Nathan walked swiftly across the bridge into town. He suddenly stopped near the general store and entered an alley
where an automobile was parked. In the darkness, Sid couldn’t see, but he heard the words clearly. The tone was angry, even distressed.
“I couldn’t find it, Paul! I thought for sure…he said near the dam!”
“There’s more than one dam in the area,” came another voice.
“I know, but from what he said, I was sure it was that one,” said Nathan. “He lives over there for one thing, plus there’s that huge old oak tree. I thought that was the landmark. I’m sorry, Paul.”
Sid inched closer trying to see, and suddenly realized—it was a police car!
He ducked back quickly. He didn’t like cops. Yet great relief that Nathan was still honest flooded over him. It was all right. Nathan was all he’d thought he was.
“If we could just find some evidence. Anything that I can hold him on, but as it is he’s free to leave the area. He knows he’s done all he can here. He’s got to be ready to move on.” The policeman was just as frustrated as Nathan.
“I don’t know—he’s got something else going. I know he does. He wouldn’t tell me, but I know him.”
“Keep your eyes open, then.” The policeman reached through his open car window and patted Nathan’s arm. “Stop worrying. We’ll find him.”
“I hate to see him in jail but he’s going to get himself shot or something if he doesn’t straighten out his life.”
A radio squawked out then and suddenly the headlights flashed on. The policeman backed out fast, and swerved onto the road.
“Where’d you get that?” Nathan tone changed to laughter. “Even in the big city cops don’t have radios! People don’t even think they’ll work.”
Sid could see the big policeman now. He grinned back. “Guess they’re wrong. I got my hands on a couple and had Fred install them. Works pretty good, huh? Someday they’re going to have a dispatcher at every station, but for now Charlie and me, we’re having some fun. Gotta go.”
“Next you two will want those flashing lights on top! Did you see that news story?” Nathan said, still laughing.
“Well, why not?” his friend retorted.
Nathan stepped aside, and the car zoomed out of sight. Then the young man walked rapidly down the street, deep in thought.
Sid finally headed home, too.
“One in the morning?”
The darkness of the living room hid his father’s chair. The glow of the gas lamp suddenly came up. His father stood up, his voice as lacking in expression as usual.
Sid gaped. He’d thought the whole family would be in bed. And even if his father was awake when he came in, he never seemed to care. Though Sid had never been this late.
“Hope insists that you don’t go around with bad boys that smoke cigarettes or gamble.”
“I don’t, Papa.” Perhaps he needed help on this. Perhaps he should tell. “Listen, Papa—”
He told what he’d seen so many months ago. And how he had hidden the money somewhere else so Gibson couldn’t find it.
His father seemed to believe him. He sat back down in his old chair. “You should have gone to the police.”
“The coppers—bah.” Yet Nathan knew one that he apparently trusted. “I was waiting for Mr. Simmons to get back.”
The man leaned back, exhausted. “Well, he’s not back, and if you know anything about the robberies you need to tell someone.” The man closed his eyes. Apparently the subject was closed. That was Papa—so depressed and discouraged that he could hardly function anymore.
Sid went to his bed in the alcove. He was so exhausted—mentally and physically— that he was asleep in his clothes almost before his head hit the pillow.
Sid had come to a decision. Hope was all for it. She trusted all her friends at church, but Sid was still wary of everyone but Nathan.
Thursday night, Nathan was waiting inside when Sid arrived at the church.
“Sid, come on in. I have a new song I want you to hear. I think you’ll like it.”
For Sid had a come a long way in his repertoire—from classical, to glorious anthems, to fun little ditties for the youngest children in the Sunday School. Nathan seemed to be able to play it all.
“And look what I have for you, Sid. You want to try it out? I know someone that would start teaching you for
free if you want!”
It was a battered old trumpet.
Sid had become very interested about Nathan’s crazy idea, especially after talking it over with Ted at the mill. But he couldn’t stop to think about music tonight.
“Can—I—talk to you?”
The young man looked at him, solemnly. He put the trumpet down. “Of course. Is it your sister?”
“No. It’s….” Sid didn’t know how to begin.
Nathan entered the sanctuary, and reached up to pull the chain on one of the electric lamps hanging from the ceiling. He sat down in the back pew and motioned Sid to do the same.
“Now…what is it?”
The boy hesitated.
“Tell me, Sid. You can tell me anything.”
“I know all about you.”
The man blanched. He hadn’t expected that. Then he said, “Not all about me surely,” but this with an uneasy laugh.
Sid took a deep breath. He didn’t want to ruin this friendship, but he plunged on. “I was here when Gibson came that night.”
Nathan sighed. “That was a long time ago—at least it seems like it.”
“I don’t care what you were—I mean—I heard you say you wouldn’t help him. But then I saw you at the Arkright Dam.”
“I guess you do know a lot,” Nathan finally said, though he didn’t seem angry.
“It’s just that—what were you looking for?”
“Money from the first robbery. The mill robbery. And other robberies. Jake hides loot everywhere so it’s not all in one place if he’s discovered. He’s quite consumed with hiding things.”
“I have it. I mean I moved it. He lost it because I moved it. The first one, at least.”
“The mill robbery? You have it?”
“It’s right over here—at the Hope Dam. I was waiting for Mr. Simmons to get home. I didn’t know who else to tell.”
“He got caught in a blizzard when he went back out West on business after Christmas. Maybe you know how bad the winters are out there. But he’s telegraphed that he should be back next week.”
“You have a copper friend that you can trust? Paul?”
“I’ll get it and bring it to you.”
“Perhaps it would be safer if I went with you—or if Paul came with us.”
Suddenly they both sensed more than saw a movement down front.
Nathan was on his feet. He glanced this way and that between the pews as he walked all the way to the pulpit. Then he shrugged and shook his head. When he returned, he said, “Nothing, I guess. I thought–it was Jake–but that’s silly.”
He laughed. “We have a cat that’s decided this is home. She sneaks in every time someone opens a door, and then nobody can find her.”
But he gazed toward the front of the church again, then shook his head and turned towards the door. “Now, how about we call my friend. It’s very cold. Do you think the ground’s frozen?”
“It’s not in the ground.”
Nathan reached up and switched off the lamp. Blackness came upon them as he led the way out the door.
Sid thought he heard something soft again, swishing. The cat, perhaps?
Nathan locked the blue doors with his large key. “We’ll go to the drugstore and call. I don’t think he’s on duty. I’ll call his house first.”
At the drugstore, Sid watched with fascination. He’d never really seen someone use the telephone before. He supposed that rich people had them in their homes, but it hadn’t occurred to him that policemen might. Nathan didn’t say much. Just asked Paul to meet them at the drugstore.
“You don’t want to tell all your business over the telephone,” Nathan told him. “Party line, you know. How’s Hope doing with medicine?”
“We’re nearly out.”
“How about we get her a bottle while we’re here.” The young man went over to the counter to buy the cough medicine.
Sid wandered outside, thankful beyond measure for these friends who were helping them so much. He no longer thought of it as charity. They were sincere. And he had promised himself that someday he’d do the same, just as Charlotte had suggested. He’d make something of himself and pay them all back.
Again he sensed the movement more than he heard it. The attack was sudden!
His arms were yanked viciously behind him. Shoved against the brick wall of the store, he was then dragged around the corner into the alley.
“Where is it, kid?”
He was sure there were two of them. It wouldn’t do to struggle, for they held him fast. His only hope was to go limp, let them think he’d passed out or something. Then he heard the click of a knife.
“I mean it, kid. And just think about this—I know where your sisters live.”
That made Sid mad. “You leave my sisters alone!” He moved fast and startled them for a moment. He might have had a chance, but they were on him again.
“Put it down. Now!” A strong masculine voice shouted.
“A copper!” One let go and ran, but the other stood firm.
“He stole our money, Officer. You’re not needed here. I have it under control.”
“I’ll bet. Move. Now. Let him go.”
The tone of the man changed to gruffness. “Your little billy club ain’t gonna do much, copper!” The man let Sid go and faced the policeman with the knife.
Apparently the man didn’t know all that much about policemen—at least this one. In short order the attacker was running, too.
“Should I chase him, boy? What’s it all about?”
“Who was it?” Nathan came out just then, tucking the package with the medicine in his coat pocket. “What’s going on?”
“Gibson!” gasped Sid.
“Are you sure!” asked Nathan.
The policeman jumped on his nearby motorcycle and powered it up. In a few seconds he was gone, and the street was quiet again, except for the clerk coming out to see what the disturbance was all about.
“You okay, kid?” asked the clerk.
Sid was confused by all this kindness. He hadn’t had much use for coppers, but he suddenly believed what Hope always said, They’re here to help us, Sid.
The motorcycle came roaring back, its headlight zeroing in on them. “I lost him, kid,” said the big policeman. “You sure you’re all right?”
“This is Officer Steadman,” said Nathan. “Paul couldn’t come. How’d you get here so fast, Charlie?”
“Saw the attack and came to check it out. Now what’s going on and why’d you call Paul?”
A few minutes later, the policeman left his motorcycle parked by the drugstore. They crossed the street, walking past the mill and down to the creek.
Officer Steadman had borrowed a lantern from the clerk, and Sid realized that was a good thing since there was no moon tonight. It was pitch black down here. The policeman lit the lantern, and Sid led the way.
“I overheard him say something about a big old oak tree,” said Nathan.
“Down there—near the bridge. But over here there’s a big old rotten evergreen. That’s where I moved it to.”
Sid scrambled down the bank, and they sank down in mud and icy slush. The waterfall was close by. Water splashed down from the pond above. It was fed by a narrow section of the long, winding Pawtuxet River, which gave all the mills their water power.
Sid stepped down onto a rock surrounded by brush, and reached into the hollow of a large fir tree.
“Careful. Might be something sleeping in there,” said Nathan.
But Sid was already pulling a burlap-covered package out. Officer Steadman gave him a hand up, and they retraced their steps up the slippery bank.
Sid quickly unwrapped the burlap to reveal a rusted metal box. He found the lid stuck fast after all these months.
“We’ll soon have it open,” said the policeman. “Come on, let’s get warm. I could go for a cup of coffee.”
Back at the drugstore, they holed up in a corner booth with hot drinks, the man drew out his pocketknife and fiddled with the latches. The drugstore was quiet, the usual gang of teenagers having already headed home for their curfews.
Sid wondered aimlessly what it’d be like to have pocket money to spend on soda and milkshakes, but focused back on the matter at hand.
The policeman finally succeeded in breaking the latches. He opened the rusted box and removed a square packet, wrapped in waterproof oilskin.
“Here it is. Looks like the right amount,” he said excitedly. “About five thousand, if I recall.”
“It was. They had the payroll in there, for one thing,” said Nathan. “Mr. Simmons said they had to go get more money from the bank to fill the pay envelopes that day. They didn’t want anyone to know, what with all the talk about striking.”
“This is a great thing you’ve done,” said Officer Steadman.
Sid ducked his head, embarrassed at the praise. He took a gulp of his hot chocolate. “I guess I should have told a long time ago, but I didn’t know who to trust. I was waiting for Mr. Simmons to get back.”
“And you’re sure it was Jake?” asked Nathan.
Sid nodded. “Hope was with me. She saw him, too.”
Nathan sighed. “Jake worked in the mill for a while when he first came to town. I wondered why. He isn’t one to take a job when he can steal. I should have known.”
“Now if we could just find the rest. The church, and the general store. And the house over on the hill. They got a good bit of jewelry in that one. But they didn’t keep on with the houses. Guess they found out that most of the rich folks have guards or dogs.”
“It could be hidden anywhere—in several places, knowing Jake,” said Nathan gloomily. “He’d spread it around.”
“Well, at least we have this,” said the policeman, cheerfully. “Thanks to Sid, here. Good job, boy.”
Sid beamed. He had never thought it would feel so good to be commended by a cop.
January came and went. Hope had worked her last day at the mill.
She was home for good now. There had been no half-shift for her. Mr. Simmons was back and knew that she was just too sick to keep working
Sid discovered that he attended their church on the corner. That’s how Nathan knew him so well–and that’s how Nathan knew all that was going on at the mill. Mr. Simmons visited Papa and told him that Hope must do what the doctor ordered and stay in bed.
Unfortunately, no positions were available for Lyddie just now—they were cutting back a bit—but he suggested that Lyddie would be too busy caring for her sister anyway. Papa seemed a little surprised at this. Everyone was so used to Hope shifting for herself.
“There will be some money coming to you, though.”
Papa brightened at this news.
“I’ll try to make it as much as possible, I promise you that.” The man turned to Hope. “I’m sorry, but it’s best for you. We’ve appreciated your good work. I hope you’ll feel a little better out of all that dust at the mill.”
The man donned his coat and hat, but before he drew on his gloves, he slipped a bill into Lyddie’s hand. “A little something to pay the doctor.” He smiled around at them all sadly.
And that was that. Hope was home and there would be pretty much only Sid’s paycheck coming in from now on. But Mr. Simmons had given so much that Lyddie was able to pay the doctor, and buy another bottle of medicine, and some beef for beef tea.
But Lyddie’s bad mood had returned with the dreariness of winter. She was grumpy and gloomy all the time. And they found that Mr. Simmons was right. Hope really was much worse, and Lyddie could seldom even go out nights with her boyfriend anymore. Hope could not get up and about, and even sitting on her stool at Papa’s side wearied her.
“We’ve got to do something!” stormed Sid, who would have begged, borrowed, or stolen apples, or flowers, or anything to bring a little cheer into the house—if it were only the season. As it was, all he could manage were more books sympathetically chosen by Miss Annabelle.
“There is nothing to do!” Lyddie hissed, angrily. “When are you going to get it through your head that there’s nothing anyone can do for this disease—not unless you’re rich. We have nothing! Soon she’ll be gone, and what’s the use of it all anyway? We might as well all die.”
He stomped out at that, and as usual walked the snowy streets.
Nobody would even give him work after hours. Everyone was poor. They did their own work. He begged at the garage to be taught how to fix the Ford cars, and visited the stable about taking care of the horses. He even visited the fire station, offering to polish the new fire wagon. But there was no work anywhere.
Charlotte often came over to help out. And she usually brought food.
Sid knew he should be grateful for the many things that Nathan and Charlotte and Mr. Simmons were doing for them. But Sid’s whole paycheck went for rent and as much coal as they could possibly afford to heat the house for Hope. The gifts that people had given were small in light of what was really needed.
They needed a miracle. He’d never believed in such things before. Now he believed, but apparently miracles weren’t for his family.
Then one day…a breakthrough-he hoped.
He caught a glimpse of Jake Gibbons…heading into the woods in back of the mill…and Sid decided to follow.
To be continued.