back to her.

            “Luke!” Trixie exclaimed. Mari backed slowly away, stopping when Di touched her shoulder.

            “It’s alright, Mari,” Di said. “Dan’s long past being a Cowhand. He’s a Bob-White now.”

            “I thought we had gotten away from everyone who knew Luke,” Mari said sadly. Her brow furrowed. “What’s a Bob-White? Besides the bird, that is.”

            “It’s us,” Brian said. “We’re the Bob-Whites of the Glen.”

            “Ah,” Mari said, face brightening. “I’ve been trying to decipher what B.W.G. stood for on the backs of everyone’s jackets.” She glanced around at everyone and saw only puzzlement and surprise at Dan’s announcement still on their faces. “Now that you know who I am, I should leave. I knew we should have moved further away!”

She turned to go, but halted when Dan said gruffly, “No. My issue is with Luke. It has never been with you.”

“What Dan says goes,” Brian agreed. The Bob-Whites all nodded.

“Agreed as well,” Regan said, moving forward to shake her hand. “Are you Alec MacAlistair’s daughter, by chance?”

“Yes, how- how did you know?”

“I met him briefly at various Turf Shows prior to working for the Wheelers. He was our connection for getting Spartan,” Regan said with a nod at Dan. “He was a good man, and a fine trainer. I’m sorry for your loss,” he added to Mari. Di put her arm around her shoulders in sympathy as Mari nodded her thanks. Honey and Trixie made eye contact briefly. There was a lot of information about their new neighbor that needed debriefing. Jim shook his head, knowing what their glances at each other meant.

“Well, on that note,” Regan began again. “Dan and I finished all the work in the stable today in preparation for Emily’s arrival, so you are free to exercise the horses more or entertain yourselves some other way. Tomorrow, though, I’m taking my day off since I wasn’t able to today, and the horses are all yours to care for.”

“Gleeps, entertainment!” Trixie said in panic. “Now I remember why I was doing homework early yesterday. I was asked to pull all of us into planning a spring frolic Sleepyside Junior-Senior High wants to put on! They were planning on having it the first week of May instead of the usual dance later in the month.”

“Spring frolic?” Mart asked warily. Trixie glowered at her almost twin. Born exactly eleven months apart, they were sometimes too close for each other’s comfort. “And isn’t the anniversary of your birth on May 1? Are you sure you aren’t arranging a school-wide birthday revelry for yourself?”

“It’s going to be a fundraiser for the music department’s summer camp and the team that was planning it bailed, Mr. Smarty-Marty.”

“A fundraiser in three weeks from now; fine,” Mart said. “What can we do in little more than a fortnight?”
            “Must you be so pragmatic?” Trixie looked proud of her use of a large word.

“We can create something before then,” Honey said supportively.

“So go already,” Regan said good-naturedly. He shooed them out of the stable and in the direction of their clubhouse.

“It’s hardly original, but why not have a dance still? What would be different is having the music students provide the orchestration.” Mari said this quietly, tightening her coat around her as the wind picked up.

“Would you like to help us?” Honey asked.

“I should help Mom finish unpacking,” Mari said wistfully. “Perhaps tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow after lunch would work for us,” Brian said.

“That should be fine,” Mari agreed. “Tomorrow, then. It was wonderful to meet you all.” She smiled happily at them and walked down to Glen Road. Soon they could see her figure, trim in a navy wool coat, blithely running to beat the rain clouds home.

“She runs on her toes,” Dan said so softly the Bob-Whites almost didn’t hear him. They watched her go around a bend in the road, running with lithe leaps almost like a ballerina making jetés across a dance floor.

“How can she run so in a skirt?” Trixie said with wonderment.

“She seems pretty athletic,” Mart said, eyes lighting up with a teasing glint.

 “Almost like a steeplechase horse herself,” Jim agreed with a serious face but twinkling eyes.

“Okay, Dan, tell us all you know about her,” Honey demanded.

“Can we go in the gatehouse first? It’s colder than I like out here.” Di shifted in her coat. They hurried inside, Brian moving to start a fire in the wood-burning stove while the others took seats at the table.

“So much for balmy spring weather,” Brian quipped.

“How do you know Mari can be trusted when she’s Luke’s sister?” Jim asked. “She seems sweet enough, but we know from experience how that can lead us astray.” He glanced at Trixie and winked, and she knew he was thinking of the many times her instinct had been proven right when the others were charmed by the very criminals they were trying to catch.

“I don’t know much about her since she and her mother moved to New York only a few months before Child Services got hold of me. What I do know is that initially she just thought we were some crazy club Luke belonged to and would run errands when we asked. It wasn’t until a package tore while she was delivering it that she discovered we’d been using her to transport drugs and other contraband.” Dan stopped to laugh and Honey frowned at him.

“How is that funny?” she demanded.

“It isn’t, but what came after is. She stormed up to Luke and began taking him to task so fiercely you would have thought she was his mother. He actually had his back up against a wall by the time she was finished.” Trixie snickered at this, thinking of Luke and how tough he had been when he came for Dan. Dan meantime sobered, and shook his head. “To save face, he struck her. For all the violence we were involved in, I had never seen a brother hit his sister that way.”

Jim put his arm protectively around Honey. “How’d Mari respond?”

“She gave him a kiss on his cheek, of all things, and commented that she was sorry for him. That’s when I began to wish I had a sister like Mari- someone to hold me accountable and show me grace at the same time. Then she walked away head held high and avoided contact with all of us as much as possible. She also turned herself in to NYPD, but they just gave her a warning and sent her home.” They were all silent for a moment, and then Dan continued.

“Her mother was my music teacher, and a kinder lady can’t be found. She was genuinely astonished to find that I was friends with her son, and didn’t mind telling me that I could do better. The only other time I saw Mari was during one of my last rumbles before Uncle Bill came for me. She’d befriended a crippled little Puerto Rican boy after rescuing him from an intersection where he’d fallen. Unbeknownst to her, he was the youngest brother of the Escorpiones’  leader.”

“Who were they?” Mart asked.

“One of our rival gangs. I guess the little brother was a favorite of all the gang members because Manuel, the leader, secretly granted her safe passage through their territory, and had his gang guard her from Luke and the rest of us. One of the Cowhands in particular claimed he could tame her since Luke couldn’t. Anyway, one day, Manuel caught this Cowhand harassing her and before Mari knew what was happening, we all jumped into the fray. They soundly beat us and Manuel escorted her away. That was the maddest I’ve ever seen Luke get.”

“I wonder if Manuel was the friend who helped her move here.” Di said. Dan shrugged. Trixie, meanwhile, shared a raised eyebrow with Honey. They had rarely heard Dan speak so much at one time.

“Anything else?” Mart said with a grin, sharing a look with Brian and Jim.

“That’s all I can think of,” Dan commented, oblivious to their amusement at his expense. He brushed a lock of black hair out of his eyes. “Once I placed her, that information came pretty quickly, though there’s probably more I’m forgetting.”

“What will Hallie or Ruthie Kettner say when they learn you have a new interest?” Trixie teased.

“What?” Dan asked, surprised. “We’re only friends, Trix, you know that. Hallie and I figured that out a while after her visit, and Ruthie and I were never more than friends. As for Mari, I’m merely commending her virtues, which are ones all of you girls exhibit as well.”

“What virtues are those, pray tell?” Mart queried. “Being twitter patted? Displaying reckless disregard for safety and logical thinking?” Brian sent him a warning glance.

“Trixie and Mart were only teasing because you told us all you knew about Mari like Honey asked you to. It was just more than what we were anticipating,” Jim said in an attempt to salve Dan. “I like the dance idea, but do you think the orchestra can be ready in time?”

The Bob-Whites fell to scheming and Trixie was left pondering the unfairness of what happened to Mari’s horseman of a father that she and her mother would have to move to New York and suffer the presence of Luke alone. She also questioned if Dan’s interest in her cousin had been temporary only because he carried a more permanent image of a dainty lass from New York in his mind.

 

Chapter 2

The Beldens scurried through their chores that Saturday and by lunch were finished. It was a rare day that Trixie didn’t have to babysit Bobby, their eight-year old brother, but Bobby was already gone, spending the day with Di’s younger siblings. The three teens ate lunch quickly and then walked up from Crabapple Farm to the Manor House. Jim, Honey, and Mari were already there in the yard watching Emily’s Moonrise pacing in the paddock. They greeted one another, and then returned to watching the horse until they were joined by Di and Dan. Together they walked to the old gatehouse, Trixie walking behind the others with Mari.

“I’d like to apologize again for my words yesterday,” Trixie said.

“Knowing my brother as I do, I’m rather surprised you’re even welcoming me.” Trixie watched Mari as she said this and decided that Mari’s face was a fine-boned and delicate version of Luke’s angular, fierce one. Her eyes were a dark blue-green and were full of life’s joys rather than stormy with overwhelming anger. Dan was right; Mari was a very different person than her brother.

“Dan told us about you, and from his life experiences, he’s usually a wise judge of character.” Mari blushed at Trixie’s words and studied Dan as he and Mart engaged in a scuffling match outside of the gatehouse, trying to throw each other into a large puddle.

“We left New York because a month ago we got word that Luke was going to be released from prison. Mom thought it best that we move in secret before he returned,” Mari shared. “She put him out on his own once he was of age because of the choices and friends he’d made, and she would really rather not have him endanger me anymore.” Mari shook her head as if the latter was impossible and foolish to worry about.

“And you came here, even though he’s been in Sleepyside before?”

“He has nothing to draw him here any longer, and Sleepyside’s a short enough distance away from the city that we could move quickly without my having to miss much school.”

“Mari, was Manuel the one who brought you and your mother here?” Di asked, meeting the two at the door.

“Yes,” Mari said easily. “His brother Esteban had polio when he was very young, and so anyone who shows kindness to the boy is very well taken care of by Manuel. It is, perhaps, one of his few redeeming traits.” She laughed. “And a piece of my heart was left in New York, but it is with Esteban, who is one of the darling-est kids in the world.” Trixie wasn’t sure, but she thought she saw a satisfied smile quickly pass over Dan’s face before Mart succeeded in shoving him into the water. Mari turned to Dan, who had just pulled Mart into the puddle after him. “How did you know about Manuel?”

“I was there for his fight with the Cowhands over you.” Dan scrambled back onto his feet and flicked water from his hand at Mart before Brian helped his brother up.

“Oh. Such machismo. You boys certainly had that in plenty.” She smiled at Dan. “I’m glad I didn’t initially connect you with the Cowhands. You must not have made a negative impression on me in those days.” He shrugged, embarrassed, and she flushed as well. “Not that you’ve made a negative impression on me now,” she added.

Mart cleared his throat and opened the door. “This is where the magic happens, Mari. Many a grandiose scheme has been concocted and enacted here, all for the service of our fellow men.”

“What did you fabricate subsequent to my departure?” Mari asked, grinning when Mart blinked at her use of multisyllabic words.

“We thought we’d have a garden party theme,” Di said, taking a seat at the conference table. “We could set up everything outside on the lawn, rather than try to imitate nature indoors.”

“The weather should be much more pleasant than this too. I can’t believe how much rain we’ve been getting,” Brian added.

“At least it cleared up today. We still have to exercise the horses later,” ever responsible Jim said.

“We still have to decide what the refreshments and decorations will be too,” Trixie said.

“Single-minded as usual,” Brian teased his sister.

“Are the tickets going to be the only source of income? This is a fundraiser after all,” Mari asked.

“We could raffle door prizes,” Dan proposed. He had remained standing, but now he took a seat next to Mari. “That’s worked before.”

“What if we had an old-fashioned box social? We could provide drinks and some light refreshments, but those that want to can participate in the box social and the money from auctioning the meals off can be added to the funds from ticket sales,” Honey suggested.

“Would we get enough people to bring boxed dinners or bid on them?” Mart asked, skeptically.

“I think the novelty would be sufficient to draw an adequate amount of participants,” Mari said, again with a grin across her face at Mart’s bewildered expression. Few other people responded to him with the same range of vocabulary. “The question next becomes, should we keep the garden party theme, or have a 1800s’ style hoe-down matching the box social idea?”

“And should we limit attendance to the students, or open it up to the community?” Jim asked. “The latter would broaden our scope of participants in the box social.”

“If we invited the community, we could move the event to the town common, rather than crowd it onto school grounds,” Dan noted.

“What would we do about restrooms then?” Di asked.

“We should keep in consideration what the orchestra is comfortable doing,” Brian said.

“I agree,” Honey said. “Perhaps we should wait to finish planning until Monday, when we can bring our ideas to the music department and Mr. Stratton?”

The Bob-Whites voted unanimously to wait for Monday and left for the stable to exercise the horses.

“We have more riders than horses,” Honey said worriedly.

“I should probably return so the nurses don’t have to put up with the twins and Bobby alone,” Diana said. She said her goodbyes, and Mart walked her down the drive to the road.

“Mr. Maypenny is riding Spartan today since Brownie has an abscess in her hoof,” Dan added while they awaited Mart’s return.

“Dan, why don’t you and Mari stay to help me put Emily’s Moonrise through her paces?” Regan said from behind the group. “Until her trainer returns Monday, I’m responsible for keeping her fit, regardless of my day off.” Trixie knew Dan rarely got to spend time with his uncle, so she wasn’t surprised when he agreed to Regan’s offer. Mari, on the other hand, looked so bashful and elated at the same time that Trixie wasn’t sure she’d accept.

“Thank you, I’d like that,” she said finally. Regan gave her an approving nod and left to get the filly’s tack.

* * * *

When the Bob-Whites returned from their trail ride, they were taken aback at seeing Mari leading Emily’s Moonrise in a cooling down walk around the ring while Regan and Dan leaned on the fence, watching. She brought the horse up to the pair and stopped with a shyly contented smile on her face. Emily’s Moonrise laid her head over Mari’s shoulder affectionately. Regan’s words astonished them further.

“Mari, would you like to be Emily’s exercise rider from now on?” Dan threw his uncle a concerned look.

“Thank you, but no. I promised Mom I wouldn’t ride again. This is probably closer to a racehorse than she would approve of. Excuse me, please.” Mari anxiously handed the lead rope to Dan and let herself out of the paddock. Once out, she walked quickly past the mounted Bob-Whites before breaking into a run in the direction of the stables. Quickly Regan followed, catching her near the doorway.

“Well, that explains why she was so unsure about helping Regan,” Dan said, and the others nodded. Everyone watched as Regan held her elbow to keep her from running again and talked soothingly to her. Eventually she nodded at him and wiped tears from her eyes. Regan released her arm and she walked back with him, his hand on her shoulder.

“I’m sorry for dashing off like that,” she apologized when they neared. Her eyelashes were still damp from tears, Trixie noticed. “Riding’s still a touchy subject with Mom.”

 “Mari’s father died after being thrown from his mount,” Regan explained. He added, “Mari, would you like me to speak with your mother about riding?” She shook her head.

“I’d rather not upset her right now. Her health hasn’t been up to par lately.” Mari looked at the Bob-Whites, now dismounted. “Thank you all for a great afternoon. I should probably go home and see how Mom is doing.”

“Would you like to use the phone and call her? We’re all having dinner at Crabapple Farm later, and would like to have you join us,” Trixie said. The Bob-Whites could see the wheels spinning in her head.

“Your mother wouldn’t mind another mouth to feed?”

“Moms holds to the idea that more people equal greater merriment,” Brian said, giving a slight nod to Trixie. “You’re welcome to come.”

“That’s very kind of you; I’ll ask. Where’s the closest phone, please?” Regan directed Mari to the phone in his office and the Bob-Whites led the horses into the stable to begin grooming them. Regan followed Dan into Emily’s stall to supervise, but after a while he saw he had nothing to fear and left with a clap of his hand on Dan’s shoulder.

“Mari seems determined to not speak badly of anyone,” Dan grumbled as he removed Emily’s bridle.

“What do you mean?” Trixie asked.

“Luke once told me he was responsible for his father’s death.”

“You’re joking,” Honey gasped.

“I wish I was. He was drunk, but he gave the impression that he was telling the truth. It didn’t seem like something to tell you earlier.”

“How did he say his father died?” Mart asked.

“Luke said his dad was training a horse for the steeplechase and while Mr. Mac Alistair was on a cross-country ride through the forest, Luke somehow startled the horse. His dad was thrown and then trampled by his mount before Luke could do anything to help.”

“Maybe Mari doesn’t know Luke was involved,” Jim said.

“How could she not?” postulated Brian.

“I know even experienced riders can be thrown and injured by their mounts, but something still seems like it’s missing from that story,” Trixie declared. “Why would the horse trample him instead of just kick him and run away?”

“I’ve wondered too,” Mari said, entering the stable from Regan’s office. “Mom was the one to discover Dad. Luke was found at a friend’s house and given the news there. He ran off shortly after the funeral and we thought it was because he couldn’t bear the grief.” She picked up a currycomb and crossed into Emily’s stall. She and Dan shared the task of brushing Emily’s Moonrise, Mari pausing to press her face into the horse’s mane before speaking again. “I can see Luke startling Dad’s horse by accident, but he would help if the horse started to trample Dad.”

“I’ve seen him do horrible things, Mar,” Dan said, remorseful for having to say what he knew was painful for Mari to hear. His words were also a confession of the guilt he still felt for having participated in many of those awful actions.

“I know he has, Dan,” Mari responded, her heart in her eyes. “And Dad and Luke had their differences, but I’m still having difficulty reconciling the gentle brother I knew with the bully he was in New York, in addition to the idea that he is responsible for Dad’s death.” She sighed, and Trixie could tell Mari was also challenged by reconciling stalwart, tenderhearted Dan with the deeds he alluded to. “Mom gave her permission for me to join you for dinner, by the way.”

“Good,” Honey said warmly, reaching over to squeeze Mari’s shoulder. “You’ll enjoy the rest of the Beldens.” They finished brushing the horses and moved on to cleaning the tack, laughing and gently teasing one another as the mood lightened amongst them. Regan smiled at the happy sound as he re-entered the stable and walked into his office. Once again, he was thankful his nephew had fallen in with these wholesome, caring friends after such a rough time in New York.

* * * *

“Who are you?” Eight-year old Bobby planted himself in front of Mari when she entered the kitchen with the others.

“Robert Belden!” Helen Belden said, dismayed. She turned from the sink where she was washing carrots and frowned at him. Wiping her hands on her large apron, she held one out to Mari. “You must be Marigold,” she said. “I met your mother at Mr. Lytell’s store today.”

“Marigold?” Bobby asked, still blocking Mari’s way. “Like the flowers Moms plants around her flower beds every year to keep the bugs away?”

“Yes, she’s christened after a natural insect repellent. I thought, small fry, that you were to be otherwise engaged when Moms was cooking,” Mart picked him up and moved him out of the way so the teens could spread around the room.

“I’m holping,” Bobby declared. Mrs. Belden rolled her eyes over his head.

“Bobby, why don’t you help me put silverware on the table?” Honey asked.

“Sure!” he agreed, following Honey into the dining room.

“Yes, I’m Marigold,” Mari said, shaking Mrs. Belden’s hand. “Thank you for having me over, Mrs. Belden.”

“It’s my pleasure, dear. I’m sorry about Bobby. He’s lately gotten it into his head that he can be a ‘tective like Trixie.”

“That’s alright,” Mari said, glancing curiously at Trixie.

“What can we do to ‘holp’?” Jim asked. Soon they were all assigned jobs. Trixie started warming the plates in the oven, checking the meatloaf and potatoes at the same time. Brian and Mart carried firewood into the living room for use later in the evening. Jim began filling drinking glasses with water and milk; while Dan and Mari were asked to “do something, please, with the carrots” as Mrs. Belden was ushered into the living room to unwind with Mr. Belden who had just come home. Mari found some beets in the pantry and together they grated carrots and beets into salad bowls, Dan making a wry face at “Mari’s harebrained attempt to redeem beets”, as he put it. When she generously sprinkled raisins into each bowl, he gave the cause up for loss and with a rueful expression distributed the salads to each place at the table.

They all gathered together at the table. Mr. Belden offered grace then introduced himself to Mari as the food began being passed around.

“Well, Trix,” Mr. Belden said, passing the platter of meatloaf to her. “Have you been able to solve your mystery yet? Do you know who Emily is when the big city lawyers can’t figure it out?”

“No, I haven’t, but I do have some theories that look like they might lead somewhere,” Trixie answered.

“You really are working on a mystery?” Mari asked.

“Her mind is perpetually occupied with the inexplicable details of peoples’ ordinary lives,” Mart said.

“She and Honey have been able to solve a lot of mysteries others couldn’t,” Jim said in Trixie’s defense.

“How thrilling! I grew up reading Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie, but I never thought I’d meet someone who actually has made amateur sleuthing their main occupation.”

“You can’t pry her from it,” Brian said. “She and Honey want to open their own detective agency when they’re older.”

“What do the rest of you hope to do?” They shared then, Brian telling of his studying biology and eventually wanting to be a doctor; Jim of his yearning to open a boys’ home and school; Mart of his hopes to enter into agriculture, perhaps working at Jim’s school; and Dan’s sharing his desire to return to New York as a police officer. Bobby chimed in at the end that he wanted to be a ’tective like Trixie, banging his fork on the table as he made his declaration. His milk glass was knocked into Mari’s lap right after and that ended any talk of their futures, except perhaps for Bobby’s as he was sent to get dry cloths to sop up his spilled milk and Mari’s as Trixie took her to change jeans. When the mess had been cleared, Honey asked the same question of Mari.

“I’d like to teach the children whose parents are recent immigrants to America or the ones who live in homeless shelters. Their limited futures without solid education break my heart.” Mari’s easy-to-read face was anguished at the thought.

“There’s a theory that literacy diminishes criminal activity,” Dan said. “I read about it when I was doing a report on the jail system in America for a criminal justice course.”

“I’d agree with that, except for white collar crimes. There’s little excuse of illiteracy there,” Mari rejoined. “I wouldn’t say being literate is complete proof against being criminally bent.” Her nose wrinkled and the Bob-Whites knew she was thinking of Luke.

“No argument there,” Dan said. His thoughts had clearly turned to his own past, and Mari glanced sympathetically at him.

“What do you do as hobbies here in Sleepyside?” Mari asked, shifting the subject tactfully. They took turns filling her in on the seasonal sports such as skating and skiing in the winter and swimming in the summer, as well as the lure of hiking, horseback riding, and, for the boys, hunting.

“Not to mention, Trixie and Honey keep us pretty busy with the activities they volunteer us for and the mysteries that seem to ensue,” Brian concluded.

“It’s good to be back in a small town,” Mari said with a pleased sigh.

“What did you do before you moved to New York?” Trixie asked.

“Pretty much all you do, except for hunting. My father’s aunt taught me how to quilt and that was a hobby I was able to bring with me to the city.”

“Linnie quilts!” Honey said excitedly to Trixie. “Remember the two in her hope chest? We never learned how,” she finished wistfully, thinking back to the quilts they saw when they visited the Beldens’ uncle in Missouri.

“I can teach you, if you’d like. Before we left West Virginia to come to New York, Aunt Martha was teaching me about how quilts were used to communicate on the Underground Railroad. I’m still piecing the quilt we started together in imitation of the quilts used then.”

“Quilts were used to communicate?” Mart asked.

“Yes. I can show you some of the blocks, if you’re interested. So much is still unknown, but there was a definite series of codes within the blocks and the piecing of the quilts. Even the colors had meaning. A quilt could be left innocuously on a clothesline or fence and yet tell a slave where to go.”

“Could you bring them to school on Monday? I’d love to see them,” Honey said.

“Sure,” Mari replied. “I’ll look for them Sunday after church. So what’s the mystery that you’re solving, Trixie?”

The Bob-Whites’ evening ended with Bobby coming back down the stairs after brushing his teeth and insisting that Mari tell him his bed-time story.

“Sure,” she said, taking his hand and leading him up the stairs. They heard her say as they climbed, “Have you heard ‘East of the Sun, West of the Moon’? It’s a story my grandmother used to tell my mother, and I’ll tell it to you if you’d like.”

“Marigold, where’s east of the sun and west of the moon?” Bobby asked.

“Let’s see if you can work it out by the end of the story.”

Brian winked at the other Bob-Whites and held his finger to his lips. They followed his lead and crept up the stairs and sat in the hallway just outside of Bobby’s door where he was unable to see them. Mari grinned at them from the foot of Bobby’s bed and began her tale. At the end, even Trixie was convinced that Bobby was close to being asleep, but he perked up and declared that east of the sun, west of the moon had to be true north. Mari laughed and told him he might be right, and that she hoped he had a good night’s sleep, but he caught her hand and demanded a song.

“Bobby!” Trixie hissed from the doorway.

“I don’t mind,” Mari said.

“You’re spying!” Bobby declared. “Shut the door, Marigold!”

“I’ll sing you a song from the doorway,” Mari said, “and when I am finished I will turn out the lights and go downstairs. How does that sound?” Bobby frowned, but seemed to know that she wasn’t about to back down.

“But they can’t be sitting outside,” he said.

“We’ll go downstairs, small fry,” Mart said, walking to halfway down the stairwell and taking a seat. The others followed and waited. It wasn’t long before they heard Mari’s voice start tenderly singing “Shenandoah” in a pure alto, rising slightly with the chorus before falling into another sweet-voiced verse. Mr. and Mrs. Belden came from the living room to listen and hum along.

“Again!” Bobby said at the end, but Dan walked up the stairs and said through the door, “Good-night, Bobby. It’s late, and we have to drive Mari home soon.” He put his hand on Mari’s shoulder and brought her downstairs as Bobby protested.

“I’ll straighten him out,” Mr. Belden said sternly. “Good night, Mari, it was a pleasure to meet you.”

“Same here, Mr. Belden. Thank you again.” Her voice was slightly choked, which Trixie realized Dan had already noticed and was the reason he’d brought her down.

“I got homesick all of a sudden,” she explained, seeing the Bob-Whites studying her. “I don’t know why I chose to sing that particular song.”

“Was where you lived in West Virginia part of the Shenandoah Valley?” Honey asked.

“Bolivar!” Mart exclaimed at the same time. They all looked at him, baffled. “That’s near Harpers Ferry, right?”

“Yes to you both,” Mari said with a laugh. “Luke and I would swim in the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers, sometimes sneaking down there without our parents. Even then he was a great persuader.”

“What’s Harpers Ferry?” Trixie asked. Mart responded by humming “John Brown’s Body”, while Jim and Brian took turns refreshing Trixie’s memory on John Brown’s illustrious raid in 1859.

“That’s near Charles Town, isn’t it?” Honey asked thoughtfully, with a significant look at Trixie. “We stayed at an inn there once while on a tour of Civil War battlefields and saw a race at the track.”

“Yes, it is,” Mari said. “Did you know that Charles Town was named for George Washington’s brother? Our first president was the one who surveyed land in that area and proposed that an armory be built in Harpers Ferry.”

“It is interesting how one event segues into another,” Dan noted. “Without the armory being there, I wonder if Harpers Ferry would have ever entered into John Brown’s plans for freeing the slaves.”

“I wonder if any of those towns would be quite so interesting to tourists if it weren’t first for Washington exploring the Shenandoah Valley,” Brian said.

“On that note,” Jim said with a shrug. “We should probably head home. We three college boys actually do have midterms that we haven’t begun studying for yet this weekend. Dan, if you drop Honey and me off at home, you can take Mari back to her place and drive to Mr. Maypenny’s from there.” He winked at Brian behind Dan and Mari’s backs.

* * * *

While the Bob-Whites were at dinner, Honey’s governess, Miss Trask, found her way to the stable in search of Regan.

“For it being your day off, you certainly are spending a great deal of time here,” she teased from the doorway of his office. He stood up and beckoned her in.

“I’ve been thinking, and this is one of the best places for it,” he answered.

“Would you be thinking about a school friend of the Bob-Whites named Emily Marigold, by any chance?”

“Her father, actually. She has the same friendly, pert expressions and intensity about horses. What I’m really hung up on though is that on the first day we met, an old-timer called him ‘Jem’ and was politely hushed by Alec. That day I remembered the scandal surrounding a trainer named MacDougall and wondered if James, or ‘Jem’, MacDougall changed his name to Alec Mac Alistair. When we got Emily’s Moonrise and I heard the story, Alec’s face was the one that came to my mind. Then I saw Mari, and I instinctively knew she was Alec’s daughter.”

“Then,” Miss Trask began, “you’ll appreciate what I have to tell you. I met Mari today when she arrived, and I’ve finally recalled who she reminded me of. Several years ago Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler hosted a dinner party. Among the guests were two sisters who politely avoided one another for the entire evening. One had the same thick auburn hair and facial features as Mari and was named-”

“Mrs. Elizabeth Carmichael?” Regan asked with a grin forming on his face.

“I do believe it was. Her sister was Mrs. Rachel Elliott, the mother of a certain Katherine MacDougall.”

“Should we tell Trixie and the others?” Regan questioned.

“Isn’t it funny that your first thought is whether or not to tell Trixie, instead of Mrs. Carmichael’s lawyers?” They laughed, and agreed that having Trixie figure out the mystery on her own would be more worthwhile. As for contacting the lawyers, if Katherine wanted to remain a secret, that was her prerogative.

“Trixie must be rubbing off on us- we solved that mystery pretty quickly,” Regan commented with another laugh.

“I hope for Mari and Katherine’s sake that she doesn’t harass them too terribly once she does solve it,” Miss Trask said firmly.

“In the meantime, I’m going to continue letting Mari bond with Emily’s Moonrise. That can’t hurt anything, right?”

“I doubt it. Regan, what was the scandal? It’s not anything that makes Mari an unsuitable friend for the Bob-Whites, is it?”

“Hardly. Those who knew James MacDougall vowed he could never have done what Katherine’s father has accused him of. According to her father, Jem not only was responsible for the death of Katherine’s brother, he also fathered a child with that same brother’s fiancée. The fact that Katherine, a woman reputed to have great integrity, married him in spite of those accusations tells me he couldn’t have done either of those.”

“Are you certain?”

“You know of Elizabeth Carmichael. Would she make her niece her heiress if she for one instant thought the rumors were true?”

“No…” Miss Trask said pensively. “But if James MacDougall didn’t do either of those things, who did? And why did the MacDougalls disappear? How much of her family’s story does Mari know?”

“That I can’t tell you. Maybe Trixie can discover the answers for us.”

 

Chapter 3

“Honey, I have a theory,” Trixie said over the phone. “Can we ride today and I’ll tell you about it? Great! I’ll meet you at the stable at two o’clock. See you then!”

“A theory, eh?” Mart said, coming up behind her and tugging a sandy curl. “It wouldn’t involve a grey Arabian and a certain auburn-haired lass, would it?”

“What if it does?”

“Unless Mari’s an excellent actress, she didn’t even suspect that the mystery you shared last night might concern her parents.”

“Imagine the havoc you could wreak if you started spouting off your idea that her mother is Mrs. Carmichael’s heiress,” Brian said, walking into the kitchen. “If Mrs. Mac Alistair is actually Mrs. MacDougall, she and her husband obviously wanted that fact hidden from their children. Mari’s face would have betrayed her if she’d thought you were talking about her parents.”

“Maybe I simply want to know for curiosity’s sake.”

“Yeah, Pandora said the same thing and look what happened,” Mart noted with sarcasm.

“Hope was released as a result,” Trixie said stubbornly.

“Oh brother,” Brian groaned to Mart. “The Mac Alistairs are going to need all the hope they can get, thanks to Trixie and her imagination.”

“Scoff all you want, you’ll find out I’m right, and I’m not going to make trouble either!”

“I hope Honey talks sense into her,” Mart said grimly.

* * * *

Trixie ran up the drive to the Manor House stable where she found Honey had already saddled Lady and Susie.

“Jim suspects we’re up to something,” Honey greeted her.

“Brian and Mart have already warned me to not act on my theory too,” Trixie said, swinging into Susie’s saddle. “Where to?”

“Let’s ride up past the lake towards Mr. Maypenny’s.” Honey mounted Lady and led the way into the game preserve. “If your theory is what I think it is, I agree with your brothers. Mari and her mother have had enough troubles without you adding assumptions about their identities.”

“What if I told you that I looked at Moms’ books from when she was our age and found some by Lucy Maud Montgomery, one having the title Emily of New Moon?”

“It does correspond with the horse’s name,” Honey said thoughtfully.

“And Jim said Emily isn’t a family name, but variations of moon or moonlight appear in the lineage of horses that descended from the horse James MacDougall was training.”

“But if the family had disappeared, how would Mrs. Carmichael know that their daughter’s name is Emily? And why would she decide to name the horse after her grandniece that she never met and likely didn’t even know the name of?” Honey brushed back a branch that threatened to hit her face.

“Maybe she didn’t. Maybe she just remembered the connection between the book and her niece and it was a wistful naming.”

“Trix, you know what happens when you assume things,” Honey protested.

“I want to find out what the first horse was named. Do you have any old newspapers that might mention Emily’s Moonrise’s pedigree?”

“Probably not, but Regan might know.”

“I don’t want to ask Regan. He’ll want to know why I’m asking and then he’ll laugh. Let’s go to the library after school tomorrow and search the microfilms.”

“Better yet, why don’t we ask her trainer when he arrives tomorrow?” Honey said. “He’d know, and unlike Regan, wouldn’t suspect anything ulterior in our questions.”

“I like the way you think, Honey!” Trixie said with a grin. “By the way, Honey, what do you think about Regan’s casual attitude about Mari and Emily’s Moonrise?”

“I think it’s odd. Even though her father trained horses, Regan only met him a few times. That shouldn’t be enough justification for him to suggest that Mari ride the horse when he hasn’t given us permission.”

“I think,” Trixie declared, “that Regan shares our theory, but he’d be the last person to tell us so.”

“I like your collective ‘our’,” Honey laughed.

“I feel uneasy about Mari.”

“Do you think she’s not as trustworthy as Dan says she is?”

“No… Maybe I should have said I feel uneasy for her. The boys must be getting to me. What harm could come from her mother being an heiress?” Trixie waved at Dan who was busy chopping wood in Mr. Maypenny’s clearing.

“Lots, if you remember Jim and how Jonesy tried to get his inheritance, or how someone impersonated Di’s uncle after her father became wealthy, or-”

“Alright, alright, but it’s not like her mother has shown any interest in her inheritance either.”

If she’s even the heiress,” Dan called. When Trixie and Honey looked at him, startled, he grinned and added, “Your voices carried a ways ahead of you. Figuring out who you were talking about wasn’t very difficult.”

“Trixie, Honey,” Mr. Maypenny said, beckoning from his door. “Are Brian and Jim still planning on leaving for school this afternoon?”

“Soon,” Honey answered. “They’ll be by to pick up Dan by four o’clock.”

“I have some doughnuts for your families, if you’ll wait just a minute.” He ducked back inside and returned moments later with two brown paper bags, grease starting to stain through them.

“Yummy-yum,” Trixie said.

“If you sneak one or two, I won’t tell,” Mr. Maypenny said with a grin.

“Thanks, Mr. Maypenny!” Trixie said.

“See you next weekend, Dan!” Honey added. “We should get home to spend time with our brothers before they go back.” They waved farewell and headed back toward the Manor House.

 

 

Chapter 4

Di and Mari were already on the bus when the other Bob-Whites climbed aboard. Mari greeted them with a bright smile. Honey and Trixie sat across from the girls, while Mart took the seat in front of them, picking up a conversation about the baseball season with the boys across from him.

“Did you bring any quilt blocks?” Honey asked with eager eyes. Mari nodded and drew a stack from her backpack.

“No one is one hundred percent sure what the blocks meant, but family legend has it that some of my dad’s relatives in West Virginia had a hand in aiding escaping slaves. Dad’s aunt is basing her quilt off of a few mentioned in several family diaries.” Mari laid the first one in Honey’s hand. It was composed of two colors and the design looked like a square with outward facing triangles in the corners that were separated by thin rectangles.

          

“This is the monkey wrench pattern, and we think it represented meeting someone who could help plan an escape and then gathering the necessary tools or supplies for the journey.” She went on, describing blocks such as the wagon wheel,

bear’s paw,

and crossroads.

When she handed Honey one that looked similar to the monkey wrench, she did so with a smile.

‘This is one of my favorites. It’s called the Shoofly pattern, and its meaning is particularly obscure, but if we understand things correctly, this is where my family came in. A Shoofly could have been someone, a freed black or white abolitionist, who helped the escapees along the way with food and changes of clothing.”

“I thought Shoofly was a pie,” Mart said, turning around.

“That too,” Mari said, laughing. “It’s a molasses pie made by the Amish.”

“Changing the subject,” Trixie commented, “but Mari, why did your parents choose to return to West Virginia?”

“Dad’s Aunt Martha found a manager’s position for him in Maryland and offered to provide us with a place to live. She raised Dad there after he came over from Scotland, so it was a happy homecoming for him.”

“Oh.” Trixie paused. “How did your parents meet? Is your mom originally from West Virginia?”

“Trixie!” Honey exclaimed. Mart grimaced at Trixie over his shoulder. Di drew her hand over her mouth to hide a smile.

“Mom’s originally from Virginia. Her father hired Dad as a groom, but then Mom asked him to train the colt she’d bought, and it was only a matter of time before they began dating, and eventually married,” Mari said. “And no, her parents didn’t consent to the match, Trixie, but that doesn’t mean my mother is Katherine MacDougall. She went from being Elise Elliott to Elise Mac Alistair. I’ve seen the marriage license.” She grinned at Trixie and the others.

“So you don’t know your grandparents, or anyone from your mom’s side of the family?” Trixie asked.

“No, just my father’s, who, as my mother says, are gems of relatives to have.” Trixie fell into a brown study after this and Honey gave her arm a sympathetic squeeze. The rest of the day passed with Trixie lost in thought on how her theory was so quickly disproven by a marriage license, of all things. She barely heard Mari explaining on the afternoon bus that she was going to paint the kitchen with her mother that afternoon and wouldn’t be able to plan with the Bob-Whites or exercise the horses. Mari’s call of “See you all tomorrow!” jolted Trixie out of her reverie and she waved goodbye before dashing up the drive to the stable.

“Did the trainer come?” Trixie asked Regan, barging in and startling both him and Starlight, which he was saddling.

“You just missed him,” Regan responded, soothing the horse. “And what do you mean by slamming in here that way?”

“I was just excited to meet the man who’s brought Emily’s Moonrise to the level she’s at as a racehorse.” Regan looked at her balefully.

“Is he going to stay in town from now on, while Emily’s Moonrise is being boarded here?” Di asked.

“No, he just came to check in on her. His family’s crisis isn’t completely resolved,” Regan said.

“She’s really not going to be able to participate in the Kentucky Derby or Preakness then,” Honey said, concerned.

“We’ll see,” was Regan’s quiet response. “I think the family is more concerned with finding Katherine than the Triple Crown. And that’s all I can say on the matter, so don’t think you can pry anything more out of me, Miss Belden.”

“Regan,” Honey said sweetly, “We were struggling to remember the lineage for Emily’s Moonrise. Which was the horse that started her line?”

Good ole Honey, Trixie thought.

“That would be Jem’s Walk by Moonlight,” Regan answered. He winked at Mart, letting the girls know he was on to them despite Honey’s sweet tone. “Jem is spelled J-e-m, and was Katherine’s nickname for James, if I understand the story correctly.”

“What else from the story do you remember?” Trixie couldn’t help asking.

“Uh-uh. I’ve said enough. Now, get moving. Those horses won’t take themselves on a trail ride.”

Honey rode Lady next to Trixie, who was on Susie. She tried several times to engage Trixie in conversation, but her mind was clearly elsewhere. Di and Mart rode on ahead, conversing quietly together.

“Gems!” Trixie suddenly exclaimed. “Mari’s mother said the Mac Alistairs were gems of relatives!”

“And?” Mart asked.

“Katherine called James ‘Jem’,” Trixie offered as explanation for her excitement.

“There are too many word plays in this case for me,” Di said ruefully. She brushed away a tree branch that tapped her head.

“And Trixie is making mountains out of molehills again,” Mart added.

“You might be on to something,” Honey said. “But Mart’s right; you can’t always assume connections.”

“You’ll see,” Trixie said.

 

 

Chapter 5

            “Well, the music director approved our idea of a box social and dance,” Trixie said after calling the Bob-Whites to order that same afternoon. “He said he has a number of bands organized within the usual orchestra and they are more than capable of playing several styles of music. They’ll start selecting music sets and practicing right away. He thought that doing musical pieces and dances from different eras of American history would be an enjoyable touch to the box social.”

            “And Principal Stratton has approved of our using the front lawn, but recommends limiting the guests to students or auctioning the public’s boxes separately from the students,” Honey reported.

“Having the girls preparing dinners and the boys bidding seems a little unbalanced,” Mart commented.

“How so?” Di demanded.

“You girls do all the work while all we do is spend money,” Mart answered.

“When has that ever bothered you? You’ll have to work to earn that money, won’t you? And you might spend more buying the dinner than she will for the ingredients,” Trixie argued.

“Along that line,” Honey said, “I’ve been thinking charging for tickets might be too much if people are bidding for dinners too.”

“Perchance we could suggest a donation for each ticket, but not make it mandatory,” Mart said. “A total figure of attendees is indispensable for calculating beverages and seating, but I agree that charging for tickets is making the event too costly for guests.”

“Agreed, I think,” Trixie said.

“The principal did give me a budget, but since it’s on the small side, I think that we should keep the guest list open only to students and staff,” Honey proposed.

“What does everyone else think?” Trixie asked.

“Could we find someone to donate drinks and appetizers?” Mart wanted to know. “Maybe Wimpy’s or another restaurant would cater.”

“Mart, why don’t you ask the restaurants near the school if they’d cater simple refreshments?” Trixie said, her mind already organizing everyone into teams to accomplish tasks. “Di and Mari can work on decorations since they both are artsy, while Honey and I can take care of tickets, advertising, and other logistics.”

“Yes, Miss President,” Mart said with a salute. “The other men can help with some of the advertising too or any construction for the decorations when they’re here on the weekends.”

“I was hoping you’d say that,” Trixie said with a wide smile.

“By the way,” Honey said with a sly smile at Trixie. “The principal also said that if we were going to have escorts who have already graduated, those gentlemen would need signed letters of permission from our parents.”

“Our brothers will be sure to do that,” Trixie said, laughing both at Honey’s devious tone and her blush that followed Trixie’s comeback.

 

Chapter 6

The cool spring air bit Trixie’s face as she stepped off of the bus, the rest of the Bob-Whites right behind her. Another week had come and gone at school and they were all extremely ready for the weekend. Di and Mari had quickly become good friends, and inadvertently advertised the dance to their classmates as they animatedly discussed decorations and possible menus for their personal boxes during art. Trixie and Honey had been taking ticket reservations before and during school hours, while Mart had canvassed the local restaurants and found donors for drinks and snacks. Their own midterms were coming up the following week, but that did not hinder their plans for some fun over the weekend. Honey in particular was anticipating sewing with Mari on Saturday, but first they were destined for a movie at the Cameo that night. Brian, Jim, and Dan were waiting at the stop to greet them.

“We just got in,” Brian explained, hugging his sister and shaking Mart’s hand.

“We thought we’d walk up to the Manor House with you,” Jim added with a hug for Honey and a wink for Trixie as he scratched his nose with his finger pointedly.

“Race you up the driveway,” Trixie called in response over her shoulder, starting to run. Jim, Mari, and Dan immediately pursued, with the others jogging behind. Near the crest of the drive, Mari and Dan passed her and were neck-and-neck until Mari skidded to a halt with a gasp and Dan stepped protectively in front of her. Regan was standing by the paddock with a man who, from that distance, bore a strong resemblance to Luke. Emily, Spartan, and Di’s palomino Sunny frolicked behind them.

“Have you met Tom Delanoy?” Trixie heard Dan ask Mari before he grabbed her hand and led her to the garage.

“What’s that all about?” Di asked after she arrived, staring after the pair.

“Him,” Trixie said, gesturing toward the man. “Why is Regan talking with Luke?”

“Balderdash,” Mart declared. “You informed us that he was soon to be discharged from the penitentiary. He couldn’t have gotten here so quickly.”

“He looks older than someone Luke’s age,” Honey said as they walked closer.

“And why would Luke show up in a place where he’s bound to be recognized by at least Dan, if not Trixie and Regan too?” Di questioned.

“I thought I saw Dan and Mari come up with you,” Regan greeted them.

“Yes,” Trixie said slowly, studying the man by his side. “Dan wanted to introduce Tom to Mari.”

“Will, I’d like you to meet some of the other Bob-Whites. Honey Wheeler, Jim Frayne, Brian, Trixie and Mart Belden, and Diana Lynch. My nephew Dan Mangan is one as well. He and our newest neighbor, Mari Mac Alistair, should be along soon. Everyone, this is Will Elliott, Emily’s trainer from Fleet Brook Farms near Williamsburg, Virginia.” They all shook hands, Trixie scrutinizing his tanned features.

“Do I meet your approval?” he teased her. She flushed.

“You look like someone I know,” she explained.

“I have one of those faces,” he said with a shrug and a merry laugh. Like Mari, there was nothing but a lively, guileless quality on his face. He was old enough to be her father as well. For Mari’s sake, Trixie was glad Will hadn’t turned out to be Luke, but she now had more questions and couldn’t resist throwing a significant look to Honey.

“Elliott?” she mouthed to her best friend.

“Virginia?” Honey mouthed back.

“I’m going to see what’s keeping Dan and Mari,” Regan said, heading to the garage. Silence passed for several minutes before Honey spoke.

“We’ve enjoyed seeing such a beautiful horse in action as Regan has ridden her this week,” Honey said to Will. “Mari’s been timing her for Regan and I’m blown away by her speed, even after her injury.”

“She’s worked hard to do so well,” he said. “She was a scrawny little filly when she was born- we weren’t sure at all that she’d make it.”

Regan came up with Dan and Mari then, his hand resting lighting on Mari’s shoulder while Dan still had an edgy, doubtful expression on his face. Dan walked just in front and to the right of Mari, clearly prepared to block her from danger again.

“Will, I’d like you to meet Dan Mangan, my nephew, and Emily Marigold Mac Alistair.” Regan had a rather pleased look on his face during the introduction. Trixie watched as the possible uncle-niece pair shook hands, Mari’s hand trembling slightly.

“Regan,” Honey said, “we thought that Mari could ride Lady today. That is, if you’ve talked with her mother.”

“Then who’s going to ride Emily’s Moonrise?” Regan asked.

“My daughter Marissa, who normally is Emily’s jockey, is currently in England for an extended college spring break.” Will tried to explain, but only left the Bob-Whites and Mari looking more confused. “Mari is just about her size.”

“This morning I was finally able to persuade Mrs. Mac Alistair into letting Mari ride,” Regan said. “She agreed as long as Mari is supervised, rides only as she is directed, and doesn’t attempt jumping.” Mari’s delight wasn’t difficult to see at all. Then her face fell.

“What’s wrong?” Di asked.

“I won’t be able to go on a trail ride with all of you if I have to stay here and ride Emily in the ring,” Mari said softly. Regan and Will surprised them by laughing.

“If Regan or I ride Jupiter and accompany you, I don’t see why Mari and Emily both can’t be a part of the trail ride today,” Will said.

“If it’s alright with you, I’d prefer to have Regan ride with us,” Mari said. Her eyes were troubled every time she glanced at Will.

“Certainly,” Will said easily. “I should probably give my wife a call anyway. It was a pleasure to meet all of you.” He bowed slightly and walked toward the house.

* * * *

“Mari has a good seat, doesn’t she?” Honey asked Trixie and Di in her room as they pulled out their schoolbooks. They were about to try and tackle the math homework together, thinking they might be better able to understand it with each other’s help.

“Girls,” Trixie said, “Now do you believe me when I say Mari’s mother is Katherine MacDougall?”

“I don’t follow your train of logic at all,” Di protested.

“Not many ever do,” Mart said, standing in the doorframe.

“Will Elliott is the spitting image of Luke, if Luke were twenty-five years older,” Trixie explained.

“Dan did whisk Mari away to the garage quickly, didn’t he?” Honey closed her math book and pushed it aside.

“He reacted abruptly without giving the man a second glance,” Mart shared his input.

“Dan’s rather protective of her,” Honey said.

“I think it’s adorable,” Di commented, violet eyes sparkling.

“In lieu of their mutual history, I think his defensiveness only apt,” Mart said, rolling his eyes at the word ‘adorable’. “You know we boys would do the same for any of you.”

“And his last name is Elliott, like Mari’s mother’s maiden name!” Honey exclaimed, bringing the subject back to Will Elliott.

“I wonder what her mother is going to say when Mari asks about Will tonight,” Trixie said. “She’s bound to; I could tell by the expression on her face when she left.”

“I wonder what our maternal figure will declare when she ascertains that you squandered your time gossiping rather than-”

“Alright, alright, we’ll get back to work,” Trixie grumbled.

“I wasn’t aware you ever began,” Mart said teasingly. “And hurry, because I want to be home in time before Brian and Jim return with Jim’s belongings and we go to the Cameo.”

* * * *

Eventually the Bob-Whites, minus Mari who begged off of the movie because she wanted to study for midterms and get things ready for sewing the next day, made their way to the Cameo, arriving shortly before the film began.

“I didn’t know we were going to see West Side Story,” Dan said when Honey pointed out the time on the marquee.

“You boys aren’t,” Di responded. “Mart picked King Kong for you.”

“It starts in ten minutes,” Jim said, glancing at his watch. “Just enough time for all of us to get refreshments.”

The group parted ways at the girls’ theater, Jim lingering to flash his forefinger to Trixie, and then show all five fingers quickly. She nodded, and followed Honey and Di through the door. Just as Jim prompted, she stood up five minutes into the movie.

“Refill,” she whispered to the girls who were staring at her in wonder. Honey snickered and whispered something in Di’s ear, and Trixie was sure they had figured out what Jim signaled. Jim met her in the lobby and led her to a bench under one of the windows. Trixie swallowed hard against the warm feeling rising in her chest.

“How were your midterms?” she asked.

“I think they went well,” he answered. “All of us are pretty confident about our scores.” He paused and then smiled at her. “I have to say, I’m in agreement with you about Mari now, and Will Elliott must be too. Before you came home from school, I overheard him telling Regan that the lead about his nephew led him to an upstate penitentiary. His nephew, Luke Elliott, was surprised to know his uncle even existed and promised to be in touch.”

“Will didn’t tell Luke about the inheritance, did he?” Trixie wailed in a hushed voice.

“Regan asked him the same question and Will said he hadn’t, but now Luke knows Will’s in Sleepyside.”

“Curious that Luke changed his last name to Elliott.”

“Not really. If things are as we think, he’s actually Mari’s cousin.” Jim grinned at Trixie’s baleful expression and explained. “Will told Regan that his brother Luke had been quite a roustabout and got into a lot of trouble with drugs and girls. Mari’s brother Luke is the result of one of those poor choices. The MacDougalls adopted him when his dad died in a car crash and his mother was too strung up on drugs to take care of him.”

“You overheard quite a lot, Jim Frayne,” Trixie said teasingly.

“Regan had his office door open, but he knew I was in Jupiter’s stall. I think he wanted me to hear.”

“To warn Mari?”

“Or to warn the rest of us to keep all eyes and ears open on her behalf.”

“Dan will do that well,” Trixie said.

“Trix, leave Dan alone about Mari, please. Brian and I asked him what his intentions were towards her after we got back to school, and he spent some time talking about how even when he’d been in New York, he’d been drawn to her but didn’t dare go near her because he knew she was too much above the Cowhands’ way of life. He’d worried for her after Luke was arrested; worried that the Cowhand who wanted her would have his way and worried that Manuel would lure her into trouble beyond her ken. Dan doesn’t want to force her affections, nor does he want to come across as someone greedy for her money should the inheritance fall to her.”

“He’s probably really glad that she’s the same as she was before he left.”

“I think she’s a little wiser, but you’re right; she’s not tainted. She’s rather a merry little soul, isn’t she?”

“Nice pun,” Trixie laughed. “Nothing does seem to keep her down for long. Jim, if Dan and Hallie decided they were just friends, why did Hallie blush when we mentioned Dan on our camping trip with her?”

“She may not be as over him as he is over her.” Jim grinned at her. “Let them figure it out if she ever visits again. In the meantime, I thought you should know all this before I tell the others.”

“Should we tell Mari?”

“About Luke or about Dan?” Jim teased.

“Luke, of course.”

“Let’s wait and see how the chips fall. She seems pretty defensive when it comes to worrying her mother about anything, and I don’t want her unnecessarily anxious about her mom being in danger.”

“True. Jim,” Trixie began to ask him another question, pausing to think about her wording. “Why was Katherine MacDougall banished by her family when her brother was the one who behaved so terribly?”

“Her step-father never knew of his actions. Luke always played the perfect son to his father, so Will says. Katherine, or ‘Kit’ as Will calls her, had her own inheritance from her birth father and her own will about how to live her life outside of Mr. Elliott’s domineering ways.”

“So that’s where Mari’s moments of feistiness come from,” Trixie mused.

“Maybe,” Jim said. “Shall we get back to our respective movies?”

“Probably, before Honey and Di start a search party for me.” Trixie smiled at Jim. “Thanks for telling me all of this. I’ll keep mum about Mari around Dan.”

“See that you do. I think, given time, they’ll naturally end up together if it’s meant to be.”

* * * *

“Dan, did you know any girls like Velma and Graziella when you lived in New York?” Trixie couldn’t help asking on the drive home. Diana and Honey shook their heads at her; Dan so rarely talked about his previous life and the things he had done, and the Bob-Whites typically refrained from pressing him for details.

“I beg your pardon?” he asked. Her hole dug, Trixie grimaced and explained who the characters were that she had asked about. He scowled and cut to the point for her. “Do you mean did I ever intimately know girls like them?”

“Um…” Trixie said, feeling the weight of awkwardness descending on her shoulders. Jim’s eyes met hers briefly and inscrutably in the rearview mirror.

“I knew of girls like them, and they were definitely not kid stuff, but that’s a part of the gang lifestyle Luke didn’t indulge in.” Dan sighed. “I’m glad I followed his lead in that regard.”

“Why didn’t he?” Mart asked.

“He hated human trafficking, he said, and even if the girls thought they were choosing on their own to dabble in dangerous relationships, they were still being taken advantage of by men who should know better.” Dan punched the seat in front of him, causing Brian who was in it to jump. “I wish Luke had pummeled Roy instead of letting Manuel do it for him when Roy tried to hurt Mari, but what’s done is done.”

 

 

Chapter 7

“Hunh,” Dan said, grunting at the end of Jim’s speech about what he overheard from Will and Regan. He rocked back on his chair legs and leaned against the clubhouse wall. “That affirms everything our two shamuses were thinking about. I wish I’d been there to hear it instead of taking my things up to Maypenny’s.”

“Mari said her mom went from being Elise Elliott to Elise Mac Alistair when she married though,” Di protested.

“Maybe Katherine is her middle name,” Brian suggested. “Mari goes by her middle name. Maybe her mother did too.”

“And James MacDougall could easily have changed his name before they got married so that Katherine really would have married a Mac Alistair, not a MacDougall like everyone thought,” Jim added.

“I bet Regan took Will to see Mari’s mom earlier today, and that’s why she gave her permission for Mari to ride,” Honey commented.

“Why the secrecy?” Mart asked. “If Katherine had a sizeable inheritance from her birth father, they could have lived off of that and not had to move so often from job to job like Mari’s family has had to. There was no need to mask their identities just so James could get the jobs he’d been blacklisted from.”

“Wasn’t there some sort of scandal?” Trixie asked. “Maybe they didn’t want Mari and Luke to be pestered about it by classmates.”

“Possibly…” Brian said skeptically. Dan’s chair legs slammed down and they all stared at him.

“Before I share what I just thought of, I have a couple of questions. If Katherine doesn’t accept the inheritance, who does it go to?”

“Her next of kin, so long as it is not from her side of the family,” Jim answered.

“Since Luke is legally adopted, that would mean both Mari and Luke would have it, right?” Dan asked.

“Yes,” Jim said.

“Ugh!” Di exclaimed. “He would just waste it!”

“And if they didn’t take it?” Dan pressed.

“Their next of kin, whoever that would be outside of the Elliotts,” Jim said. “What’s troubling you, Dan?”

“Early on, when we were still a new gang, Luke got a note that he read, then crumpled and threw away. Every so often he would get more, always on the same type of paper and written with the same pen. I read one once, and asked him who wrote it. Luke said his mother sent them.”

“What did the note say?” Trixie asked.

“She demanded money and threatened him with harm to Mari if he didn’t give her the amount she wanted.”

“What?” all of the Bob-Whites cried in unison.

“She signed it ‘Irene’,” Dan finished grimly.

“She has to be his birth mother,” Trixie declared. “We’ve met Mari’s mother at church and she’s a darling.”

“Maybe the MacDougalls changed their names to hide Luke from Irene,” Honey said softly.

“Maybe Luke wasn’t as responsible for his father’s death as he might think,” Mart added. “It’s possible,” he said defensively when the others studied him.

“Should we tell someone?” Brian asked. “Will, for one?”

“I think he already knows the character of Luke’s birth mother. His voice got angry whenever he mentioned her to Regan,” Jim answered.

“But does he know she’s found Luke?” Honey asked.

“Let’s tell Regan first thing tomorrow. He’ll know how to tell Will,” Dan said.

“And Will can decide from there what course of action to take,” Brian finished.

“It’s too bad we have to wait one more week for spring break. We could have Mari over for sleepovers almost every night then to make sure she’s okay,” Trixie said.

“Her mom has two more weeks to decide about her inheritance,” Di reminded everyone. “One week of spring break wouldn’t be enough.”

“You’re all forgetting that we don’t know when Luke is supposed to be released, just that it’s soon,” Mart said. “It may be another three weeks before he’s breathing freedom again.”

“Couldn’t Irene do something in the meantime? Does she really need Luke around for her to do something awful to Mari?” Di asked.

“It’s all up in the air,” Dan sighed. “We just have to be vigilant.”

“Well, Honey’s spending part of the day with Mari tomorrow, and then she and her mom are joining us for lunch on Sunday,” Trixie said. “That’s two days we can keep our eyes on her. Then, back to school, and that should be easy. By the way, you’re all invited to lunch on Sunday. We’ll have to move outdoors with that large of a group.”

 

Chapter 8

Mrs. Mac Alistair was followed by a subdued Mari up the Beldens’ driveway on Sunday. She joined Peter, Helen, and Bobby in the living room while Mari helped the Bob-Whites set the tables outside.

“I owe you an apology, Trixie,” Mari said softly. “You were right. Mom is Elise Katherine Mac Alistair. Dad changed his name from James Alexander MacDougall to Alexander James Mac Alistair before they were secretly married. No one, not even her aunt, knew of the name changes, and so they thought she was Elise Katherine MacDougall, or just plain Katherine MacDougall, when the news came they’d eloped.”

“You spoke with loyalty to your mom; there’s nothing to apologize for,” Trixie said.

“Regan brought Uncle Will with him when he went to convince Mom to let me ride.”

“So your mom’s going to claim her inheritance then?” Dan asked curtly.

“No, she doesn’t want anything to do with it. She retired from teaching to write and we’ve been surviving pretty well. She’s content to slowly reconnect with her family and let the inheritance fall to Luke and me when we come of age, except, Luke’s already of age, so he will have his share in a few weeks.”

“What do you think you’ll do with your portion?” Di asked.

“I’m used to making it through life with simple things and hard work, so I’d rather give it as scholarships or something along that line. I’m glad I have some time to think that through.”

Dan gave her an admiring glance but took to straightening the napkins rather than saying anything.

“So what’s next?” Jim asked.

“Life as normal,” Mari replied, “along with lots of rides on Emily’s Moonrise when she isn’t racing.” She smiled happily at the thought, and then frowned. “I’m sorry your mystery was so quickly solved, Trixie and Honey.”

“I’m glad it aligned so well in your favor,” Honey said, hugging her.

“What does your mother write?” Trixie asked.

“She’s written field guides and nature journals for children.”

“Did she write Leaves for the Leaving? Moms bought that for Bobby as a Christmas gift last year,” Mart asked.

“She did. What does he think of it?”

“He drove us crazy identifying plants before they even grew their spring leaves, but Mart and I are glad that he knows that part of wood lore now,” Brian said.

“I can see him doing that,” Mari chuckled. “And now that it is actually spring?”

“He’ll occasionally mention a plant he saw when ‘sploring, but that’s about it,” Trixie said.

“Would he like her to autograph his copy? It might renew his interest, and it would do Mom a world of good to meet one of her readers.”

“You said once that her health has been poor,” Honey started cautiously. “Are you sure Bobby wouldn’t disturb her?”

“Mom’s been doing a lot better since we’ve moved. Her heart started giving her trouble shortly after Dad died and Luke left, but her stress level has gone down now that we’re here. She’d enjoy Bobby’s enthusiasm. He might even like to help her with her latest book. She’s writing one on insects in this region and if he’s half the collector you say he is, Trixie, he likely would enjoy catching specimens. Nick Roberts and his father have agreed to do engravings for the illustrations if they have models to work from.”

“The royalties from book sales would help their family out,” Mart noted.

“Isn’t it splendid? I’m so glad I saw him drawing in French class and asked him to meet Mom,” Mari said cheerily.

Dan’s brows knitted together, but he said gently, “That was kind of you to ask him, Mharie.” He said her name with a tinge of Gaelic on his tongue so that it sounded like Mahr-ee. There was no hiding the definite blush that spread across both their faces.

“Dad used to call me Mharie,” she said. “No one else has been able to say it with quite the right accent until you.” She smiled brightly at him. “Thank you, Dan.”

Brian cleared his throat. “Since the tables are set, shall we draw the roast out of the oven and call everyone outside?”

 

Chapter 9

“I don’t think I will ever understand geometry,” Trixie moaned to Honey as they walked with other students out of the school Friday afternoon. “I thought it would be easier than algebra since it’s related to actual shapes and real life, but nope, I still don’t comprehend it.”

“Mari might be able to help,” Honey said. “She uses geometry in quilting for all sorts of things. I was better able to understand area and perimeter after piecing quilt blocks together last Saturday. And you saw how quickly she was able to help Di calculate how many ice candles they would need to lay around the school’s front lawn for the social.”

“Honey,” Trixie said dryly, “you’re asking me to combine math and sewing.”

“Oh. Maybe that wasn’t a very good idea then,” Honey said with disappointment.

“You might be on to something though. If I can draw the quilt blocks rather than sew them, I might be able to pick up geometry that way. I’ll ask her when we go to her place for supper tonight,” Trixie noted in an effort to cheer Honey. Honey’s face did brighten with a smile, and her smile widened when she saw Mari ahead of them.

“You could ask her now.”

“No, I can’t,” Trixie said as a tall blond boy pushed his way through the throng of teenagers and took Mari’s arm in a way that suggested close camaraderie with her. Mari quickly lifted her face to see who it was and wrenched her arm away. Trixie saw, rather than heard, Mari’s mouth form the words “Leave me be!” The boy persisted in taking her arm again and hissing something into her ear. She began to walk docilely with him, Honey and Trixie staring in disbelief after the pair.

“Should we go after them?” Honey asked. She never got an answer as she and Trixie were shoved apart by Dan’s hands and he ran between them, bellowing, “Roy!” as he sped through the crowd, snatching Mari from the other boy’s grasp. Honey and Trixie quickly followed and stopped a few feet away.

“Mari, go back with Trixie and Honey,” he said quietly to her, keeping his hand lightly on her wrist.

“I can’t, Dan,” she responded soberly, turning to face him and laying her hand on his arm. “It’ll be alright.”

“I’m not letting you go with him,” Dan insisted.

“Didn’t you hear her, Danny-Boy? I’ll take care of her for you.” Roy leered into Dan’s face.

“And you hear me,” Dan said forcefully. “If Mari goes with you, I’m going directly to the police station and reporting abduction.”

“Dan, it isn’t like that. Please, let’s not make a scene.” Mari swallowed hard and Trixie could see she was trying not to cry. “We’ll just have a quick conversation, if you don’t mind waiting a few minutes longer. I promise.” She said this with a glare at Roy, who shrugged.

“Fine, we’ll just have a quick conversation. I was hoping to take you out to a nice restaurant, but…” Roy tried to lead her away again, but she brushed him off and walked ahead of him toward a dust-colored coupe that he pointed out across the street.

The driver stepped from the car, trying to keep his back to the street. He talked rapidly to Mari, who peered once into the backseat and then moved to open the door. She was blocked by the driver, who received a stern glower from her and what looked like a strong scolding. At the end of her speech she laid her hands palms up by her hips and gave him a look of silent supplication. In response, he began talking back angrily with gestures, starting with slamming his fist on the roof of the car. At that, Mari spread her hands outward, circling them back to her hips. She did this rapidly, as though she were protesting his anger and then second-guessing herself. He continued talking animatedly, fingering the edge of his black shirt, then forming a quick tipi with his hands before waving them to the left with a jut of his chin in the direction of the Bob-Whites. Mari shook her head when he finished and gave a stomp of her foot in dissent, arms crossed like she was cradling an infant. The driver and Roy just laughed, and Roy pushed her away from the car back towards the Bob-Whites. She began walking to the group, back straight and jaw set.

 “Did anyone notice the driver?” Dan asked. “He was in street clothes and kept his hat low, but he had Luke’s build and way of moving.”

“Gleeps!” Honey exclaimed. “Maybe we should tell Sergeant Molinson!”

“Tell him what?” Diana asked, joining the group with Mart by her side. They relayed the story to her and she shivered. “Let’s go see Molinson now.”

“But Mari’s coming back. It’s not like they’ve kidnapped her,” Trixie protested. “And did you notice how much their hands moved? It’s like they were having dual conversations.”

“Or dueling conversations,” Mart said. “Pardon the pun.”

 “Is everything alright?” Honey asked Mari, who joined them silently.

“Not yet, but it will be,” Mari answered. Her eyes held unshed tears and were wide with repressed fright. She turned her head to look back at the car in time to see Luke standing with arms crossed in a manner similar to how hers were before he climbed in the vehicle and pulled away from the curb.

“Do they want to meet you for a second time?” Dan asked.

“Yes. You know how things like this are, Dan,” she said. Despite the fear in her eyes, there was a note of hope in her voice.

“I do know, and that tells me they’re up to no good. Whatever you do, don’t see them again,” he told her, tightening his jaw firmly. “We’ll go to the police and let them deal with Luke and Roy.”

“I have to,” she protested. “And we can’t get the police involved yet. Oh, I wish I could tell you about it, but I had to promise I wouldn’t!” Mari shuddered. “I don’t know how they could have found us…”

“Let’s get you home,” Mart said. “If you’re adamant about not calling the police, then we have to conduct ourselves in as routine a manner as possible, and you promised us sustenance at your place tonight.”

“Mart!” Di exclaimed, shocked at his ungentlemanly demand for food.

“I didn’t intend it like that, Di,” he said. “I simply meant we should be business as usual, is all.” Mari laughed shakily then, and drew Di towards the station wagon.

“Business as usual,” she said. “And preparing supper is a task I greatly enjoy!”

No one mentioned the tan car following at a distance as they drove, until Dan said softly, “Mari, I’m going to drive you to the Manor House, and not to your place. Luke already knows of the Manor’s existence, and he can easily put together that you’re connected with it since he saw you with us, but I don’t want him knowing where you live. We’ll take a horse through the game preserve the rest of the way, if that’s alright with you.” She nodded, cobalt eyes meeting onyx in the rearview mirror.

 

Chapter 10

“Well, Emily, you decided to come after all?” Regan queried when the Bob-Whites arrived to exercise the horses. He had taken to calling Mari by her first name after the horse, to everyone’s amusement.

“We’re still on for supper at her place,” Trixie said.

“Dan offered to take me on a trail ride through the game preserve so I would know a short cut to get here,” Mari said, ears tinting from her distress over telling a lie. Regan nodded, but his expression told them he wasn’t fully buying her excuse, particularly after the earful Jim and Brian had given him last Saturday. He’d relayed the information to Will, who said he would investigate the whereabouts of both Irene (whom he confirmed as Luke’s mother) and Luke, and promptly left Sleepyside to start his search. Will hadn’t been back since, or sent word of any discoveries.

 Dan and Mari rode double on Spartan, travelling with the Bob-Whites part of the way until Dan angled off in the direction of the Mac Alistairs’. Trixie and the others then caught Jim and Brian up on the latest events as they rode along the trails.

“It has some connection with the inheritance, of course,” Jim concluded.

“It has every connection with the inheritance,” Trixie said. “I wish her mother had never been identified or would just claim it already.”

“But what can Luke get from it right now?” Di asked.

“Well, he’s of age already. Maybe he wants Mari to sign it all over to him,” Brian suggested.

“She wouldn’t give in,” Honey argued. “Even though she doesn’t really want the money, I don’t think she would just hand her share over to him simply because he wants it. She knows it would be squandered.”

“Good point, Honey,” Trixie said. “Mari has more sense than to give in to a bully.”

“What would convince her then?” Mart asked.

“A threat to her mother,” Jim said soberly.

“He wouldn’t!” Di gasped.

“I’m very curious to know what we will find when we arrive at the Mac Alistairs’ tonight,” Brian said grimly.

* * * *

Trixie noted with a chuckle to herself that Di was gripping Mart’s arm tightly as they moved up the walkway toward the Mac Alistairs’ house. It was a low bungalow, approached by a winding stone path lined with irises and asters. The front windows were lit with candles, though electric lamps were shining further on in each of the rooms. Mari met them in the garden, arms filled with roses that she was intending to bring into the house. The navy blue scarf over her hair was dotted with raindrops that twinkled like diamonds in the evening light. Her eyes were bright with pleasure when she saw them, but Trixie noticed a barely perceptible puckering of her eyebrows.

“What a darling house!” Honey greeted her.

“Thank you, and welcome,” Mari responded, smiling joyfully.

“Should we call you Briar-Rose or Mistress Mary Quite Contrary?” Mart teased.

“Heavens, neither, please. I have enough names now already. The garden is overgrown with flowers rambling every which way though,” Mari said, laughing. Jim opened the front door and she led them in, setting the flowers in a basket on the entryway table, then lifting off the scarf and slipping off her galoshes before leading them further into the house.

“Please, make yourselves comfortable,” she said, bringing them into the pleasant living room. “I’ll just pop the roses into some vases and everything will be ready shortly.”

“Mari, did something-” Trixie began, but Mari cut her off with a shake of her head as Mrs. Mac Alistair entered the room.

“I’m so glad you all could join us,” she said cheerfully. Her features were like Mari’s: straight nose, delicately curved eyebrows, mouth that smiled even when closed, and eyes that looked at a person frankly. Her hair was blonde though, and her eyes a lighter blue.

“Our pleasure,” Brian answered.

“Marigold’s been fairly dancing over having you join us,” Mrs. Mac Alistair said. “She’s more than glad to have your friendship.”

“Mama,” Mari said, flushed.

“Dan, it’s good to see you again. Are you still playing percussion?” Mrs. Mac Alistair asked.

“Actually, I’ve picked up the bodhran,” Dan said, somewhat sheepishly. Mari flicked an interested gaze his way.

“Excellent! I’m glad to see you exploring your heritage. The food will be on the table very shortly,” Mrs. Mac Alistair said. “As soon as Mari’s done with the flowers, she can show you to the dining room. In the meantime, I’ll check on the meal.” The Bob-Whites thanked her and she left.

“The bodhran, Dan?” Mart asked.

“It’s an Irish drum. Something to keep me creatively busy during college.”

“Brilliant,” Mart said.

“So, Mari…” Trixie said.

“Our detour may not have worked so well,” Mari said as she moved to slip roses into various vases around the room. “I thought I saw a tan coupe pass the house shortly after Dan left me at the door. And Mom’s not to know of this.”

“Can you think of a way to tell us without telling us?” Trixie asked.

“Yes, there’s bound to be a way,” Mari agreed.

“Will they want to meet you some place less public next time?” Dan asked. Mari looked at him piercingly, and then turned her gaze back to the flowers she was arranging. “I’ll take that as a yes.”

“Is there anything we can do? Someone we can tell without making things more dangerous?” Jim asked.

“Eventually. I need to know more myself first.”

“How will you keep safe in the meantime?” Honey wanted to know.

“They know you’re aware of them and would raise the alarm if anything were to happen to me. Things aren’t exactly hopeless.”

“Oh look,” ever-hungry Mart said, “your mother’s bringing the food to the table.” The Bob-Whites followed Mart through a second doorway into the adjoining dining room, Mari at the end of the group with several vases she set on the table.

“Please be seated,” Mrs. Mac Alistair said, placing a final dish on the table. The Bob-Whites found their places, Jim taking a seat next to Trixie opposite the tall back windows.

“I love our view from those windows,” Mari said after the blessing was given, following Trixie’s gaze outside. “I’m looking forward to seeing fireflies in that grove of trees during the summer.” Dusk was falling and raindrops were still scattering themselves lightly on the diamond-paned windows. Beyond lay a cluster of maple saplings, swaying in the evening wind.

“Before Mari waxes too poetic, what we prepared for tonight is boxty, potato pancakes with various fillings,” Mrs. Mac Alistair said. “It’s an Irish dish, and one of our favorites on cold days.”

“It smells just scrumptious,” Di exclaimed. The Bob-Whites enjoyed every bite of their meal, from the boxty to the Shoofly pies that Mari brought out for dessert.

“Phew,” Mart said after his last forkful of pie. “I am incapacitated.” Trixie was about to retort with a teasing comment when a flicker of light in the maple grove caught her eye. It was a small but constant glow and she might not have even spotted it if Mari had not mentioned fireflies earlier. Jim touched her knee to let her know he saw it too, but also as a warning not to mention it aloud.

“Mari,” she said instead, “I was wondering if you could help me with geometry. Honey mentioned that you were a whiz with geometry and quilting.”

“Is Beatrix asking to be taught how to sew?” Mart asked in a stage whisper, bringing a chuckle from the others.

“Hardly. I was hoping we could draw the patterns.”

“Certainly. I have some graph paper here and could show you a few ideas tonight before you leave.” Mari’s face was lit from within, as though she was in possession of a brilliant plan that she was trying to suppress. “Shall we move to the living room?”

“Shouldn’t we help clean up?” Honey offered.

“Marigold and I will get to the dishes later. It’s no trouble,” Mrs. Mac Alistair said.

“While the girls are being, well, girly, gents, let’s pay our dues,” Jim said, standing and stacking plates. He flicked his gaze over to Trixie and she nodded, reading his thoughts. At Mari and her mother’s protests, the boys just gathered dishes and marched into the kitchen, Dan grinning cheekily at Mari as he passed her.

“There’s no stopping them when they want to be gentlemen,” Honey said.

“It’s getting them to be gentlemen that’s the difficulty at times,” Trixie said.

“Well if we had proper ladies to serve, instead of harum-scarum wretches, it would be much easier,” Mart called back.

“Let’s start with some of the blocks Honey and I were sewing.” Mari broke the banter before it became too rough. “You remember, Trix, that quilts were used on the Underground Railroad?” She looked intently at Trixie as she said this and Trixie began to understand why Mari’s face had brightened.

“I do.”

“Good. Let’s start with the monkey wrench then.” The girls settled on the couches in the living room while Mari pulled graphing paper and pencils from the writing desk. She quickly sketched out the block, using a ruler to guide her straight lines. “Remember, the monkey wrench is the block that starts the runaway on his journey. The interaction of the colors with each other is perhaps the most enjoyable part of quilts, but to play them out to their fullest, one must understand how the shapes interact first. What shapes do you see?”

“Triangles and rectangles all around a square in the middle.”

“Visually, they all center on the square, you’re right,” Mari said, drawing a large question mark inside the square. “But if you look closely, you’ll notice there are three rows to this block. Two rows are comprised of four triangles and two rectangles each, and one row has a square and four rectangles. Each row is the same width and length as each other and together they make up-”

“A perfect square,” Honey finished.

“It’s up to you to decide how to use those shapes and make certain colors or patterns stand out over others,” Mari added, drawing flags in two of the triangles next to the square, and cowboy boots in the other two. “That’s just an introduction to help you see the shapes inside of blocks. Let’s move on to another that’s visually more complicated, but has simpler math overall.” She passed the first piece of paper to Trixie, again with an earnest glance, before drawing a series of rectangles, this time centered on one small square.

“The log cabin,” Honey said, naming the block. “This one is my favorite so far. It helps a runaway identify a safe place to stay, right?” Mari smiled at her and nodded.

“This quilt block is often used with two colors that gradually get darker the further they are away from the center. However, for our purposes…” Mari quickly sketched an apple in the bottom right corner, a honey pot in the bottom left, a small house surrounded by trees in the top left, and a blackened square in the top right. “And we’ll leave the rectangles white in color with the stitching lines as orienteering lines.” The girls looked at her blankly until Trixie figured it out.

“Like using a compass with a map,” she clarified.

“Precisely,” Mari confirmed. “We’ll work on perimeter now. Let’s say that it takes Trixie three hundred yards to get from the end of her driveway to the end of Honey’s. What the quilt makers would have done to show this would be to tie knotted threads over the quilt. Each knot would have represented a certain number of miles the fugitive had to travel to get to his next destination. The perimeter of something is simply the distance around it.” Mari quickly drew three dots, one at each of the bottom corners, and one in the middle.

“So if I wanted to take a long way home from Honey’s, I could travel to Mr. Maypenny’s, then to Ten Acres, and back to mine. That would be…” Trixie borrowed the pencil and drew three dots on each of the other sides, then counted them. “That would be nine hundred yards from the Manor House home, or twelve hundred yards round trip.”

“It’s all hypothetical, since you don’t travel in exactly straight lines. But, continuing on that idea, what if you traveled directly from Honey’s house to the ruins in this corner?” She took the ruler and drew a line between the two points. “What’s the distance here?” Trixie borrowed the ruler and measured the space between two of the dots and then measured the length of the diagonal line.

“It’s around one and one-third the distance between two dots,” Trixie said. “So that would be…” She quickly did the math on the side of the paper. “390 yards.”

“Almost,” Mari said. “You also have a formula that would present you with a more accurate figure. What kind of an angle do you see in the corner here?”

“A… right angle?”

“Exactly.” Mari explained the formula simply, and led Trixie through the math.

“I would actually have to travel around 425 yards to get there,” Trixie said at the end. “Boy, was I off.”

“It’s a good thing you’re not a fugitive slave, Trix,” Mart said from the couch where he had sat next to Di. “You’d wind up at the house of someone who would turn you in.”

“Fortunately the runaway slaves didn’t necessarily have to do math like that,” Mari said in Trixie’s defense.

“Fortunately, Trixie was able to do the math after all,” Jim said affectionately, remembering the numerous tutoring sessions he’d had with her.

“The boys were a wonderful help,” Mrs. Mac Alistair said, drying her hands with a kitchen towel in the doorway. “I’ve never seen so many men move with such agility in a small kitchen before.” The boys looked sheepishly at each other.

“They are always willing to lend a hand,” Di said.

“And they are useful in any number of circumstances,” Honey added proudly, smiling at Jim and Brian specifically.

“Well, these agile men need to head home if we’re to be roused early and forced to build- what was it? An arbor gate for the garden party?” Brian declared.

“Everything was absolutely divine,” Di said to Mrs. Mac Alistair, and the other Bob-Whites chimed in with their compliments and thanks.

“Mari did most of the work,” Mrs. Mac Alistair said when they had finished. “She’s gotten quite handy around the kitchen.” A flustered but gratified Mari showed them to the door, shaking hands with the boys and exchanging hugs with the girls.

“Thank you so much for joining us,” she said, her pleasure shining on her face. She is able to hide some of her anxiety from her mother at least, Trixie thought. Maybe when she has a more immediate emotion that she can safely express, her worry gets put aside.

“See you tomorrow,” Trixie returned. When the door closed, Jim caught Trixie’s hand and started leading her toward the grove.

“What in the-” Brian started.

“Shh!” Jim hissed. “You all keep walking to the car. Dan, come along. We’re going to investigate a certain firefly we saw during dinner.” He led the way to the area directly across from the dining room window.

“Do you smell something?” Trixie asked. They all sniffed.

“Luke’s cigarettes!” Dan exclaimed in recognition just as Jim pulled out a pocket flashlight and shone it on the ground. A few feet from where they stood were scattered ashes and several cigarette butts, while a few steps further on lay a deep imprint of a cowboy boot. “I’ve half a mind to offer my services as a guard and spend the night on their sofa.”

“But Mari said her mother wasn’t to know about… Roy stopping her after school today,” Trixie protested.

“I don’t like this. I don’t like it at all,” Dan grumbled.

“She came home safely, thanks to you,” Jim reminded him.

“But they’re not done with her yet. And I particularly don’t like that Roy is involved.”

“Was he the one who wanted to tame her?” Trixie asked. Dan grunted affirmation. “I think we should get back to the car now.” She squeezed Jim’s hand and he put his hand on Dan’s shoulder.

“I think she’ll be alright tonight, Dan,” he said comfortingly. “We’ll see her tomorrow morning at the gatehouse.”

“Let’s go!” Trixie exclaimed, dragging Jim up the lawn to the car.

“What did you find?” Brian asked when they had buckled in.

“Luke was watching the house,” Dan said grimly.

“That’s not all!” Trixie said, bouncing in her seat. “I know where they’re staying.”

“Where?” Honey asked.

“Somewhere on the Frayne grounds. We’ve never been there with her, and yet she put the burned house on her map.”

“She could have ambled her way over there herself,” Mart said.

“Mari wouldn’t trespass,” Di protested.

“Luke or Roy must have let something drop about the Frayne house when they talked to her this afternoon,” Brian suggested.

“Luke was signaling her with his hands! His black shirt, a roof shape with his hands, and pointing to something to the left of us! He was telling her they were going to be at a blackened house near us!!” Trixie shouted.

“Why would he do that?” Brian asked.

“She asked him why, remember? When she put her hands out,” Honey said to Trixie.

“No, why would he signal her? Are you even sure that’s what he was doing?” Jim asked, sharing a frustrated look with Brian.

“If Mari and Luke were once really close, isn’t it possible they have their own secret way of communicating like sometimes twins have?” Di asked. “Not American Sign Language, but their own way of reading each other’s hand gestures?”

“Okay, that’s plausible, I suppose,” Brian answered. “What was Luke’s response, and what does it probably mean?”

“Luke hit the car,” Honey recollected.

“Force,” Dan said quietly from the back of the station wagon. “He’s being coerced into a scheme involving her that he wants to prevent. Why else would he meet her in daylight with witnesses and still not verbalize all the details or take her away with them? This also means Roy doesn’t know Luke’s plans to help Mari.”

 “Not just witnesses, but witnesses who know him. When we get home, Mart, I want you to look at the flag she drew too, and see if you can identify it,” Trixie asserted.

“It’s the Puerto Rican flag,” Dan explained.

“That’s it!” Trixie cried. “Manuel’s little brother is the bait for Mari. I think he’s safe though.”

“How can you tell?” Jim asked.

“The cradling gesture,” Honey suggested. “Luke gave that sign back to her, letting her know he would take care of Esteban. And I bet, if Esteban’s half as attached to Mari as she is to him, that they found her by interrogating him.”

“Or by baiting him with the chance to see Mari again if he told them where she was,” Brian suggested.

“Is Irene the question mark in the middle of the quilt block?” Di asked. “Remember, Mari said everything is visually centered on the square, but she doesn’t know Irene’s role in Luke’s actions.”

“Possibly.” Trixie sobered.

“Are you sure the bait wasn’t Manuel himself?” Mart asked unthinkingly. “Ouch, Trix!” he added as Trixie kicked his ankle.

“I don’t think she’d turn passive so quickly for Roy if Manuel was the one they kidnapped,” Honey said. “He can probably defend himself more easily than a little kid.”

“So we report them for kidnapping, and send Molinson to the old Frayne mansion to capture them,” Brian said, swinging into the Lynches’ driveway to drop Diana off at home.

“We can’t yet. We haven’t gotten to the root of the debacle yet,” Mart said. “As Diana pointed out, Irene may be the main catalyst, but we’re not one hundred percent sure. Luke and Roy may be pawns. They’re certainly secondary figures by Mari’s depiction on the quilt block, but she also may be saying in the form of a question mark that she simply doesn’t know what their motivation is.”

“Precisely,” Trixie said. “Molinson wouldn’t go for us basing our theories on quilt blocks and possible hand signals anyway. He’d haul Mari in and question her.”

“And that might lead to more trouble if they have a hostage,” Dan finished Trixie’s thought. “As much as I hate to say it, we need to wait until Mari supplies us with more clues and verifies our interpretations of what she’s already indicated, and that means she has to visit with them again.”

 

Chapter 11

Dan arrived at the gatehouse escorting Mari. Together they carried several large pieces of lattice over their heads. Dan also had a large basket of flowers hanging from one arm.

“Good morning,” Mari said. “I forgot to send this with you last night. It’s something Manuel took off our porch before we moved into the house and would be perfect for the gate the boys are building.” Jim and Brian took the boards from them and leaned the lattice against one of the walls. Dan beckoned the other two boys to him while Mari joined the girls inside where they were starting to assemble ice candles and jar lanterns, Mart assisting with filling plastic buckets with water.

“It’s a good thing we have all these sand pails from the twins and Bobby,” Di was saying. “Even then we’ll have to reuse them to make more candles before the dance.”

“Good morning, Mari,” Honey said, turning to see who entered. Mari greeted them in return, and then slapped her hand to her forehead.

“I forgot to get the flowers from Dan,” she said. “I’m all sorts of ferhoodled lately.”

“I’ll get them,” Trixie offered. She stood, brushed flower stems from her lap, and headed out the door.

“Dan came with you?” Di asked mischievously.

“Yes, he said-” Mari wasn’t able to finish because Trixie stuck her head back in the room.

“Who was talking with you at your window this morning, Mari?” she asked.

“Trixie Belden!” they heard Dan scold. “When will you leave well enough alone? It’s enough that her mom asked if I was the one.” Di chuckled, stopping when Mari looked inquisitively at her.

“Did Luke come by your house to arrange another dastardly adventure?” Mart asked.

“In a way,” Mari said, shrugging in discomfort at not being able to explain coherently.

“There’s something else, isn’t there?” Honey asked, studying her face.

“He’s different in some way. I can’t put my finger on it, but he’s giving me the heebie-jeebies.”

“Do the heebie-jeebies have anything to do with him responding to your sign language yesterday?” Trixie questioned.

“Yes,” Mari said, beaming. “I’m so glad you saw that!”

“He has a hostage at the old Frayne mansion, right?” Di asked.

“I don’t know about the old Frayne mansion, but there is a blackened house near where they are staying, and yes, he has-” Mari wasn’t able to finish because Dan interrupted.

“Are you sure I can’t call Sergeant Molinson yet?” Dan asked, sticking his head through the doorway too. Jim and Brian appeared behind him, jostling Trixie into the room. She shot them a disgruntled look.

“If you draw the net now, you won’t catch the biggest fish,” Mart responded. “Someone may be backing the Cowhands, remember?” Mari gave him a quick nod, which he returned.

“Do you know what Luke’s after?” Jim asked.

“If he’s pursuing Mom’s inheritance, he’s making things far more complicated than necessary. There’s more to all of this than I can deduce right now.” The Bob-Whites shared looks with each other, unsure if they should tell Mari what they knew of her brother’s history. Mari herself changed the subject. “These won’t assemble themselves. What can I do to help?” Dan retrieved the flower basket and she thanked him with a smile, Trixie seeing for the first time a dimple deepening Mari’s left cheek. Trixie smiled to herself happily over the pair and joined the other girls at the table while Jim, Brian, and Dan walked back outside.

“I could use a hand carrying these pails to the porch freezer,” Mart said. Di jumped up and took several pails while Mart put the rest in a crate and lugged it out the door. The remaining girls started tying fishing line around and between old canning jars, matching the strands to the diagram Di and Mari had made. As they worked, they chatted, catching Mari up on various mysteries Trixie and Honey had solved. Sounds of the boys bantering with each other as they cut the lattice and nailed the pieces together came from outside, adding to the air of merriment that exuded from the gatehouse. Regan and Will smiled at each other as they passed by, and then doubled back.

“How’s the gate coming?” Regan asked the boys.

“We’re winging it,” Jim said. “It’s a good thing Brian’s had to repair Crabapple Farm’s a few times so he knows the general ins and outs of the structure.”

“The girls are going to weave flowers and lights through when we set everything up for the dance,” Brian added. “Right now it looks pretty plain.”

“How’s Mari?” Will asked. “Regan told me she came here before going home.”

“I’m fine,” Mari said, poking her head out the door. “Welcome back, Uncle Will.”

“Anything going on we should know about?” Regan asked, scanning the boys’ faces.

“No,” Mari said. “Mom and I just had to rush to prepare dinner on time for everyone last night, but I got tired of taking the usual road home.” She finished her sentence with her head back inside, cheeks red at having told a second lie. Honey and Trixie looked at her sympathetically.

“If there’s anything we can help out with, let us know,” Regan said.

“Will do,” Dan answered. Regan gave them another cursory look and the two walked off toward the stables, discussing Emily’s Moonrise’s latest times.

“Regan’s caught on,” Mari said.

“He usually does,” Honey answered. “Is your mother alright in the midst of this?”

“So far as I know, I’m the one they want.”

“Is there going to be a time when they want you permanently?” Trixie asked, noting that the boys hadn’t resumed their work and must be listening in.

“I don’t know yet.”

“What are you doing, slacking on the job? Are Di and I the only ones working?” Mart’s voice came from outside. Everyone got back on task, but was subdued until Mari quietly began singing “Don’t Let the Rain Come Down” to herself as she worked, a little smile twitching the corners of her mouth since the weather was still gloomy. The others caught on to the song and joined in, taking turns leading the group in other songs when they finished the first. Jim began next with “Singing in the Rain” and Brian led off after with “Bus Stop”. They milked the rain theme as long as they could before moving into other songs. The singing and work ended with Dan starting “Scarborough Fair”, to which they harmonized, letting Mari finish the last few lines on her own and surprising her at the end with applause.

“What do you think of the Simon and Garfunkel version?” Dan asked through a window.

“I think it’s wonderful, but I also wish they had recorded a version of the song by itself, without ‘Canticle’ worked in,” Mari answered.

“Agreed,” Dan said.

“I have the album if you’d like to borrow it sometime,” Mari offered.

“That’d be brilliant. It’s one of the ones I don’t own yet,” Dan said.

“You have a splendid voice,” Mari said.

“You did sing differently than you usually do, Dan,” Di commented.

“I’m out of practice, but I used to be in the choir for Saint Patrick’s in the city,” Dan explained. The girls flashed gleeful smiles at each other, catching Mari’s baffled gaze when she turned back from the window to face them.

“Isn’t it about time for lunch?” she asked innocently.

By the close of their work day, the Bob-Whites had a freshly built and painted arbor gate, and numerous glistening ice candles with suspended flowers completed. The jar lanterns were finished also, and were laid out on the table awaiting votive candles.

“Thank goodness for Easter Vacation this week,” Trixie said. “We’ll be able to get the rest of those ice candles made easily and then we won’t have to worry about a thing until next Friday rolls around.”

“Did you worry about how we’re going to get everything to the school?” Brian asked. At Trixie’s look of consternation, he laughed. “We’ll figure it out later. In the meantime, we have chores at home to finish still today.”

“I still have to make the rounds of the game preserve too,” Dan said. “Since someone didn’t do his job earlier this morning,” he added, looking teasingly at Mart who had taken over Dan’s job with Mr. Maypenny.

“I’ll help,” Mart said.

“Let’s take the long way around, and bring Mari with us. She’s only met Mr. Maypenny once, and it would give her an opportunity to see more of the grounds. Is that alright with you, Mar? We’ll drop you off at home too,” Dan said.

“Sure,” Mari said. “I’d like that.”

“Well, that covers exercising three of the horses,” Mart said. “What’s going to happen with the others?”

“Oh bother,” Trixie said. “Mart’s right.”

“Dad and Mother rode this morning, and Miss Trask took Susie to visit Mr. Lytell, so in all reality they’ve all had or will have exercise,” Honey said. “If you need to get home, Jim and I can quickly take the others out again.”

“I can exercise one too,” Di offered.

“You’re both darlings,” Trixie cried. “Moms is probably tearing her hair out over Bobby by now, especially as she’s trying to get ready for Easter tomorrow.”

The Bob-Whites scoured the gatehouse for last-minute cleanup, locking the door behind them. Mari slipped a piece of paper from her pocket and passed it to Trixie.

“The wagon wheel,” she said. “Something to help you with circles.”

“Mari,” Honey asked. “Sorry it just occurred to me, but what are you and your mother doing for Easter?”

“Uncle Will is taking us out for dinner. Aunt Holly accompanied him here so that she and Mom could finally meet. Are you all having dinner together?”

“We’ll get Bobby and the twins together for an egg hunt, but do dinner separately,” Trixie answered.

“That’ll be lively,” Mari responded with a chuckle. “Have a Happy Easter, everyone. See you Sunday at church!” She left with Dan and Mart, and Trixie tapped her nose thoughtfully with the quilt pattern.

“Uh-oh,” Jim said, seeing her face. “Who do you suspect, and of what, now?”

“Will Elliott…” Trixie mused. “Isn’t it odd that he disappears right after we come to realization of Irene’s role in Luke’s actions, doesn’t seem to have any new information about her whereabouts, and-”

“Let me stop you there, Miss Belden,” Will said from behind them. He and Regan had walked down from the stables unnoticed by the Bob-Whites. “Now that Mari has left, I came to tell what I had found out about Irene and Luke, and then perhaps you can explain why Mari lied today.”

Trixie gulped. “Sorry, Will. I tend to start suspecting everyone.”

“I’d be a natural choice as a threat to Kit and Mari, except that I don’t stand to benefit from Kit’s inheritance. Aunt Elizabeth allotted some of her estate to my family, and we are more than provided for. Now, as far as Irene and Luke are concerned, Irene hasn’t been seen by her family in over five years and didn’t leave anything to trace her by. Luke was released last week. He has checked in regularly with his parole officer, but aside from that has gone undetected in New York. It’s not much to go on, but it does corroborate with your theory that she may have been tracking and manipulating him, which fits with her nature.”

“No trace at all?” Trixie asked.

“She did contact her brother from Pennsylvania just after she left, but that was the last they heard from her. Has Mari seen Luke recently? Regan suspects she has.”

“It’s delicate,” Jim answered for everyone else, who stood uneasily quiet. “A lot is at stake that Mari is unsure of, and doesn’t want interference with until she is certain. She’s been giving Trixie clues to go by, but they haven’t been much yet.”

“That’s it?” Will asked.

“Will, I’d trust them. If Jim’s alright with Trixie and Mari’s system, then you can be sure it has substance to it,” Regan spoke in their defense.

“How is she giving you clues?” Will asked Trixie.

“She draws quilt blocks, and Honey helps me remember their significance to the Underground Railroad. After that, I look at the symbols Mari draws inside the blocks. Like this one, for example.” She drew Mari’s paper from her pocket where she had hurriedly stuffed it.

“The wagon wheel block is the beginning of the fugitive slave’s travels,” Honey explained. “So Mari here is telling us how she started her journey with Luke… that is, if she went with him early this morning like we think.”

“In each spoke of the wheel, she drew two cowboy boots, her symbol for the Cowhands, and a… what is that?” Jim said, looking over Trixie’s shoulder.

“A bird?” Di guessed.

“A bat,” Brian corrected. “See, she drew a crescent moon to identify when the creature flies.”

“Or she could have traveled again at night after you left,” Regan said.

“Oh woe,” Honey said. “This is more complicated when she’s not here to nod at our guesses.”

“Why a bat though?” Will asked.

“She must be blindfolded,” Trixie said. “Wherever she went with Luke, she probably had a blindfold on.”

 “What if they catch on to the fact that she’s not exactly directionally challenged and change their location as well as blindfold her?” Brian suggested.

“It’s possible,” Jim said.

“Look at the center,” Honey reminded the others. “Remember with the other block, she said the eye is drawn to the center by the way the pattern is colored, and the middle square was her focal point.” Inside the center circle, Mari had sketched a fire, a Puerto Rican flag, and another cowboy boot.

“They do have Esteban,” Trixie declared. “See how all three boots are drawn the same size, but the boot in the middle is twice the height of the flag? If they had Manuel, she’d have drawn them the same dimensions too.”

 “Her hunches are usually right,” Regan said. He shrugged at Will, who looked confusedly back at him.

“It also means there’s a third Cowhand,” Brian stated.

“What’s this in the corner of the top spoke?” Jim asked, pointing to a small number.

“It says x72,” Brian read. “What do we multiply by 72, though?”

“There’s only five spokes,” Honey said sharply. The others turned to her. “Usually there are more in a wagon wheel. I think. At least there are in the ones Mari showed me.”

“If we multiply 72 by five, we get…” Trixie scribbled on the back of the paper. “Three hundred sixty,” she said proudly. “Which is the number of degrees in a circle.” Jim gave her a proud look.

“What does Mari mean by that though?” Will asked. “Everything up to now has made some sense, though I don’t know who Esteban and Manuel are, or why Luke’s gang would have either of them.”

“Maybe this is similar to how she had me calculate the perimeter of the log cabin block,” Trixie said. “In five increments of her trip, she went full circle back to her house.”

“What would the increments be?” Brian asked.

“Miles makes the most sense. We would have found them last night if they were only two steps or two feet away from the house,” Jim said. “I think Regan is right; she may have gone last night.”

“Then why was she talking with someone outside her window this morning?” Di asked. “She only said it was more or less to plan another outing. That could mean anything.”

“Maybe she spent the night?” Trixie said.

“Dan’s not going to like that idea,” Jim whispered to Brian. Honey poked him, but they were pretty sure Regan had heard even though he didn’t glance at them. His ear had twitched like a horse’s at the mention of Dan’s name.

“Maybe she is letting us know that she will be going tonight,” Brian suggested. “What’s within a two-and-a-half-mile radius of the Mac Alistair house?” He gestured to the radial line to demonstrate he’d calculated its length.

“Ugh,” Trixie groaned, taking a look at her watch. “Moms is going to kill us. Everyone think of what’s in that radius and we can talk tomorrow.”

* * * *

Just before Trixie was about to get into bed, Mart knocked on her door. “If you catch me up, I’ll catch you up,” he offered. Trixie handed him the quilt block sketch and recapped the afternoon’s discussion. “The Frayne grounds still, of course,” he said at the end. “If you travel across the radius of the circle, you get directly to their encampment. They walked straight through the Mac Alistairs’ maple grove, cut across the Lynches’ property and into the game reserve, and finally wound up on Jim’s estate. Two twists in the path before they reached their destination also accounts for two of the five sections of their walk. The campfire is point three, and the walk back includes the same pivot points.”

“Of course!” Trixie cried.

“It’s straight as the crow flies,” Mart said. “Or, straight as the bat flies in this case.”

“We have everything we need to catch them,” Trixie said.

“But we don’t have the biggest fish yet, remember?” Mart corrected. “And we don’t know where on the grounds they’d be. The house ruins provide no shelter. They’re probably just a landmark.”

“I wonder how Mari’s going to let us know all that,” Trixie mused.

“In other news,” Mart began. “Dan and Mari talked the entire way to her house. I could barely get a word in.”

“How excruciating for you,” Trixie teased. “What did they talk about?”

“Books. Apparently, last night Dan saw that she was reading Daniel Deronda, which was one of his mother’s favorite books, so that book got covered extensively, and then they continued into their personal favorites. I didn’t know Dan read much, so I was pleased. Just so you know, Mari’s mother is not the only bookworm in the family. Then Dan mentioned that he had begun studying Irish Gaelic this semester, and Mari became quite delighted over that. They chatted back and forth, Mari in Scotch English she picked up from her father and Dan in an Irish accent, the entire way. Essentially, they are in perfect amiability with one another, with the exception of Dan stubbornly wanting to contact the police now and Mari tenaciously refusing.”

“They can’t be thoroughly amiable,” Trixie said. “Otherwise the relationship can get boring quickly.”

“It’s a good thing Jim takes you to task sometimes then, isn’t it?” Mart said teasingly. “Otherwise you’d quickly find him dull.”

“Ha ha,” Trixie said sarcastically. “Now get out. I want to go to sleep.”

“And dream of a certain red-headed boy by the name of-” Mart shut the door on his last word as Trixie’s pillow flew dangerously near his sandy head.

 

Chapter 12

Easter was a relaxing day, with fun activities for everyone, but Trixie occasionally couldn’t help glancing in the direction of Old Mr. Frayne’s property. Once Jim caught her gaze and came over to whisper to her.

“No snooping, Trix. We don’t want to alert the Cowhands and get Mari into more trouble,” he said in her ear.

“She looked tired in church this morning.” Mari had sat behind the Beldens with her mother, Uncle Will, and Aunt Holly, who reminded Trixie of Mrs. Wheeler with her fashionable clothes and sophisticated demeanor, except that she had winked at Trixie in recognition, to Mari’s amusement.

“I noticed,” Jim answered. “Did she give you another block?”

“No, but when I’d asked if she went into the woods last night and pantomimed being blindfolded, she nodded at me.”

“When did you ask her that?”

“At the beverage table during the Easter brunch.” Mr. Wheeler stood then and requested everyone’s attention.

“There are two courses set up for the Easter egg hunt,” he announced. “On the lawn left of the house, Easter eggs have been hidden for the younger children, while on the right of the house, Easter eggs have been hidden for the Bob-Whites. How high, low or deceptively hidden I won’t say, but there will be a prize for the most found. One egg on each side is special in some way, and the person who finds it may keep what is inside. You will have half an hour. Any questions?”

“What are the boundaries?” Mart asked.

“The game reserve border and Glen Road. You’ll hear an air horn when the time is up. Any other questions? No? Then, on your marks, get set, go!” Everyone scattered, the adults moving to join Bobby and the Lynch twins on their side of the house.

“This seems rather juvenile,” Dan commented. “But, I’m not going to deny that after almost a full year of college, reverting back to activities from childhood is actually appealing.” He picked up a wicker basket and swung it around. “Best of luck to you all. I’m off to check the stables first.” Off he jogged, leaving the others to scramble for baskets and move out in pursuit.

Trixie ran towards the gatehouse, sure she would find some eggs along the way, if not somewhere outside of it. Jim followed at a leisurely pace, keeping an eye on her, as he explained when she turned to frown at him. He spotted one egg in the crook of some tree branches Trixie had already passed, letting out a whoop that made Trixie slow down and examine everything as she walked by. In a clump of grass by the gatehouse door, she saw a blue egg peeking out.

“Got one!” she called to Jim.

“That’s a plastic one,” he said, coming closer. “All the ones Regan and Tom hid were real.”

“Except for the ones with something hidden inside, remember? This has to be it!”

“It was too easily hidden,” Jim argued. Trixie rolled her eyes at him and opened the egg. A folded paper dropped out and Jim retrieved it, his green eyes somber.

“I don’t think this is one from Regan and Tom.” He unfolded it, and then handed the paper to Trixie.

“Another monkey wrench,” she noted. “And in the middle Mari’s drawn a cowgirl boot. See, she’s colored it pink. Irene is involved!”

“What’s this one then?” Jim pointed to a drawing of another cowboy boot in one of the rectangles. The boot had a ball and chain attached to it. An orange flower with many petals was next to it.

“Um…” Trixie said. “One of the Cowhands is there against his will? More than likely it’s Luke, which would go with Dan’s theory of coercion, and Mari’s standing by him.”

“And this?” Jim pointed to the opposite rectangle. A horse was drawn rearing, a stick figure on its back wearing pink boots.

“I think I know who killed Jem MacDougall!” Trixie said with a gasp.

“Lord, have mercy,” Jim said softly. “If your theory is true, Mari’s probably threatened with more than just kidnapping, and perhaps her mother is too.”

“I don’t really want to keep hunting for Easter eggs,” Trixie said. “Mari may be sworn to secrecy, but we aren’t! I’m with Dan on this one.”

“Mari needs to actually be kidnapped though before we call the cops, or Molinson won’t take us seriously. Irene would be alerted too and we wouldn’t be able to catch her.”

“Oh bother!” Trixie exclaimed. “Well, with Luke looking after her, she has some hope, right? Do you think they’d kidnap her?”

“Why else have they come? Her mother has to decide in just a few days what she will do about her inheritance, and she won’t just give it all over to Luke and Irene unless she had provocation.”

“Then do you agree with Dan that this cat and mouse routine is meant to give Mari warning and time to alert people who could help her?”

Jim crumpled his hair in his hand. “Dan has good instincts, and he knows both Luke and Mari better than we do, so it’s very likely. That’s what I think, anyway.” He took Trixie’s hand. “Let’s keep on hunting. It’ll do us no good just standing here.”

“I almost don’t want to tell the others about this one. Dan’ll have a fit and Di will panic.”

“We have to tell Regan at least,” Jim said as they left, never noticing the black-jacketed figure watching them from across the road.

 

Chapter 13

“Ah, the first real day of Easter Vacation,” Brian said with satisfaction.

“Yes, and we’re spending it frivolously shopping for dresses and other accoutrements with the dames,” Mart groaned. Jim laughed at him.

“At least you got to ride into town on Dan’s motorcycle,” he said. “We had to drive with said giggling, whispering dames.” Over Christmas break Dan had purchased a secondhand motorcycle to use in case he had to leave college quickly on Mr. Maypenny’s behalf (not that he told Mr. Maypenny his concern). He’d brought it down this week to begin teaching Mart how to ride it. There not being enough room in the station wagon for everyone with the addition of Mari and the girls’ purchases, Dan and Mart had opted for the bike.

“Speaking of shopping,” Brian said. “I need a new dress shirt and tie.”

“I’ll come with you,” Jim said, and the two boys walked into the department store that the girls had already disappeared into.

“Do you think we need new clothes for the dance?” Dan asked, somewhat worriedly. His part-time job at college as a campus security officer barely covered his books and weekly expenses, Mart knew. He took off his leather jacket, a newer one since he’d outgrown the one from his Cowhand days, and laid it on the bike’s seat.

“I think the clothes you bought in August for dressy functions at school should be fine,” Mart affirmed. “And if you want to mix your wardrobe up a bit, I have a spare suit my Aunt Alice sent me that’s a tad too small for me.”

“Thanks, that’d be swell,” Dan said. He touched his jacket thoughtfully. “I gave Mharie quite a start earlier today wearing this.” He dropped into an Irish accent again unintentionally while saying her name.

“That’s not surprising,” Mart said. “She recovered well, though.” He nudged Dan teasingly. “She seemed quite taken with you, I mean, with your bike, by the time you two arrived at the farm this morning.” Mart grinned as he remembered the sight of Mari sitting behind Dan, wearing his old Cowhand jacket and chaps that were too large over her khaki slacks, a wide smile of delight on her face. Dan had given his chaps to her to wear, and his trousers were speckled with mud as a result.

“My bike or me, Mart?” Dan asked with a quizzical grin on his face. “Which one is it?” Without warning, a hand caught him by the shoulder and spun him around while a fist landed on his nose and he fell to the sidewalk. Mart leapt forward to Dan’s defense, but found himself grabbed tightly by both arms and restrained.

“Where is he?” the boy who had Dan yelled in his face.

“Where’s who?” Dan asked, struggling to get up.

“Esteban,” the boy said. “My brother,” he added in explanation, slamming Dan to the ground again just as Mari ran out of the store.

“Leave him alone, Manuel!” she cried, giving him a shove that thrust him into Mart and his captor. “I’ll deal with you in a minute,” she added when he began to sputter.

“Little hellcat,” Manuel growled. Mari rolled her eyes at his name for her, but he left her alone as she knelt to hand a handkerchief to Dan, checked the back of his head, and glared at the boy holding Mart until he released him. Mart gave Dan a hand in standing.

“Why are you with this boy, eh?” Manuel asked.

“Ai yi yi,” Mari said, shaking her head. “He’s not a Cowhand anymore, Manny, and he has no more idea of where Esteban is than I do.” Manuel swore and Mari stood to begin rapidly talking to him in Spanish. Trixie, who with the other girls, Brian, and Jim, had followed Mari out of the store, asked Honey to translate. Honey shook her head.

“She’s speaking too fast,” Honey whispered.

“Do you expect me to believe all that?” Manuel asked incredulously when Mari had finished. He was good-looking, like the girl in school had said. His dark hair curled just slightly, and his tanned face reminded Trixie of Michelangelo’s David. Mari didn’t seem to care, though, and her expression said she was still miffed about Manuel striking Dan, and probably about his “hellcat” comment as well.

“Yes, because it is the truth,” she answered simply. “When I know more, I’ll tell you too.”

“How do I know you’re not in cahoots with your brother and his mother?”

“Because I don’t care what happens to Aunt Elizabeth’s money, any more than my mother cares. You know how we lived in New York- we’re not any different here.” Mari’s voice softened. “And I wouldn’t hurt Esteban for the world.” Manuel nodded, resigned.

“Okay, mija,” he said. “We’ll play things your way.”

“You certainly have a better range of friends,” Manuel’s partner said, admiring Di, who blushed and moved closer to Mart.

“She’s not for you, Luis,” Mari retorted. “Now, where are you two staying so one of us can get in touch with you?” Manuel told her and she wrote the information down on a scrap of paper from her purse. “You’d better lay low in Sleepyside,” she warned the two. “With Trixie and the police here, you don’t stand a chance if you step out of line.” They conversed for a few minutes more, and then the two were on their way back to their hotel. Before they left, Manuel turned back to Dan.

“Keep her safe. I’ve risked a lot for her,” Manuel said. He tugged Mari’s braid and walked away with Luis.

“You are a little… Well, I won’t repeat what he said, but you do have spunk,” Dan said admiringly.

“One has to with them,” Mari shrugged, a blush moving up her neck. She straightened the hem on her sweater. “How is your nose?”

“It doesn’t feel broken,” he said, touching it lightly. “I’ll wash your handkerchief for you.” Dan looked ruefully at the bloodstains on the piece of linen, and then raised it to catch another drip. “When I’m done with it, that is.”

“No problem,” Mari responded, smiling sadly at Dan. “So much trouble…” she said quietly. Di came up to her then, and linked arms.

“What did Manuel mean, he’s ‘risked a lot’ for you?” Di asked.

“The Escorpiones have been giving him trouble lately. They don’t think he’s up to the task of leading them anymore; that he’s been tamed.”

“By you?” Mart asked.

“Possibly, but I think Esteban has more to do with it than I do. Manny has to answer Esteban’s questions of where he’s been, what he’s been doing, and it’s making him think about what kind of example he’s setting. I spent my time with Esteban, not Manuel.” The Bob-Whites stood around awkwardly, Dan continuing to blot his nose and avoiding Mari’s concerned gaze.

“Let’s finish our shopping,” Trixie said.

“And then Wimpy’s for lunch,” Mart said. “I’m starving.”

“You just ate, you lug,” Trixie scoffed.

“By the time you finish turning the store upside down, I’ll more than definitely need replenishing, and Wimpy’s is the place to meet that need,” Mart retorted.

“Oh brother,” Trixie groaned, catching Honey’s arm. “Let’s go before Mart faints.” Brian and Jim escorted the girls back into the department store, and less than an hour later they walked back out, meeting Mart and Dan outside again.

“What luck?” Mart asked Di, trying to sneak a glimpse into her bags.

“None yet for you,” she answered. “You’ll just have to wait until next Friday.”

“No bags,” Dan observed to Mari.

“Mom’s making my dress,” she answered. “You’re looking better.”

“Thanks. I cleaned up.”

“You look more worried though.”

“The plot is thickening. Of course I’m more worried. Shouldn’t you be?” Dan scowled in the direction Manuel and Luis had walked.

“Dan,” Jim said warningly. He and Trixie had shared what they learned through the latest quilt block the night before, and Dan had been cagey ever since.

“Not anymore,” Mari said honestly. “I used to be in perpetual panic, starting before Luke ran away, but I recently decided that giving in to worry only cripples me. Now all I want is to resolve this one way or another. This isn’t about life or death. Not for me, anyways.” Di nodded her agreement.

“Joining the Bon-Whites helped me be able to face my fears, so I know what you mean,” Di said softly. Trixie thought back to the numerous times timid Diana had shown sudden, intense courage when the need was great, and nodded too. “By the way, Mart and I are famishing,” Di added.

“Dan, think of what Mari is doing as similar to what happened the time Hallie came to visit and Juliana was getting married,” Mart suggested. “Remember how the Cowhands threatened Reddy so Bobby would cooperate, and then they threatened Bobby so you would cooperate.”

“Then they kidnapped you so Hallie went searching and got kidnapped too!” Honey finished the story.

“I’ll still be cautious, of course, so that fiasco hopefully doesn’t repeat itself, but I’m going to try to not let fear get in the way of doing what is right.” Mari looked soberly into Dan’s eyes, and then turned to Trixie. “Who’s Hallie?” she mouthed.

“Later,” Trixie mouthed back.

“Agreed,” Dan said. “I won’t be an old mother hen any more. You’ve got pluck and brains, I’ll grant you that.”

“Food?” Mart asked.

“Food!” everyone said in unison.

“I thought this weather was supposed to be clearing,” Brian commented as rain started to fall on them from skies that had been clear an hour ago. They rushed to deposit the shopping bags in the station wagon and dashed into Wimpy’s just before the downpour increased. Over burgers and shakes, the older boys regaled Mart and the girls with stories of the latest pranks pulled by other students at the university. Brian was in the middle of sharing how a cow had ended up on the student post office roof when Sergeant Molinson walked over to the table.

“Heard there were a couple of new kids walking around town today. They were about Brian’s age, maybe a little older,” he said. Not getting a response, he added, “Looked a little too tough to just be chatting with you on the sidewalk earlier.”

“They’re acquaintances of mine, sir, from New York,” Mari said. Trixie watched Dan casually sling his arm across the back of the booth behind Mari.

“Were they visiting you?”

“The older one helped us move here, but now he’s back, looking for his brother.”

“Do you know where his brother is?” Molinson was scowling now, and Trixie couldn’t blame him.

“I have a vague idea, but nothing concrete.”

“Why would his brother go missing? How old is the kid anyway?”

“Esteban is eight, and I’m still not clear as to why he’s gone.”

“What’s your role in this?” Molinson asked.

“I’d like to help find Esteban.” Dan’s arm dropped from the booth to around Mari’s shoulder comfortingly, and she gave him a small smile.

“That’s a job for the police, though you’re in with a crowd who likes to think otherwise,” Molinson said with a glare at Trixie. Jim gave her hand a squeeze under the table.

“If I get more information, I will pass it on to you,” Mari assured the sergeant.

“See that you do, and that those scallywags don’t rough up our Dan anymore.”

“Yes, sir,” Mari said meekly. “He doesn’t miss much, does he?” she asked when he had gone.

“He’s gotten better,” Trixie said airily. Dan’s arm returned to the back of the booth. “Did you or Luke bring the Easter egg to the gatehouse?”

“Luke. I think I’ll have the last few blocks for you in a day or two.”

“Do you think they’re going to try something new?” Brian asked. Concern covered his face.

“Yes,” Mari said with a quiver in her voice. “Soon.” She searched in her purse until she found the scrap of paper with Manuel’s address on it. “When you get the next set of clues, could you pass the information on to Sergeant Molinson and Manny?”

“Why won’t you be able to?” Di asked. “Oh,” she added, seeing Mari’s expression. “Luke will protect you, won’t he?”

“As best as he can. I don’t think Roy or Josh, he’s the other Cowhand with them, know Luke’s helping me. So far they think everything Luke’s doing is part of his mother’s orders. Roy’s sadistic enough that he likes playing a cat and mouse game with me and Josh is just along for the ride.” Mari shrugged. “Luke plays the bully well enough that he’s able to still dupe them, and truthfully, if he hadn’t responded with our sign language that day by the car, I would have gone straight to Molinson. I don’t think I’ll be in extreme danger. Not like my father when he interfered between Luke and Irene.” A tear dropped from her eye before she could catch it and Di hugged her until she recovered.

“Did Luke tell you the truth of what happened?” Honey asked gently.

“No. The others were listening in, so he had to yell and threaten me, saying if Mom and I weren’t careful, Irene would do me in like she had Dad. His face was in such agony though; I could tell he wanted to say more, just not in a setting where he had to play tough.” Dan, clearly forgetting everything he had told Jim and Brian, covered Mari’s hands with his.

“I’m glad for your sake that Luke seems to be shaping up at last, Mharie. I will tell you that I think everything he’s done up to this point, including starting the Cowhands and running illegal activities, was to protect you from Irene,” Dan said. “But are you sure he’s going to appreciate having the police brought in on this?”

“He insisted on alerting them when the time was right. He’s done with his mother’s lunacy. And Dad was resolute that part of being a family meant helping the others when they were unable to help themselves. Having the police swoop in to save the day is probably just what Luke needs, even if it wasn’t what he already wanted. His mother is dreadfully unbalanced, too, and needs more help than her family is giving.” Mari glanced at Dan’s hands over hers and he withdrew them gently. “I don’t mind you being an old-mother hen, Dan.” This time Mart kicked Trixie under the table, or at least he attempted to.

“Ouch, Mart!” Dan exclaimed, pinpointing the culprit immediately from past experience.

“Oh brother!” Brian sighed.

 

Chapter 14

The rest of Monday and Tuesday passed quietly. Dan continued to act as escort for Mari whenever the Bob-Whites met, but she refused his offer to guard her at night. “Luke takes over at night, Dan. You’d only end up getting kidnapped too,” she told him.

Wednesday, however, began smoothly and ended much differently. The Bob-Whites had agreed to take the day off and catch up on other things they needed to do. Jim and Honey had gone to the city with their parents, while Di had to babysit the twins. Will left the night before to pick up his daughter from the airport, so Regan, Dan, and Mari were going to exercise Emily and take care of the horses together. Trixie was in the middle of cleaning her room when she heard her mother calling her.

“Trix, you have a phone call!” Mrs. Belden’s voice came up the stairs. “Trix?” Now she was just outside Trixie’s door, knocking. “Mrs. Mac Alistair’s on the phone for you.”

“I’ll be right there!” Trixie cried, dropping the shirt she had just been hanging up. “Mrs. Mac Alistair?” Trixie said when she had reached the phone downstairs.

“Has Marigold spent the day with you?” Mrs. Mac Alistair’s voice was shaky.

“No, ma’am. Didn’t Dan bring her home last night?”

“He did, and very promptly, but she left around eleven this morning without any explanation, just a shouting of, “’I’m going out, Mama!’ It’s five now, and there’s been no sign of her.”

“How was she acting before she left?” Trixie asked.

“She didn’t sleep much last night. I kept hearing rustlings and once, when I got up to check on her, I smelled paint.”

“Paint?”

“She’s been painting a mural in her room, saying she has pent-up creative energy. This is the first time she’s chosen to work on it so late at night.”

“Trix, what’s going on?” Brian asked, walking into the kitchen.

“Mari’s missing,” she hissed back.

“Luke?” he mouthed. Trixie nodded.

“Mrs. Mac Alistair, may I come over? She might have left some clues as to where she left, or why. No, I don’t think they’d be ones the police would recognize as clues. Besides, she has to be gone for at least twenty-four hours before they’d consider her missing- I ought to know by now. Okay, I’ll be right there.”

“Does someone need a ride?” Brian offered.

“I doubt you’d let me go alone even if I wanted to. I’ll meet you at the jalopy.”

“I’ll get Mart,” Brian responded.

“Should we call Di and Dan?” Trixie wondered.

“I don’t want Mrs. Mac Alistair to worry more than she already is by having them come along, but we can call them later with what we find. Ready to go?”

“Sure. See you in the car.”

* * * *

Mrs. Mac Alistair met the Beldens at her door. “I took the liberty of calling Regan to ask if Mari had been riding at the Manor House, but he said he and Dan worked alone all day,” she said after they greeted each other. “Di too said she’d been alone babysitting the twins.”

“So Trix wasn’t the first one you called?” Mart asked.

“I called them while you drove over. Marigold had mentioned that Trixie did detective work.”

“Did you see Mari leave with anyone this morning?” Trixie asked.

“No. Like I said, she just called out that she was leaving. I was in the kitchen preparing lunch or I likely would have.” Mrs. Mac Alistair sat down quickly on the sofa.

“Mart, go make some tea,” Brian ordered. Mart nodded, and ducked out of the room.

“Does this have anything to do with the man I heard her speaking with outside her window?” Mrs. Mac Alistair asked. Brian and Trixie looked at each other, unsure of how to answer.

“I think it does,” Trixie said. She shrugged at Brian. Before they could continue, there was a knock at the door. Brian answered it and ushered in Dan and Di.

“There’s no keeping you away,” Brian quipped to Dan, then glanced quickly at Mrs. Mac Alistair, who chuckled in spite of herself.

“I know all about Dan,” she said. “He told me his intentions after I accused him of pulling the Romeo stunt through her window. I thought him a fine lad even while he hung around my renegade son.”

“The chastening you gave me as my teacher did much in the way of keeping me from delving further into crime than I would have,” Dan said with a scarlet face. “I don’t think you would have allowed Mari to date me then, regardless of your opinion.”

“Certainly not. You were riding mostly on potential then, and she was too young,” Mari’s mother affirmed.

“So, what have we missed?” Di asked.

“Mrs. Mac Alistair asked if Mari’s disappearance was connected with the man she heard speaking with Mari several days ago,” Trixie said.

“And you said…?” Dan asked.

“I said yes. Mrs. Mac Alistair, we have good reason to believe Luke has found out where you are, and knows that you are actually Katherine MacDougall.” The Bob-Whites stared at Trixie, surprised she was being so blunt with the facts.

“I am not as fragile as Mari thinks,” Mrs. Mac Alistair said firmly. “What does Luke want with her that he can’t get directly from me?”

“Irene’s involved too,” Trixie added, unsure if she was saying too much despite Mrs. Mac Alistair’s protest about being thought delicate.

“I had guessed that, though Luke denied her contacting him whenever Jem or I confronted him on his bizarre transformation in behavior. Her family has been trying to get their hands on the Carmichael and Elliott money for several decades now, and would have been more successful if certain events hadn’t happened. After my brother Luke’s death, Irene felt even more entitled to what she considered to be Luke’s share of my step-father’s fortune and my mother’s own inheritance from her side of the family.”

“Why would they think there was sufficient reason for them to have your family’s fortune?” Mart asked, carrying in a tea tray. “I thought I heard other voices,” he added, shaking Dan’s hand after putting the tray on the coffee table. He sat next to Di, who found some reason to sit closer to him after a few seconds.

“The Vincys are distant cousins to the Carmichaels and Elliotts. The connecting member of our families was disinherited prior to the Civil War for choosing to support the Confederate cause. The Carmichaels and Elliotts settled in what became West Virginia during the war, and relocated back to Virginia when the war was over, only to find that the Vincys had seized the families’ properties. They were removed and the families have struggled since over what is now a matter of stubborn pride as well as legality.”

“Like the Hatfields and McCoys?” Di asked.

“We haven’t had that violent of turmoil, but there has been a similar level of passionate hatred. My mother married a Carmichael, her sister Elizabeth married another, and when my father died, Mother married an Elliott who in turn adopted me. My step-father claimed to have a debt of honor to Irene’s father, and thought to meet it by marrying me to Irene’s brother and passing my inheritance from my birth father over to that branch of the Vincys. Irene fancied my half-brother Will at first, but he saw through her schemes and Luke was the one who fell prey to her every whim. Luke died when he drove his car straight into a tree while Jem was coming to tell him of his son’s birth. He was doped up on something at the time and not thinking straight, so he tried to play chicken with Jem’s car. Jem ended up being the one to take him to the hospital where my step-father accused him of getting Luke high then letting him drive.” Mrs. Mac Alistair sipped the tea Brian had poured for her. “Now that you know more of Irene’s motives, I’d like to know more of how she intends to finally claim Carmichael money.”

Trixie shared all she knew from what Mari had been able to communicate.

“Luke is trying to look out for Mari,” Dan said at the end of Trixie’s speech. “He’s just doing it in the ways he knows best from the streets of New York.”

“I’d like to think I know my son regardless of his misguided ways, and I agree with you, Dan.” Mrs. Mac Alistair sipped again from her tea. “Now, how are you going to convince me not to call the police until Mari signals you to do so?”

“How did you know I was going to try?” Trixie asked.

“I haven’t been a parent and teacher for as long as I have without being able to detect things of my own, dear,” Mrs. Mac Alistair said with a slight smile. “You kept emphasizing why you hadn’t called Sergeant Molinson yourself as you told your story.”

“May we see Mari’s mural?” Trixie asked.

“Certainly.” Mari’s mother led the way to her room, which was across the entryway from the living room. “She started it not long after we moved here, taking one of my slides from a visit to Greece and projecting it onto the wall.”

She opened the door and the Bob-Whites stepped into an oblong room. A canopy bed covered in a blue and white log cabin quilt sat snuggly next to a bay window counter to the doorway, the canopy just scraping the ceiling. Under the window was a low bookcase and to the left of the bed was the wall Mari had begun painting with a scene of a Greek village on the Mediterranean coast. A ladder propped opposite the bed caught Trixie’s eye, and aside from Mari needing to reach the upper edges of her mural (which she had not commenced painting yet), Trixie could think of no use for it. Paint cans and a drop cloth were stacked and folded, respectively, next to the ladder.

“Why did Mari paint the Big Dipper when the scene is clearly during daylight hours?” Mart asked, pointing to the upper left corner.

“I don’t know,” Trixie said, irritated. There was nothing quilt related in the mural. The Bob-Whites scanned the rest of the room searching for scraps of paper or fabric, but Mari had left nothing out of place, not even by the desk near the door. Even the quilt on her bed was void of clues, Mari’s mother explaining it had come from Aunt Martha’s and nothing had been altered. Trixie tried taking it off of the bed to see the underside, but it looked the same as any other quilt’s underside that she had seen.

“I wish Honey was here,” Trixie grumbled.

“We’re not of good enough assistance?” Mart teased.

“It’s not that,” Trixie said. “Honey knows the quilt blocks. She might see something I’m missing. Aside from the misplaced Big Dipper, I don’t see anything that might be a clue.”

“The Dipper itself can’t be a map, can it?” Brian asked.

“How could it? It just leads back onto itself,” Dan noted.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Mac Alistair. I can’t think of one good reason why you shouldn’t call the police right now, except that Mari said she would tell us when.” Trixie sighed.

“You said that a person isn’t considered missing until they’ve been gone for twenty-four hours. Aside from being somewhere on Frayne property, where we aren’t even certain they are any longer, we don’t know where to find her. I would like to see Irene caught as well, and if she hasn’t made an appearance yet, catching only the Cowhands would give her the chance she needs to escape. Why don’t I give you and Mari until tomorrow at this time to come up with something to give the police as a clue?”

“Do you mean it?” Trixie asked eagerly.

“Yes, I rather think I do. Jem and I didn’t raise our children to be fools, even if that is how they act at times. My one condition is that if I hear anything at all from Irene or Luke, I will immediately contact the police, regardless of the hour.”

“Agreed,” Trixie said. “Do you mind if I borrow Mari’s sketchbook to show to Honey? Mari may have left something in there I missed.”

“Go right ahead and take what you think you might need.”

“Will you be alright here, alone tonight?” Dan asked.

“Will’s returning tonight, even though he is eager to spend time with Marissa, who came home early today. He’ll be staying here instead of his usual hotel room, but thank you, Dan.”

“Does he know Mari’s missing?” Brian asked.

“Not yet, and he may have my head for letting you try to solve this without police assistance, but I’m willing to risk it since you know more of what to look for than the police do.”

“My mother would be going crazy right about now,” Di said.

“Oh, I am inside, but I trust Mari’s instincts too. I have to let her grow up some time.”

“No wonder she’s such a trooper,” Dan said, giving Mrs. Mac Alistair a hug. “Good night, Mrs. M.. Call if you need or hear anything, okay?”

 

Chapter 15

Mari’s sketchbook revealed nothing except that she was meticulous in keeping up with assignments for her art class and liked to doodle horses in the page corners. Exasperated and anxious, Trixie threw the book to the edge of her desk and got ready for bed. A second thorough examination Thursday morning still revealed nothing and Trixie was about to give Honey a call even though they planned to meet after lunch, when Mrs. Belden came in to her room, a bemused expression on her face.

“Trix, if Jim is going to leave you notes, please ask him not to pin them to my clean sheets while they’re on the line,” she said, her mouth trying hard not to laugh.

“Jim wouldn’t pin notes to our laundry,” Trixie protested. “What did you find?” she added, seeing a folded piece of paper in her mother’s hand.

“This. No name was written so I had to open it. Inside are all these shapes and symbols, so I thought for sure you’d be the one it was meant for.”

“Thanks, Moms,” Trixie said. “It might have been Mari who left it.”

“You didn’t say anything about your visit to the Mac Alistairs’ last night when you came home,” Mrs. Belden probed.

“There’s nothing to tell yet. I’ll let you and Dad know as soon as I can,” Trixie said, using her eyes to plead for her mom not to pry.

“Alright,” Mrs. Belden said. “You girls aren’t in any trouble, are you? Things have been so quiet since you let go of the Katherine MacDougall case.”

“Moms!”

“Oh, alright, I’ll leave you to your intrigues. By the way, lunch will be soon.”

When her mother left, Trixie opened the paper. She was fairly certain the pattern was the shoofly block,

,

but what arrested Trixie’s focus was the boldly written word “please” in unfamiliar handwriting across the bottom. She checked where Mari had written her name on the inside cover of her sketchbook, but the writing didn’t match. The one on the paper was more angular and masculine.

“Luke’s getting desperate himself,” she said aloud. “They’re ready for us to smuggle them out.”

“I doubt that’s entirely what Mari and Luke mean,” Jim said with a knock on her open door. “Your mom invited us to lunch,” he added in explanation of his presence. “Honey’s having a tête-à-tête with Brian downstairs. May I see Mari’s block?” Trixie passed it to him silently, rebuking herself for getting carried away by the idea of rescuing Mari without police help.

“Ah-hah,” Jim said. “The very first thing Mari drew is a sheriff’s badge. Next is a bird of some sort-”

“A bob-white,” Trixie clarified.

“The Big Dipper, and a scorpion,” Jim finished. “See, we’re second. First she wants us to contact Sergeant Molinson. Did anything happen last night that I should know about?”

Trixie filled Jim in on everything that had happened after Mrs. Mac Alistair’s phone call. “I want to see Mari’s room again. She obviously wants us to use the Big Dipper she painted to find something else.”

“The slaves used the Big Dipper to find the North Star, which they would follow to freedom,” Jim said.

“She did hide a route in her room then,” Trixie said elatedly. “And I think I know where.”

“Trix, do your parents know about this?”

“No…” Trixie said slowly, unsure of Jim’s reason for asking.

“Then we can’t hurry through lunch without alerting them that something is wrong.”

“Gleeps, you’re right. We’ll just have to eat slowly as quickly as possible.”

Jim laughed. “I would wish Honey was here to translate that, but I think she would garble it further. I’m glad you two understand each other.”

“You know what I meant, Jim,” Trixie said, flushed at his teasing.

“I do,” he said, tousling her curls. “Let’s help put lunch on the table, eh?”

Brian, Honey, and Mart somehow picked up on Trixie and Jim’s urgency and nonchalantly ate rapidly. Mr. and Mrs. Belden were preoccupied with discussing something that had happened at the bank earlier in the morning, and Mr. Belden ended up hurrying off back to work before the Bob-Whites had completely finished their food.

“Moms, can I put off washing the dishes until later? Honey and I have something really important we need to work on right away,” Trixie asked.

“You’re done already too? My, everyone’s in a hurry to leave today. Brian, would you and Mart be able-”

“No ma’am,” Brian said. “Mart and I have work with Trixie too.” He caught Trixie’s eye, then sighed. “Alright, Trix, we’ll do it this once, and meet you at the gatehouse, okay?”

“You two are the best brothers a girl could ask for!” Trixie said delightedly.

Together Trixie, Honey, and Jim drove over to Mari’s house, Trixie catching Honey up on the latest happenings.

“I heard your car,” Mrs. Mac Alistair said, meeting them at the door. “What’s happened?”

“We got this today,” Trixie said, showing her the drawing.

“We’d like to take a look in Mari’s room again,” Honey added.

“Isn’t Will supposed to be here?” Jim asked Mrs. Mac Alistair as the girls dashed into Mari’s room.

“He went to check on Emily’s Moonrise and talk some things over with Regan,” she answered.

“Jim, come help us take the canopy off Mari’s bed,” Trixie called.

“What in the world?” Jim muttered, walking into the bedroom.

“The two stars on the bottom of the Dipper point directly to the ceiling above Mari’s bed,” Honey explained to Jim and Mrs. Mac Alistair as Jim set up the ladder and began removing the pegs that held the canopy in place.

“There we go! A bear’s paw block!” Honey cried, pointing to a painting of a square on its point with triangles projecting from it.

“What does it mean again?” Trixie asked.

“You follow the bear’s paw as you escape,” Honey explained.

“Rather than taking a direct path that makes you easy to track, you move like a bear does in a zig-zag fashion. A bear’s path can also lead you to a food source,” Mrs. Mac Alistair elucidated. “One could think Marigold had some fun with this. At each point, she’s painted shapes in different colors.”

“There are five main points, but ten altogether if you count the dips in between the toes and the three exposed corners of the square,” Honey noted.

“The one at the base is what the Dipper is in line with,” Jim said. “See how she’s painted it to look like a house with starlight coming from it?”

“She’s letting us know this house is her starting place,” Trixie decided, climbing up the ladder for a closer look. “Which direction do we go next, though?”

“My uncle’s property is to our left,” Jim said.

“Left it is. She’s marked five dashes before we reach the turning point, which is painted black and red. What can be black and red in the woods?” Trixie asked.

“It looks like a hill of sorts. How much is each dash worth?” Honey questioned.

“Well, we originally figured she was within a two and a half mile radius of here, so…” Jim grabbed a pen and paper from the desk to make calculations. “Two and a half, divided by ten is one quarter; one quarter of the trip divided by five is one fiftieth of two and a half miles, so one dash is equal to two hundred sixty four feet,” he muttered as his pencil flew over the paper.

“Yikes,” Trixie said. “I never would have gotten that.”

“Sure you would have, but I thought I’d just do it since I’m here,” Jim assured her.

“Who’s going to count two hundred sixty four feet five times before taking another turn in the path?” Honey asked.

“You won’t have to, since one direct line of travel between each point is a quarter of a mile. You just wanted to know how long each dashed line was,” Jim said, eyes twinkling at his sister.

“How will you figure you’ve gone a quarter mile though? I was never good at distances,” Trixie said.

“That’s for the police to figure out,” Mrs. Mac Alistair inserted.

“Right, so after a quarter mile they’ll find a black and red mound that’s large enough to be noticeable. After that, they’ll turn forty-five degrees to the right and travel until they find something blue and wavy, maybe a stream, then turn another forty-five degrees to the right and search for something that is reddish-brown and boxy, then turn forty-five to their left and go on until they see something white and… I think those are mushrooms she painted, then right again until they reach the burned house- that has to be it- and then ninety degrees to their left until… is that a flower? Something pink and white…” On Trixie went, with Jim taking quick notes on the paper as she spoke. Honey in the meantime was quickly sketching the block on a sheet of graph paper. “You end at a campfire on the tenth dot, just like she had in the Wagon Wheel block.”

“So what now?” Honey asked.

“Mrs. Mac Alistair, may we take this block with us to the police station, and show it with the other blocks to Sergeant Molinson? I don’t think he’d believe us if we just showed him this one,” Trixie stated. “He’ll probably call you right after we talk with him.”

“I’ll call him so he knows you’re on the way,” Mrs. Mac Alistair offered.

“Thanks, that’s even better,” Jim said. “Alright, Trix,” he started when they had gotten into the car. “What’s up your sleeve now?”

You’ll see when we get to the gatehouse,” was her brief reply.

* * * *

“Did you find a map?” Dan asked when they walked into the clubhouse.

“Yes, on the ceiling above her canopy,” Honey said. “I thought Brian and Mart would bring you and Di here.” She quickly hugged Di than took a seat at the table.

“Who else would we call in?” Mart asked.

“Di, can you and Honey each make a copy of these directions?” Trixie handed them Jim’s notes.

“Why do we need to copy them?” Honey questioned.

“One for Sergeant Molinson, and one for Manuel,” Trixie answered.

“And who is the original for?” Jim asked with an edge in his voice.

“Me. I’m going to see if we decoded the map correctly.”

“I don’t think so,” Jim said.

“I agree,” Brian said. “What if you got caught?”

“I only want to get close enough to see. I’m not planning on being seen in return,” Trixie argued. “I’ll come right back.”

“Funny how plans like that have gotten you into serious trouble in the past,” Mart commented.

“If Trixie goes, I’m going too,” Dan said.

“Thank you, Dan,” Trixie said, pleased.

“Then I’ll go too,” Jim said with a sigh. The Bob-Whites all knew then that there was no arguing with Trixie if Jim was resigned to her scheme.

“Honey, why don’t you and I go see Molinson? Mart and Di can find Manuel and bring him to the station. Trix, you did notice what hotel he was at when he wrote it out for Mari, didn’t you?” Brian began giving directions.

“Yes, he’s at the Westmont on Oliver Street. I remembered to grab Mari’s note before we left.”

“Got it,” Mart said. “Let’s get in the station wagon, gang!”

“What’s that for?” Trixie asked, watching Jim swipe a roll of twine off the table. Dan meanwhile snatched several wool blankets that had been sitting on top of the camping gear in the back of the room. No need to ask why he wants those, Trixie thought.

“To mark our trail as we go,” Jim answered. “Brian, you’ll let Molinson know about this?”

“Sure thing,” Brian said.

Once they were in the car, Jim and Dan surveyed the map and directions.

“This will take us to the far border of my uncle’s land,” Jim said. “It’s tempting to just start at the burned house, but I think we should start from Mari’s so that we are sure we’re travelling in the right direction.”

“Let’s not waste any time,” Dan said. “I have a feeling we should move as quickly as possible.”

“It’ll be a long walk, almost forty-five minutes,” Jim answered.

“Let’s go already,” Trixie declared, bolting from the car as soon as Brian pulled behind a copse of trees near the Mac Alistairs’ house. Jim and Dan followed; the three walking in as straight of a line as they could from Mari’s window through the maple trees after Jim tied a short strand of twine around a branch on the grove’s edge. They could hear the station wagon turning around in the gravel road behind them, heading to town.

“Something red and black,” Dan mused as they neared the first quarter mile. “Could it be the ants in that large anthill over there?”

“Jeepers, that is huge,” Trixie said with a shudder when they got closer. “I don’t see anything else of those colors here. I wonder how Mari knew it was there if she travelled at night or was blindfolded.”

“Luke must have pointed them out,” Jim offered as he tied another piece of twine near the ant mound.

“Pick up the pace,” Dan commanded. “It’s been drizzly all day, but those clouds are moving in fast.”

“Do they have any shelter, I wonder?” Trixie asked.

“We’ll find out soon enough. Less talking, more walking,” Jim said briskly. They turned at a small natural fountain of water, then again at a feeding station, on to a large patch of fungi growing on a fallen tree, passed the burned mansion and a large cluster of mayflowers, their pace increasing as the sky darkened. Finally they neared a small clearing, close to the base of the Catskills. The three could see a small bonfire going, Mari sitting near it with a little boy in her lap, bundled in blankets. Mari was singing softly, but the voices of Luke and Roy, who sat opposite her, reached their watchers’ ears much more easily.

“I still don’t see why we couldn’t have snatched her from her bedroom while she slept,” Roy grumbled. “Babysitting a kid all week hasn’t been my idea of fun.”

“You know the kid said Manny trained her in self-defense after you harassed her. She would have fought, and that would have woken Mom,” Luke rejoined.

“We could have taken her too. Who would have been the wiser?”

“Uncle Will for one. He’s lurked around them a lot lately. No, the kid was the best choice to make Mari come quietly without raising a stink.”

“We should have taken her right from school like we planned,” Roy said.

“Yeah, that almost worked except Dan saw you with her. We had to change our strategy mid-stride on that one. And if you think babysitting the kid for a week is bad, Mari would be worse. Having her bring food to us was convenient at least, wasn’t it?”

“That’s all that’s been convenient.”

“You’re just upset because-”

“Luke, Esteban’s asleep,” Mari interrupted.

“So go put him in the cave, girl,” Roy snapped. “Does your brother have to do everything for you?”

“Shut it,” Luke ordered. “Eat some more chili or something, just keep quiet.” He walked over to Mari and started to lift the boy from her lap when Roy began talking again.

“I’ve had my fill of chili. Why don’t you cook something else for me, Marigold, since you’re so bent on playing Wendy to us Lost Boys and meeting our needs?” Roy paused, and then added in a petulant tone, “You weren’t so compassionate to our needs last night.”

“Those weren’t needs, Roy, those were wanton selfish desires,” Luke snarled, replacing Esteban and grabbing Roy by his collar. “And if I catch you ever going after my sister in that way again, I will personally flog you until there is not a shred of skin left on your back.” Trixie realized as Luke stopped speaking that she was only one still standing in their observation spot. Dan had lunged forward at Roy’s last words and Jim wasn’t far behind him. Trixie wasn’t certain if Jim meant to halt or aid Dan.

“Guys, that’s not what we came here for,” she hissed, shocked and slightly pleased that she was the one being the voice of caution for a change. They didn’t get far. Another boy stepped from behind a clump of trees, tracing the barrel of his pistol along Dan’s jaw line.

“Dan Mangan, our dear deserter,” he spoke with a hiss in his voice. “Are you here with the cavalry to save little Marigold? You three, come with me!” He ushered Jim and Trixie forward with his pistol and marched them into the clearing.

“Well, well, the traitor and the snooper,” Luke said, dropping Roy with a shove. Roy got a glint in his eye that made Trixie uneasy.

 “And who might you be?” Luke added, standing in front of Jim.

“Look’s like he’s the snooper’s shadow,” Roy said. “And her flame,” he finished when Jim’s fist curled up and Trixie blushed.

“Go sit with Mari,” Luke ordered them. “And Josh, you don’t need that,” he said, snatching the gun from Josh’s hand. “I’d have taken it away sooner if I knew you had it. All you’re doing now is marching back to the road to wait for my mother.”

“What if there’s a wild animal?” Josh asked.

“In daylight?” Roy laughed, ignoring the setting sun and rainclouds.

“I think the last mountain lion in the area was killed when I was here a few years ago,” Luke said, almost winking at Trixie and Dan. “As for any other animals that I can think of, this wouldn’t do much good against them anyway. It’s more useful here where we have prisoners. Go, already!” Josh left, grumbling as he stomped through the forest, tracing the trail Trixie and the others had taken.

“It’s wonderful to see you,” Mari said, reaching out to hug each of them as they joined her on the blanket she had spread on the ground.

“Where’s your coat?” Dan asked, unfolding the blankets he’d brought and draping them over her shoulders just in time as the rain began to fall.

“I left it at home, not needing it at eleven o’clock on a sunny day.” Mari added in a whisper, “I had to dress to look like Luke had taken me unawares, hence the skirt too.” She frowned. “I’m gladder than glad to see you, but why did you come and not-?”

“The others are getting Molinson,” Jim said quietly.

“How’d you find us?” Luke barked, glaring at them from across the fire. Trixie had to remind herself that he was just acting, that his anger was directed towards someone else, but she inched closer to Jim just the same. He took her hand soothingly.

“Sheer luck,” Dan answered. “Luck that you have a clever sister, that is,” he muttered under his breath.

“Now what?” Roy asked.

“We wait,” Luke said. “Mari, do you want me to put the kid in the cave?”

“Not if your mother’s coming, I don’t!” Mari flared. Dan put a calming hand on her shoulder.

“I’ll take him, Mar, if your arms tire,” Trixie offered. Mari gave her a smile of thanks that was weary at its corners. They sat in wait for upwards of an hour, carrying on small conversations that resided into silence before being picked up again. Dan insisted on holding his jacket over Mari and Esteban after ensuring that the blankets covered Mari thoroughly. The fire smoked heavily, all the more because Luke rigged his rain jacket over it to keep it burning during the downpour.

“Why don’t they come?” Dan questioned impatiently in a muted voice.

“It has to be soon,” Jim responded just as quietly. Luke cut his eyes at them then directed his gaze into the forest, watching the dim path as two figures struggled against the rain in their faces as they walked. He stood when they entered the clearing, taking the woman’s arm and leading her forward near the Bob-Whites’ side of the fire.

“Well?” he said.

“’Well?’” she repeated. “Is that really going to be your first word of greeting to your mother? Oh well, what can I expect, not having raised you? I had to pressure her some, but she’ll do it.”

“You leave my mother alone!” Mari cried, passing Esteban quickly to Trixie and lurching to her feet. She almost fell immediately, if Luke hadn’t lunged to grab her.

“And you leave mine alone!” he shot back in her face, giving her a shake that made her flinch. “Hush, Chickadee, she isn’t worth your anger,” he soothed in a whisper that Trixie, who was closer to the pair now than Irene was, barely heard. “Dan, you’d better take her,” Luke added in a louder voice, thrusting Mari towards Dan, who had stood when she had.

Dan caught her and used his arm around her waist to provide support as she hobbled the few steps back to the others.

“Did your legs fall asleep?” he asked sympathetically. She shook her head and Esteban piped up from Trixie’s lap where he’d woken up as Mari transferred him.

“She cracked her knee on a rock last night trying to run away from Roy.”

“Why, that-” Dan spun towards Roy, fists clenched.

“Dan, sit down,” Jim said calmly, though Trixie heard an edge in his voice.

“Where were you when this was going on?” Dan shot at Luke, still standing with his fists out.

“He was in the middle of meeting me, I’m guessing,” Irene said, stepping closer. “Who are all these extra people, and why is there a kid here?”

“Actually, he was returning from meeting her and was the one to pick Esteban and me up,” Mari said. “Your son, Irene, brought the kid to lure me into coming with him quietly, and these extra people are friends who happened to be searching for me.”

“What did you use to pressure Mom with?” Luke asked.

“Your sister, of course, but I also told her of both our roles in Jem’s death and left my brother with her so she wouldn’t be tempted to call the police. You remember John, don’t you? He visited you once while you were in jail,” Irene said with a simper. Luke’s shoulders sagged at the reminder of his father’s death, but he kept his head high and his eyes set on his mother. Mari began trembling at the mention of her father, and Dan brought his arm back around her waist, drawing her against him comfortingly and protectively.

“John?” Luke’s lip curled. “That’s where I draw the line, Irene. You can’t leave that creep with my mom!”

“Touchy, aren’t we? One minute I’m your mother, the next minute Kit’s your mom. Make up your mind, Luke. I thought we were in this together as a bit of revenge against Kit for kicking you out of her house.”

“I detect some double-crossing,” Josh said.

“And who are you to care one way or the other?” Luke queried.

“Is that it, Luke? You’ve double-crossed me? These friends of Marigold’s didn’t find her by accident, did they? Who else knows she’s here?”

“He didn’t just double-cross you. He promised us a share in the inheritance as well,” Roy said, swaggering over to Luke.

“Trix, if this gets ugly, help Mari and Esteban get away,” Jim whispered intently in her ear.

“There’s been no double-crossing,” Luke lied coolly. “I just wish you showed a little more class in your selection of ways to get Mom to knuckle under. As for Dan and the others, Dan works for the local gamekeeper. He knows all the good hiding places around here and it was only a matter of time before he found us once he learned Mari was missing.”

“Huh,” Irene said mockingly. “I guess we’ll see soon enough. In the meantime, go sit by your sister. We’ll keep all suspicious people together, if that’s alright with you. Josh, you can guard them.” Dan lowered Mari down next to Trixie again, but remained tensely standing himself.

“Luke has my gun,” Josh whined.

“So take it from him,” Roy sneered.

“Here, Josh. No need to panic,” Luke said, offering the pistol to Josh before sitting next to Mari while Dan finally eased himself to the ground between Mari and Trixie.

“How bad is your knee?” Trixie asked Mari, who drew up her skirt in reply, showing her right knee that was swollen one and a half times the size of her left, bruises thickly covering the surface. On top of the bruises and down her shin were scrapes, some more the size of gashes.

“I slid on wet leaves and shale besides landing on a rock. Luke cleaned it up as best he could, but we had little in the way of bandage making supplies, and no ice for the swelling,” Mari said. Shuddering, she dropped her skirt back over her legs.

“We’ll have Brian take a look at it when we get out of this mess,” Jim said.

If we get out of this mess,” Dan muttered. “Sorry, Mharie,” he quickly added. He glared at Josh, who was leaning against a tree watching them.

“That’s alright,” she answered. She thought quietly to herself for a moment then asked, “Irene, how did you find us in Bolivar?”

“It was simple, really. Your aunt Elizabeth regularly received letters from Pennsylvania. It didn’t take me long to find the exact house and keep track of letters that arrived there. The Amish lady receiving your mother’s letters would rewrite everything and send them on to Elizabeth. As long as you were in California and Luke was young, I figured he was too likely to tell your parents I was contacting him. When you returned to West Virginia and he was a rebellious early teen, I seized my opportunity to influence him. I saw how he doted on you and knew I could corrupt his devotion to suit my own purposes.”

Mari glowered at Irene, and Dan again put a restraining hand on her arm. “Obviously you never had the trusting relationship with your brother that I had with Luke, or you would have never tried to fracture our relationship.”

“I did more than fracture it, dear. I shattered it.” Luke growled then, and Mari smiled beatifically at Irene.

“Au contraire,” she said. “I have to thank you for orchestrating all of this. Without it, our relationship may never have been restored. Now I know the extremity of Luke’s obedience to Dad’s order to cherish our siblings. No matter what you do next, you can’t take that away.” His tough exterior suddenly jerked away from him, Luke could do nothing less than cradle Mari’s head on his shoulder and kiss her forehead.

They continued to sit silently, Mari and Dan returning to sharing his coat as an umbrella. The wait wasn’t long. A bob-white whistle came softly through the trees and both Jim and Dan clasped their ladies’ hands. Soon two hands snaked around Josh’s tree. One seized the pistol and the other twisted his wrist so that he quickly released his grip. The hands’ owner appeared in a second, cuffing Josh around the back of his neck with a fist attached to a well-muscled arm.

“Regan!” Trixie cried. “How in the world-”

“Later,” he said. Will emerged from behind the tree too, a relieved grin on his face and rifle in hand. Molinson, some of his officers, Brian, Mart, Manuel, and Luis moved in from the shelter of the trees, surrounding the clearing.

“Everyone insisted on coming, huh?” Jim said with a laugh.

Molinson’s men made quick work of handcuffing Irene and the Cowhands, Mari protesting when they put cuffs on Luke.

“It’s alright, Chickadee. I deserve it for kidnapping Esteban,” he said, though his face and tone were miserable.

“I could kill you right here!” Manuel snarled at Luke, taking Esteban from Trixie. “Do you know what a panic our family has been in? Do you think you weren’t bait enough for Mari? Whenever you didn’t answer her letters, I heard about it from Esteban. Did you ever think how you were breaking her heart?”

“Oye, Manny,” Mari began.

“Just be glad for your sake that he’s okay,” Manuel finished. “I understand why you did it though, and I don’t know but that I’d do the same for my sister.”

“Speaking of your sister,” Luke said as one of the policemen started leading him out of the clearing. “I left Irene’s letters with Gloria. They ought to help prove Irene’s role in this.”

“You? With my sister?” Manuel started forward after him.

“All’s fair in love and war,” Luke said with a nod Mari’s direction, his implication clear to everyone.

“The thought occurred to Manny, but somehow he managed never to give in,” Luis snapped back, speaking for the first time.

“His loss,” Luke shrugged. “Gloria had no part in kidnapping Esteban, however, and is more likely to murder me than even you for what I’ve done.” Luke held out his hand to Manuel. “Thank you for being the brother to Mari that I never was.” Shocked, Manuel shook hands with Luke, who started walking away on his own then, the officer following.

Manuel glanced down at Mari and Dan, who hadn’t left her side, choosing to remain seated next to her. “Are you two going to stay behind?” he teased.

Dan stood, helping Mari to her feet. “Lean on me,” he said, moving to her right side and slipping an arm around her waist. She put hers about his shoulders, Will and Regan watching bemusedly.

“Should we lend a hand?” Will asked Regan.

“Naw, let them be,” Regan answered, a thoughtful expression crossing his face. Mart, Brian, and Luis made quick work of putting out the fire and clearing the cave of all belongings.

“What were you thinking, coming out here ahead of us?” Molinson scolded Trixie as the group began walking through the forest.

“We meant to come right back after seeing where Mari was,” she gulped.

“Well you didn’t. We could have ended up with five hostages instead of two.”

Trixie sighed at his words, knowing the sergeant was right.

“Good work figuring out Mari’s map, however,” Molinson complimented, to her astonishment. Jim dropped his arm around her shoulder and there it remained for most of the way home.

“John Vincy’s still with Mrs. Mac Alistair!” Trixie suddenly exclaimed in alarm.

“No he’s not,” Will said. “I snuck into the house shortly before they arrived. When Irene left, I knocked him out and called Molinson.” Irene sent him a glare from where she was walking ahead and he grinned back. “People should really learn not to mess with the sisters of Elliott men, eh, Luke?” he laughed.

“Hear that, Dan?” Mart teased over his shoulder. Dan glowered back, while Jim and Brian jointly steered Mart into a nearby bush.

“Crabapple Farm is closest,” Regan said. “Would your parents mind if we invaded? I don’t think Mari can go much further.” Indeed Mari was tiring; she and Dan were at the back of the group and straggling further and further behind. Brian walked back to offer his shoulder, but Dan had already swung Mari up into his arms and increased his stride to rejoin the others. By the time they reached Crabapple Farm, Mari was asleep on Dan’s shoulder, which made Diana and Honey smile delightedly at each other as they rushed off the porch to greet everyone.

“I’ll take these four to the station and then come back to ask questions,” Sergeant Molinson stated, giving Roy a slight shove towards the squad cars parked down the road. “No one go anywhere else tonight, please.”

“I have hot water for tea ready,” Mrs. Belden said, coming out the kitchen door with Mr. Belden and Mrs. Mac Alistair not far behind. Mrs. Mac Alistair quickly checked on Mari, then followed Sergeant Molinson and Luke to the squad cars.

“Trixie, thank goodness you’re alright!” Mrs. Belden hugged Trixie, then Jim and Dan, who was still holding Mari. “Bring her into the guest room, Dan, and Trix, start drawing a bath for the boy, please, then give him a pair of Bobby’s pajamas to wear while I wash his clothes.”

“Is your mother always like this?” Manuel asked Brian as the two walked in.

“Just about,” Brian said proudly. Not many moms would be unfazed by so many people arriving at once with so many different needs. Brian thought to himself that of his friends’ mothers, only Moms and Mrs. Mac Alistair would probably be this nonplussed.

Brian followed Dan and Mari into the guest room, asking Mari if he could attend her leg. She gave her assent and Honey offered to be Brian’s go-fer for any supplies he might need. Dan sat in a chair next to the bed, while Diana perched on the bed beside Mari in case she needed a hand to hold. The three sat this way for over an hour, Dan reading aloud from a pocket-sized copy of Daniel Deronda he’d drawn from his jacket while Brian alternately applied heat and ice packs to Mari’s knee, massaging it thoroughly until she could bend it without much wincing. Brian then proceeded to clean and bandage her scrapes. By then Molinson and Mrs. Mac Alistair had returned and Molinson was taking statements from everyone, one person at a time.

“Next time, none of these shenanigans with quilt blocks, please. Just come see me,” he told Mari at the end of her statement.

“I don’t think there’ll be a next time, sir,” she said.

“With this crowd, there always seems to be one,” he replied. He shook his head at Trixie, who was standing in the doorway waiting to ask Mari if she wanted a refill on tea. “With that one in particular,” he added, almost affectionately.

* * * *

“How did you get involved?” Dan asked Regan when Molinson had left and everyone gathered in the living room, Mrs. Belden and Mrs. Mac Alistair moving around serving a late dinner of recently delivered pizza.

“Will and I saw you all leave and thought something was up, especially since Mari was missing. We followed you to the Mac Alistairs’ where I dropped Will off, and then I followed Brian to the police station. Will insisted on borrowing my rifle too,” Regan said with a grin at his friend.

“By the time we made it back to the station with Manuel and Luis, Brian and Honey had been able to convince Molinson they weren’t mad as hatters and he had gotten a hold of Mrs. Mac Alistair,” Mart continued.

“We were adamant about coming along,” Manuel said.

“Can Esteban spend the night?” Bobby asked from the corner where he and Esteban sat alternating between playing a game and eating their pizza. Esteban’s clothes had dried and he had changed back into them.

“No, Bobby, he has to go back to New York with his brother,” Mr.  Belden said. “But perhaps we can persuade his mother to let him visit this summer.”

“Gleeps, visiting!” Honey exclaimed. Everyone looked at her with amusement. “Ben called this morning and asked if he could stay with us for a few weeks in July. Mother wasn’t home, but I was so sure she would say yes I told him he could.”

“Yippee!” Bobby cried. “You’d like Ben,” he said to Esteban, and went on to tell him about the pranks Ben had pulled on everyone.

“Oh no,” Jim groaned jokingly. “Don’t tell me we have to endure Trixie’s yen for Ben again!”

“You may not have to,” Di said. “While we were waiting for you to return, Hallie called the Beldens and said she and her brothers were going to be in the area this July scouting out colleges for Cap.”

“And while Hallie’s not as lady-like as Di, she can probably offer Ben a very nice distraction from his usual pranks,” Trixie said, triumphantly playing matchmaker.

“That’s if she can put up with them to begin with,” Honey said worriedly.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Dan said easily, meeting Mari’s questioning gaze with one of his own, and Trixie realized she hadn’t explained to Mari who Hallie was.

“It’ll be good to see our cousins again,” Trixie said with a nod at Honey. Then, to put Dan more on edge, she commented, “You’ll like Knut and Cap ever so much, Mari. And Ben isn’t as half as bad as we’ve made him sound, either.”

“I look forward to meeting all of your cousins,” said Mari, looking slightly confused over Trixie’s emphasis on the male cousins.

“It seems, querida, that you have made some wonderful friends here,” Manuel said to Mari, but nodding at Dan. “Mrs. Belden, we thank you for your hospitality, but we should really get going. My mother wouldn’t be happy with me if I kept her waiting for Esteban any longer.” He shook hands with everyone, but hugged Trixie, Mari, and Mrs. Mac Alistair while Esteban clung to Mari.

“I can’t thank you enough for finding my brother,” Manuel said to Trixie. “If you are ever in need of something in New York, feel free to look me up. Oh, and, Dan,” he added, striding over to whisper in Dan’s ear, causing Dan to nod and give a sidelong glance at Mari. “Buenos noches, everyone!” Manuel picked up Esteban and with Luis behind him, walked out the door.

“He’s not what I imagined a gangster from New York to be like,” Di said musingly. “He’s much handsomer than Bernardo in West Side Story.”

“And that’s saying something,” Mari laughed. “However, I much prefer Ice myself.” She hummed a few bars of “Play It Cool”.

“Oh brother,” Mart groaned to the other boys. “The squaws are replacing us with other braves.”

“Hardly,” Di retorted. “But we might if you continue referring to us as squaws.” Trixie snickered at Mart’s face, as Diana rarely countered his absurdities. Mari crossed the room to her mother, trying not to lean too heavily on the cane Mr. Belden had found for her.

“How’s Luke, Mama?” she asked quietly, laying her head on her mother’s shoulder.

“He’s greatly grieved that you were in such danger, and by his doings. Did you know that you delivered his first note from Irene to him?”

“I thought I had seen her once before. She told me she was one of his teachers and had forgotten to tell him something during class,” Mari said, chagrined.

“When he saw how easily she could get access to you, he immediately went along with whatever she asked. He told me of a few other close calls you unknowingly had with her. Did you know John was the man who offered to carry you down Maryland Heights when you overheated on a hike?”

“Poor Luke,” Mari said softly. “I do remember how huffy he got about that, but he never told me why.”

“He asked that we arrange for him to live with Aunt Martha when he gets after all this is over. She could always straighten him out when I couldn’t. Perhaps he can attend classes at Shepherdstown too.”

“Will he have to go to prison?” Dan asked.

“At least until a trial clears things up,” Mrs. Mac Alistair answered.

“Should we tell everyone the other good news?” Will asked, hugging his sister around the shoulders.

“I’ve decided I will accept Aunt Elizabeth’s generous gift, but it will go into a trust fund for certain selfless ventures down the road.” Mrs. Mac Alistair smiled specifically at Jim, whose face brightened and flushed alternately. “Irene had wanted me to set up a trust fund for Luke, with her as executor, and that got me thinking of what I could do with my aunt’s estate. My inheritance from my father has been saved for Mari, since Luke will inherit his father’s portion from his paternal grandmother when the time comes, and so I am able to use Aunt Elizabeth’s estate in another way that I think would have brought her great pleasure.”

“Will you stay in Sleepyside?” Di asked, glancing anxiously at her new best friend. Trixie felt a twinge of guilt. Even though Di was one of her best friends, Honey was closer, and Di was often left on the outskirts of their friendship. Trixie found herself thankful again that Mari had come to the neighborhood.

“When Marigold goes off to college, I might move back to Aunt Elizabeth’s home, but for the time being we will be here- no more upheavals for us.”

“Good,” Di said emphatically, and the Bob-Whites added their affirmation.

 

Chapter 16

The remainder of Easter Vacation was spent by making final preparations for the dance, taking many trail rides, and receiving a visit from Mari’s cousin Marissa. Marissa was a dark-haired beauty, looking enough like Mari and Luke to be their triplet. She shared Brian’s age and attended the College of William and Mary not far from her home, but fit in well enough with the other girls that they invited her to join them for an overnighter at Honey’s before she returned to Virginia with Will. That night Trixie made sure to catch Mari up on who Hallie was and what had occurred between her and Dan, emphasizing Dan’s relinquished interest in her cousin. When Marissa and Will left, Emily’s Moonrise went with them. Now that his sister had been found, Will was able to return to life as normal and take over Emily’s training once more. He promised Mari many visits and calls updating her on Emily’s progress, but both horse and girl were disconsolate for several days.

The school week resumed before they knew it, Mari flitting onto the bus on Monday wearing a mayflower blossom in her hair. Her knee had healed fairly quickly, though it was often sore by the end of each day.

“Wherever did you get that?” Di asked her impishly.

“A sprig was left on my doorstep this morning,” Mari answered. “Happy May Day and happy birthday, Trixie!” she added with a beam. Mart coughed and Trixie had an inkling of what he and Dan had been whispering about before Dan, Brian, and Jim had left for college on Sunday.

Mart continued sneaking mayflowers onto Mari’s stoop early each morning on Dan’s behalf, and Dan smiled delightedly upon seeing a bloom in her hair that Friday when he and the other older boys arrived at school to help set up for the dance. They worked industriously that afternoon and quickly got everything prepared and decorated, thanks to Di and Mari’s organizational system.

“Is there anything you Bob-White girls can’t do?” Dan asked in admiration, standing back to get a full picture of the setting for the dance.

“I’ll tell you one thing we won’t be able to do if you boys don’t drive us home right now,” Trixie giggled.

“We won’t be able to don our bee-yew-ti-ful dresses and wow the hearts of the Bob-White boys,” Honey finished for her.

“I think you already do that,” Brian said from where he was ensuring once last time that the gate would withstand heavy foot traffic.

“I can’t imagine why we’re still standing here,” Mari said, a twinkle in her eye. She pirouetted down the aisle between the picnic blankets already spread on the grass, stopping by Di’s side. She wore Trixie’s old Bob-White jacket, Trixie’s having been replaced as a birthday gift by Honey. “Last one to the cars is a skunk cabbage!” She ran fleetingly past Brian, who good-naturedly made a grab at her arm before leading the others in a race to the vehicles.

“She runs too quickly,” Dan said in mock frustration, slow to start running.

“Hurry or I’ll tell her you’re the one responsible for those mayflowers she’s been finding on her doorstep every morning,” Trixie warned, pulling him along.

“Tom’s still going to drive you girls to the school, isn’t he?” Dan asked when they were in the station wagon. He shifted into gear and pretended to play chicken with Brian’s jalopy before waving Brian forward to lead the way out of the driveway.

“Of course,” Di said. “Why, are you hoping to sneak a peek at our food baskets?”

“Why would I be interested in those?” he teased. “I was just thinking how grand it will be to have the car to ourselves, without you squaws and your dresses taking up all the room.”

“Good, then you can come home by yourselves too,” Trixie said, tossing her head. “Golly, Dan’s getting as bad as Mart. I thought college would be the refining of him.”

“You boys had better bid on the right ones, or the unlucky blokes who get our baskets will have incomplete meals,” Honey warned.

“We’re a package deal only if the Bob-White boys all pick ours,” Di explained.

“Do the other fellows know?” Dan asked. “Or is this a test I’m going to have to warn them about?” He glanced at Mari next to him. “You wouldn’t feed some guy fortunate enough to win your basket only vegetables, would you?” he asked her.

“Nope, he would get dessert,” she answered blithely.

“And what would that dessert be?” he pried. “Shoofly pie?”

“Mum’s the word,” Mari said, laughing. “You’ll just have to sniff all the baskets and find the one that smells most like dessert.”

“Because that’s not obscure,” he bantered. The girls continued to tease him all the way home, and left him shaking his head as he joined the boys at the Beldens’.

“We’d better be able to figure out what baskets are the girls’, or the other boys at school are going to starve and hate us forever,” he informed the others, explaining what the girls had told him in the car.

“Any chance of sneaking over there and seeing the baskets?” Mart asked.

“No, Celia already shooed me away from the kitchen earlier today,” Jim answered, straightening his tie. “She said the girls had made enough of a mess there last night and I didn’t need to go sticking my nose in and making it all worse. I ended up eating at the Beldens’ so I wouldn’t be tempted.”

“Tarnation!” Brian exclaimed, tucking in his dress shirt. “Whose brilliant idea was this anyway?”

“Honey’s,” Dan said, laughing at his friend’s expression.

* * * *

The girls made quick work of dressing as well, having brought all their clothing over the afternoon before and working out hairstyles during their last sleepover. Trixie wore a turquoise blue dress, knowing how much Jim liked to see her in blue, while Honey sheathed herself in a light green that made her hazel eyes sparkle. Di wore an amethyst dress that darkened her violet eyes and was bound to make Mart swoon. Mari capered about in a lavender dress that clung to her in the bodice and fell away into a full skirt ending just below her knees. She swung Di into a mambo step, reminding Honey and Trixie of Anita and her friends in West Side Story. Laughing, the girls began doing each other’s hair. When they had finished, they passed through the kitchen on their way to the garage, collecting their baskets. Regan was leaning against the limousine talking with Tom when the girls arrived.

“Don’t tell me these are our little hoydens,” he said to Tom with a chuckle, though his eyes lit on Mari and twinkled especially at her.

“No, but they’ll do instead,” Tom replied, opening the door with a flourish. “I think the Bob-White men will prefer them, quite honestly.”

 

Principal Stratton had agreed to be the auctioneer, while the vice-principal and counselor toted baskets up to the podium. Honey’s basket was the first to go, Brian recognizing it immediately as she had decorated it to look like a beehive with spring blossoms and honey dripping down the sides.

“See, gents, easy as that,” he remarked to the other boys as he led Honey down to the group’s picnic blanket. The others strained to survey the remaining baskets, but could barely see the table over the heads of like-minded boys all anxious to find their sweethearts’ baskets. Several more were auctioned off before Di’s was brought up. Mart had to bid against a number of classmates who thought the gossamer violet fabric hid their ladies’ food, but Di wore a matching ribbon woven in her hair so Mart ferociously bid until the others fell away. Jim knew Trixie’s right away when the vice-principal brought it to the stand. She had, with the assistance of her skilled friends, decorated it to duplicate a bob-white, complete with a stubby tail and a head that could be turned. Laughing, the other boys let Jim easily win the bid. Dan had to bid against Nick Roberts, who, like Dan, had matched the mayflowers and green ribbons decorating the basket with Mari’s dress and light green heels. Nick eventually surrendered when he saw the mayflowers in Dan’s buttonhole, and wound up winning Ruthie’s basket instead. Dan escorted Mari down the aisle, holding her hand lightly.

The Bob-Whites feasted on Trixie’s pasta salad, Honey’s smoked salmon sandwiches, and Di’s asparagus with water chestnuts, before finishing off with Mari’s chocolate peanut butter cake. Throughout the meal, the orchestra played classical pieces, but began picking up the pace with more modern tunes near the end.

“I can’t dance,” Mart moaned. “I’ve committed gluttony to its fullest.”

“Then you shouldn’t be able to ever move,” Trixie said, tickling everyone’s funny bone. The band struck up a reel at that moment, lowering the volume as Mr. Collins, the music director, stood at the mike.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’d like to briefly take you through America’s musical history- nothing too complicated, and we have a wonderful dance caller to help us out.” Here he gestured towards Miss Darcy, the theater teacher, who came up onto the stage with Jane and Bill Morgan.

“We’ll start with the Virginia Reel, just to show off some of what our marvelous music students can do,” Miss Darcy said. “Jane and Bill will be our head couple for these dances, so simply follow what they do as I call the steps. If we could form two lines please, with gentlemen on my left and ladies on my right…” The students hurried to the dance floor, Mart forgetting all about being too full as he brought Di to the front. The others weren’t far behind. The students of Sleepyside Junior-Senior High danced their way through the reel, a waltz, the polka, and the Charleston, before slipping into the foxtrot.

“I was a little worried about learning new dances,” Jim whispered to Trixie as they spun across the floor. “However, this has been some of the most fun I’ve had at a dance ever. Well done, Trix.” Trixie glowed in gladness that Miss Darcy had convinced Mr. Collins and the Bob-Whites to include older dance styles and that Jim was dancing each number with her. The music ceased and Miss Darcy returned to the microphone.

“We’ll slow things down a little more for you now, and you can dance as you like,” she said as band members shifted around their music and began softly playing a swinging tune. Out of the corner of her eye Trixie saw Mari leading Dan to the edge of the dance floor.

“Is your knee tiring?” she heard Dan asked Mari.

“You’ll see,” Mari answered gently. She left him then, climbing the few small steps up the stage and accepting the mike from Miss Darcy. With a smile at Dan, who had moved to the bottom of the steps, she tapped her feet in time with the music as it began to pick up.

“May I have this dance?” Jim asked Trixie, leading her into a swing-step before she had time to answer. Mari’s dulcet voice began singing “Cheek to Cheek”, her eyes getting darker blue as she sang, never dropping their hold on Dan. Jim sang the words softly into Trixie’s ear, catching her close quickly before swinging her back out at the end of the song. Amidst the applause that proceeded from the crowd of students, Mari accepted Dan’s offered hands and was lifted from the stage back onto the floor.

“Now my knee is tiring,” she said, gripping his right arm to steady herself.

“Then let’s have a seat and I’ll get us something to drink,” Dan responded, a grin refusing to leave his flushed face. The grin broadened as first Jim then Brian and Mart slapped his left shoulder as the pair passed by. Mari meanwhile ducked her face against Dan’s shoulder as students complimented her singing.

“A regular Ella Fitzgerald,” Nick Roberts said, earning a smile and shake of the head from Mari.

“Nowhere close,” she answered, tucking her right hand over Dan’s arm. “But thank you.”

“More like a Judith Durham,” Dan whispered in her ear, causing Mari to blush and bury her face in his shoulder again.

“Would you like another piece of cake?” she asked when they reached the picnic blanket. At his assent, she began cutting slices while he fetched cups of lemonade. Mart and Di joined them, Di hugging Mari quickly in exuberant excitement. Together the four watched the other couples dancing a swing number then the rumba, before rising and joining in again for the mambo.

* * * *

Later that night Di sighed rapturously, “What a romantic evening!”

“Especially for you,” Mari teased. “You and Mart took quite the stroll among the lanterns.”

“We were checking to see if any of the votives needed to be replaced. Well, what of the rest of you three?” Di protested as the girls chuckled at her explanation. “Jim and Brian didn’t stop dancing with Trixie and Honey, and Dan never left your side, Mari. You two were quite the couple during the Latin dances.”

“Especially after Mari sang to him,” Trixie giggled. Mari threw a pillow her direction, accidently hitting Honey instead.

“If that’s how you throw, Dan will never want to play baseball with you,” Honey quipped, throwing the pillow back.

“Fortunately there’s more to baseball than just throwing,” Mari laughed, lying back on her sleeping bag. The girls were sleeping over in Honey’s all-white room, while the boys were in Jim’s room down the hall. Trixie insisted on tucking herself in under the picnic blanket, which turned out to be a quilt Honey, Di, and Mari had secretly been sewing for her using the blocks Mari already had.

“Do you think the boys can hear us?” Di asked. Trixie pelted a pillow at her.

“They will if we start a ruckus,” Honey said. “And it’s late enough that the rest of the household won’t appreciate us if we do.” Reluctantly the girls agreed and drifted into quieter conversations before one by one they fell asleep.

  

Chapter 17

(10 years later)

A crash and bark from the kitchen woke Mari abruptly.

“Don’t move, Mari. I’ll see what’s happened,” Dan mumbled next to her.

“It’s alright,” Mari answered, slipping her feet over the side of the bed. She heard what Dan in his drowsy state could not. A little voice was whispering and a dog was slobbering on her kitchen floor. “I have to use the bathroom anyway.” She drew on her robe and stepped into a pair of slippers, walking quietly to the kitchen where she beheld their foster son standing on the counter while Finn, the family’s Irish wolfhound, breakfasted on applesauce that lay among shards of a broken jar.

“Austin, what are you doing, dear?” Mari asked as she drew Finn away from the glass. “Sit,” she ordered him, reaching for the mop.

“Making you breakfast, Mama,” Austin answered.

“Pancakes and applesauce?” Dan asked, moving from the doorway to take the mop from Mari. He’d quickly thrown on jeans and was in the process of pulling a black t-shirt over his head. Mari gave a slight lick of her lips his direction, preceded by her kissing his cheek. He grinned back at her. Austin nodded. “Why don’t I help you, and we let Mama go back to bed?” Dan patted her stomach. “Gotta keep the little guys cooking for a few more months.”

“You just got off your shift four hours ago,” she protested.

“And I have the weekend to rest, love. Breakfast in bed would do you good.” She knew arguing with those two was impossible, so after a quick stop in the bathroom, she went to bed again. Finn followed, lying by her side of the bed, and she petted him affectionately.

He’d come into their lives several years ago, a gigantic puppy, and Gaelic passions rose as Dan and Mari couldn’t agree whether to name him Finn McCool or Fingal, even though they were naming him after the same legendary figure. They compromised with the name Finn, and the dog had been their avowed protector and companion since. Austin had joined the family after the disappointment of a couple miscarriages. He had been one of Mari’s students, and Dan was one of the officers to arrest his parents for child abuse. They were still battling for adoption in the courts. In the meantime, five months with the Mangans had brought joy back to his face, but there were still nights Dan and Mari stayed up with him after bouts of night terrors. It was just about the time Austin moved in that Mari had found she was pregnant a third time, more than likely thanks to the romantic evenings spent in Ireland and Scotland over Christmas vacation. Twins were the latest announcement from her doctor, which made Dan inordinately giddy.

Mari drifted back to sleep, a smile from her reminisces on her face. Boyish giggles and Dan’s “Shh!” woke her, and she opened her eyes to see her boys in the doorway. They joined her on the bed for breakfast, Finn sniffing for crumbs as they ate. Dan fell asleep again after breakfast, Austin right alongside him, and Mari took the time to clean up the kitchen and frost a cake. Several hours later they were in the car, bound for Sleepyside and a celebration both of Mart’s birthday and Memorial Day.

* * * *

“Trix,” Di said. “I have a mystery for you.” She set a plate of appetizers on the table and looked across the lawn to the orchard of crab apple trees where the children were playing.

“Does it have anything to do with the abandoned house on Old Telegraph Road?” Trixie asked.

“Yes.” Di laughed at Trixie’s quick understanding. “Mr. Wheeler hired me several months ago to oversee its remodel and interior design, but refuses to say who his client is.”

“I saw it being worked on when I visited Mrs. Vanderpoel, but Matthew hasn’t said anything to me.”

“Whoever it is either is expecting a baby, or has one already,” Di said. Her eyes were laughing. “There’s also a room for a little boy, and the couple chose a predominately cobalt, Mediterranean blue, and white color scheme.”

“Dan and Mari!” Honey exclaimed, bringing over another plate of food.

“That’s exactly who I thought of!” Di said. “Has Mar said anything about another baby to either of you?”

“No,” Trixie and Honey said in unison.

“Well, let’s not tell anyone else, in case something happens. Besides, they probably want to announce both pieces of good news themselves,” Di said.

“I can’t believe they’re moving back here,” Trixie said. “Mart will be so happy to have his best friend near him again.”

“And I won’t?” Di teased. “Maybe now I can persuade Mar to get into interior design with me.”

“Good luck,” Honey said. “Jim still wants her to be a teacher for his school.”

“Maybe she just wants to be a mother,” Trixie said, thinking of her own growing red-haired toddler and the second Frayne child on the way. She repressed the urge to place a hand on her belly, though she was bursting to share her and Jim’s own secret. Mari’s miscarriages had cautioned them all against celebrating too soon and she was only a month in.

“Hearing that from you is still funny,” Honey said affectionately. “I can’t believe Jim persuaded you to marry him so soon after college.” Jim had built his home for boys on Ten Acres after all, and begun with a small handful of resident students. Miss Trask and Mart both had agreed to teach, while Brian was often on call as the in-house doctor. The latter was highly convenient, particularly because The Fraynes had insisted on building a house for Brian and Honey on the site of the old Frayne mansion, while their home sat on the same location as the old summer house.

“We still solve a few mysteries,” Trixie said defensively.

“Yes, like ‘The Mystery of the Disappearing Sock’, and ‘Who Put the Hole in the Kitchen Floor?’” Di said with a giggle, though she knew Honey and Trixie had been involved in several serious mysteries since getting married.

“Or, ‘When is Your Crazy Cousin Finally Going to Say Yes to Me?’” a new voice chimed in.

“Ben!” The girls all cried, turning to see Ben and Hallie stepping off the porch to join them in the yard.

“Has he asked yet?” Trixie asked Hallie after hugs had gone around.

“Yes,” Hallie said, blushing proudly.

“And?” Di asked impatiently. Hallie held up her left hand in answer, bringing a round of squeals from all the girls.

“Wherever they are, squeals and squawks abound,” Mart said, walking around the house. Brian and Jim followed. “The rest of the guests are coming, so you squaws had better have all the food out. I’m starving.”

“I would have thought being married would polish him up,” Hallie said, laughing at her cousin.

“Hardly,” Di said with a teasing sigh. “My life is one of drudgery, induced by my chauvinist husband.” Mart blew her a kiss which she returned.

“I think that’s everything,” Honey said, surveying the tables. “Let’s go to the front and greet everyone else.” Mart whistled and his two children came romping out of the orchard, along with little James Frayne, Maddy Belden, and the three Regan children. They were followed by Bobby and the Lynch twins, Bobby holding the hand of one of the Lynch girls. Brian swung his daughter onto his shoulders while Jim carried his son football style into the front yard where, as Mart phrased it, “the collective elders congregated in anticipation of much festivity.”

The Mangans’ Cooper pulled into the driveway first, and a seven-year-old boy and humungous dog tumbled out as soon as Dan pulled his seat back.

“Uncle Regan, Uncle Regan, guess what!!!” Austin barreled towards Regan and Joan. Finn pelted off in pursuit of Patch and Reddy the Second, who were running around in excitement.

“You’re going to make a legal uncle out of me at last?” Regan asked, catching him and turning him upside down.

“No…” Austin was a fit of giggles and couldn’t finish his sentence. He didn’t need to because at the moment, Dan opened Mari’s door and helped her out.

“Wow, Mar,” Hallie said, being able to speak first.

“You’re round as a brood mare,” Ben said, chuckling at his own pun. Hallie slapped his arm playfully.

“Considering the source, that’s a compliment,” Mari said, laughing softly.

“Surprise!” Austin shouted, wriggling free of Regan.

“Let’s get the little mama a chair, eh?” Regan said; voice husky. His wife Joan took his hand caressingly.

“So that’s what happens when you sneak off while we explore Ireland’s ruins!” Joan declared, rousing a laugh from everyone.

“Twins, six months along, made in Ireland’s emerald countryside,” Dan agreed proudly, escorting Mari forward. Greetings and congratulations came from all directions until at last Regan deposited Mari into a wicker rocker next to Mr. Maypenny, who patted her hand joyfully.

“This is our Memorial Day gift to everyone,” Dan said.

“We have your cake and gift in the car, Mart, if two rambunctious beings didn’t squash or eat them,” Mari added.

“Peanut butter and chocolate?” Mart asked.

“Is there any other?” Dan rejoined. Mart for a second time was speechless and quickly retrieved the cake from the car, leaving Brian who had followed to carry out the gift.

“A card?” Brian asked, holding up the only thing he could find in the backseat.

“The rest is coming with Knut and Marissa,” Mari explained. She winked at Hallie and Ben. “That was a fruitful summer, wasn’t it?” Her cousin and Hallie’s oldest brother had met and courted the summer following Mari’s arrival in Sleepyside. They married a year before Dan and Mari did, and lived in Williamsburg where Knut was working on his doctorate in anthropology and Marissa gave riding lessons out of their stable.

“I’m curious now,” Mart said. They didn’t have to wait long. Knut Belden’s truck soon lumbered up the drive, towing a horse trailer. Two horse heads stuck out the windows and snorted. Knut, Marissa, and Cap climbed out of the truck and the two men went to unload the horses, Marissa coming to join the others, carrying her two-month old Anders.

“Anders Knutsen, come here, you doll,” Hallie cooed, taking her nephew from Marissa.

“We thought it was time you had a horse on this farm again,” Marissa said to Mart. “You and Jim can share the teaching of old-fashioned farming techniques with Bruno.” Knut led out a massive Clydesdale and walked him to just in front of Mart.

“Whoa,” the kids breathed collectively.

“Aunt Kit has offered to cover his cost of care,” Knut explained. “Otherwise he’d eat you into the poorhouse.” Mart stood awestruck. As much as he researched and developed modern farming techniques at Crabapple Farm, he was still enamored with the old ways as well and was sad to see them go by the wayside.

“There’s a plow and goodness knows what else in the bed of the truck,” Cap said, grinning at his cousin’s astonished face.

“Whose is the second horse?” Regan asked, gesturing to the one that Cap stood by.

“Well, Knut and Luke have been pestering me to develop a herd of Western horses,” Marissa began, a grin starting to form on her lips. After graduating from Shepherdstown University, Luke had moved to Virginia to work with Will on the horse farm, developing a reputation for transforming the most stubborn of horses into well-behaved animals. “You know how Luke wanted to be Wyatt Earp when he was little,” Marissa added to Mari with a roll of her eyes.

“And the first night we have an Appaloosa stallion on our property, what does he do but break free and sire a colt with Emily’s Moonrise,” Knut finished.

“Luke or the Appaloosa?” Mr. Belden asked, making everyone laugh.

“This is Starr Struck, since his father is Star Field. We thought Regan would like the training of him,” Mari offered. “He’s only a yearling, but he’s yours if you want him, Uncle Bill.” Regan and Joan had bought the Darnells’ house from Mari’s mother after she returned to Virginia, and used their property as a horse breeding and training facility on behalf of Mr. Wheeler, though they raised their own private stock also.

Everyone watched Regan slowly approach the yearling, admiring his lines and grey leopard coat.

“Yes, there might be the making of something in him,” Regan said. “Gleeps, you four, you’re crazy and wonderful and-” He tried to keep his voice calm to not startle the horses, but couldn’t refrain from running to the side of the house and yelling his excitement.

“That’s a huge thank you,” Joan said, hugging Dan and Mari, and then the others. “Regan’s wanted one of Emily’s foals whenever you began breeding her, but he was never expecting to have her firstborn.”

“We hadn’t planned to breed her for another year,” Knut said. “But she was near retiring anyway. We thought since we were bringing Bruno for Mart, we ought to bring Starr along too.”

“We have a lot to celebrate,” Mart said. “And the best way to celebrate is with-”

“Food!” everyone finished for him. Bobby and Cap moved to put the horses in the corral then sat in the remaining two seats as the feasting and merriment began.

* * * *

“Where are you staying tonight?” Matthew Wheeler asked Dan and Mari at the close of the evening. The children had been gathering to hear a bedtime story from Mari, but now turned to her to hear her answer instead.

“Uncle Bill and Aunt Joan were expecting us,” she said, eyes puzzled. Dan sat beside her on the porch swing, his hand naturally sliding over her belly and resting there.

“What if I said there was a house open and ready for you to sleep in tonight and every night?” Matthew winked at his wife.

“Well, there wouldn’t be beds, sir, and Mari-” Dan started.

“What are you talking about, Dad?” Jim asked.

“Four months ago Dan and Mari visited my office in the city, and asked if they could lease to own the old farmhouse on my property. Seems our Dan was hired by the Sleepyside Police Department, and Mari had a rosy glow that told me she wasn’t planning on teaching next school year.”

“The remodel is finished and the house is all yours,” Madeleine Wheeler said. “You now have a safe country home to live in,” she added with a slight emphasis on ‘safe’.

“But-” Dan said.

“I believe this is where I come in,” Di said. “Mr. Wheeler hired me to decorate the house, and the last furniture was moved in yesterday. I guessed the house was for you and took the liberty of putting linens on the beds. So, what do you say?”

“I say the end of the school year can’t come quickly enough,” Mari responded, when she could speak. Dan squeezed her hand lovingly and she raised tear-filled eyes up at the Wheelers.

“Thank you,” Dan said, choked. He shook hands with both the Wheelers and hugged Di. Mart let out a whoop and grabbed Dan. Together they danced the polka around the perimeter of the front yard. Not sure the reason why, the children scattered over the yard, yelling and dancing too.

“I knew it!” Trixie said triumphantly, causing Brian to tweak one of her curls and Honey to laugh merrily.

“In lieu of the madness that has ensued, why don’t we just sing a few numbers instead of having a story?” Mrs. Belden suggested. She, Mrs. Lynch, and Mrs. Wheeler led with “The Life of a Country Boy”, drawing their grandchildren back to the porch to join in the chorus. “Hurrahs!” resounded at the end of the song, and many more pieces were sung before Dan stood up with Mari and leaned against the porch rail next to her. Together they sang “The Fields of Athenry”, singing the verses individually and harmonizing on the chorus. Without missing a beat, Dan began singing “An Eriskay Love Lilt” next, keeping his eyes on Mari’s radiant face. She buried her face in his shoulder at the last note and he kissed the top of her head tenderly.

“You haven’t lost your voice,” Di said, eyes soft at Dan’s display of love for Mari.

“She keeps me in practice,” he answered. “Well, shall we go home, Mharie?” Goodnights resounded across the porch and yard until everyone had been properly bid adieu. Dan scooped up a sleeping Austin from the porch steps and carried him to the car. He opened the door for Mari and was about to get into the driver’s seat when Matthew stopped him.

“You’re forgetting these,” he said, pitching a set of keys that Dan caught without a fumble.

“Thanks!” Dan said with a grin.

* * * *

“Trix!” Honey called, running across the yard from her house to Trixie’s later that October. “Trix, do you know where Brian and Jim went?”

“They took the boys to spend the day at the marsh, I think,” Trixie said. “I was a little occupied with something else when Jim left this morning.” She gestured to where little James slept on the porch swing, wrapped in blankets.

“Is he better?” Honey asked, studying her nephew. She set Maddy down and Maddy ran immediately to Trixie, who swooped her up onto her lap.

“Baby!” Maddy said proudly, patting Trixie’s stomach.

“His fever broke about an hour ago,” Trixie said. “Why do you need Brian and Jim?”

“Well, it’s Brian Mari needs. Her water broke,” Honey said, giving a little cheer. “Mr. Maypenny, Mrs. Mac Alistair, and her Aunt Holly are with her, but you remember Dan wanted Brian there too, not just Holly as midwife.” Mr. Maypenny had moved in with the Mangans as a resident grandpa, to the joy of Austin who adored the older man.

“Oh, that man,” Trixie said, with little true frustration. Dan had wanted a hospital birth, Mari a home birth. Brian was their compromise. “As if Mari and Holly can’t bring the twins into the world without a doctor’s help.”

“Well, I’m going to fetch my husband and then track down Dan, if you don’t mind watching Maddy,” Honey said, hugging her friend. “Keep Austin with you when Jim returns, will you?”

“Of course,” Trixie answered. She breathed a quick prayer for Mari as Honey dashed off to the car, remembering her own home birth of James. “Twins! Ouch!”

* * * *

The police dispatch was finally able to reach Dan who’d been occupied in breaking up a domestic dispute downtown, and he rode his motorcycle home in time to hold Mari’s hand through the remaining hours of her labor. Twin boys were born in the early hours of morning. Brian surveyed the four quite happily.

“Fraternal twins! Way to go!” Though he left a name off the end of his sentence, everyone knew Brian meant “Way to go, Dan!” and laughed. Dan sat on the bed next to Mari, holding an auburn haired son close. The baby’s eyes were closed, but Brian remembered the glimpse he’d gotten of onyx eyes before they shut in contented sleepiness. Mari snuggled a black haired baby, smiling down into unfocused blue-green eyes. Brian thought the babies’ coloring was a wonderful way of blending Dan and Mari’s genes together. No one could deny that they were family.

“What are you going to name them?” Brian asked, though he felt he knew the answer. He was glad to be a part of the evening, although Mari’s aunt and mother had done most of the work. There was nothing like seeing children being born.

“We thought we’d name them after our fathers,” Mari said, love bright in her eyes as she looked first at Dan and then their babies.

“Timothy William and James…” Dan paused, and looked at Mr. Maypenny, who was sitting in the doorway. “Mr. Maypenny, what is your first name?”

The End
 

“Fields of Athenry” by Pete St. John

By a lonely prison wall
I heard a young girl calling
Michael, they have taken you away
For you stole Trevelyn's corn
So the young might see the morn
Now a prison ship lies waiting in the bay

Low lie the fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly
Our love was on the wing; we had dreams and songs to sing
It's so lonely 'round the fields of Athenry

By a lonely prison wall
I heard a young man calling
Nothing matters, Mary, when you're free
Against the famine and the Crown
I rebelled, they cut me down
Now you must raise our child with dignity

Low lie the fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly
Our love was on the wing; we had dreams and songs to sing
It's so lonely 'round the fields of Athenry

By a lonely harbor wall
She watched the last star falling
As that prison ship sailed out against the sky
Sure she'll wait and hope and pray
For her love in Botany Bay
It's so lonely round the fields of Athenry

Low lie the fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly
Our love was on the wing; we had dreams and songs to sing
It's so lonely 'round the fields of Athenry


 

“The Life of a Country Boy” by Kennedy’s Kitchen

REFRAIN:
I like to rise when the sun she rises
Early in the morning
I like to hear them small birds singing
Merrily upon the lay land
And hurrah for the life of a country boy
And to ramble in the new mown hay

In the spring we sow when the harvest mow
That's how the seasons round they go
Ah but of all the times that choose I may
I'll rambling in the new mown hay

REFRAIN

In winter when the skies are grey
We'll hedge and we'll stitch our times away
But in summer when the sun shines gay
We'll go rambling in the new mown hay

 

“An Eriskay Love Lilt”

 

Chorus:
Bheir mi oh a ro van oh;
Bheir mi oh a ro van e;
Bheir mi oh a ro ho.
Sad am I without thee.


When I'm lonely, dear white heart,
Black the night or wild the sea,
By love's light my foot finds
The old pathway to thee.

(Chorus)


Thou art music of my heart,
Harp of joy oh cush mo cree;
Moon of guidance by night,
Strength and light thou art to me.

TBH Main