Chapter one continued …. (pages 7-13)
Abigail was dead, nothing could change that. Emma frowned, tears streaming down her cheeks. Mother had always been her champion, even when Emma was wrong. There wasn’t a time Emma could remember that Abigail had ever been angry at her. It wasn’t fair, Abigail was too young to die, and now what would Emma do without her?
Emma thought of the many happy times they shared, when they would go out into the forest, to the white oak. It was there that the two of them would run away on warm spring days, or even on chilly winter evenings, to catch up and share stories. Emma loved the old tree. At times, she would see two small girls by the oak. At first, she thought they were neighbors, but the nearest house was over three miles away. Abigail never saw the two girls. Emma would only encounter them when she came alone. Both of them had dark brown hair like her own, with similar features. One said she was three and the other seven. They could have been sisters, the three of them. And sometimes Emma wondered if they were.
She knew her mother had birthed other children before she was born; however, none of them survived New England’s harsh winters and devastating epidemics. Emma wished they had. Growing up, she felt alone, and with her parents gone most of the year, diving into ancient archeological sites, pouring all their energy into their finds, their excavations and research, Emma had no one to talk to but the old widow Harlem whom the Franklins had hired as a nanny. She was a kind woman, warm and plump, happy most of the time even though she was getting on in years and had no family of her own, Emma had grown to care for her, but she wasn’t Abigail, wasn’t Mr. Franklin. Emma felt a void, a void she would struggle to fill for the rest of her life. She welcomed the visitations of the two young girls. Whether they were real or not, Emma didn’t care.
One day Emma had left a letter in the crevice of the oak tree, she had wrapped it twice around a small candelabra and honeycomb candle. She wanted to reach out to the girls and lure them out. She desperately wanted someone to befriend. The next day she found a response, underneath her own note, written in an ancient tongue she could not decipher. And stuck to the paper, she found a pearl, with fresh sap from the tree. It made the paper sticky and stained it brown. The pearl was small, yellow-white, with a diagonal line and a circle over the upper part of the line etched into it. Emma wondered what it meant. She kept the pearl with her all the time.
Nobody else could see the girls, nobody else knew of them, but Emma and her mother. The first time she saw them, Emma was ten. She had told her mother they came out of the tree. Abigail would listen, smile sweetly, but never contradict her story. In fact, at times, when she was home from a long excavation, Abigail would make a large pitcher of lemonade and bake a pie to take to Emma’s friends. She and Emma would walk to the forest and have a picnic there, under the tree. Mother had a thick woolen blanket they would sit on, homespun with intricate designs, symbols and diagrams, and other strange things Emma’s parents had uncovered in their travels. Nothing like any other blanket Emma had ever seen. Shades of orange and brown made it look like a carpet of autumns leaves.
After they were done, they would leave two pieces of pie and two cups of lemonade under the tree. In the late afternoon Emma would return to collect the cups and plates, and always the food and drink would be gone. Emma had expected it. She knew it was the girls who had eaten the pie and drank the lemonade, not an animal, because animals didn’t use glasses or silverware, after all. Abigail couldn’t explain the occurrence, but she never disregarded its validity, and so for years the ritual continued.
* * *
After attending one of the most esteemed finishing schools in all of England, Emma had been eager to travel, to see new places, and had begun studying in New Haven under the direction of Miss Sally May. Sally was a scientist and worked with inexplicable phenomena. Emma loved science and all things strange. She had grown up side by side with girls who had a voice in their society, unlike English women, French, or Spanish, what the Majority called the civilized world. Emma knew that it was not. Indigenous cultures she learned, had women who ruled them, who had a voice. Emma also learned that the democracy and freedom her own countrymen spoke of, was practiced in these cultures while her own still enslaved human beings. There were few settlements west of the Mississippi that provided a proper education, per Mr. Franklin. So he and Abigail had decided to send Emma away to finishing school, away to England. At first Emma resisted, she knew it caused Abigail anguish. It had been difficult for her mother to reconcile her desire to keep her child close, and her desire to give Emma the same freedom she had been granted in her own career.
In their daughter’s absence, the couple dove deeper into their work. Following Lewis and Clark’s path, into what their peers dubbed “forbidden archeology”. They spent endless hours at excavation sites, sometimes working through the night and into the next morning.
* * *
Six months had passed since her mother’s death. Emma looked at the wood-paneled wall at the end of the parlor. Two frames once hung there, now there was one. In the few months since her mother’s death, her father had removed all of Abigail’s belongings. The little house felt empty without Abigail. Emma walked into the reading room. Mr. Franklin’s head was buried in a book, he never had much to say these days. Emma swallowed. She missed her mother’s laugh, her stories, and the way the home felt when she was there. It seemed empty now, all it’s warmth gone. Emma pushed back tears. She made a note to go to the barn that night and search for Abigail’s things. She would keep them in her room, under her bed.
“Father?” Emma leaned over Mr. Franklin’s desk dishing out a newspaper. It was rolled up and tied with twine at the center. Abigail had written for the Philadelphia Tribune. “Father, can I read it?”
Mr. Franklin nodded his head without answering. Emma smiled. She loved to read her mother’s stories. Sometimes Abigail would give herself a pseudonym and call herself a Writer for Peace. It was often her by-line. Emma liked that. Mother had been part of the women’s movement that had been unfolding in the states and she often wrote about that.
A hundred years before, Emma’s great uncle had been an apprentice in a small printing shop and the tradition of Journalism began to flicker and grow and became part of the Franklin family. Young Ben had loved being a printer, but after some time, he grew weary of the tedious time-consuming task of typesetting and offered to write for the paper as well. Ben was just a boy. He soon became tired of following orders and ran away to start his own paper.
Emma smiled at the thought. She wanted to write too, just like her mother.
“It’s almost supper time.” Mr. Franklin peered at his daughter over the rim of his round spectacles. “We best be getting along.” He set his book down and rose. “It’ll be night soon and we haven’t started supper.”
“Yes, Father.” Emma stuffed the rolled-up newspaper into the waistband of her gown and pulled her white apron over it. She followed him into the kitchen and helped him start the fire. They cooked every night. It was the only time her father seemed to set aside for the two of them. Emma pulled a kettle from a shelf and laid it on the counter. Mr. Franklin lifted the water pail and filled the kettle half way. They would be having chicken soup again, and bread. Emma had gone to the market place, purchased some berries and a handful of rice earlier. The berries would be made into a jam, the rice added to the soup.
The water boiled, gurgling. Emma chopped up some onion left over from the previous day and added it to the kettle, watching it float and move in circles as the water bubbled, rising and falling. Mr. Franklin sat at the table with a knife, the same knife he took on his trips when he left Emma for weeks with his sister. Emma watched as he chopped up pieces of chicken and piled them up on a gray metal plate.
“I’ll be leaving for the summit, tomorrow. People from all over the world will be there with their finds and inventions.” Mr. Franklin rose, picking up the plate and walked over to the fire. Emma looked up at her father and nodded. She wanted to scream, to ask him how he could just leave as if nothing had happened at all? But she didn’t say a word. Instead she responded by nodding.
Mr. Franklin tilted the plate on its side, adding its contents to the brewing soup.
“I’ll ride Tulip to aunt Victoria’s house,” Emma said, trying to sound nonchalant.
“Alright.” There was almost a hint of a smile on her father’s face as he stirred the soup with a long wooden ladle. “The Council of Archeology is meeting in New York after the summit, so I won’t be home for a couple of weeks. It’s my work, my responsibility. I have to go.”
“I understand.” Emma said, but she really didn’t.