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Two old farmhouses, right next to each other, their yards separated only by a white picket fence—in the midst of a normal everyday neighborhood in the middle of town….

“That is rather unusual,” said Kelly, “unless you know what it used to be like over two hundred years ago.”

She spread out the old map in her lap and Abby examined it with her.

The property Kelly lived on used to stretch far off in one direction. Abby’s ancestors owned all the land as far as they could see in the other direction.  Many changes had taken place since colonial days, including lots of new houses, streets, a riding school, and a cemetery. Only the pond where Kelly and her brothers swam seemed to be the same.

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That’s where the girls had been playing in the water and babysitting Kelly’s two little sisters. Red haired, two year old, Dani was content to play in the shallow water, but four year old Tracy had to be watched every minute for she was a daredevil.

The two older girls were hot and exhausted after pulling apart nearly every inch of the attic.  Mom was very meticulous. Even the attic was organized, for she liked to know exactly what was in every nook and cranny of her home. She hated wasting time searching for stuff.

A place for everything and everything in its place,” she told the girls. “That’s what my grandma used to say.” Then Mom sighed. “Except that whatever I happen to be looking for at the time—never seems to be in its place!”

The girls knew that the flag’s hiding place would not be in plain view. So they had looked for something that would not have been noticed in the usual cleaning or renovating over the years. They checked  the old wooden wall, every shadowy corner of the floor, even the rafters of the ceiling. But they had found nothing–except Brent’s cat.

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After swimming for a while, Abby had run home to get the diary. But there were no further clues. She’d also brought over the old map, just for fun.

“The Historical Society would have a fit at how we’re handling all these things, but Grandmother says they’re ours so we can do what we want.” Abby grinned and shrugged. “Oh, we’ll probably give it all to them for the museum later but Grandma wants to examine everything first.”

Kelly grinned. “We should be wearing gloves, at least, never mind having them outside where  a sudden wind could blow them into the pond!”  This as she held on tightly to the map, which was rustling in the breeze.

But Abby wasn’t really listening anymore.  She was looking off toward the cemetery in the distance. She had been a little more subdued since she returned with the artifacts.

Kelly paused, then leaned over and gave her friend a hug. “You want to go over to Steve’s grave when Mom gets home?”

They had already  discovered Abigail’s and Mary Ellen’s and Jack’s graves in the historical section of the cemetery back when they’d first started reading the letters and diaries. But since Steve’s funeral, they’d gone over a couple of times, and Abby had told her all about her cousin’s life.

But Abby shook her head. “Not today.”

“What’s up, anyway?” Kelly pursued.

She scowled. “I don’t want to go over there. I’ll just get too mad.”

“Why!”

“My mother was there on her lunch hour to water the flowers and it’s been vandalized!”

“No!”

Abby nodded. “The flowers were pulled out of the ground and the flag was trampled—Mom says here was a muddy footprint on it.  And they spray painted the headstone. It says ‘murderer’.  I don’t know how we’re ever going to get that off.”

“Abby, I’m so sorry. That’s so terrible.”

The girl shook her head. “We should be used to it. Even some of our family don’t like what Steve stood for. They’ve never thought it was right that he was in the military. They don’t like war. They always start a big argument when we get together for parties and stuff.”

Nobody likes war….”

“I know! Of course people don’t like war—but you do what you have to do….”

Kelly nodded thoughtfully, “Mom says it’s important to defend ourselves and our country. God created everything good and perfect, and we could have lived peacefully with each other in harmony. But Mom says He did something really risky—He gave people a choice. But everyone chose sin.  And because of sin, there’s fights—whether between two people or between nations. But even in the midst of the mess people made and wars and things, God gives all kinds of opportunities to be brave, and do great things, and help others.”

“I agree with all that. I don’t know much about the God thing but Steve was a great guy. All he wanted to do when he joined the military was to defend us and help others have a better life and get rid of evil dictators that are hurting their people.”

Suddenly there was a call from the house. “Kelly, I’m home. Bring the girls up for their naps and then you can go do whatever.”

“Okay, Mom.”

“Let’s look one more time in your attic,” said Abby.  “Remember we were going to move that big cabinet before your mother called us for lunch.”

“Okay.”

“But…well, maybe I do want to go see what they did to Steve’s grave first.”

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At the cemetery, they were disgusted at the vandalism.

“How could anybody do this?” asked Kelly angrily.

But to make things worse, a boy from school was nearby, putting flowers at someone’s grave with his grandmother. He looked over at the mess and sneered, “serves him right! Maybe he was a murderer.”

“How dare you!” gasped Kelly.

But Abby was absolutely speechless—for about a second—then she flung herself at him. “You don’t know anything about it!  Take it back!  What, did you do this?”

“Whoa, wait!” Without even thinking, Kelly burst into the fight herself even as she heard the grandmother shouting.  She pulled Abby away and managed to get between the two of them. The boy backed away, looking smug.

“No, I didn’t do it. But looks like it runs in the family—all you military people want to do is fight.”

But his grandmother was there then. The little white-haired woman gripped his arm with surprising strength and yanked him away.

What do you think you’re doing!  I’m ashamed of you. And your great grandfather would be, too. He died in World War II trying to stop  madmen—and we’ve got more of the same these days.  Haven’t I taught you anything?”

“Grandma, let go!”

But Abby stumbled away, her anger turned to tears.

“Honey,” the grandmother called to her. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Abby nodded, and then Kelly got her away from there. They walked for a long time, looking at flowers, straightening the little flags that were here and there marking the graves of veterans.

Suddenly, they noticed the boy walking towards them.

“He’s still here?  He better stay away from me!”

“Wait,” said Kelly.

The boy approached, his expression very different. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry.  Grandma told me that your cousin died saving a little kid. I didn’t know that.  And she said they use women and children as human shields….” He shook his head, as if unable to believe it.  “Anyway, I’m sorry.”

Abby relaxed. “It’s okay.”

He turned and walked away, but Abby sat down on the ground and buried her face in her hands. “I know what Steve did was brave. But I miss him so much.”

Finally after a long time she looked up at Kelly.  “Let’s go check out the attic again. Let’s go find that flag. Wouldn’t it be fun to get the story on Facebook—if your mom will put it on for us.”

Kelly smiled, glad that Abby had something else to think about. “Okay. She’ll think that’s a great idea.”

Kelly pushed at the tall wooden cabinet with all her strength.

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Abby shoved from the other side, grunting.  “What’s in here, anyway?”

“Old canning jars and oil lamps and things. This old furniture is just heavy, that’s all. Look how thick the wood is. Uh oh.”

This was the only place they hadn’t checked before. Now they managed to budge it a few inches, but breaking glass inside stopped them. Kelly opened the door. Old canning jars in a box were clinking together and an empty oil lamp was tottering.

“Oh, this is what broke,” Kelly pointed to a thin vase that had toppled over on the top shelf.

She removed the oil lamps. Abby took down two  vases, and set them down on the floor with the oil lamps, then closed the doors of the cabinet. Together the two girls set to their task again, and managed to pull it away from the wall far enough to see behind it.

Then Kelly switched on a flashlight and in the beam, she saw it. The square outline of a small door about the size of a wall safe!

“There is something there! But how to get it open is the question!”

“Let me see!”

“Wow,” said Abby at her first look at the large square outline. “Cool. But you’re right. How do you get in it? There’s no knob or latch or anything.”

“Let’s get some more light in here. Get the electric lantern over here and set it on top of the cabinet, will you?Look, there’s a knothole in the wood.”

Kelly stuck her finger in the knothole and sure enough, something started to happen.  She felt a latch and pulled at it.

The latch clicked and the door of the hiding place released, moving forward from the wall a half inch or so.

“We’ve got to move this cabinet some more.”

They shoved the cabinet further over, rather roughly in their eagerness. They disregarded the sound of more breaking glass as they gave it one last mighty shove and the wall panel was free to open all the way. They pushed in to gaze into the blackness. Kelly grabbed the flashlight and beamed it into the opening.

“There’s something there,” Abby exclaimed.

Kelly pulled out a flat wooden box and struggled with the cover. Finally she was able to peer in.

“This is it!” she whispered, too overcome to speak up.

The flag, over two centuries old, was really here in her attic.

To be continued….

By Carol Bennett