Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Edited by Amanda Lewis
The Secret of Dinswood Copyright © 2019 Ellen Alexander All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher. This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Published by BHC Press Library of Congress Control Number: 2018936814 ISBN Numbers: Hardcover: 978-1-948540-48-3 Softcover: 978-1-947727-55-7 Ebook: 978-1-948540-36-0 Visit the publisher at: www.bhcpress.com
Other Books in the Dinswood chronicles The Missing Mortals
prologue 1710 AD MEDITERRANEAN SEA
arius Bartholomew Dinswood stood on the deck of his ship, the Raven, and looked out to where the sea met the sky. The crimson sun was just beginning to dip below the horizon, bathing his face in its amber glow. As he watched it sink lower and lower, he remembered back to the day when he had first come aboard the ship in the hopes of getting a job. His parents had died when he was twelve, and as heâ€™d had no close relatives, he had been placed in an orphanage. Life in the orphanage had been a nightmare, and he had run away at the first opportunity. The owner of the Raven at the time, Bartholomew Hart, must have seen something in the dirty, malnourished boy that approached him that day, because he had given him a job as his cabin boy. Hart had liked the fact that Dariusâ€™s middle name was Bartholomew and had called him Bartie from the very first. The crew
14 | ELLEN ALEXANDER
had used the name as well, and thus it was that no one knew Darius’s full name except the captain. Hart had been a rough taskmaster in the beginning, but even so, Darius had flourished. He proved himself to be an apt pupil and quickly learned everything there was to know about sailing. Noticing how smart the boy was and how eager he was to learn, Hart took it upon himself to teach Darius how to handle a sword. With his strength and natural quickness, Darius showed himself to be quite skillful in that as well. Hart began to feel pride in Darius’s accomplishments, and as the years passed, began to look upon him as a son. When Darius had first come aboard the ship, Hart had been the owner of a trading company, but he quickly tired of having his goods stolen from him on the open seas by pirates. It was after one particularly nasty battle with pirates that Hart decided to exact a little revenge by becoming a privateer. He requested and was given a Letter of Marque from Queen Elizabeth. The letter gave him written authority to seize goods from ships of other countries with the understanding that whatever was taken belonged to England. As was often the case with privateers, after seeing how profitable piracy was, Hart decided to go into the business for himself. Hart began attacking ships regardless of their country of origin—making himself a true pirate and earning for himself the nickname Bart the Blackheart. He was very successful, and after ten years of terrorizing the seas, he had amassed a great fortune. During this time, Darius had grown into a fine young man, standing just over six feet, two inches tall, with a lean, well-muscled body, bronzed by his years in the sun. His skill with a sword and his prowess in battle were second only to the captain. Darius was then twenty-two, and as most young men, considered himself and the crew of the Raven to be invincible. Then one day in an attack against a Spanish vessel, Hart was mortally wounded. Thinking that the captain was already dead, Darius took over command and led the
THE SECRET OF DINSWOOD | 15
crew to victory. When the battle was over, Darius hurried over to the man he’d come to view as a father and knelt beside him. He was surprised to see that Hart was still alive. Upon seeing Darius, Hart began to struggle to speak. Darius leaned close in an effort to hear what he was trying to say. The captain surprised him again when he reached up and grabbed Darius by the neck, pulling him even closer so that Darius’s ear was only an inch away from his mouth. In a whisper, Hart told him where he had hidden his fortune. Then summoning the last of his strength, he shouted to the crew that “Bartie” was to be the new captain and owner of the Raven. As soon as he’d spoken the words, a satisfied look had settled upon his weathered features, and Bartholomew Hart had breathed his last breath. In honor of their fallen captain, and because the crew knew him as Bartie, they passed the name Bart the Blackheart on to Darius. Thus it was that Bart the Blackheart continued to raid ships for ten more years. Although he shared the name, Darius did not have the black heart of his former captain. Men were killed only if a ship chose to resist, and then, only in the course of battle. Fortunately, by the time Darius inherited the Raven, its reputation had grown to the point that most ships surrendered when they saw it approaching, and a battle was unnecessary. Darius purposely avoided ships that might be carrying women or children, and in the event that women or children were encountered, Darius made every effort to ensure that they remained unharmed. He had no way of knowing that there would be no distinction in the history books between the true Blackheart and the Blackheart that was Darius Dinswood. As the sun dipped beneath the surface of the water, Darius sighed wearily. He was tired of the pirate life. With the fortune left to him by Bartholomew Hart and the treasure he had accumulated for himself over the past ten years, he had enough wealth to last several lifetimes. He didn’t want to end up like his predecessor and die
16 | ELLEN ALEXANDER
alone with no wife or children to mourn his passing. Now, at the age of thirty-two, he felt it was time he married and settled down. Darius knew from experience that with his brown eyes, long dark hair, and chiseled features, women considered him handsome. With a confidence born of arrogance rather than conceit, he was certain that he could find a woman that would marry him; but he didnâ€™t want just any woman. He wanted a respectable, genteel womanâ€”a real lady. He realized that the only way to attract such a woman was to become respectable himself. He would start by cutting his hair and purchasing some new clothes. Then he would find a lady, preferably a titled lady, and court her. He might even invent a title for himself; Lord Darius Dinswood had a nice ring to it. Fortunately, no one knew his real name, so he could use whatever name he wished, and he had enough money to at least give the appearance of being someone of noble birth. Once married, he would take his bride and sail to a new country. There he would build her a magnificent mansion, or better yet, he thought with a smile, a castle.
mma Higsby sat forward in her seat, eagerly awaiting her first glimpse of Dinswood Academy, the most prestigious boarding school in the country. Generally, only the very rich attended Dinswood, but recently, the board of directors of the school, in a fit of conscience, had decided to award full scholarships to the five seventh graders who scored the highest on the school’s entrance exam. Emma had studied for months prior to the exam and had miraculously earned the highest score among those who took it. She couldn’t believe her good fortune. Dinswood Academy was famous for its high academic standards. Not only was it the best school academically, but it was situated in the heart of the mountains, where the scenery was said to be breathtaking. In the winter months, the school was inaccessible to the outside. The school’s virtual isolation, although unattractive to some, was the very thing that appealed to Emma the most. Emma had lost her mother to cancer at the tender age of five. Her father had remarried a year later, and unfortunately, Emma and her stepmother had never really connected. Vera wasn’t mean to Emma in the physical sense, but her complete and total indifference
18 | ELLEN ALEXANDER
over the years had left an emptiness in Emma’s heart and a growing desire to get away from a home where she no longer felt wanted. The arrival of her twin half-brothers four years ago had only compounded the problem. Her father doted on Vera and the boys, and if he noticed anything lacking in Emma’s upbringing, he never commented on it or made any attempts to correct it. It had been her need to get away that had driven her to work so hard to get into Dinswood. She had received notification that she had been accepted to Dinswood a month ago. So eager was she to embark on her new adventure that Emma would have packed her bags that very second, but unfortunately, the new term didn’t begin until September first. The time until the start of the first term had seemed to drag by at a snail’s pace. As far as Emma was concerned, that month of August would go on record as being the longest of her life. Her family had expressed neither joy at her acceptance to Dinswood nor any great sadness that she would be away from home for the next nine months. The news had been greeted with the same indifference that Emma had grown accustomed to. Her father had, however, helped make the travel arrangements that would convey Emma to her new home. Emma had just been treated to her first airplane ride. She didn’t know how her father had been able to afford the fare, but she was too excited about going to Dinswood to care. The bus in which she was riding had been sent to the airport by the school to pick up the arriving students. Emma was glad that she had gotten a seat by herself so that she could absorb the scenery in solitude. There would be time enough to meet people when she was settled in at the school. Emma had read the brochure the school had sent with her acceptance letter. Dinswood Academy had, in years past, been a castle complete with towers and a parapet with battlements for defense in times of siege. Of course, the castle had been renovated extensively over the last half century. At his death, Lord Percival Dinswood had
THE SECRET OF DINSWOOD | 19
donated the buildings and grounds to the state to be used as a school. Lord Dinswood had left specific instructions on the renovations that were to be carried out in order to create the finest school in the country. There were parts of the castle, however, that he had requested remain unchanged. Looking at the pictures in the brochure, Emma was sure that Lord Percival Dinswood would have been pleased with the result. The bus had been climbing in a twisting fashion for the last hour and a half; Emma thought they must be getting close now. Just then the bus rounded a bend, and the castle came into view. The pictures in the brochure hadn’t done it justice. Emma felt as if she just stepped backward in time to the seventeenth century. A magnificent three-story, gray stone structure complete with towers stood in the center of beautifully landscaped and immaculate grounds. Well-tended shrubs lined the drive leading up to the castle, and directly across from the main entrance was a huge, circular stone fountain. Water shot upward from the middle of the fountain and sparkled in a rainbow of colors as the afternoon sun shone through the mist. A multitude of flowers in every color had been planted all around the base of the fountain and stone benches encircled it. Large oak and maple trees dotted the front lawn, and many of them had benches or swings underneath them. Although she couldn’t see them from her vantage point, Emma knew that two wings had been added to the main structure that served as dormitories. The east wing, Bingham Hall, was the boys’ dormitory, and the west wing, Brimley Hall, was the girls’. The main part of the building contained a large, two-story library, a lounge with a fireplace, a ballroom where music, band, and PE classes were held, the dining hall, and the kitchen. The classrooms and staff residences were located on the second and third floors of the main building. The entire structure was surrounded by Fangorley Forest, and to the west, a stream flowed down the side of the mountain.
20 | ELLEN ALEXANDER
At this time of year, the stream would be relatively small, but in the spring, as the winter snows melted, it would swell with swiftly moving, crystal clear and extremely cold water. All of these things Emma had read in the brochure, but she couldn’t wait to explore and see them all first hand. The next thing Emma knew, the bus was coming to a stop in front of the school, and she could see stone steps leading up to a terrace and massive oak doors. The bus driver instructed Emma and her fellow classmates to disembark and informed them that their baggage would be deposited in their dorm rooms for them. Today was a day of orientation for all of the first-year students; the rest of the student body would be arriving tomorrow. Dinswood Academy taught students from the seventh to the twelfth grades. The board of directors felt that children needed to be at least twelve-years-old before they would be mature enough to live away from home for an extended period of time. Emma would be turning thirteen November twelfth and knew that she would be among the oldest in her class. The first-year students were herded through the oak doors and into a large central hall where they were met by the dean of the school. Dean Harwood was a rather handsome man of medium height with dark hair that was beginning to gray at the temples. He was not at all what Emma had expected the dean to look like. She had pictured a short man with a stocky build and thinning brown hair. Dean Harwood stood on the stairs leading up to the second floor in order to be seen by all the students. The commotion in the great hall subsided as Dean Harwood cleared his throat, a signal that he was preparing to speak, and the students had better pay attention. “Welcome to Dinswood Academy,” Dean Harwood began. “You are very fortunate to be attending the most prestigious school in the country. I need not remind you that Dinswood sets high academic standards. You will find that our curriculum is challenging,
THE SECRET OF DINSWOOD | 21
and our instructors are among the finest in the world. You will be meeting them shortly in the dining hall. Of course, with a school of this caliber, certain rules and regulations are a necessity. You will be informed of the rules and regulations by your dorm advisors later today. Please be aware that failure to comply with these rules may result in your expulsion from Dinswood. I encourage you to work hard and take advantage of all Dinswood has to offer. At this time, our history teacher, Miss Priscilla Grimstock, will take you on a tour of the facility and acquaint you with meal times and dorm curfews. If I can assist you in any way, please make an appointment with my secretary. Again, welcome, and now I leave you in the capable hands of Miss Grimstock.” Miss Grimstock was a tall, thin, hawkish-looking woman that rather reminded Emma of a witch—all that was lacking was the pointy hat and a broomstick. She wore a navy blue suit and low heels and had her reddish-brown hair drawn back from her face and tightly coiled in a bun. “Students, if you will please follow me.” Miss Grimstock gave a grand sweep of her hand and set off down a side hall, walking in a dignified, if not somewhat stiff manner. Her tone was just as dignified as she pointed out the first room on the right down the east hall. “This is the dining hall. Breakfast is served buffet style from seven to seven forty-five in the morning. Lunch is served at noon and supper is served at six o’clock in the evening. The kitchen is next to the dining room, but it is off limits to anyone other than the kitchen staff. Classes begin promptly at 8:00 a.m. Please be on time to all of your classes, as your tardiness will result in a detention.” This last statement was met by muffled moans from the students. Ignoring the moans, Miss Grimstock continued on, “Classes resume at one o’clock and will conclude at three each afternoon, except, of course, on Saturday and Sunday. If you will follow me please…” and off she went again. The dean’s and administrative offices were on the north
22 | ELLEN ALEXANDER
side of the east hall. These were pointed out to the students in a perfunctory fashion, and the group was informed that usually the only students that saw the inside of Dean Harwood’s office were those who had committed serious infractions. The tour continued on in this manner for another thirty minutes. The ballroom was the last room off the east hall. Emma had never seen a room so large. It had a beautiful marble floor and huge windows all along the north side. French doors led onto the terrace, and Emma found herself imagining what it would have been like to attend a ball in this room a century ago. She imagined waltzing around the room in the arms of a handsome young man and then being swept out onto the terrace for a bit of stargazing. Emma was pulled from her reverie by the groans of those around her and wondered what she had missed. She didn’t have to wait long to find out as Miss Grimstock continued on as if there had been no interruption, “We here at Dinswood feel that ballroom dancing is the only civilized form of dancing, and so, of course, you will be instructed in the waltz, et cetera. This is the only time the boys and girls will have physical education together in order that you might have a proper partner.” Then with another wide sweep of her hand, she continued down to the end of the east hall, where a set of swinging double doors led into the boys’ dormitory. They didn’t enter the boys’ dormitory but were told that both boys and girls were supposed to be in their rooms by nine o’clock, and that lights out would be at ten o’clock. “You are not to leave your rooms after ten o’clock. If you are caught out and about after ten, it could result in your expulsion from Dinswood,” Miss Grimstock informed them in a haughty tone. “Many of Lord Dinswood’s valuables remain in house and so we have in our employ several security guards. The grounds and building are regularly patrolled, so if you choose to ignore this rule, you will be caught. In addition, at no time may the boys enter the girls’ dorm or vice versa. Are there any questions?” As there were no
THE SECRET OF DINSWOOD | 23
questions, Miss Grimstock led them in the direction of the main entrance and then down the west hall. Emma fell in love with the lounge. It was an enormous room that ran almost the entire length of the west hall on the north side. The room boasted a large fireplace and comfortable-looking couches and chairs arranged in little groups. According to Miss Grimstock, it was a cozy room in which to read or play chess after supper. “This was Lord Dinswood’s favorite room in the castle,” she told them with what could be interpreted as a smile, but which looked more like a grimace on her birdlike face. “He loved to play chess in here. In fact, he always kept a chess board set up on the table you see there in front of the fireplace.” Some of the students snickered at the mention of reading and chess, but Miss Grimstock once again ignored them and continued on with the tour. If Emma loved the lounge, the library had to be a close second. It had two stories with an old-fashioned, wrought iron spiral staircase leading up to the book stacks on the second level. Emma couldn’t begin to estimate the number of books housed here, and she found herself looking forward to browsing among the endless bookshelves. The library also boasted a fireplace with some overstuffed armchairs set in a semicircle in front of it. Emma could see herself curled up in one of the armchairs enjoying a good book. She hoped she’d have time to read, considering the high academic standards Dean Harwood had been talking about. Miss Grimstock’s voice droned on as she pointed to a section of the library containing long, wooden tables with lamps for research and study and another section of the library that contained computers. “The computers are to be used solely for word processing; computer games are strictly forbidden here at Dinswood Academy. We feel your time is better employed on more mentally challenging activities. You will not have internet access, nor do we have any television sets.” The groans from the students were too loud to ignore this time.
24 | ELLEN ALEXANDER
One student even objected out loud. “No TV? You’ve got to be kidding!” Miss Grimstock’s beady eyes searched out the offender and gave him a piercing look. “And what is your name young man?” Clearly embarrassed now, the young man stammered, “S-S-Sebastian C-Conners.” Sebastian, a plump boy with red hair and freckles, shifted his weight and stared fixedly at the floor. “Well, Mr. Conners, as I was saying, there are no televisions at Dinswood. Sitting mindlessly in front of a television screen for hours on end is a waste of our most valuable asset. I’m speaking of time, Mr. Conners, time that could be used for reading or a hobby such as woodworking or knitting.” Miss Grimstock’s look now encompassed the entire group. “Each semester you will be given a list of hobbies from which to choose, and you will receive the instruction necessary to pursue these hobbies. Does anyone else have a complaint or question?” The rest of the group had the good sense to remain quiet, and so Miss Grimstock led them back into the hall and pointed to the doors leading to the girls’ dormitory. As with the boys’ dormitory, they did not go in, but instead were taken back to the main entrance hall. “The classrooms are on the second floor. We have a wellequipped science laboratory, and we are proud to announce that the greenhouse has finally been completed and can be found behind the main building. You will now have the opportunity to take classes in horticulture.” At this point, Miss Grimstock paused as if expecting some kind of excited response from the students, but when none was forthcoming, she simply pursed her lips and continued on. “The staff residences are on the third floor and are strictly off-limits to students.” This last statement was emphasized with a warning frown from Miss Grimstock. “And now I will turn you over to your dorm advisors.” Dorm advisors were actually older students who had demonstrated sufficient responsibility and intelligence to be entrusted
THE SECRET OF DINSWOOD | 25
with a group of new recruits. Emma’s dorm advisor was a senior girl named Deborah. Deborah was a tall, rather plain girl with long brown hair, who obviously didn’t believe in wasting a lot of time in conversation. She showed each of the girls to their rooms and told them they would have just enough time to unpack before supper. Then she left them to fend for themselves until supper. The dorm rooms could more accurately be described as suites with each suite capable of housing four students. Every student was provided with a twin bed, a nightstand, a dresser, and a closet. Each suite also included a nicely sized, relatively modern bathroom. As Emma entered what was to be her new home for the next nine months, she saw that her luggage had already been deposited next to her bed, as had that of her roommates. Emma was embarrassed to see that her suitemates had quite a bit more luggage than her one tattered suitcase. The other girls had trunks, in addition to numerous suitcases and assorted bags. One of the girls looked pointedly at Emma’s meager possessions and stuck her nose in the air. Emma’s discomfort increased as she watched the reactions of the other two girls with whom she would be sharing a room. Well, I certainly don’t see what the big deal is, Emma thought to herself. Really, how much clothing do you need to go to a school where the students have to wear uniforms? The more she thought about it, the angrier she got. She was about to say something she knew she’d regret later when she was forestalled by the sudden reappearance of Deborah. “I forgot to tell you that after dinner we will meet together to discuss school policies and regulations. I will answer any questions that you might have at that time.” At that, Deborah spun around and hastened from the room. “Does anyone else think that girl is a little peculiar?” The question was asked of no one in particular by the short blonde girl who had first noticed Emma’s lack of baggage. “By the way, my name is Clarice Danvers.”
26 | ELLEN ALEXANDER
This comment prompted the others to give their names. A skinny, red-haired girl identified herself as Martha Merriweather, and a pretty, brown-haired girl with bright blue eyes told them her name was Susie Penneman. Then it was Emma’s turn; all of the attention was now focused on her. Emma swallowed nervously and managed to say in a fairly steady tone, “Hi, my name is Emma Higsby. It’s a pleasure to meet all of you.” Emma gave them what she hoped was her friendliest smile and was greatly relieved to see each of them smile back, even Clarice. Now that the awkward first introductions were over, the girls began to converse as if they’d known each other for years, instead of a few short minutes. The conversation flowed freely as the girls unpacked, with Clarice doing most of the talking. Having less to unpack than the other girls, Emma finished first and then sat on her bed and watched the others. Their wardrobes were nothing short of spectacular. It was obvious that these girls came from very rich families. Seeing her own glamorous clothes reminded Clarice about the uniforms the students were required to wear. “Can you believe those awful uniforms they’re making us wear?” Clarice began with disgust. Susie and Martha were quick to agree. “Yeah, they’re so plain. Last year I went to school at Norton and they had really neat uniforms, but these look like prison clothes or something.” This was from Susie as she pulled yet another beautiful pant outfit from her trunk. Emma was beginning to feel a little out of place. She thought the black, knee-length, pleated skirt, white blouse, and red and green plaid vest that comprised Dinswood’s girls’ uniform was kind of cute. Sensing Emma’s discomfort, Martha quickly changed the subject by pointing out that it was almost time for supper. “Gosh, look at the time. We’d better get down to the dining hall.” She continued
THE SECRET OF DINSWOOD | 27
on in a fair imitation of Miss Grimstock, â€œRemember students, tardiness will not be tolerated.â€? Susie and Clarice giggled, and Emma knew in that moment that she and Martha were going to be the best of friends.
mma sat in the dining hall listening to the hum of conversation around her while she tried to choke down her breakfast. Her stomach was fluttering in a combination of nervousness and excitement. Classes at Dinswood began today and Emma knew that in order to keep her scholarship for next year, she had to maintain a high grade point average this year. Dinswood was known for its high academic standards, and Emma just hoped she was up to the challenge. Martha sat next to her and appeared to be just as nervous. The weekend had passed much too quickly. Emma and the other first-year students had arrived at the school on Friday. At supper that evening, they had been introduced to the staff. Emma knew it would take a while to remember all the teachersâ€™ names. Back in their dorm room after the meal, Deborah had given them their schedules and gone over a few more rules with them. Emma had been disappointed to learn that Fangorley Forest was off limits to the students unless accompanied by one of the staff. She had been looking forward to exploring the woods around Dinswood, and now it didnâ€™t look like that would be possible. Deborah had explained that it was dangerous because there were bears and other wild animals in
THE SECRET OF DINSWOOD | 29
the forest. Having grown up in a city, Emma hadn’t considered the inherent danger in tramping around a natural forest. The rest of the student body had begun to arrive in spurts on Saturday. Sunday had been a day of settling in. In the morning, Emma had attended chapel with Martha. The chapel stood down a path a short distance to the east of the school. It was right on the edge of Fangorley Forest but was set back far enough that she had been unable to see it when she had first arrived on Friday. Deborah had told them about the chapel and that services were held on Sunday mornings at eight o’clock. The minister, Reverend James Palmer, was the husband of Judy Palmer, the school’s foreign language teacher. Emma had enjoyed the service. Reverend Palmer was a soft-spoken man of medium build and height. He had thinning, sandy-colored hair and wore wire-rimmed spectacles. He had given the impression of being a kind and compassionate man. During the service, he had informed the students that he also served as the school’s counselor and that he would be available to speak with them whenever they had a problem. Emma had left the chapel feeling more at ease than she had since arriving at Dinswood. She and Martha had spent the rest of the day exploring the grounds and looking around the new greenhouse. It had been a beautiful September day with ample sunshine and only a slight cool mountain breeze. Emma was recalled to the present by Martha’s sudden exclamation. “Isn’t he gorgeous!” Martha was looking toward the end of the long table where all the first-year students sat. “Which one do you mean?” Emma asked. “Do I have to tell you?” Martha asked with amazement. “I’m talking about the tall, dark-haired boy on the end.” “Oh. Yeah, he’s really cute, but don’t you think we’d better get to class?” Emma asked, looking at her watch and deliberately changing
30 | ELLEN ALEXANDER
the subject. She doubted any of the rich boys here would be interested in her, and anyway, she needed to concentrate on her studies. “Well okay,” Martha said, finally prying her eyes away. “But I’m going to find out who he is,” she vowed as they left the dining hall. Emma had been pleased to learn that she and Martha had the same schedules. All the first-year students took the same classes but not necessarily at the same time. Martha’s schedule matched up with Emma’s perfectly. Their first class was English with Mrs. Abigail Perkins. After explaining her grading system and classroom rules, Mrs. Perkins, a short, plump woman with curly brown hair, informed them that they would be reading many of the classics this year, starting with Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. The groans from the class were audible, not because they knew anything about the book, but just reading in general was enough to elicit this response from most twelve-year-olds. “Have you seen that book? It’s enormous!” someone close to Emma said in a loud whisper. Emma looked around for the source of the comment and discovered that once again it was Sebastian Conners, the red-haired, freckle-face boy who had raised the ire of Miss Grimstock during Friday’s tour. Sebastian got no response from anyone around him; they were all too afraid to comment, but Emma was sure most of the class agreed with him. Their next class was mathematics with Mr. Richard Godfrey. Mr. Godfrey, a tall, stern-looking man with light brown hair and black-rimmed glasses, wasted no time but promptly passed out books and gave them an assignment. Emma fully expected a comment from Sebastian, who seemed to have the same schedule as she and Martha, but for once he was silent. When, out of curiosity, Emma turned to look at him, she almost laughed out loud. He was sitting there in what appeared to be shock. Emma deduced that Sebastian’s previous school must not have been as challenging as this one was sure to be.
THE SECRET OF DINSWOOD | 31
Art class was next on their schedules. They would only have art every other day as it rotated with PE class. Emma was glad, because she had never been very good at art and knew this would be a class in which she would struggle. Martha, however, had no such trepidation. “I can’t wait to meet the art teacher. He’s supposed to be really good, and I just love to paint and draw!” Martha said excitedly as they finally located the art room. “He’d better be good if I’m going to pass,” Emma said, and when Martha laughed, she added, “I’m not kidding; I’m really not very artistic.” Mr. Henri Dubois at least looked the part of an art master, complete with a goatee and a mustache that curled up on the ends. He was a little difficult to understand, as he spoke with a French accent, but he certainly knew his stuff if the paintings hanging on the classroom walls were examples of his work. Their last class before lunch was science with Miss Louisa Jennings. Science had always been Emma’s favorite subject. The science room had lab tables with sinks and gas valves. They sat on stools at the lab tables as Miss Jennings explained that this year they would be using a general science textbook that covered topics from each of the major fields of science. Emma liked Miss Jennings immediately. She was a pretty young woman of medium height with light brown hair that just reached her shoulders and bright green eyes. It wasn’t Miss Jennings’s appearance, however, that earned Emma’s approval; it was her enthusiasm. As Miss Jennings spoke, it was obvious that she had a passion for science. After science, Emma and Martha headed downstairs to the dining hall for lunch. Martha was just expressing her disappointment at not having any classes with the cute boy they’d seen at breakfast, when Clarice and Susie came in and sat on the bench next to her. Wherever Clarice went, Susie was not far behind. It was obvi-
32 | ELLEN ALEXANDER
ous Susie thought Clarice was the best thing since sliced bread, and Emma was reminded of a little puppy following its master around. Clarice seemed to take it for granted that Susie was right behind her, and having heard Martha’s comment, she asked, “Who are you talking about?” “A cute boy. We don’t know his name yet, but we’ll point him out to you when he comes in,” Martha answered. They didn’t have to wait long as he came in with Sebastian Conners just a moment later. “There he is,” Martha said excitedly. “He’s the tall dark-haired boy with the freckle-face boy who can’t keep his mouth shut.” “Oh, that’s Douglas Harwood,” Clarice said in a bored tone. “Harwood, you mean as in Dean Harwood?” Emma asked. “The very same,” Clarice said. “Douglas Harwood is Dean Harwood’s son.” Martha was rendered speechless on several counts. First of all, Clarice did not seem at all impressed by the good looks of Douglas Harwood. Second, she had not even been aware that Dean Harwood was married and had a son. Third, how did Clarice know all this? Martha chose to address the second issue first. “I didn’t know Dean Harwood was married.” “He’s not anymore. He’s divorced,” Clarice said. “How do you know all this?” Martha asked in amazement. “My father is on the board of directors and knows everything about this school,” Clarice replied in a superior tone. “Don’t you think he’s gorgeous?” Martha asked. “Oh, he’s okay I guess, but his family has no money. His father works here for heaven’s sake,” Clarice said. “Could you be any more of a snob?” Martha asked in disgust. “Mother told me the only people worth knowing are people like us,” Clarice replied as if reciting a mantra.
THE SECRET OF DINSWOOD | 33
“By people like us you mean rich people,” Emma said, beginning to get angry. Sensing her friend’s rising temper, Martha intervened. “Clarice, my father told me that having money was just a matter of good fortune and that what really matters is how you treat others. He also says having money doesn’t give you the right to be rude.” “Yes, but your family isn’t as rich as mine,” Clarice said calmly. Now it was Martha’s turn to get mad. In an attempt to head off what could prove to be an extended and heated argument, Emma put her hands up in mock surrender and said, “Okay Clarice, you win the Richest Person Here Award. Can we get back to the subject of Douglas Harwood? Where is his mother?” Susie, who had been listening quietly up to this point, blurted out, “Oh, she’s remarried and lives somewhere in Europe.” Then, at a disapproving look from Clarice, she continued more slowly, “Douglas never sees her. She and her new husband have children of their own now, and I guess she’s too busy with them to worry much about Douglas.” As Emma listened she began to feel a kinship with Douglas Harwood. Although his mother was still alive, she might as well be dead as far as her son was concerned. Emma watched him at the end of the table as he laughed at something Sebastian was saying. He seemed to be just like any other boy, but Emma knew somewhere deep inside him there must be a deep sense of loss. After Susie’s outburst, no more was said about Dean Harwood or his son; but later that day Emma discovered that Doug was in her history class. He came walking in just before the bell, and by her indrawn breath, Emma knew that Martha had seen him as well. There had been no time for conversation, as immediately after the bell Miss Grimstock had begun her lecture and had stopped only long enough to give them an assignment. They were supposed to read the first two chapters in their books. Emma was beginning to
34 | ELLEN ALEXANDER
feel a little overwhelmed. They had homework in almost every class, and it was only the first day. When Miss Grimstock had given them their assignment, Emma had sneaked a peak at the ever-present Sebastian to see his reaction. Once again, she’d wanted to laugh out loud. He’d already been in hot water with Grimstock on Friday, so he probably hadn’t wanted to risk making her mad again. He had looked like a redfaced blowfish as he’d struggled with the effort to remain silent. Classes ended at three o’clock and then they had a half-hour break before having to report for training in their chosen hobbies. Emma was actually looking forward to her hobby class. She had always wanted to learn to crochet and thought it would be a good way to relax after the stress of regular classes. Martha had chosen knitting for her hobby, so this was one time when they wouldn’t be together. Emma was happy to see that Miss Jennings was her teacher. Including Emma, there were ten girls in the class. Miss Jennings gave each girl a skein of yarn and a crochet hook. She then showed them how to chain, and by the time they left class at four o’clock, they could do a few simple stitches. Miss Jennings told them they would learn how to make a simple afghan and then they could go on to more difficult projects if they chose to take crocheting again next semester. They would, however, have to purchase the yarn for their projects themselves. “I don’t know if anyone’s told you yet,” Miss Jennings began. “But one Saturday a month, as long as the weather holds, the school buses take students down to the town of Windland for the day to do some shopping. There are all kinds of shops there, so you can get pretty much anything you need, including yarn. Once winter gets here, though, the roads can get pretty treacherous, and all trips to town are canceled.” “When will we be going this month?” one girl asked excitedly.
THE SECRET OF DINSWOOD | 35
“I’m afraid it won’t be for a couple of weeks. We’ll just practice with the yarn I gave you until then,” Miss Jennings said. “At least you’ll have plenty of time to decide what colors you want your afghans to be.” Emma didn’t have a lot of money for shopping, but her father had given her enough to purchase any personal items she might need. She would just have to use some of that money to buy her yarn. Looking around the room, Emma realized she was probably the only one that had to worry about buying the yarn for the afghan. She didn’t feel sorry for herself, though, because she knew money wasn’t everything. It couldn’t bring back her mother.
acknowledgments I would like to thank my father and mother, Jack and Laura Schleyhahn, for their love and support; and my mother-in-law, Martha, whose kindness and selflessness were the inspiration for the Martha in my book. I would like to extend special thanks to my son, Matthew, for being my test reader; my sister, Lisa Eberding, for being my biggest fan and supporter; and my sister-in-law, Sue Hauck, for allowing me to make use of her proofreading and computer skills. Most of all I would like to thank God for His wonderful grace and His many blessings.
Twelve-year-old Emma Higsby quickly falls in love with her new home, the beautiful but financially troubled Dinswood Academy. When she disco...
Published on Feb 26, 2019
Twelve-year-old Emma Higsby quickly falls in love with her new home, the beautiful but financially troubled Dinswood Academy. When she disco...