Chapter 25

February 25, 2012

4:30 PM Monday

“Darling! Are you terribly busy this afternoon?” Donna’s forced cheerfulness came through the phone lines, and Jason was curious.

“Never too busy for you, baby. To what do I owe the pleasure of this call?” Jason’s eyes remained on a stock prospectus sent him by his broker. As he read, he made notes of several questions. Upgrading his portfolio on a regular basis was one of Jason’s careful management techniques.  While he trusted his broker’s advice, he made sure to know exactly how every item in his portfolio was performing.

Finally setting the papers aside, he turned in his swivel chair and faced the window. It was a beautiful, sunny day outside.

“How about an early supper, darling? I have the whole evening to myself, everyone’s going off somewhere and leaving little old me to my lonesome!”

“Sure, Donna. Got any place in mind?” Jason was suspicious that this was more planned than she was letting on, but whenever he could see her, he’d make time.

“Well, you know that new club over in Millville? We haven’t been there yet..” Millville was barely more than a crossroads about fifteen miles out of town. In earlier days there had been several mills, closed now for years. One of the old grist mills had been converted into a roadhouse called, appropriately enough, the Old Mill.

“Well, babe, that place is new, and everybody and their brother is apt to be there. We’d better find somewhere a little more private, don’t you think? What’s wrong with Greene Street?”

“I’d rather we go somewhere else this time. It’ll be okay if we go now, Jason. It’s early. Nobody we know would be there this time of day. We can be there in half an hour…”

Half an hour. Jason calmly agreed and hung up the phone, mentally preparing himself. Donna wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment kind of woman. More like a calculating, down to the last detail planner. An hour later found them seated in a more or less private corner. The aroma of grilling steaks competed with the smell of frying seafood.

“So you see, darling, we’re in a little pickle, and I couldn’t keep this to myself the rest of the weekend. It would drive me to distraction, and we need to find a way to solve this little problem pretty quickly.”

Jason’s face looked relaxed, but his mind was far from it. Blackmail? Their affair didn’t look quite so sophisticated in this light.

“What did you tell him, Donna?” Jason’s voice was soft and flat.

“What could I tell him, darling? I don’t have that kind of money! At least, not that I can get my hands on without Mark finding out about it! I tried to tell him that, but I don’t think he believed me. I told him to call me back in a couple of days. He — didn’t want to wait any longer than that…”

“And I guess you expect me to shell out that much cash, just like that?” Jason couldn’t believe how much his feelings had changed almost in a flash, as the realization struck him of what she was saying.

From being foolishly head over heels in love with this woman, to cautious, sane and self-preserving, his mind seemed to have regained control of his emotions in a moment’s time.

Donna put down her paper napkin and stared at Jason’s face. “I guess I expected you to be a little more understanding and helpful, Jason. After all, I’m not in this relationship all by myself.”

“Donna, look at how all this sounds. I’ve been asking you for months to talk to Mark about us. You kept refusing. I was willing to move us out of my own home town, for God’s safe, my family’s home town, and you kept saying no. I would have built you a mansion anywhere you wanted, and you were so hardheaded about that estate of yours. Now look where it’s landed you.”

Jason’s voice was still low, but the intensity had increased with each word.

“Landed me? Don’t you mean us, darling?” Donna’s temper was showing. Grasping her purse, she rose to her feet.

“Where are you going?” Jason half rose in his chair.

“To freshen up, darling,” she answered through clenched teeth. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

* * *

Donna quickly walked to the ladies room, attempting to take control of her anger and her fear. She splashed cold water on her face and examined her makeup in the oval mirror above the sink.

If he doesn’t want to pay the money, I’ll come up with it somehow, she reassured herself. I’ll tell him not to worry about it, I wasn’t asking him for it, I was just informing him of this little.. problem… and I’ll take care of it myself.

I’ll find a way. I can take care of this. She painted a fresh layer of scarlet on her lips, adjusted her expression, and rejoined Jason at the table with a smile.


Chapter 24

February 25, 2012

Monday morning, May 2

In the quiet solitude of her armchair, hands folded around a cup of flavored hot tea, Kate looked into nothing. She didn’t want to turn on the computer, but some of her customers expected their finished work this afternoon. I’m going to plead temporary insanity or something, she told herself. I can’t concentrate on work right now.

Jamie’s concern had added a new stress to her life. Sundays used to be so nice and quiet, she thought. She had gone to church with him, at his insistence. They’d had lunch afterwards, just the two of them.

He had seemed excited and anxious at the same time. He wanted her to do something, and she knew Mattie also wanted her to do something about the Elliott property. But what? That sword! Could it actually be from the Revolutionary War? What would it be worth? No, worth wasn’t the right word, exactly. What was its historical significance? What should we do about it?

Jamie and Mattie both had pressed her to set a time to meet with Jack, so all of them could brainstorm. But a dislike of confrontation created mental fatigue in Kate. She despised disagreements. She would rather lose than fight, and that had kept her stomach tied up in knots on many occasions in the past.

Her marriage to Jim Elliott had been a peaceful one, by outward appearances. But the truth was, Kate’s natural tendency was to bite her tongue and smile on the outside while frowning on the inside. Jim had forced her to face herself, and she had eventually become more free with her thoughts and opinions because of his encouraging and strength.

It had engendered some of her own strength, and over time their marriage became truly interesting and fulfilling. Then he got cancer. Then he died. So much for answered prayer, she thought again. The bitterness was almost gone…

Since then she’d reverted to the ‘safe’ practice of keeping her opinions to herself, most of the time. No arguments. No difference of opinion. And, she realized, no backbone. Sighing, she took a sip of her tea. I want a new life! But they won’t let me have a new life, until I do something.

Well, I’ll do something. I will set a meeting time, maybe today. Work’s out of the question until I get this settled. Getting to her feet, she walked over to the kitchen phone and dialed.

By 5:15 that afternoon, her satisfied customers had paid for their finished work and Kate was in a better frame of mind.

* * *

“Knock knock?”

“Come on in, Mattie,” Kate called out, “the door’s open.” She stood at the kitchen sink running cold water over fresh strawberries.

Mattie and Elsie had gladly changed their plans when Kate’s call came. They had made excuses to the others in their usual card game, and almost stealthily left the Villas at 5:00 PM. Mattie had actually made the call to Jack, and his voice when she told him about the sword had seemed a little strange, almost as if he was knocked out of breath.

Mattie looked forward to this meeting. She found Jamie already there, poring over the pages of the old receipt book.

“Jack said he’d come on over after his clerk gets there at 5:00, so he’ll be here any minute, Kate.”

“Okay, Mattie. Would either of you like coffee? Or diet coke? I have both.” They made themselves at home in the kitchen, pulling out the sugar and creamer, filling coffee mugs before joining Jamie at the table. The pasteboard box containing the Elliott family Bible, the receipt book and the old hymnal sat on the floor by his chair.

“Was there anything else in any of those books, Kate? Loose pages, I mean?” Mattie couldn’t remember if they had gone through everything else carefully after they found the cemetery sketch.

“I didn’t go through every book in the box, but we did flip through the pages that day, didn’t we?” Kate hadn’t spent much time looking at the rest of the collection, just the oldest books. There were ten other volumes in that particular box, nothing as old as the other three.

“We’ve got a few minutes, hand me a couple of those, Jamie, and we’ll look through them now.” They were all engrossed in turning pages when the doorbell rang.

Jack had brought the biography with him, still in its brown manila envelope. He settled into a chair next to Mattie. With a cup of coffee in hand, he carefully outlined his concerns, that the biography described the location pretty clearly of the old cemetery and who was buried there. And it also mentioned several other important facts, such as the deed and its restriction.

“There’s something else I found after you ladies left the other day,” Jack said as he slid the little book out of the envelope. Turning to the pages toward the end of the book, he showed them a paragraph.

“This describes a pledge made by the children to their mother when she was dying,” he explained. “She wanted their father’s cutlass put into the coffin with her, and she made them promise to do it. They did promise, but when she died, they didn’t actually do it — and here’s why. Francis Marion Sims stole the sword.”

“He stole it? Why?” Jamie’s excitement was growing. He could visualize the hand tooling on the sword case, the cloth wrapped around the sword and the note with its signature.

“It was originally his own grandfather’s, that’s why. His father was Jonathan Sims, son of the Captain Sims who gave the sword to John Elliott. He didn’t want it buried in the ground, he wanted it kept and displayed as a symbol of the family honor! But his wife Katharine had promised her mother, and so had her brother John Jr., and his wife. That’s one of the reasons he agreed to write this biography, to give him a chance to confiscate the sword and hide it.”

“It split the family apart when the sword disappeared. One of the last chapters in the little book explains it all.” Jack was almost as excited as Jamie.

“Oooh, boy,” Elsie whispered. “Do you know what this means? These are really historical artifacts, the Bible, the receipt book, the sword, the cemetery sketch, and when you find it, that grave site is going to be a bombshell in this little town! Do you know whose money is all tied up in that project?”

Elsie began to describe what she remembered of the newspaper announcement of the new subdivision and it’s investors. “Everybody who is anybody has a piece in that pie,” she added.

Quiet descended around the table as Mattie looked first at Jack, then down to the box of books, then over at Kate. She waited for Kate to speak.

“We have to be very careful, you all,” Kate warned. “We have to go about this the right kind of way, or there’s going to be real trouble. We don’t own that land any more, and we can’t just demand they stop the development. Mark Johnson has spent thousands of dollars already, and they plan on spending hundreds of thousands more out there.” No-one said anything.

“They”re not going to let us just walk in there and stop everything. Not when you’ve got county council, the chamber of commerce, most of the town banks and everybody else involved.”

“Plus Johnson’s in-laws,” Jack added. “Stuart Mattison carries a lot of weight in this county, and if he takes a notion against you, a lot of other people go along with him.”

“Well, Janice Mattison isn’t like that,” protested Kate. “We had a talk about this, and she said she’d discuss it with Stuart and get back to me.”

“And have you heard anything back from her?” Jack asked pointedly.

“Not yet, but she said she would, and she will. It’s only been a few days, after all.”

“When are they supposed to start laying out the streets and selling house lots, does anybody know?” Elsie asked.

“I heard at the courthouse that final site plans have been approved. The construction guys are supposed to get started in the next few days,” Jamie informed them.

“You can’t wait on Janice, Kate,” Mattie said in a quiet tone.

Jack’s calm tone of voice had a determined underlay. “I think your first step should be to consult the state historical commission and their attorney’s office. I can do that for you easy enough. There are laws about historical sites, and more laws about disturbing graves. Plus, there’s that deed clause that was so conveniently left out of Johnson’s deed. Stuart Mattison is too good a lawyer to have done that accidentally.”

After a few minutes of discussion, Mattie and Kate left the table to assemble sandwiches, sprinkle sugar over the strawberries and refill coffee cups. It was 11:00 p.m. before everyone left, assignments in hand.

Jamie would collect the trunk and sword, then he and Mattie would transport them to a storage facility on the edge of town. Jack would use his contacts at the state library in the capitol to begin the legal process necessary to safeguard the cemetery.

Kate would try to talk with Janice again.


Chapter 23

February 25, 2012

6:00 PM, Friday, April 29

A full morning at court and several legal snafus in the afternoon had added a throbbing headache to Stuart’s exhaustion. All he wanted was dim lights, feet up, and a cool drink before dinner. Before the back door swung shut, he had peeled off his suit coat and tossed it across a kitchen chair as he passed through.

He found Janice in the den flipping through sales circulars that had come in the mail. She waved him over to the recliner, then quietly rose and poured him a large glass of sweet iced tea with a wedge of pineapple. She also brought him a shot glass for what would follow, several sips of his favorite Kentucky bourbon.

“Thanks, Jan. That is just what I need,” Stuart said as he took the tea glass from her hand and lifted it to his lips.

Janice took a swallow from her own glass, not tea, just ice water with a few drops of lemon juice. “Bad day?”

“It was one screw-up after the other. I don’t know why my so-called staff couldn’t get anything right today. If it wasn’t for Ramona, I’d can the whole lot of them. Anyway, the day’s got a whole lot better just being home.”

Stuart pushed back in his recliner, elevating his feet and lowering his head.  Tea glass in hand, he breathed deeply and slowly a few times, forcing himself to relax.

“We’ll have something simple for supper. I’ll call you when it’s ready.” She left him with the remote control, the tea tray and his shot glass within reach. He tried to relax.

Janice laid a couple of rib-eye steaks on the grill, remaining in the kitchen to put together a salad and a few dinner rolls. Within half an hour the meal was ready.

“That was great, Jan. Thanks.” Stuart was grateful for the peace of the evening. He reached for a second brownie to crumble up in his dish of vanilla ice cream. A fresh pot of brewed decaf accompanied dessert. He took a bite of ice cream and washed it down with the hot coffee.

“Stuart, there’s something I’d like to ask you about…”

Spoon in hand, Stuart looked up, his bushy eyebrows raised a little at her tone of voice. Not angry, not worried, just — flat, sort of.

“What’s that?”

“I’m worried about Mark’s new project out at the Elliott property. I’m concerned about something I overheard between you and Mark, and something else I’ve heard since then.”

Stuart finished his bite of ice cream, put the spoon down and took another swallow of coffee. “Okay. What?”

“When you and Mark were talking about the property, you seemed awfully serious about something.”

Stuart looked at Jan with a steady gaze, hesitating for a moment. He ran his fingers through his hair as he often did when he was tired, squeezed the muscles in his forehead and rubbed his eyes before speaking.

“Well, there is sort of a problem…” Picking his words with care, Stuart reviewed the situation.

The restrictive clause in the original deed, the sale of the land and the subsequent construction project, and his omitting the clause from the new deed. He described Mark’s finding the broken grave marker, and about Jamie at the courthouse examining the deed books.

“I guess if somebody wanted to, they could make trouble over the deed. But Mark needs that project right now. Hell, the whole town needs it. Most of the bankers in town have their savings invested to get Elliott Pointe up and running, not to mention half the town council.”

“And Donna thinks she needs a new house out there, and Mark wants to keep Donna happy.”

Stuart reclaimed his spoon and scooped up the remainder of the brownie-dotted ice cream.

Jan ran her own spoon around the bottom of her dessert dish and took a moment before speaking.

“Stuart, I talked with Kate Elliott the other day. She knows about that cemetery. She found a map in an old Bible or something. Now she wants to get it preserved as a historical site. And she knows about the deed restriction too, I’m afraid.”

“Then why hasn’t she come forward before now?” Stuart scowled as he said it.

Janice rose from the table, emptied the last of the coffee into their cups and began loading the dishwasher.

“She said she’d just learned about it herself. Probably around the same time you did. I asked her to give me a few days to talk with you and we’d get back to her. It sounds like she intends to pursue the historical aspect of that old grave. Legally if necessary.”

Stuart turned in his chair to follow Jan’s movements across the kitchen while they talked.

“It’s a little late in the day for all that. Mark will just have to move that old grave or something. The trouble is, this town stands to lose a lot of money if she starts throwing money wrenches. A lot of money. We can’t have any more delays. I can explain about that deed. An honest mistake…” Stuart angrily shoved his chair away from the table.

“I’m not sure how Donna will take that.” He knew that however Donna took it, it would be bad. Really bad. He’d only done what would help Mark, and thus Donna.

“Well, no-one could have foreseen this, Stuart, could they. Donna will just have to adjust to another delay, if it comes to that.”

Stuart stood by the chair, running his hand through his hair again. “Have you noticed how Donna’s acting lately, Jan? Lately her attitude seems worse than ever, like she has an obsession with the land out there. This won’t help any.”

“Has she said something to you about Elliott Pointe, Stuart?”

“Oh, she’s just got bigger and better plans for her new house every time we talk. I’ve started to wonder if she doesn’t have some other agenda going on.”

Stuart left Jan wiping down the counter tops. He returned to the den, his recliner and a refill of his Kentucky bourbon.


Chapter 22

February 25, 2012

Friday afternoon, April 29

Jamie fumed as he stalked across the grassy square towards his dorm. Who cares about all this philosophy stuff anyway. I need something to take my mind off of it for a while. Dumping his books on his bed, Jamie rummaged in the refrigerator for a coke, then headed to the parking lot.

Hooky. That’s what he wanted to do, play hooky.

Driving toward town, he considered his failed excursion to the Elliott property. Spring was not a good time to explore those woods. Still, he felt drawn that direction and soon found himself turning into the hardware store parking lot. He sat in the car for a few minutes before going in.

It sure looks different, he thought. Grandpa never changed anything as long as I can remember, he just fixed it if it broke, back like it always had been. Now there was the lawn and garden shop, and the parking lot was actually paved instead of gravel.

“Hi, Mr. Jones. It looks good in here, ” Jamie greeted the proprietor.  “You’ve done a good job with the place, looks like. ” He waved to Mrs. Jones, waiting on a customer.

“How’re you doing, Jamie? School going well? Can I get something for you? “

“School’s fine, sir. I just thought I’d look around, if it’s okay with you. I don’t really need anything, just haven’t been out here in a while.”

“Well, you know where everything is. I have some new tools that might interest you. Look in the storeroom; haven’t had a chance to organize in there yet.”

Jamie had always loved tools. Power tools, hand tools, drills, saws, all still fascinated him. It never hurts to look, he thought as he shoved open the swinging door to the storeroom.

Well, this hasn’t changed much; he shook his head as he looked around. The crates of new tools had been opened but not unpacked, surrounded by piles of implements of every description and age. This place is a mess, just like always, Jamie thought with a little smile.

He remembered grandpa’s admonishment, “Now don’t wander round in there, boy, the bogie man’ll get you.” Of course, the bogie man never did get him. He’d find pennies, and nails, and pieces of wire, all sorts of interesting stuff, and grandpa usually let him take his treasures home.

Grandpa had been well aware of what kinds of things would keep a little boy occupied. He was always sure to leave something in just the right places for an adventuresome lad to discover. Jamie had spent hours in there, dreaming, inventing, and getting good and dirty.

The new tools were nice. But all Jamie really wanted was to smell, feel, and remember, so he climbed through the stacks of stuff and wiggled his way to the back reaches of the room. He fingered the old harnesses and sniffed the dry, cracked leather. He’d never asked grandpa what some items were used for.

A twinge of regret struck him as he studied a mass of intricately twisted wires and long wooden poles and handles, trying to imagine their use. Probably antiques now, he thought.

In the back right corner was a ladder bolted to the wall leading up to a hatch in the ceiling. As his eyes followed the ladder up, he tried to recollect if he’d ever explored the attic. Grandpa probably never let him get that far.

“Mr. Jones, what’s in the attic?” Jamie called out through the storeroom.

Elly had come in and was rummaging through a box. “I have no idea what’s up there, Jamie. I don’t think Wilbur knew himself, to be honest. You want to look? It’s all right with me. Course, there might be some rats up there.”

“Well, I wouldn’t mind. I could do a little inventory for you. There might be something useful stashed up there.”

“I doubt it, but go ahead if you like. Just be careful, flooring might be rotted through in spots, watch where you step. Yell out if you get into trouble.”

Jamie borrowed a heavy duty flashlight and edged his way back to the ladder. It looked sturdy enough but from the dust on the rungs, it hadn’t been climbed in a long time. Feeling his way as he went, he reached the ceiling hatch. The rusted hinges took several few hard pushes to move.

The entire attic was floored, to Jamie’s surprise. A long cord dangled just in front of him, leading to a light bulb fastened to a rafter. He pulled the cord. The bulb gave off a dim, yellowish light, not much help. He switched on the flashlight.

Looks like mostly junk, he thought to himself. Broken rocking chairs, empty canning jars, boxes of old catalogs, and bolts of mildewed oilcloth.

Dilapidated cardboard containers full of rusty screws, all sizes. Hurricane lamps. Candles. Belts and pulleys.

He inched his way across the floor, looking into the boxes and finding spiders and beetles. Wooden boxes were pushed under the eaves, even an old trunk with leather and metal bindings. Jamie stretched his hand toward the trunk, attempting to pull it closer to the light.

It doesn’t weigh very much, he thought as he pulled at the lid. The metal hasp was corroded but there was no lock, and he pulled and pushed until the lid gave way. Inside was a faded length of heavy cloth resembling drapery material. Beneath it lay a slender wooden case, wedged at an angle into the trunk.

Humh, what is this, Jamie wondered. The dark wood looks hand tooled, he thought, not stained or anything; oiled maybe? He worked the case out, untangling the cloth from around it. A shallow fitted lid clung tightly to the bottom section.

Jamie’s curiosity was aroused as he examined the case more closely. He didn’t want to damage it prying it open. No telling what was inside.

Sitting back on his heels, Jamie made a decision.  He reversed direction and carefully backed down the ladder, trying not to drop the case as he descended.

Ellison Jones was assembling the display for the new tools when Jamie showed him the case.

“What you got there, Jamie?”

“Have you ever seen this before, Mr. Jones?” Jamie laid the case atop a stack of crates. Elly straightened up, picked up the case and examined the bottom and sides.

“You find this upstairs?”

“It was in an old trunk under the eaves. It didn’t look like it had been opened in years. This was the only thing in it, wound up in some kind of cloth. What do you suppose it is?”

“Well, whatever it is, it’s probably yours, or your mama’s, Jamie. I haven’t even been in that attic since I bought the place, just stuck my head up and glanced around. Figured I’d get to it one of these days. Try to open it?”

“It’s stuck shut pretty tight. I didn’t want to crack the wood or anything. You got any ideas on how to get it open?”

Elly thought a moment, then brought over a little metal can with a slender tip and let a few drops of oil fall onto the thin line demarcating the sections. Carefully he covered all four sides, and waited a few moments before trying to open the case. It took several applications of the oil before the lid began to budge.

A few minutes later, Jamie and Elly stared down into the hollowed-out center of the case, at a scabbard. Elly cautiously lifted the scabbard out and gripped the handle. After a slight tug, a simple blade of steel began to slide free. A sword.

“Oh, wow.” Jamie couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“Yeah.” Neither could Ellison Jones. “Where was this, Jamie?”

“In a trunk. Under the eaves. Way over across from the hatch, you know?”

“What else was in the trunk?”

“Just some old cloth, like this.” He fingered the material that formed the bed for the scabbard. The inner surface of the wooden box had been hand carved, scooped out and shaped, the cloth fitted into the depression and the scabbard fitted into the cloth.

“Any kind of tag on the trunk? Name plate or anything?”

“Not that I saw but I didn’t look for anything like that. Maybe we ought to get the trunk down here too…” Jamie was staring at the sword, trying to guess its age.

“How old do you think this is, Mr. Jones? It looks pretty old to me.”

“Well, that’s hard to say, Jamie. Let’s go get that trunk down here. Maybe that’ll give us a clue.” The two climbed the ladder.

“Over here.” Jamie pointed the way with the flashlight. Easing it down rung by rung, in a few minutes they had the trunk in the center of the storeroom.

Jamie pulled the length of material out of the trunk, examining it as he went. Gray from age, the original indigo color faintly stained the inside of the creases.

The trunk lining proved to have shallow pockets, almost sealed tight against the walls of the trunk. One deep pocket across the back wall, one short pocket against the two side walls didn’t look as if they’d ever contained anything, but Jamie cautiously worked two fingers into the back pocket. Empty, just as it looked.

One side pocket wasn’t closed so tight and his fingertips brushed the rough surface of a small slip of paper. He carefully pulled it into the light and squinted at the faint printing. The faded handwriting was barely dark enough to make out the words.

“Cutlass belonging to Captn. Sims. Givn. Jno. Elliott. Preserved, not sealed in grave as pledged. Almighty will forgive. Kath’n. would not.” And then below those few words a signature, Francis Marion Sims, and a date, November 14, 1846.

“Well. I guess it really is old. Jamie, do you recognize any of those names? John, or Jonathan, whatever, Elliott? He must be related to you… why else would this to be stored here.”

Ellison Jones wasn’t a history buff, but he did recognize history when he had it in his very hands.

Jamie hesitated, visualizing the sketch of the grave site. “I think I do, Mr. Jones, but I’m going to have to do some checking. I — I’m not sure how to ask this question, but — you did buy this property, the building and all, I mean –“

“Now, Jamie, this is your property here, yours and your family’s. Don’t you know that, son?”

“Well, I guess so, but…”

Jamie knew the sword must have belonged to his ancestors, and from the note on the handwritten paper, it could well date to the Revolutionary War. And another realization began to grow.

Jamie slowly began to recount some of his thoughts to Ellison Jones. After a short discussion, Elly agreed to keep the sword and trunk hidden for the time being, easy enough to do in the cluttered storeroom.


Chapter 21

February 25, 2012

Wednesday afternoon

“Afternoon, Miss Elsie. What are you working on?” Carroll Thompson had drifted into the dining room and spotted Elsie writing a note to her granddaughter. Without an invitation, he took a chair and tried to read her handwriting upside down.

Elsie had managed to acquire a “suitor” at the Villas. At first it had seemed amusing. It still was to Mattie, observing the two from the hallway.

“My granddaughter has just started taking piano lessons and I’m trying to encourage her to practice.” Elsie kept on writing.

“Great idea, that. About finished? Thought maybe you’d like a walk about. Just going out myself, could do with a bit of company.”

“I’m sorry, Carroll, I’m going into town in a few minutes to put this in the mail and shop for a few things. Another time, perhaps.”

“Yes indeed, well, the climate hereabouts is grand for walks and such.” Climbing up from his chair, Carroll cheerfully took his leave, and Elsie quickly gathered up her writing materials and went to join her friend.

Mattie refrained from teasing Elsie about her “man friend,” and the two walked briskly to the parking lot. The conversation turned to the topic of Kate’s phone call about the old receipt book.

“They always had one, the plantation wives, you know,” Mattie said. “They kept everything in it, from the cost of piece goods to instructions on how to cure meat and build cradles. I don’t know why I never knew about that little book, though. I guess since Whit never paid much attention to his father’s old books, I didn’t either. That book would be a collector’s item these days.”

“What puzzles me is the McNeill names in the old Bible. You don’t imagine Kate and Jim were distantly related, do you? That would be really interesting, wouldn’t it.”

“You know, Elsie, Kate was an orphan when she and Jim met. Both her parents died when she was a small child, at least her father did. Her mother passed away when Kate was in her early teens, I believe. She was raised by godparents, and they’ve been dead now for years. But it does make you think, doesn’t it.”

They were on their way to visit the County and State Archives, a second floor wing of the library containing maps, county records and historical magazines. Perhaps early records would fill in some gaps about the little cemetery. It was one way to spend an afternoon at least, whether they learned anything or not.

The library was a stately red brick building surrounded by pecan trees and azalea bushes. The main entrance was on a side street just a block off the main north-south thoroughfare, a few blocks from the courthouse. Large broad stone steps led to an ornamental front door that was never used any more, with a ground floor doorway to the left of it. The small parking lot was lined with dogwoods.

Mattie pulled into a parking spot at the far end of the lot, and as usual admired the old building. It was a historical gem, and she was glad the local library board had seen fit to modernize and preserve it at the same time.

“Could we see the reference librarian, please?” Mattie and Elsie greeted the young clerk, a newcomer to the library.

“I’ll get him for you, back in a sec,” she whispered and almost skipped across to one of the stacks.

“Am I getting older, Elsie, or do they seem to be getting younger every day,” Mattie laughed softly.

“Hello, ladies, how are you? I haven’t seen either one of you in a while. Are you staying well?” The pleasant, low pitched southern drawl contained a smile as Jack Houston approached.

“Hello, Jack, it’s nice to see you. How is your family?”

The chief reference librarian for many years, no-one called Stephen Houston by his real name. “Jack” it had been for as long as anyone could remember, and the nickname seemed to suit him. He was a sandy-haired, spectacled gentleman in his mid 50’s, average height but a little on the thin side. Never married, Jack had spent much of his adult life looking after his parents, but he’d not given up hope of finding the right mate.

By nature humorous and courteous, he lightly flirted with young and old ladies alike. All the single ladies tried to “fatten” him up at Christmas with cookies and pies.

“They’re just fine, Miss Mattie, Miss Elsie. Ever since they moved to Florida, they’ve perked up like you wouldn’t believe! It’s amazing what being in close proximity to several grandchildren has done for their health,” he added with a chuckle. “What can I help you with?”

“We have some questions about county history, Jack. Could you let us in to the Archive room? And if you have a few minutes, maybe point us in the right direction?”

“Sure, be glad to.” He moved to his desk behind the reference counter and collected the key ring from the middle drawer. Both elevator and Archive room were usually kept locked.

The elevator door opened into the hallway just outside the Archives on the second floor. As Jack unlocked the door, a dry, musty odor greeted them. “Nobody’s been up here recently, as you can probably tell. What did you want to see?”

Pulling chairs out for Mattie and Elsie, Jack sat across from them at the long oak table occupying the center of the room. Mattie launched into their story. She and Elsie had agreed that Jack was almost the most trustworthy person they knew. Now they took him into their confidence about the grave site. He was an attentive listener.

“So you see, we need more information, Jack. There has to be something in the records of this area about a site that important. It’s actually more historic than most other places in our region, if we’re right. We feel it should be located and preserved, and given the proper recognition. Don’t you agree?”

Jack was holding his chin in the palm of his right hand, supporting the elbow with his left hand. History had been his major in college, and here it was, come to life in his own home town. The land ownership could prove to be troublesome, and that would have to be addressed sooner or later. First things first, though. Find the parcel of land, prove the grave is still there, and that it holds the remains of a revolutionary soldier. He pushed himself up and turned toward a counter top holding long card files.

“Yes, I agree. There are a good many family records in this room, and histories of creeks, churches, whatever had any kind of event attached that was considered important. Let’s take the family names first.”

He sifted through several index boxes, pulled half a dozen cards out to start with, and the three began browsing through the shelves for the volumes of family histories they represented.

These volumes couldn’t be removed from the library, and only a few had any sort of index, which meant turning page after page, searching for clues. Mattie soon realized that this could turn out to be a lengthy process, unless they had a streak of good luck.

While the two women pored over several books, Jack considered how else to help. Maybe the library map collection would help. A tall, angular oak frame stood against the wall. County and regional maps hung from wooden slats, each removable from the frame for study. These maps were cumbersome to handle, but they were in chronological order. The earliest maps were regional, for Dalton County had been a recent creation in the life of the state.

The print on the old maps was faded in spots, and the names of places had been changed over the years, but the direction of the rivers hadn’t changed. Nor the creeks. He squinted as he read the fine print.

“Miss Mattie, look at this.” He had located Jenson’s Branch, Elliott’s Crossing and Sims Mill. The branch curled and twisted, and curved back upon itself in a familiar pattern. This was today’s Jensen’s Creek, all right.

Jack lifted the map down and laid it lengthwise across the long oak table. They measured from the marked roads in their minds, and took notes.

Mattie jotted down place names all around that area, many of them names of landowners or other prominent personages. Perhaps they would find references to these in the bookshelves. Some one of them might have mentioned the soldier, and perhaps the place of his burial. It was a lot of perhaps, but they had to start somewhere.

Reluctantly Jack left the ladies to their task and returned to his own duties downstairs. He had found their determination contagious.

Mattie carefully recorded the names of each book as they went, and the stack of dusty volumes grew. No success so far. Glancing at her watch, Elsie reminded Mattie of the hour. With a sigh, Mattie straightened up and stretched. “We’ve got to come back next week, Elsie. There’s bound to be something in here, somewhere.”

They left the stack of books where it lay and pushed the elevator button. Back on the ground floor, they quietly crossed to the reference desk to thank Jack for his help. Excitedly, he tugged at Mattie’s arm and whispered, “Look what I found.” Pointing into the stacks, he motioned for them to follow him to the shelf containing United States History, Geography and other related subjects, including the Revolutionary War. An entire section was devoted to that war and its relationship to their state. Jack had pulled out one slender, faded volume for them to look at.

“See this?” He slipped the small book from its place and opened the front pages. “It’s about Jensen’s Creek and the bridge that used to be out there, and it’s got some material about John Elliott too,” Jack said softly. He was holding a diary, a family history compiled from stories told by someone who had lived through the latter part of the Revolutionary War. Privately published in the mid 1800’s, the author was Francis Marion Sims, son of Martha Katharine Elliott and Jonathan Sims.

“This was misfiled down here.  It’s supposed to be kept upstairs because it’s one of a kind. I don’t know what made me look over here, but if you knew how many things get put in the wrong place… This might be just what you need!” Jack was trying to keep his voice down low.

“Jack, do you have time for us to look at this now?” Mattie sure wanted the chance to examine the diary today.

“Y’all take it over to my desk while I take care of closing up, and we’ll look it over tonight. We can copy the whole thing, for that matter, if you’re not in any hurry.”

Mattie and Elsie were in no hurry at all. The little diary wasn’t much bigger than a Reader’s Digest, and the small print on the browning paper made it hard to read. Mattie spread the pages carefully and they huddled together so both could read.

It was an account of a lifetime. The volume began with the call-up of the backcountry farmer-soldiers to help fight the invaders of the state. The reluctance of these fiercely independent farmers to leave their families and farms was plainly stated, yet their love of the land was stressed in the flowery language. The author used third person in some places, was more personal in others, as he related the life of his grandmother and her family after his grandfather, Lt. John Elliott died.

They read the abbreviated accounts of hardships after the war. Disease. Horrendous storms, washing away the crops. Famine and drought, forcing families off their land and out of the state, migrating west in search of a better future. That is why he and his siblings were born in Alabama, not in South Carolina. But family roots went deep, and Francis Marion Sims and his parents had returned to a land he’d never seen when his grandmother had fallen ill.

Over the weeks before her death, she retold stories of her youth, her marriage, and the war. And Lt. Elliott’s return from the war, and their all too brief reunion. She was desperate for someone to know how precious that life had been, not just to her, but to the future of this state, to this union.

So young Francis, the one with the most education, had painstakingly written it out for her, asking questions when she had strength to answer, and recorded their family history, page after painful page.

Elsie’s eyes grew bright with tears as she read. “It’s so sad,” she murmured.

“And so noble,” Mattie added. “Just think what it took to do all this, Elsie. Printing didn’t come cheap in those days. They wanted this pretty bad to go to such expense, this record, I mean.”

Mattie was remembering stories her husband had recounted when they were dating, all those years ago. She wished she could remember more of what he had told her. She turned a page, and began reading the account of Sarah Elliott’s final days, her death, and her burial.

“Elsie, this is it, this is it.” Mattie pointed to the paragraph. The burial site was described in some detail, the plot of land that had been a memorial for John Elliott, where Sarah Elliott was laid to rest beside her husband. There was the description of the plantings that surrounded it, the stones that made up a fence around the two graves, the distance from the creek bank, and the fact that it was centered laterally in the plantation.

That phrase gave them the most important distinction of all. All they would need now was the plat of the original Elliott plantation. Once they found the center, they could locate the grave site.

Jack finally locked the last door behind the departing library staff and then began making photocopies of the vital pages from the Elliott diary.

When the last page was done, he slipped the little book into an old manila envelope and placed it in the locked bottom drawer of his desk.

As he walked them to their car, he quietly explained what he had been thinking. The diary, the grave site and the Revolutionary War — historical site, Elliott Pointe, and money. Big money for Dalton, and the potential loss of that money. He pointed out that many battles had been fought over far less than was at stake here.

“Thanks, Jack. I knew you were the right person to come to.” Mattie slowly got behind the wheel. As Elsie climbed into the passenger seat, Mattie turned again to Jack.

“We need to discuss this with Kate, Jack. I mean all of us, including you. We have to decide how to approach this situation… and we can’t wait too long…”


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