“Down here! Come on, Hope!”
Sid helped his sister as she jumped to a ledge of rock. He guided her through an area of small trees and brush to their favorite spot overlooking the creek.
“Watch out, don’t step in the mud. You’ll slip.”
Hope laughed and let go of his hand. “I’m not that weak—I’ve climbed around on these rocks for as long as you have.”
“You’re sick. I don’t want you falling in the water and catching pneumonia. It’s too cold.”
Hope sat down on a flat rock and pulled him down beside her.
“You’re so silly. I’m not going to fall in. Oh, Sid, you’re right. It’s more beautiful than ever!”
She gazed off at the brilliant golden trees over on the other side of the creek.
In spite of her words, Sid was worried. She hadn’t been down to this spot since the beginning of summer. After working all day at the mill, she was so weak and tired that it was all he could do to get her home. She could hardly eat her supper before dropping into bed and sleeping the night through, only to get up at five and head out to the mill again.
Even now she leaned against a tree, exhausted, as she looked about at the beauty of autumn.
Sid pulled a string and hook from his pocket, and found his rod under the brush. Tying the string securely to the end of the supple limb, he cast his line into the shallows of the pool below.
She didn’t even ask why he hadn’t brought a string and hook for her. Again, it had been a long time since she’d had the strength.
“Get us a good mess of fish. Then we’ll have some left for breakfast.”
Sid was determined to do just that. He was tired of cornmeal mush and potatoes for every meal.
“I’m going to get plenty of apples, too,” he said.
“Sid, you must wait until Mr. Simmons is home or you’ll get hauled off to jail for stealing from their orchards.”
“Who knows when he’ll be back? The apples could be rotting on the ground by then—or gone. One sack won’t hurt the Simmons. I need to do it now before they get their pickers in.”
“Sid! You have his permission but if he’s not here, you know they’ll call the police.”
“If I get caught.” He grinned. “Which I won’t! Look! I’ve got a bite!” And he succeeded in distracting her from any further discussion about the apples.
A while later, after taking the third fish off his hook, Sid noticed a man moving about in the wooded area downstream. “What’s he up to, I wonder?” Sid said.
“Who?” In spite of herself, Hope’s eyes had been closing. She had almost dropped off to sleep. Now she sat up and scanned the brush.
“It’s Gibson!” Sid exclaimed.
“From the mill? What’s he doing here?”
“I don’t know, but I saw him this afternoon. He was coming out of Butler’s office—and acting pretty sneaky.”
“Look, is he burying something?” Hope squinted against the sun that was glowing through the trees.
“Stay here. I’m going to find out.”
“No Sid, wait until he leaves.”
He insisted on helping her up the steep bank, and she sat on the old stone wall while he investigated.
He was back shortly.
“It’s the money that’s missing!”
“What did you do with it? Did you put it back where you found it?”
“I hid it somewhere else.”
“But shouldn’t we take it to the police? Or to Mr. Butler?”
Sid snorted derisively. “I’ll wait until Mr. Simmons gets back. I’d trust him more than the coppers or Butler!”
“Sid,” she scolded, “the police are all right. They’re supposed to help people.”
“Not the ones I know,” he replied.
“Oh, Sid! You only know a few like that. Most of them are good men.”
He pursed his lips together noncommittally. “Let’s get home.”
“Another secret,” thought Sid as he scampered nimbly over his machines the next morning. His job was to untangle threads, oil the machines, and sweep up.
The man who worked this machine was kind. Sid liked him. His name was Ted. Apart from inviting him to church in the winter or camp meeting in the summer, he left Sid alone. He whistled a lot—the old hymns that Mama used to sing.
But Sid knew he had it as rough as anyone, what with a little girl at home who was lame. She had been injured when she got too close to the machinery. It happened a lot in a place like this. The settlement hadn’t been much either.
But it all happened before Mr. Simmons was hired. He made sure people got their fair pay and all the help they needed. At least he tried.
Sid wished Mr. Simmons would get back so he could tell his news. He certainly wouldn’t tell Butler, who might even be in on the theft of the money. All the workers were being mighty quiet, not wanting anyone to think they knew anything about it.
The other secret Sid kept diligently was Hope’s condition. She didn’t realize how sick she really was. She should be home, being cared for by their big sister, Lyddie, but she refused, insisting that she do her part. Of course, if Hope was home, perhaps she could keep watch on Papa. Then Lyddie could work at the mil
But their older sister was already doing laundry and taking in sewing in all her spare time. If only Papa didn’t demand so much care.
Sid glanced over to the other side of the room where dozens of women were working hard. It was tedious work, hot and dusty always, and broiling in summer.
Hope was in another room with the other girls her age, sewing on one of the many treadle machines. But she was exhausted and weak and could hardly make it through the ten-hour day.
The family had quite a few secrets, actually. Papa’s moods were kept quite private. The fact that he did very little except sit in his chair and read the newspaper was not something they wanted told around the village.
He sighed. First Mama, now his favorite sister. As Hope’s cough grew worse day by day, he knew where it would all end.
To be continued….