I understood Father's reasoning but believed he should free our people now, not risk waiting longer. With war on our threshold, anything could happen. The door to choosing their freedom might close forever should the Confederacy prevail.
Little did my voice matter in our house.
Celia didn't want to wait to explore the attic but knew she had no choice, at least not for the moment. Olney'd promised to return within the hour, to get the worst of the tree out before dark.
True to his word, Olney brought two men from Saints Delight Church, Deacon Barlow and his oldest son, Jay, all three carrying axes. Chester made a fourth. Together they chopped and hefted and pushed until the top of the tree no longer rested on the roof or in the attic. Celia pulled out long, skinny pine branches, handing them up to Jay, who'd climbed to the roof to throw them out.
Pulling out those limbs, working with Jay, reminded Celia of Marshall, Olney's nephew, who'd helped to restore Garden's Gate a few years before. But Marshall couldn't stay. A colored teenager with ambitions to better himself, maybe even study to be a doctor, found no place in No Creek at the time. The Klan saw to that.
Celia didn't miss Marshall for the hard work he could do. She missed his friendship. But friendships between young colored men and white girls were forbidden in No Creek—a thing Marshall had nearly lost his life learning. Now Marshall, like so many young men Celia knew who'd gone to war, was stationed far away. She only hoped that one day he'd return, that he'd be able to return.
They secured the tree just as the sun fell behind the mountain.
"Let's get these tarps tacked in place for the night, keep out what we can till I get some lumber ordered for these rafters, see what we can do about patchin' that roof." Olney scratched his head. "Miz Lill—Miz Willard—might want to replace the whole thing while we're at it—'bout time, anyhow. Tomorrow I'll come back, take some measurements, and see what Pearl Mae can order on credit before her mama gets home."
"Thank you all for doin' this, Olney, Deacon Barlow, Jay. I know Miss Lill will make it right. I'd no idea what or how to do." Celia meant it.
"You two did fine haulin' in that tarp. Best you could do in the middle of the storm. Keep your front room fire goin' tonight. There's gonna be a draft through the house, but you're safe enough."
"We can go in that room now, can't we?" Chester wiped the sweat from his brow.
Celia frowned. She'd had no intention of asking permission of Olney or anybody else and every intention to explore the minute the men cleared out.
Olney looked at Celia. "I don't suppose it's worth my breath to say otherwise. It's safe enough now, I reckon, but those trunks and whatnot belong to Miz Willard. You ought to let her go through them first. She's the last of the Belvideres, so whatever there is and what's done with it is up to her. Y'all keep that in mind."
He looked over at Deacon Barlow and his son. "Deacon, reckon you and Jay can keep this room under your hat for now? There's reason I'd like to talk it over with Miz Willard before folks get wind."
Deacon Barlow nodded. "I understand that good reason, Brother Tate. You have our word."
Jay, wide-eyed, nodded.
Olney looked at Celia and Chester, brows raised.
"Yes, sir," Chester vowed.
Celia smiled. If he thought she'd agreed, well, that was on him. The men hadn't been gone two minutes before Celia raced back up the attic stairs, a screwdriver in one hand and a flashlight in the other. "Bring that crowbar!" she called to Chester.
"Celia! You heard what Olney said. We ought—"
"I never agreed not to look!" Celia flicked on her flashlight and gingerly climbed over the broken wall, careful not to tear her dungarees. Her mama'd not stand for that.
"This place is creepy in the dark," Chester whispered, crowbar in hand, not three feet behind.
"Dark enough to raise ghosts," Celia quipped, deliciously scared. "Come help me with the lock on this trunk. Hold the flashlight. I'll try the screwdriver."
Chester frowned. "I don't relish explainin' to Olney that we busted locks."
"I'm not trying to bust them, but they're not Olney's trunks," Celia retorted.
"So they're ours?"
Just hold the flashlight, will you?" Celia wiggled the screwdriver in the keyhole. Nothing happened.
"Lift the latch on that end," Chester ordered. "Maybe it's not really locked."
Celia raised the other latch, but the lid didn't budge. She pried the middle of the lid, just above the keyhole, until the wood gave way.
Chester lifted the lid.
This excerpt ends on page 15 of the hardback edition.
Monday we begin the book Missing Pieces: 4 Puzzling Cozy Mysteries by Cynthia Hickey; Linda Baten Johnson; Teresa Ives Lilly; and Janice Thompson.