In spite of the late hour, Sid knew he could make it to the drugstore before it closed.

The teenagers drifted out noisily toward home.

A couple of Fords, probably belonging to parents, were filling up, with the young men perched on the running boards. They zoomed off amidst tooting and laughter. 

Nathan was still at the church. He hadn’t gotten very far in his practice for he’d been listening to Sid on the trumpet.

Lyddie didn’t like Sid playing in the house and neither did the neighbors. Sometimes he went over to the creek where he wouldn’t bother anyone. Other times he went to his teacher’s house. The old man had said he could practice there anytime. But tonight he’d wanted to play his first little song for Nathan and then they’d talked endlessly about all that had happened.

Now Sid walked into the drugstore to buy aspirin for Papa. He left after a pleasant good night from the old lady, who, as usual, gave him a discount. She even threw in a piece of penny candy for him while she was at it.

He sucked on his peppermint as he happily left the drugstore. Everything would be all right. Hope would be well. She just had to be after all this. Doubt and faith vied for the upper hand in his heart. She, of course, would choose faith, along with the indomitable Charlotte. But maybe they had turned out to be right. God seemed to be working everything out for Hope.

He was approaching the mill. The second shift was probably hard at work.

Suddenly he thought he smelled something.


Not from coal or someone burning trash—the aroma was more pungent. He shrugged and walked on. He passed the mill and was coming up on the block of small millhouses. Beyond that was the church on the corner.

The smell of smoke grew stronger. He glanced down to the far corner of the mill—and jumped in surprise!

“Fire!” he shouted, but there was no one around to hear. He was about to race down there, but instead he swerved over to the first house and pounded on the door.

An old man opened it a crack.            

“Fire! At the mill!”

“What, you think I’m rich? I don’t have a telephone!” The old man glared at him.

“Well, send someone to the fire station! I’ll see if the workers know!”

He dashed away as the man looked at him with bleary eyes, then shuffled over to the next door.

“You’d better hurry!” Sid shot back over his shoulder. “You’re close enough—your house could be next!”

The boy dashed across the grass, and burst through the main doors. The men were calmly working at their machines.

“Can’t you smell the smoke?” he yelled. “Fire down in the annex!”

They stared at him, then moved into action just as several women rushed in from the dye room.

“Fire! The mill’s on fire!”

“Come on—out this way! Hurry!” cried one man.

“Someone’s getting the fire company—I think,” said Sid.

“Quick, ring the bell! Just to be sure!” the man told him.

“It didn’t look too bad,” said Sid, as he raced across the room, “but it could spread! It’s down near the woods.”

“So the houses on Mill Street could catch,” exclaimed the man.

He disappeared into another room to warn everyone he could find, and soon women were streaming out and heading for the main door.

“And it could spread to Main Street, too!” Sid muttered, as he took the steps two at a time. He reached the bell tower and yanked on the rope over and over. The bell rang out, nearly deafening him.

Finally he raced back downstairs. Outside, the women stood about, talking anxiously, but around back, men from all over the mill were helping to fight the fire. The workers in the loom room had been at it already.

Men from the millhouses joined them as well, not wanting to see their own houses catch. Finally the new fire wagon came clanging up Main Street.

Then Nathan appeared. Apparently, he had still been at the church. And then Samuel Owens screeched up in his fancy car, ushered out by his chauffeur.

He stared in dismay at the sight of his mill in flames!

 Jason Owens, the other brother, arrived soon after. They made sure their workers were safely out of the way as they all watched the firemen take over and bravely fight the fire.

Hours later, grimy and dirty, men trudged home, and the firemen stayed to make sure all was doused completely.

“It could have been a lot worse,” said Mr. Owens. He and Nathan had been watching the scene the whole time.

“Thanks to Sid here. He got the word out,” said Nathan.

“The men in the annex were already fighting it—and one was coming up to warn the others and ring the bell,” Sid told him, honestly.

“Well, when it comes to fire, every minute counts,” said Mr. Owens. “Thank you—again.”

Nathan was devastated and Sid knew why.

Mr. Owens was sympathetic. “We don’t know it was Jake. Why would he? What would he have to gain?”

“He didn’t always need a reason.”

“Come on. Chief says it’s all right to go in now. Come with us, Sid,” The bosses stepped into the building “I still say if it hadn’t been for you…you sounded the alarm first.”

They toured the mill and found mostly smoke damage. Some areas had not even been affected. After checking the offices and the safe, they walked out a back door and saw that the back annex would need a lot of work. It had spread into the oldest, unused part, too. The old waterwheel was burned badly, and the walls destroyed.

“Good thing we don’t use mules anymore,” the younger brother grinned, as he tried to lighten things up a bit. He stepped over into the mule shed, which was still smoldering. “We can just take this whole section down. We haven’t used it in years.”

“Hello, Mr. Owens.” A mill worker appeared, along with a fireman.

“Hello, Sam. Thanks for your good work.”

“Well, I’m pretty mad at Butler. He was coming outa the office when the whole thing started—and just took off. Didn’t warn anybody or nothin’. Thought it was pretty strange. Nothin’ missing from the safe?”

“No,” said Mr. Owens.

Nathan’s shoulders sank. Butler was Jake’s friend.

“Haven’t seen him around in a while so I thought he quit,” said Sam.

“Not officially, just never showed up for work one day. But you saw him here?”

“Sure did.”

The worker walked off, but the fireman looked at Nathan significantly. “Maybe we have our arsonist. We’re pretty sure it was started. We’ll have a full report for you tomorrow, Mr. Owens.” 

Sid headed home to relate the whole story to his wide-awake family.

The next morning, they had a telegram from Mr. Simmons. He was heading back once he got Charlotte settled in the hotel in Baltimore. Hope, of course, would be admitted directly into the hospital for reams of tests.

Since the newspaper gave very little new information, Sid visited the fire station.

He found, to his surprise, that neither Butler or Jake were to blame after all. Wouldn’t Nathan be relieved!

“It was that Mason guy that lives down by the Harris Mill. He got fired from there some time ago. Got hired on here.”

“One of our own workers?”

“Troublemaker everywhere he goes—calling for strikes, fighting….” said Jim, one of the firemen. “Someone saw him in the loom room acting suspiciously just before the fire started, then he headed out the back—and that’s where it was the worst. And  he confessed. Not real sorry for it, either. Paul took him into custody early this morning.”

“He’d risk killing his fellow workers?” asked Sid, angrily.

“I don’t think he meant it to go that far. It was a warning. He wasn’t happy that things were settling down,” said another, who was washing down the new wagon.

“But it doesn’t make sense. They’re striking for better wages and working conditions. What will destroying part of the mill do? Only put us all out of a job!”

“Sometimes people don’t think straight when they’re angry,” observed Jim.

As Sid walked toward the mill, he realized that perhaps the firemen were right. He’d been angry and disillusioned himself. He didn’t think he’d ever do something like setting a fire, but he’d certainly thought about joining the strike. Until Mr. Simmons and even Ted’s quiet talks with him had changed his mind.

Just then Ted approached, looking things over.

“They say they’ll open the main part tomorrow. Smoke’s mostly out and we can get back to work. It could have been a lot worse. Could’ve lost all these houses—even the church if the wind had been right.” He put a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Glad to hear about Hope.”

Sid grinned. Things were looking good again.

Whatever the arsonist had hoped for, it backfired. Instead of creating more dissension, the workers were so shocked at nearly losing everything that the strikers had backed off for the moment. Samuel Owens and his brother were quoted in the newspapers as being ready to make big improvements and even the bank problem was well in hand, though the crooks had not been caught or the money returned.

“It seems as if a little kindness and understanding has gone a long way. People are willing to wait and see how it all works out. They’re getting their salaries and that’s all that matters right now,” Nathan told Sid. He sighed and continued, “Jake’s probably left town this time. I don’t think they’re ever going to get that money back.”

Nathan was missing Charlotte’s company, but word from Baltimore was good. The operation had gone well. The famous doctor was happy with her progress.

Hope was responding to treatment. She would probably have to stay in a sanatorium for a long while, but Charlotte would stick with her, visiting every day.

Sid had never been happier.

Even better, one night he discovered something he certainly didn’t expect….


Sid trotted down the side street with his bucket, approaching the old bridge.

In the light of the full moon, he could clearly see the sprawling buildings of the mill.

If he looked up the street, he could see the steeple of the church that overshadowed the neighborhood.

He turned back to the bridge and headed into the woods. Tonight he was exuberant because there was the feel of spring in the air—or rather, the aromas. He caught the scents of dirt and old wet leaves, with just a breath of fresh flowering trees and bushes.

The pond was beautiful at this time of year. Hope loved this season and she would have loved to celebrate Easter at her church. He was sorry she had missed it—but she was doing well at the sanitarium and Charlotte was determined to stay, even though she wasn’t allowed to visit for long every day. She sent a telegram every week with the doctor’s prognosis and the family waited eagerly for them. Papa had stopped worrying about the cost for Nathan said she was happy to do it.

“You get a telegram. I only get a letter,” he pretended to scowl at them all.

“Yes, but it’s a love letter and I’m sure quite long,” Papa would grin back at him.

Now Sid slipped and slid down the muddy patches. This was his favorite time of year, too, and he was down here to dig for bait. The pond had been frozen for so long but finally just after Easter, he’d been able to start fishing again. It felt good to bring in food for the family and a little extra always made Lyddie and Papa less depressed. Though lately Lyddie had started going to church with her boyfriend,  Claude, and she seemed a little happier than usual.

He came out onto a slab of rock, and could look across the pool to their favorite spot, where Hope liked to sit. Then he looked straight ahead but couldn’t quite see the falls due to trees and brush. He put down his bucket and was about to start digging for bait. He planned to go on up to an even better spot in a few minutes, along a dirt path that would lead to a larger pond above the waterfall.

He suddenly heard the soft swish of oars.

Sid froze, and stared down the steep bank. Just below him, at the edge of the pool, was a figure in a rowboat. The man was—fishing? 

It couldn’t be. Nobody seemed to have any luck on this side. He’d tried many times.

Sid moved on to an area of bare, dead trees.

 He could see better through an opening in the branches. The man had a rope in his hand. He was pulling something up from the water.

Moonbeams shone on the misty pool. Sid saw the man grasp a metal box at the end of the rope, a box much like the one Sid had found and hidden in the hollow of the pine tree last fall.

He looked on, spellbound. Were more hidden here? The man dropped the box into the rowboat . Sid stepped carefully out onto some rocks. He knew this place and his steps were sure.

He watched as the man grasped the oars and continued along the bank toward the waterfall. The falls were light and slow right now, due to a very dry week. The moon shone on the man’s face.

It was Jake!

He’s still here!

He needed to find Nathan or Paul or somebody! Then Sid wondered if he could get hold of that box. But how?

To be continued….