A Treasure for All

by

Theresa Vanden Berk


The sun radiated with noontide glory and the bowl of the sky shone pure blue. Summer was at its height and nature rang with happy tunes. In the midst of the cheerful day stood an old ageless woman and a spritely girl of seven. They were before the doorstep of a quaint French chalet, waving goodbye to a car that was making its way down the wooded street. Once the car drove out of sight, the two made their way inside. The house was an old treasure. Nooks and crannies gave much pleasure to the child's imagination. It also gave pleasure to the older woman, who had stuffed within many of the crannies memoirs of years past.

The girl immediately ran up the winding front staircase and made her way into a room meant especially for her. She thumped a suitcase onto the bed and pulled out five stuffed animals that she gently laid on a pillow and tucked into bed. She ran down the back staircase, which had always been a novelty to her, and found the older woman at work pulling down an old box from some secret hideaway.

"Fairy godmother!" the little girl said.

"Yes, Becky?"

"Can you tell me a story?"

The godmother smiled secretively.

"Perhaps you would like to help me unpack this box first." she said.

They both began to unpack the box. There were many papers inside, but the godmother did not look at any of them, until she reached a pile of letters held together by a rich blue ribbon. Taking the letters, she moved to a wooden rocking chair that sat before the fireplace. Then, she she carefully undid the ribbon that bound the letters.

"These letters were written to be by my good friend Eva Goodly, when I was away in France."

She opened up the first letter, dated 1965.

"Dear Ann,

You will not believe me when I say I have found the ruins. What is more amazing, they were right back in the forest the whole time. We passed by it a million times, but it has been so covered with forest and ivy that unless you were to go off the trail, as I did when I found it, you would not have been able to see it..."

The letter went on, telling about "life back in Virginia", along with other matters, and the godmother began her story.


I.

"The year 1965 was the one hundredth anniversary of the Civil War. In preparation for the anniversary which was to take place in May, my mother gave us children the task of studying the events that took place during the 4 year war. Since I was the oldest, at 14, she gave me the assignment of searching the history of our town and its involvement in the events of the war. I was not fond of studying alone, and so my friend Eva willingly volunteered to assist me.

We started our search in the library. I am pretty certain we read through every book, magazine, and newspaper that had anything remotely to do with either the town's history or the Civil war. But, there seemed to be nothing of any significance surrounding our old Virginian town and the war. We probably could have answered any question about the important aspects of the war, and all that happened before and after-or at least be able to refer you to a book that would -but when it came to our town, I could not even tell you one thing.

After going to the town's museum and looking through the town archives, to no avail, we decided to scour the library again, hoping that maybe there was something we had missed. We picked out some of the bigger books on the Civil war and decided to read through them again for about the tenth time.

While we were thus occupied, a voice speaking louder than necessary - especially for a library - said, "Hey, what are you young ones up to?"

We both jumped at this sudden disturbance and turned around to see a short middle aged man, with sandy brown hair and sideburns, smiling on us with a benevolent expression. There was something strikingly odd about his appearance. Later I realized it was his clothes, which did not seem outdated, though they certainly were not in style. They were faded, from long use but they were neither shabby nor dirty, and they somehow fit the character of the man who wore them.

Now, Eva and her family had a way of acting towards strangers that made it seem as if they had known them for years. I had grown so accustomed to this uncanny ability of theirs that I was not surprised when Eva replied to this man's question quite casually.

"Oh, hello!" she said. "We have been searching forever for information about our town during the Civil War, but we can't find anything. Perhaps you know a good place to look?"

The man nodded, rocking back and forth on his feet, but said nothing. He then proceded to amble off towards the shelves that we had already looked over exhaustively. I gave Eva a questioning look, and she simply shrugged. We went back to our books and forgot about the man until he startled us again by saying "This help?" and plopping a very dusty, very old, book on the table. The dust made us both sneeze simultaneously.

When Eva's eyes saw the book, her face had changed from boredom to perfect excitement. She flipped through the pages again and again. I must admit that I had no idea what could possibly be so exciting about this thin, old, dusty book. I had however, noticed that she had seemed to take more interest in helping me than was usual, and she was much more impatient when we could not find any information.

She had been making exclamations such as "I can't believe it! Wow. This is awesome! WOW! No. Way. wow!" ever since she had opened the book and I could not get her to say anything more intelligible than that until she slammed the book shut saying, "Where did that man go? I have to thank him!"

We searched the whole library for him but he must have left while we were looking at the book. The strangest thing was that when I asked the librarians if they had seen any person of that man's description come or go, they answered that they had not. Giving up the search (Eva would not let me leave until we had searched the whole library two more times), she sighed and decided to check out the book. As soon as she checked it out, she took me abruptly by the hand and dragged me out of the library. She continued dragging me until we reached a large old tree that was behind her house, and which had been our secret hideout since we were 6. The branches were thick and low to ground, making a roomy "floor" on which to sit. Smaller branches jutted up oddly, and served as a barrier to guard against intruders.

"Read this." she demanded, a soon as we had climbed up. She handed me the little book, opened to a page with a sketch of a little farm situated on a hill. I read the words underneath "' ...The whole band of them had gone up to the Goodly house with the intention of burning the place down, if the family did not give them what they wanted viz. total surrender of the house, grounds and everything in it. I followed at a distance, to see what would happen, praying with all my heart that the Goodlys would be safe. The group reached the door, headed by Mr. Nemby. He knocked on the door, but there was no answer. After many attempts, he finally decided to force the door open. I could hear their angry shouts as they ran through the house, but the voices soon became silent. A few minutes later, I saw Mr. Nemby stride out of the house and crumple something up in his hand. He threw it to the ground and was silent for a second or two. Then, he gave orders to the others to search and search and never to stop until everything had been searched thoroughly at least twice. They began to run helter skelter over the grounds, and luckily away from where I was in hiding.

When they had gone, I creeped up to the spot where I had seen the paper drop. I had not brought anything to see by, so I placed the paper in my pocket and hurried home. I read the paper, which reads as follows:

'Sir,

When you have gotten here, we and that which you are looking for shall be well beyond your reach. The farm and everything in it is yours, except the one thing you value most. That you shall never have, because you desire it for the wrong reason. Perhaps we shall meet again. I will let God decide that.

Your friend,

James Goodly.'"

Here the book stopped.

Eva calmly took the book from me. She took a deep breath and then said, "I have great reason to believe that the Goodlys mentioned in this book are my relatives, and that the the farm, at least its ruins, are somewhere nearby. I cannot tell you how I know; not yet a least. But, will you help me search for the ruins, and promise you won't ask too many questions?"

I was confused and definitely full of questions, but I promised to help her and keep my questions to myself. Promises made in our secret treehouse were very serious, and she knew that she could trust me.

"We can begin searching tomorrow." she said.

II.

Many days, however, passed before we even had chance to start looking for the ruins. In fact, we really had no time at all to search for the ruins until the beginning of summer. But that summer was the summer that my family had decided to go to France. So in the end, I only went "ruins hunting" once or twice, and the whole adventure that took place afterwards was her very own.

Eva and I promised to write. We were sad to leave each other; it was the first time we had ever spent a summer apart. She sent her second letter to me a week later.

"Dear Ann,

We have had great weather these past few days, and I have gone back almost every day to the ruins. On Tuesday I was exploring the house and stumbled upon (literally, and I had a sore ankle to prove it) a perfectly intact teapot. The spout was the only visible part sticking out of the ground, and you can imagine what I was like when I dug the whole thing up. I was frightened I might break it if I carried it home, so I left it in some of the brush.

The next day I came back, this time with a box. I went exploring for a little while and I found a few broken pieces of glass. When I went to get the teapot, I ran into a man who looked homeless. He had made himself a fire and whatever he was cooking smelled lovely. Do you know, I think he was the same person who found that book for us in the library.

"Good day, young miss, and what brings you here?" he asked. He began to pour some hot water into a tin cup, from the teapot I had found. He must have washed it out somewhere, because I had not cleaned it after taking it out of the ground.

"I actually came to take my teapot, but, I --guess you need it more than I do."

He looked at me and then at the teapot and back at me. The teapot was quite beautiful, with pretty little scenes painted in blue.

" This is yours?" he asked.

"Well, no, not exactly. I found it - dug it out of the ground and -- well..."

He looked up, "You found it?" he said.

"Yes, I did."

He immediately stood up and bowed to me, "Ma'am, I must thank you, ever so much for finding this. You know, I lost it so long ago, I was certain it would be lost forever, but then when I saw it under the bushes I thought I must have seriously overlooked it. Here ma'am, take this as a thank you. I don't really need it anyway."

I was going to refuse, but he would not let me, so I took it. I packed it up in my box and went back home. I told my mom and as you know our parents take in strangers quite often, you will not be surprised when I say that she told me to ask his name and invite him to our house, if I saw him again.

Your Friend, Eva Goodly"

III.

The godmother put down the second letter. Skipping over the next three as insignificant, she picked up the following letter.

"Her third, fourth and fifith letters were short. Eva had been to the ruins many times, but there was nothing much to tell," she said, skipping over those three letters in the pile, and picking up the sixth letter.

"Eva's sixth letter, which came later than usual, was rather lengthy."

Dear Ann,

I want you to know something about our family history before I tell you about my further adventures. There is an old legend in our family that our ancestors used to own a very prized and valuable heirloom. My family does not know what it was, but whatever it was, it was coveted by many. One family in particular desired to have it, the Nembys. In fact, they believed that it was rightfully theirs. Then one day, the heirloom was lost and before long, only the legend remained.

I went to the ruins the first day I could, after all this rain we have been having lately. The sky was so sunny, and there were birds chirping everywhere. My little brother Timmy wanted to come along as well, and my mom said I should bring him. Timmy and I decided to explore the ruins of the barn. All that is left of it is the stone base, and even that is crumbling. In the middle of the barn there is a tree growing. Though it is not very big yet, it has probably been there for twenty years at least. We brought rakes along so we could clear away the dead leaves and undergrowth that was, and still is, everywhere. The leaves were wet and heavy because of all the recent rain, so our progress was slow. We had been raking for maybe an hour, when all the sudden I heard someone say, in a conversational way, "There used to be a stall here."

The voice was coming from the other side of the barn, and when I turned to look I saw it was that homeless man again. Then I saw Timmy was with him, so I hurried over. I do not know when Timmy had stopped raking, but he was good at sneaking away unheard.

"...A horse lived in it. Good ol' Joe, he was called. Never was there a more faithful horse..." Timmy was watching and listening, enraptured, as the man traced out the stalls with a stick, "...The bull used to live in this stall. He was a monster, he had eyes that were red and bulged out frightfully. Oh, he was feirce, he would have killed you, if the chance had been given him... Pigs used to live here." He traced out another stall, " ... That didn't last for long." He laughed. "You should have seen the little piglets fighting over positions on their mother Sally, though."

I was pretty fascinated by all these stories, too, and both Timmy and I listened and laughed for a good while. Then, we finally were all properly introduced.

The homeless man introduced himself as Jim. I invited him to come to our house, and he gladly accepted the invitation. We walked down the path to our house, and my mom let him in. We had a jolly dinner that night. Mr. Jim, as our mother tells us to call him, was quite funny, and told us so many stories about the town's history. Did you know that our secret hideout was also two other girls' secret hideout as well? Jane and Catherine were their names.

Somehow we got to talking about the old family heirloom, and the reason I have been exploring the ruins. I asked him if he knew anything about the heirloom. He suddenly became very serious and said, "There is a creek that runs behind the barn. Follow it down for while, and you will find an old stone wall. Look there."

He left pretty late. My dad was going to have him stay in the guest room for the night, but he said he enjoyed sleeping under the stars.

"You go to the white church down the way?" he asked as he was leaving. He was talking about our church, so we said yes. He nodded thoughtfully. "I had a friend - or, kind of an old enemy turned friend - that was buried there a while back - a Mr. John Nemby. The grave's back by a big oak tree, at the edge of the graveyard - a little lonesome grave, all by itself..." And with those words, he wandered out into the starry night.

Can you believe the excitement, and questions, I had after he left? I could hardly sleep I was so eager to search for the heirloom. I can barely stand it! But, enough. This is a really long letter. I'll send you more updates as soon as I can.

Your Friend, Eva Goodly."


IV.

Dear Ann,

I saw Mr. Jim again. He was sitting on the stone wall of the barn, but he did not notice me coming up to him. His usual smile was gone from his face, and he looked rather concerned about something.

"Mr. Jim!" I said.

He jumped, and then his face crinkled into a smile, but not as freely as usual, "Ah, Miss Eva! How has your search been going?"

"Not so well, I'm afraid. But how are you?"

"Oh, I have nothing to complain about," he smiled, "Did you check the creek yet?"

"No. There is no creek."

" No creek? Are you so sure?" Mr. Jim rubbed his chin pensively, "Check behind the barn again."

"But I already did check there. Its drier than a desert."

"Oh really?" he said doubtfully.

All the sudden I heard the sound of water trickling. I rushed to the back of the barn, and there it was, a beautiful spring of water streaming across the ground, as if it had been there forever. I ran back to where Mr. Jim was sitting.

"Mr. Jim! Mr. Jim! There is a creek!" I called excitedly. But when I reached the spot where he had been sitting, he had vanished.

"Mr. Jim?" I called again. A paper rustled in the slight breeze. I picked it up.

"Dear Miss Eva,

You are not the only one looking for the heirloom. Whatever happens, keep up the courage! The family legend has more importance than you realize.

Your Friend,

Mr. Jim"

It's such a short letter, but it makes the chills run up my spine. What does Mr. Jim know that he wrote this letter? And why was he so serious?

(Sigh!)Three more weeks and you will be back! I can hardly tell you how much I am looking forward to that day!

Your Friend,

Eva Goodly"

V.

Dear Ann,

I think Mr. Jim is more than just the eccentric homeless man I thought he was at the beginning. Going back to our first meeting with him, and recalling all the events that have transpired after (including the one I will write below) I begin to wonder if he is entirely human. Ghost? you have asked me before. Well, I would not be surprised. But in any case he seems to know more about this heirloom than even I do. I think he is trying to help me, though, whoever he is.

I went to visit the grave of John Nemby- the grave that Mr. Jim told us about when he visited my family's house. I found it exactly where he said it would be, and it is a pretty lonely grave. Its so old all you can see are the letters N, M, and Y. There was another person at the grave, and I could hear him muttering something under his breath. Then he stood up: a pale haggard man, of towering height, who looked more like a bird of prey than a human. The words from Mr. Jim's note came to my mind: The family heirloom has more importance than you realize. A shiver ran down my spine.

I have not seen Mr. Jim since he gave me the note.

The hunt is going well, though. I brought Timmy along the other day, and we followed the creek down for awhile. Timmy tripped over a rock, and got scraped up, but he actually found the stone wall! It is leaning up against a hill, an odd place for a wall... Perhaps we shall find the heirloom - but how will I know of I have actually found it? What if there truly is no treasure?

Two more weeks are left until you will be back. You may get a chance to help me after all!

Your Friend,

Eva Goodly

VI.

Dear Ann,

I (or rather, we) found the heirloom! I was pulling away the loose stones in the wall when the whole thing crumbled to the ground. A dark cave opened up before me. I was terrified! Scurrying away as fast as I could toward home, I told Mother and she came (with Timmy in tow) to the opened cave with me. She had brought a large flashlight with her, and we began to explore the cave. The cave was a good three yards in length, just barely taller than me. The flashlight picked up something glimmering in the farthest recesses of the cave. I hurried over and began digging. Not long after, I pulled out a large chest.

We lugged the chest back home as best we could; it is an unwieldy thing, and thus, hard to navigate through the forest. The chest is made mostly out of metal, so, while it is rusty, it has remained intact. Nevertheless, there are still some holes in the lid, that you can peep through.

My mom insisted we wait until Dad got home to open the chest up. That did not, however, stop us (or Mother!) from trying to peek at the contents through the rusty holes on the top. We could all see something shimmering but could not discern what it actually was. Mother thought perhaps there were some gold coins or something.

Finally, my dad got home. We all rushed about him as he entered the house, followed by a friend of ours, Mr. Cartwright (who happens to be a news reporter). In our excitement, they were both ushered unceremoniously into the kitchen, where the chest sat on the counter. My dad and Mr. Cartwright looked at the chest in amazement.

"Let's open it!" I said impatiently.

We did, but it turned out to be more difficult than we expected. The lock, you see, was a peculiar one. We could not just pick it, or open it with a pair of pliers. Hours passed while attempting these two methods. Then my dad remembered that he had some old skeleton keys from his grandfather upstairs. The keys are some of the most oddly shaped in the world, curving every which way like a dancing snake, but -- would you believe it? -- they worked! And when the lid was opened -- Oh what a sight! Buried beneath a thousand assortments of coins lay the most beautiful statue of the Madonna and Child I have ever seen. The whole thing is sits a little under two feet, and despite its near century of interment, the gold that covers it is still bright. The baby Jesus has his arm wrapped about his mother's neck, and the other arm is raised in blessing. The faces are so beautiful, especially Our Lady's. I have never seen a statue or painting of Our Lady that looks so joyful.

Mr. Cartwright intends to write an article about the treasure in the paper, and we are trying to decide what to do with all the old coins.

Only six more days now (I'm counting down), so this is my last letter, etc., etc.

Your Friend,

Eva Goodly."


VII.

The godmother folded up the letter and looked at Becky sitting with rapt attention at her feet. She began knitting away in silence. After an agonizing pause the godmother continued:

Six days later, my family boarded an airplane back to our hometown in Virginia. The day after we got home, Eva took me to the ruins.

"Do you know that these ruins are cursed?" she asked me mysteriously. Her eyes gleamed with mischief.

"You're just trying to scare me." I replied.

"But it's true. Mr. Jim told me that after the Goodly's left, Mr. Nemby went to live in the house. Two days later they found him dead. Another man went to live in the house -- no one wanted it, so he got it cheap. Right away he started taking down the barn. He didn't get too far before he was found dead as well. After that no one wanted anything to do with the Goodly farm, so it has just sat here and decayed ever since."

"Do you think that we will be cursed?" I asked worriedly.

"No." she laughed, "Besides, I'm a Goodly, and as long as you aren't a Nemby, I think we'll be fine."

We had a picnic in the ruins of the barn.

"I haven't seen Mr. Jim for nearly three weeks! I wonder what's happened to him." She showed me where Mr. Jim had marked out the stalls.

"Probably gone to haunt someone else." I joked.

"...It's not so much where he came from, as it is who he is," she replied, although it sounded more like she was finishing a thought.

"Well, I'm sure you'll find out in time. Meantime's why don't we go see the statue," I said.

So we packed up our picnic, and headed toward Eva's house. Eva led me into the kitchen, where the statue seemed to float above the kitchen counter. The most striking thing about the statue was how joyful the faces looked.

"Isn't it beautiful?" Eva asked.

"More than words can say." I whispered.

"There's money, too," she said, and walked me excitedly over to the chest. Upon opening the lid, a huge pile of gold and silver coins met our eyes. "It could be worth millions of dollars! I think we should use the money to rebuild the ruins and turn it into a museum."

"Or you could buy a lifetimes supply of chocolate for you and me to share." I said. We both laughed and spent the rest of our time coming up with hundreds of uses for the money.

VIII.

Three days later Eva came running up to my house breathless and perfectly distraught. She was so breathless she couldn't speak for nearly a minute. Finally I got the story out of her.

Earlier that day she had been reading when the doorbell rang. She opened the door and staring right at her like a bird of prey, was the man who she had seen at the lonely grave.

"Is this the Goodly residence?" he asked in a raspy voice.

"Yes, it is," Eva gulped, "and who might you be?"

"Nemby." He pronounced like a death sentence, "I believe that the statue which you possess is mine."

Eva simply stared.

"Perhaps you would like to get your parents so we could settle the matter with the lawyer?" he asked. A little man peeped from behind Nemby's large figure. This was the lawyer.

Eva led them inside still speechless. She could hardly stop staring at the ancestor of the ancient family of Nembys. She wondered whether he knew about the history between the two families, and if his hatred would be as strong as some of the Nemby's were in the past.

"Mom! Dad! There's some people here who would like to talk to you! " she called.

"This is Mr. Nemby," she said as her parents came up, "And his lawyer Mr.-"

"– Johnson," the little man finished.

"I would like to settle this affair as quickly and painlessly as possible," Mr. Nemby said in his rasp, "I have proof that this statue belonged to one of my great ancestors. You may keep the money. I only wish to take the statue that rightfully belongs to me and my family."

"But it does not belong to you! That chest was buried by my great-grandfather during the Civil War," Eva protested.

"Perhaps if I show you my proof you will understand better," Mr. Nemby replied, more to Eva's parents than her.

They all walked into the living room and sat down. Nemby placed a glass case on the table that was sitting in the middle of the room. Inside was a very ancient document, but the document was still readable. The document was a will, and it was obvious it was speaking of the statue that Eva had found. Signed at the bottom was the signature of a man named William Goodly.

"The date you will see is May 3, 1790," Mr. Johnson informed them.

"I suspect that William Goodly's son was either unaware of this will, or simply refused to give over the statue, because the Goodly's have always possessed the statue even after this will was written," Mr. Nemby said, "My great-great-grandfather took desperate measure to take the statue back, during the Civil War. I do not approve of his methods, but I do agree that the statue is my family's."

"Couldn't there be some misunderstanding somewhere? " Eva asked weakly.

"I'm afraid not," the lawyer said, feigning regret, "But if you have no objections I think we can settle this matter quite quickly."

"I have an objection! What if the will is a forgery? What if it was signed unwillingly? Can't you give us just a little while to see if we can find anything that counteracts this will?" Eva asked.

The lawyer shook his head.

"No?" Eva cried, exasperated, "After all the work I spent searching day in and day out for this statue its going to be snatched away from me, just like that?"

The lawyer was about to give some far from consoling answer when Mr. Nemby stopped him.

"I will come back for the statue in three days -- unless you can find something to disprove me before then," he said.

Then they left.

IX.

"What should I do?" Eva cried to me after she had told the story.

"You are in a pickle, alright. But...maybe you have something in your house, some old letter or, even another will." I suggested.

"I suppose we could start there," she said, but she doubted this would help. Yet since this was the only idea we could come up with, we began searching right away through the piles of old letters and documents that were stored in her attic.

The first day was a disappointing one. Nothing could be found that even remotely resembled a will, and the only letters we could find were birthday cards. Eva refused to be upset; we still had two more days to find something, and as long as we had time left, she would not waste it.

The second day fared no better. We found a pearl earring Eva's mother had lost, a thousand fascinating curios, an old love letter written to Eva's grandmother -- in all everything you can imagine, without finding the one thing we wanted. Eva tried to hide her disappointment, but it showed plainly on her face. I tried to console her, but there was nothing to say.

The third day Eva marched over to my house at six-o'clock a.m. and began pounding mercilessly at the door. My whole family was still asleep, since it was Saturday, and many of them were not pleased to be woken at such an hour. I got up and answered the door groggily.

"You have to help me," she urged, "This is the third day now, and I don't know when Mr. Nemby will be here." She dragged me still in my PJ's across the lawn to her house. We searched through everything again and again, but our search was as fruitless as before.

At ten o'clock in the morning, the doorbell rang. Eva looked at me, and her face went pale. We both dashed downstairs and came to the opened door. Eva's parents were along with Mr. Nemby and Mr. Johnson.

"Find anything?" Mr. Nemby asked. He looked slyly over at Eva, who was now burning with humiliation. She did not answer; Mr. Nemby knew the answer already.

"I think there is no fear of my taking the statue now, is there?" Mr. Nemby asked triumphantly.

Eva's mother took her hand and squeezed it. "We must do the right thing, even when its hard," she whispered. Eva said nothing; she was trying not to cry.

"Will you show me to the statue?" Mr. Nemby asked politely, although all his politeness felt like a taunt to Eva. Her parents led him into the kitchen, where the statue sat.

But, just as Mr. Nemby was about to take it Eva screamed "No!", took the statue in her arms, and flew out the back door. She ran and ran, and let the tears she had been holding in flow freely down her face. She ran towards the ruins, and then passed them. Farther and farther into the forest she fled, not caring if she was scraped or bruised.

A root jutted out of the ground. She tripped and fell, but instead of getting up she just sat there sobbing, in complete exhaustion.

"Oh Blessed Mother, he can't take your statue away from me just like that, its not fair! Oh Blessed Mother you know what is going on, please! Help me to prove that this statue does belong to my family," she prayed desperately. All of the sudden she heard a familiar voice behind her.

"Ah, Miss Eva, I've been trying to catch up to you this whole time! But, you are running so fast and all -- why, my legs just couldn't keep up!"

Eva stood up, still holding the statue close, "Mr. Jim! Am I glad to see you!"

"You've been crying I see. What's wrong?" he asked, concerned.

So Eva told him the whole story.

"...And now I have run away, and I don't know what to do next," she finished. She felt calmer, now that she had told all.

Mr. Jim looked at her compassionately, "I think you better go home and apologize for running away like this."

"But what about the statue?" she asked, still sniffing slightly.

"It is better to do the right thing than to keep the statue." he replied.

Eva nodded, "That's what my mom said."

"She's a wise woman. Now you just go run along home. And don't worry; everything's going to be just splendid!"

She did as she was told, and now her heart was at peace.

X.

We all stood dumbfounded for a minute before we realized what Eva was doing. Her father was the first to react, and he began to chase after her. The rest of us followed suit. We could see her run into the forest, but soon she was lost in the thicket. The lawyer soon wore out, as did Eva's mother. Soon, they were far behind us. Then Eva's father began to lag, until the only people still following her were Mr. Nemby and me.

Mr. Nemby's stride was long, and he soon outdistanced me. But he did not know where the ruins were -- the direction I knew Eva would be heading -- and so soon I was all alone. I reached the wall of the barn and flung myself down on it, breathing heavily.

"Eva!" I called when my breath was back. She did not answer. I searched all around the barn, in and around the house, and through all the other outbuildings, but there was no sign of Eva anywhere. I waited for nearly two hours. The sun beat down through the trees and I wiped the sweat from my forehead. Finally, I heard rustling leaves. A few seconds later, Eva stood before me, scraped, tear-streaked and dirty, but much happier.

"Eva we've been looking for you everywhere! Where have you been?" I asked.

"I saw Mr. Jim! I feel so much better now. I know I have to give the statue to Mr. Nemby, but now I know it's the right thing – and the best thing – to do." Her eyes glistened.

I smiled, "Let's go find everyone else."

Soon we were all gathered around the kitchen table. Eva stood up and apologized, "I am sorry for running away, and for keeping this statue from you. I guess I just loved the beautiful faces of Jesus and Our Lady, and wanted them by me always. But, it is not a gift that can be just one person's. So...Here Mr. Nemby, the statue is yours now."

She looked at the joyful faces, and traced her fingers along the folds of the Madonna's mantle. She looked at Baby Jesus' hand raised in blessing, and she felt as if He were blessing her. Then she handed the statue to Mr. Nemby.

As Mr. Nemby caught hold of the statue a tiny "click!" was heard. All the sudden a wad of papers fell in a heap on the floor. Everyone's eyes widened. Eva picked the papers up carefully. Her hands were trembling as she placed them on the table. They were so brittle, they cracked when Eva tried to flatten them.

The very first paper was a will.

XI.

Before they were examined further, the papers were taken to preserved. A few days later, the lawyer came back with the preserved papers.

"It is my duty to inform you," said Mr. Johnson, speaking to Mr. Nemby and the Goodly family, "That, according to these documents, both families have equal ownership of the statue."

The shock was evident on all faces. So the lawyer explained the situation.

"When the will found in the statue was compared to the one Mr. Nemby owned, they were found to be identical -- with one exception: the heirs were different. In one, the statue belongs to William Goodly, Jr. In the other the statue belongs to a James Nemby's future son. So of course, we thought certainly one will was a forgery. But upon further examination, both were found to be authentic, meaning that both your ancestors had equal ownership of the statue."

No one could deny the lawyer's words, or the evidence placed plainly before them. Yet why two almost identical wills were written, by the same person, on the same day, was the question on everybody's mind. So they began looking at the other papers.

The first one that caught Eva's eye was a letter, dated April 4, 1790.

"Dear Mr. William Goodly,

It is with a heavy heart that I must inform you that your son has died. An enemy cannon fired and your son was one of three men who lost their lives in the shot. I myself knowing him, am certain that he has gone to a well-deserved and peaceful rest. But what little consolation this can bring to your fatherly heart, for now you have no son. Alas, I can but send my sympathies to you all.

Your servant,

Colonel Grand."

"How terrible!" Eva cried, as she finished the letter, "Look at the date, though! It was written nearly a month before the two wills were written."

"Look here at this letter!" Eva said, "It was written in January of the same year."

"Dearest William,

It was so pleasant having you here for Christmas. Finally we were a family once more, and I felt as if I were a child again, safe and warm. Oh, how times change! Father is not doing well. The doctor thinks he has only a little while left to live. I know it is impossible for you to leave your post, but I do so wish you could be here...

Your Loving Sister,

Elizabeth Nemby."

"Elizabeth, Nemby?" Eva said, "So a Goodly married a Nemby?"

"Here's another one, written six months after the two wills." Mr. Nemby said.

"Dearest Elizabeth,

How are you? How are Mother and Father? I suppose you must think me dead, it has been so long since I have written. Six months ago I was nearly killed by a cannon firing. I was hit in the head by a piece of metal, and everything became dark. Some folks found me lying on the ground, and realized I was still alive. They dragged me to their house, and took care of me. I will not bore you with the details of my recovery, but sooth it to say that I am nearly recovered now, and hope to arrive home as soon as possible.

Your Loving Brother,

William Goodly."

XII.

From the letters, and the bits of family traditions passed on, the following story was pieced together, as best as possible.

William Goodly had two children, William and Elizabeth. Elizabeth fell in love with James Nemby and married him, despite the already ancient feud between the two families. At some point after, William, Jr. joined the army. William Sr. later became ill, and he feverishly went to work writing up his will for the statue. He may have written two as a precaution. Be that as it may, it appears he must have received word of his son's supposed death after both wills were complete. But he still kept both wills.

William Sr. soon died, and the statue and wills were kept by his daughter Elizabeth Nemby. When William Jr. came back home, Elizabeth gave him the statue, and perhaps she placed the will and letters in the statue. Elizabeth had a son, who found the will that made him the owner of the statue. Whatever happened after is uncertain, but it caused William Goodly to flee to America, with the statue.

Sometime later, Nemby descendants came over to America as well. The two families lived in peace for many years, until one fanatical Nemby sought to take back the statue. He used the Civil War as a cover up for his confiscation of the statue. But someone had warned the Goodly's of John Nemby's plan, and so the statue was buried. Then the Goodly's left, and the statue remained buried, until one hundred years later, when its was found by Eva.

XIII.

What to do next was the question on everyone's mind. They obviously could not split the statue like money, and rotating houses seemed absurd as well as impractical. Both families were rather loathe to part with the statue forever, and so the question remained.

Then the suggestion came, "Why don't we donate the statue to the church?"

Of course, it was a brilliant idea, for then the statue would be there for everyone to see and admire and the ancient feud would end once and for all.

"And, perhaps we should burn the wills, so that no confusion erupts ever again," Eva said.

XIV.

Preparations began right away to give the statue to the church. A whole celebration was planned, and there was much work to be done. Yet during this busy time, Eva and I were able to visit the ruins, and see Mr. Jim.

Eva and I walked and talked, discussing the events that had transpired this far, when Eva turned around and gasped.

"What is it?" I asked, but she had already begun to run in the direction of the creek calling Mr. Jim's name. I hurried after my friend, and soon I saw Mr. Jim, too. He looked very much the same as when I had seen him first, in the library, although perhaps he looked a little older.

"Hello, Miss Eva and Miss Ann," he said "I'm so glad I could see you before I left."

"You're leaving?" Eva cried, "But you just got here two days ago!"

He sighed, "Yes -- and please," he added, "Pray for me."

Eva and I looked at each other, surprised.

"Of course we'll pray!" I said.

He smiled, and before we could say another word, he was gone.

So we prayed, and prepared for the celebration.

XV.

The sun had cast dark shades upon the ground, and the sky glowed deep red. The godmother stopped her knitting and her story. The two had dinner, and then it was time for bed. Becky was tucked into bed, snuggled in between her stuffed animal friends.

"Will you finish the story now, Fairy Godmother?" Becky asked.

"There will be plenty of time for that tomorrow, Little Tree Elf," the godmother answered affectionately.

Becky nodded, yawned widely, her heavy eyes drooped shut, and before long, she was fast asleep. Then the godmother tiptoed noiselessly to her bedroom, and fell asleep as well.

XVI.

Becky awoke to the sound of the sparrows outside her window. She stretched, and kept up perfectly awake. She smelled the scent of bacon wafting up the back stairway, and quickly tripped down the stairs.

After they ate, they hurried into their Sunday clothes, and left early for Mass. As they walked down the shaded sidewalk, Becky asked, "Fairy Godmother, will you finish the story now?"

The godmother smiled and began again.

XVII.

The day of the celebration was upon us, and everything was perfect. We were all dressed in our very best, and the church was adorned with all the late summer flowers. The statue we had placed upon a platform, so we could process into the church with it, and Eva and I had arranged the decorations ourselves. The wills had already been burned, and the two families were soon becoming fast friends. But despite all the good of the day, and the excitement, Eva was not happy.

"What's wrong?" I asked her, when I saw her sitting despondently on the steps of the church.

"I wish Mr. Jim were coming. The finding of the statue had more to do with him than me. And I still don't know who he really is." she said unhappily.

I nodded in agreement. Even though I had only met him twice, I missed him just as much.

"Well, he would want you to be happy right now, and not be worrying about him." I said, but it sounded bland. She sighed and nodded, though, and attempted to act happy.

Soon, the celebration began. First we all processed into the church, singing Marian hymns. Then we all filed into the pews, and prayed as Father blessed the statue. Mass followed after, and the statue was placed on the left side of the church. After Mass was over, we exited the church - full of joy at the great celebration - and made our way outside for a picnic in honor of the occasion.

Eva and I were walking out together, when Eva cried aloud and began running toward the graveyard. I chased after her, wondering what was wrong. She was so fast, I could hardly keep up. When I finally did arrive, breathless, I found her sitting down by an old grave. Her back was facing me so I crept up, and touched her on the shoulder. She turned around. Her eyes were filled with tears, yet they were not sad tears, but wonderfully joyful ones.

"Oh Ann! I-- I saw Mr. Jim, he --" she sniffled, "Read this." She thrust a small slip of paper into my hands.

"Dear Miss Eva,

Thank you for praying for me. For today Our Lady of the Joyous Heart has brought me to the Heavenly Courts of our God.

Your Friend,

Mr. Jim."

XVIII.

Becky and her godmother ambled through the graveyard that adjoined the church. The path was strewn with bright blooming wildflowers, that Becky gathered in handfuls. They paused for a brief moment before an ancient grave. The little girl's eyes widened as she read the inscription.

"James 'Jim' Goodly, Born: June 12, 1840 Died: August 9, 1890. Buried here at his request, in the place he always called home."

The two walked away, the flowers that the little girl had picked, left behind at the grave. They made their way into the church as the bells rang through the morning mist. They moved into a pew and there, looking back at them with bright and joyous faces, were Jesus and Mary, of the Joyful Hearts.


LPH Writing Class stories 2013-2014