Preview of The Smuggler's Secrets: A Caroline Mystery
Written by Kathleen Ernst
Published 2015 by American Girl Publishing
Chapter 1 – Trouble on the Road
Caroline Abbott looked over her shoulder as the wagon lurched away from Sackets Harbor. Away from home. From her perch on the wagon seat, she could see the roof of her house and the towering masts of navy ships anchored in the harbor. Beyond the familiar village, Lake Ontario was dappled with August sunshine. A cool breeze was blowing ashore.
Right this minute, she thought, Papa is probably giving directions to the workers at the shipyard. Caroline imagined Mama perched on a tall stool in the family shipyard office, checking the ledger. And it was baking day at home, so Grandmother was likely mixing bread dough. She missed them already.
“Whoa, there,” Uncle Aaron called to the white horse hitched to the wagon. As the wagon halted, he smiled kindly at Caroline. “Take a good look.”
“It must seem silly that I want to,” Caroline said. After all, she would be home again in a few weeks.
“It's not silly at all,” Uncle Aaron assured her.
Caroline admitted, “I will miss the lake.” She dearly loved sailing Lake Ontario's restless water - especially in the little skiff her father had built.
“We know you miss your home when you stay at our farm,” Lydia told her. Lydia Livingston was Caroline's cousin - and one of her best friends, too.
“I wish we didn't have to ask for your help again,” Uncle Aaron added.
“You see, the neighbor men have been going from farm to farm, working together,” Lydia said. “They'll be burning brush at our farm three days from now, and I can't manage all the cooking alone.”
“Lydia has extra chores to do while I'm helping our neighbors, too,” Uncle Aaron added.
Caroline could almost hear her grandmother's voice: Gracious, my girl. Are you going to mope about, or are you going to ease your uncle and cousin's burdens?
Caroline took one last look at Sackets Harbor. The she turned to face the road ahead and lifted her chin. “I'm happy to help you at the farm,” she assured them. “Let's go.”
Until recently, Uncle Aaron, Aunt Martha, and Caroline's cousins Lydia and Oliver had lived on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, in the British colony of Upper Canada. With hard work, they'd established a good farm. But now the United States and Great Britain were at war. Lydia's family had fled enemy territory, leaving their livestock, crops, tools, furniture, and other valuables behind.
Now the Livingstons were struggling to create a new home in New York State's deep woods. Since Lydia's brother Oliver was helping the U.S. Navy fight the British, getting the farm work done was harder than ever. Uncle Aaron had never complained about having to start over with almost nothing, but when Aunt Martha was called away to tend an ill relative earlier that summer, he and Lydia had needed to take over all of the cooking and cleaning. Caroline had gone to the farm to help out. She'd been able to go home for a short visit, but now Uncle Aaron and Lydia had come to fetch her again.
“I'm glad you two could come for me,” she said. Last time, she'd traveled with an elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. Sinclair, who lived near Lydia.
“Although it was kind of the Sinclairs to fetch me before,” she added quickly.
“The Sinclairs loaned me their horse and wagon for this trip,” Uncle Aaron explained. “I needed to visit Sackets Harbor myself this time. I'd hoped to buy an ox.”
They passed out of the hot sunshine into the shady woods, and Lydia pushed her bonnet back. “Papa needs an ox to help work the farm,” she said.
Caroline knew that any cattle trained for heavy labor were called oxen. Woodsmen used oxen to haul logs to her family's shipyard, and she had often marveled at the animals' strength. “Can Minerva help you?” she asked. Minerva and her calf, Garnet, were the Livingstons' cows. Caroline was quite fond of them.
“Minerva wasn't trained for the yoke,” Lydia told her. “Besides, Minerva's most important jobs are to keep producing milk and to have another calf in the spring.”
Uncle Aaron waved away a fly. “Last spring I sold my gold watch so I could buy a young ox. Unfortunately, the price of oxen was higher than I'd expected.”
“I'm milking Minerva every day, and making butter,” Lydia said. “We'd hoped we could earn the difference by selling them.”
“But you still don't have enough money to afford an ox?” Caroline asked.
Uncle Aaron looked glum. “Now there's not an animal to be had anywhere, at any price.”
“Farmers in Upper Canada don't have enough animals able to feed all the troops that have arrived since the war began,” Lydia said.
“So the British are offering high prices for American beef. Cattle have been smuggled to Upper Canada all along the border.”
“Wretched smugglers!” Caroline exclaimed. “Shame on them for helping our enemies.” She simply could not understand how any American could sell food to the enemy! Her family would never help the British. When the war began a little over a year earlier, British sailors had captured Caroline's father and stolen a beautiful sloop he'd built. Papa had been held prisoner for many months, and might still be a prisoner if he hadn't managed to escape. Caroline had wondered and worried about him for many long months. It had been awful.
“Smuggling is wicked,” Lydia agreed.
“I understand your feelings,” Uncle Aaron told them. “But it's a complicated situation. Some smugglers are poor farmers who desperately need the money they earn to survive.”
Caroline was not convinced. Uncle Aaron would never trade with our enemy, she thought, even though she knew he worried about keeping his own farm going. That meant it was more important than ever that she help out while Aunt Martha was away. “I know your farm will be a success,” she said stoutly.
Uncle Aaron patted her knee. “We'll manage somehow.”
Caroline hated seeing him and Lydia troubled. She had a surprise for Lydia hidden in her valise, but she needed something to lift their spirits right now. She thought a moment before asking, “Do you remember the time Garnet knocked me over while I was trying to feed her?”
“Milk sprayed all over!” Lydia snickered. “You tried so hard not to lose your balance that you looked like you were dancing a wild jig.”
“And remember when you let Minerva eat wild leeks?” Uncle Aaron grinned too. “You didn't know any better, Caroline, but oh my, her milk tasted like onions for a week!”
Caroline, Lydia, and Uncle Aaron shared more memories as they traveled farther west. “It's good to hear you girls giggling together again,” Uncle Aaron said. The worried lines in his face had smoothed out, and he looked happy. That made Caroline happy too.
She held on to that feeling as they jolted deeper and deeper into the woods. Huge trees towered above the rutted dirt road, creating a dim world. It was a very different landscape she saw at home, where the open sky and lake were always in view! They were traveling in roughly the same direction as the lakeshore, but they'd come far enough inland that Caroline couldn't catch even a glimpse of the water.
There were no villages in the deep woods, just a few scattered farms. The smell of smoke let her know when they were approaching a clearing. Faint whiffs hinted at small fires built by women doing laundry or cooking supper. Big plumes of smoke rose where farmers were burning trees they'd chopped down to clear new fields.
The wagon rounded a bend, and Caroline saw a fire crackling along the edge of a clearing beside the road. A billowing cloud of smoke threatened to swallowed them.
The horse stopped and whinnied nervously. “Walk on, Snowflake,” Uncle Aaron called. He jiggled the lines encouragingly. “Come on, girl.”
Caroline watched the white mare prance in place. “Did the Sinclairs get a new horse?” she asked. “They drove a calm, dark horse named Bess when I traveled with them.”
“They sold Bess and purchased Snowflake just last week,” Uncle Aaron told her. “Snowflake is skittish. I'll have to lead her through.” He handed the lines to Lydia and climbed down from the wagon. After murmuring encouragement to Snowflake, and patting her neck, he was able to tug her into the smoke.
Lydia pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and held it over her mouth and nose. “I should have warned you to have a handkerchief handy,” she said.
Caroline remembered packing a handkerchief, but there was no time to dig through her valise for it. She closed her eyes against the smoke.
Uncle Aaron coughed several times, but soon enough the air improved. “There, now,” he called. “We're through the worst of - ” His sentence broke. “Girls, get into the back of the wagon,” he said sharply.
Caroline's eyes flew open. Through tendrils of drifting smoke, she saw a horse-drawn cart loaded with barrels stopped in the road ahead, facing them. Several men stood in a rough circle around the cart, their hats pulled down low and kerchiefs tied over their faces so only their eyes showed. Caroline froze when she saw that the men held muskets. The guns were pointed at the wagon driver.
“Girls!” Uncle Aaron hissed over his shoulder. “Get into the back and lie down - now!”
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