Plans Are Made
"IRENE AND I are finally getting to go to Bryson City," Mandie informed Joe as they walked to school one April morning. "Miss Abigail sent our mother a note last night asking us to go with her next weekend." Mandie smiled at Joe as she walked quickly to keep up with him.
"My mother also received a note from her," Joe replied with a big grin.
"Are you going?" Mandie asked.
"I'm not sure if I want to go," Joe said.
"Not sure?" Mandie asked. "Why aren't you sure you want to go?" She couldn't believe anyone would turn down an invitation to go to Bryson City. The courthouse was there, along with shops full of interesting things she had always heard about but never seen. The community where they lived, Charley Gap, only had one general store.
Joe looked down at her and said, "I've been there before with my father while he was making calls, and I didn't think it was a very interesting place."
"Joe Woodard!" Mandie exclaimed, stopping in the road to stomp her foot. "How can you say that? I've always heard there are lots of interesting places in Bryson City."
"There are a lot of stuffy old city people over there," Joe answered. He paused to look down at her.
"But we will be staying with some friends of Miss Abigail," Mandie replied.
"Yes, and those friends are stuffy old city people," Joe told her. "Come on, Mandie. We're going to be late for school." He started to walk on.
Mandie quickly followed. "How do you know they're stuffy?" she demanded.
"My mother knew the name of the people in the note who Miss Abigail said we would be staying with. Mother also said they were very well-off people who live in a great mansion. I just wouldn't be comfortable," Joe explained. "Besides, what would we do there?"
Mandie grinned and said, "Maybe we'll run into a mystery!"
"Oh, Mandie, you and your mysteries!" Joe exclaimed.
"All right then, if you don't go and I find a mystery, I won't even tell you about it when I get back," Mandie said.
Joe ignored that remark and asked, "Is Irene going?"
Mandie frowned and said, "Of course she's going. She's been wanting to go there for a long time too."
"Then Irene can help you solve any old mystery you run into over there," Joe replied with a big grin.
"You know as well as I do that Irene is not interested in solving mysteries. She just doesn't have the patience," Mandie said. She looked ahead and saw Faith at the crossroads. "Come on, Faith's waiting for us."
After they caught up with Faith, Mandie asked, "Did you know Miss Abigail invited Irene and me to go with y'all to Bryson City next weekend?" And glancing at Joe, she added, "She asked Joe, too, but he's not interested."
"Yes, she told me she was inviting all of you," Faith replied as they continued walking toward the schoolhouse. She looked at Joe and asked, "Why don't you want to go with us?"
Joe cleared his throat and replied, "I told Mandie I'm not sure if I'm going."
Faith and her grandmother, Mrs. Chapman, were temporarily staying with Miss Abigail while the local men repaired the old, ramshackle house, which Mrs. Chapman had inherited from a distant cousin.
"Faith, I know you are from a city in Missouri and are probably used to being around shops, but you are still interested in going, aren't you?" Mandie asked.
"Of course," Faith replied. "I've never been to Bryson City. I like to visit places I've never seen."
"Do you know anything about Miss Abigail's friends we'll be staying with?" Mandie asked.
"Nothing, except their name is Pettigru, they are about Miss Abigail's age, and they don't have any children," Faith replied.
As they came to the lane leading to the schoolhouse, Joe suddenly rushed forward, saying, "I don't see anyone outside. I hope we're not late."
The girls quickly followed. When Joe opened the front door, they saw no one there except the schoolmaster, Mr. Tallant, who was busy at his desk.
"Good morning," Mandie said as she took her books from Joe and went to her desk.
Mr. Tallant looked up from his paperwork and smiled. "Good morning," he said. "Y'all are here bright and early."
"Early?" Joe muttered under his breath as he went to his seat.
Faith looked at Mandie and Joe and said, "I came out on the road early so I'd be sure to catch y'all, so we really are early."
At that moment the door opened and Mandie looked back to see Esther rush into the schoolroom.
"Oh, it's so nice of Miss Abigail to invite all of us to go to Bryson City with her, isn't it?" Esther said to Faith while glancing at Mandie and Joe.
Mandie silently thought, Oh, goodness! Esther is going too? Oh, no! She looked at Joe and he grinned at her. He had probably immediately made the decision that he was definitely not going now. Everyone knew Esther was hard to get along with because she always wanted everything her way.
"Yes," Faith said to Esther. "Did your mother give you permission to go?"
"Of course," Esther replied. "And she has heard of Miss Abigail's friends over there. They are supposed to be very wealthy."
That comment caused Mandie to think again. She was not comfortable around wealthy people, but Esther's parents were well-off and Esther was used to associating with that class of people. That was one reason Esther was so bossy with the other pupils in Mr. Tallant's school.
The door opened and closed again, and Mandie glanced back to see her sister, Irene, enter the room with Tommy Lester. Irene said to Faith, "Those friends of Miss Abigail's must have an awfully big house. She invited Tommy to go too."
Faith replied, "Yes, she said they have a three-story house." Then, looking at Tommy, she added, "I'm glad you can go, Tommy."
Tommy, always shy with everyone but Irene, smiled at her and said, "My mother has already sent Miss Abigail our thanks for asking me."
Mandie was curious about who else had been invited. No one mentioned the trip to Bryson City again, and as soon as Mandie, Joe, and Faith sat down outside at recess to eat lunch, Mandie tried to find out.
"Were others invited too?" Mandie asked Faith as she took a biscuit with ham from her lunch pail.
"Not that I know of," Faith replied, digging into her own lunch. "Just you, Joe, Esther, Irene, Tommy, and my grandmother, only my grandmother said she wasn't interested in going."
"How are we going to get there?" Mandie asked.
"Oh, Mr. Tallant is going. He will drive Miss Abigail's wagon for her," Faith explained. "I'm sure we'll all fit into one wagon."
Turning to Joe, Mandie asked, "Does your father know these people? Has he ever doctored them?"
Joe shook his head. "No, he's heard their name but he said they haven't been in Bryson City very long, about two years, and they haven't needed a doctor. Their house is on a hill, hidden behind a grove of trees so you can't see it very well from the road."
Mandie smiled. "That sounds like a place that could have mysteries attached to it."
"If there's one there, I'm sure you'll find it," Faith said.
"Since Mr. Tallant is going and Miss Abigail is planning to leave on Friday morning, I suppose school will be closed on Friday," Joe said.
"Yes, since the whole school can't go to Bryson City, I heard Miss Abigail say that Mr. Tallant would close the school Friday," Faith explained.
"And if you don't go with us, what will you do on Friday?" Mandie asked Joe.
"Oh, I can think of lots of things to do," Joe answered, closing his pail.
"Like what?" Mandie asked.
Joe stood up. "I could help your father work on the fence he's putting around his property, or I could go hunting, or--" He paused as the bell rang to end lunchtime.
Mandie rose and shook her head. "My parents are going to visit friends in Franklin on Friday since Irene and I won't be home," she told him.
"I can always find something to do," Joe said, walking toward the door.
"You might as well come with us, Joe, or you'll probably be left with nothing to do," Faith told him.
"I just said I could always find something to do," Joe said sharply, rushing into the schoolroom and to his desk.
As Mandie walked down the aisle to her desk, she whispered to Faith, "I wonder why he is so set against going to Bryson City with us?"
"Maybe he'll change his mind," Faith whispered back as she too went to her seat.
Mandie thought about Joe during class that afternoon. She decided there must be some reason he was not interested in going to Bryson City with the rest of them. But what could it be? He was always ready to go anywhere when the opportunity arose, so why not this time?
At the end of the day, Mr. Tallant tapped a ruler on his desk. "Attention, please," he said. "School will be closed this coming Friday for a holiday, and I will not give you any homework for the weekend, so plan to enjoy the time off."
A rousing "Thank you!" burst from the pupils as everyone stood to leave for the day.
Rushing out the door, Mandie looked up to see a dark sky. Thunder rumbled in the distance. She paused on the porch with Joe and Faith.
"Oh, it's going to storm and we're going to get wet," Mandie lamented.
"Maybe we can outrun it," Joe said, pushing through the crowd. "Come on, let's run!"
He ran out into the lane and on to the road with the girls quickly following. They didn't stop running until Faith turned off at the crossroads and headed home.
Then, hurrying down the road, Mandie told Joe between gasps for air, "Go on home. You don't have to go all the way with me. You may get wet."
"No, I'll carry your books home for you," he replied, rushing on.
They made it to the road by Mandie's house, and then the bottom seemed to fall out of the sky.
"Come on, let's get inside!" Mandie yelled as she continued toward her house.
Joe followed, and together they stomped their wet feet on the back porch before going into the kitchen.
Mandie was surprised to see Irene already sitting by the stove. "I didn't see you go ahead of us," Mandie said as she shook her skirts and went to stand by the warmth of the iron cookstove to dry.
Joe joined Mandie and added, "You were behind us when we left school."
"Yes, but I ran all the way and y'all didn't," Irene said with a big grin. "I made it to the door before the downpour started."
Mandie looked around the kitchen and asked, "Where's Mama?" Her cat, Windy, jumped out of the woodbox to rub around her ankles.
"I don't know. She's not here," Irene replied.
"I didn't see Daddy outside either," Mandie said. "But he may be in the barn."
"No, I noticed the wagon was gone, so Mama and Daddy must be gone somewhere together," Irene said.
Mandie looked into the pots at the back of the stove. "Well, looks like she has already cooked supper," she said, replacing the lids. "Black-eyed peas with ham."
"And corn bread in the warmer," Irene added.
"They probably went out somewhere and got caught in the rain," Joe remarked as he looked around the room. "Soon as it stops, I need to get on home."
The rain kept coming down harder and harder on the tin roof. Joe walked around the kitchen, pausing to look out the window now and then.
"Let's sit down and have a cup of coffee. The percolator is full," Mandie said, lifting the coffeepot from the stove to shake it.
"Yes, and I'll get the cups," Irene volunteered as she rose and went to the cabinet.
By the time the three had poured coffee and sat at the table, the rain was still going strong.
"I need to get home," Joe repeated, looking out the window across the room.
"But your mother knows it's raining. She'll know you've stopped somewhere to get out of it," Mandie told him.
"Why are you in such a hurry to get home?" Irene asked.
Joe looked at her and frowned as he said, "Because I always get home from school on time unless I've told my mother that I'll be late."
"Do you really think your mother would expect you to go out in this downpour just to get home on time?" Irene asked.
Joe frowned and sipped his coffee without answering.
The rain continued as the thunder came nearer, and the three sat there at the kitchen table, watching through the window.
"When my parents are able to get here, my father will take you home, I'm sure," Mandie reassured Joe.
"I wouldn't want to ask him to go back out in this storm just to take me home," Joe said, and with a loud sigh, he added, "I'll just have to wait till it stops."
Trying to take everyone's mind off the storm, Mandie asked Joe, "You still don't want to go to Bryson City with us?"
Joe looked at her. "At this minute I'd say no, I'm not going."
"You mean you could still change your mind?" Mandie asked.
A sudden clap of thunder rattled the house and the three looked at each other in fear. The storm was getting worse. Then a sharp spike of lightning flashed outside the kitchen window.
Mandie wished her parents were home. Where could they be? Why had they gone out after her mother had cooked supper? Had there been some kind of emergency?
Mandie looked at her sister and then at Joe. They both looked worried too.
Excerpted from A Charmed Life by Francis Bridger. Copyright © 2002 by Francis Bridger. Excerpted by permission of Image, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.