Angel of the Battlefield

BOOK: Angel of the Battlefield
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No. 1

Angel of the Battlefield

by Ann Hood

Grosset & Dunlap

An Imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

GROSSET & DUNLAP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,

New York, New York 10014, USA

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Text © 2012 by Ann Hood. Illustrations © 2012 by Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Published by Grosset & Dunlap, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014. Grosset & Dunlap is a trademark of
Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Printed in the U.S.A.

 

Cover illustration by Scott Altmann. Map illustration by Meagan Bennett.

 

Library of Congress Control Number: 2011000846

 

ISBN 978-1-101-53570-7

For Virginia Nolan

Newport, Rhode Island

On the hottest day of the hottest summer on record, Maisie and Felix Robbins stood on the rolling front lawn of Elm Medona and wished more than anything that they could go back in time. Five hours ago they had left the apartment at 10 Bethune Street in New York City, where they had lived their entire twelve years, and driven in a U-Haul with their mother to this gigantic, peacock-blue mansion on Bellevue Avenue in Newport, Rhode Island. To Maisie and Felix, it looked more like a museum than a place to live.

“Home, sweet home,” their mother said as the three of them stared up at Elm Medona.

Maisie folded her arms across her chest and glowered at the ridiculous monstrosity their great-great-grandfather Phinneas Pickworth had built in 1909. She would never like living here, she decided. No matter what happened, she would hate it.

Felix, her twin brother, tried not to cry. He was homesick already, and he missed their father, who was having his own moving day halfway across the world.

A horn beeped to announce the arrival of the moving truck.

“Right on time!” their mother said, sprinting across the expansive front lawn to greet the movers.

“What do you think Dad is doing right now?” Felix managed to say. He was a skinny boy and not very tall for twelve, and standing in front of Elm Medona made him feel practically tiny.

“I don't know,” Maisie grumbled. On a regular day, her blond curls stuck out of her head like springs. With the heat and humidity, it got even more unruly. She ran her hands over her tangle of hair, trying to tame it a little.

“And I don't care, either,” she added, which Felix knew meant she did care. A lot. Maisie might be seven minutes older than Felix was, but he was definitely more mature than her.

Everything in their lives had changed all at once. Or so it seemed to them. Until breakfast one Saturday at the corner diner—Maisie had French toast, Felix a cheese omelet—Maisie and Felix and their parents all lived happily at 10 Bethune Street. But that April morning, their parents told the twins they were getting divorced.
People grow apart
, their mother had said.
They want different things
,
their father explained. Those “different things” appeared to be their father taking a job at a big, new museum in Doha, Qatar, and their mother joining a law firm in Newport.
What about us?
Maisie had demanded. Their mother had leaned back in her chair and said,
We get to live in Elm Medona.

Except they weren't going to live in the mansion. Not exactly. Great-Aunt Maisie, Phinneas Pickworth's daughter, had made an arrangement with the local preservation society years ago. It allowed her to live in the third-floor servants' quarters while the preservation society could give tours of all seventy rooms and eighty acres of it and throw fancy events for wealthy people. Right before that awful morning at the diner, Great-Aunt Maisie had had a stroke and moved into assisted living, leaving the apartment-like attic available for them.

“Aren't we lucky?” their mother said now, pausing to stand beside them. Her own unruly blond hair poked out from a pink bandana she'd tied around her head. She held a box on which she'd written
FRAGILE
in black Sharpie about a million times.

Maisie and Felix exchanged a look. They had made a vow not to complain to their mother about the terrible twists their lives had taken.
She's going through a lot, too
, Felix had said.
New job. New town. New everything.
Maisie had agreed, reluctantly.
Grown-ups should be able to deal with all this stuff
, she thought.
Especially the grown-ups who made it all happen.

“So lucky,” Maisie said, trying to keep the edge out of her voice.

“At least all of our things have arrived safely,” her mother said.

“Do you think there's a pool nearby?” Felix asked as the sun shone down on them through a hazy, humid sky. “Like on Carmine Street?”

“Stop thinking about what
was
,” their mother said, “and start thinking about what
is
.” With that, she headed through the door with her box.

“It sure is big,” Felix said, turning his hazel eyes back to Elm Medona. His square, tortoiseshell glasses slipped down his nose, and he pushed them up.

“It's positively vulgar,” Maisie cried. She liked to use vocabulary words whenever possible.

“Can you believe they used to call these things cottages?” Felix said.

He had read the brochure the preservation society had sent them in preparation for their move. It had explained how during the Gilded Age at the end of the nineteenth century, the tycoons of finance, industry, and mining had built bigger and bigger mansions along Bellevue Avenue. Elm Medona had been the biggest and most lavish of them all. If he didn't have to live there, Felix might have found this information fascinating. Instead, it just gave him a pit in his stomach. He had tried to read the brochure out loud on the drive up, but Maisie made him stop.
I don't care about Elm Medona or the Gilded Age or stupid Phinneas Pickworth!
she'd said miserably.

“I hate Phinneas Pickworth,” Maisie said, wiping her sweaty forehead with the back of her hand. “Not only did he build this awful place, but he also fathered Great-Aunt Maisie. And if he hadn't done that, she wouldn't have been able to let us move into this awful place.”

Her logic was illogical, but Felix understood. She only meant that she wanted to be back at home on Bethune Street, Rollerblading down the hallway between the apartments and playing softball in Central Park, both of their parents cheering her on.

Felix draped his damp arm around his sister's shoulders. “I hate him, too,” he said softly.

Maisie leaned her head on his chest—awkwardly because she was taller than him. The smell of her coconut shampoo mixed with the salty smell of sweat filled his nose.

“There's a gazebo somewhere on the grounds,” Felix offered hopefully.
Gazebo
was a good vocabulary word, too. Maybe that would win her over.

Maisie sighed.

“Phinneas copied it from a famous French temple called the Temple of Love,” Felix added.

Maisie glanced up at him. Even though they were twins, they looked nothing alike. Maisie had inherited everything from their mother—unruly blond hair, big, green eyes, long legs—and Felix had inherited everything from their father—hazel eyes flecked with gold and afflicted with nearsightedness, stick-straight, brown hair, and even the cowlick that refused to be tamed.

She turned those green eyes on him now and said, “I want to go back. I want to close my eyes, and when I open them again, I want to be in our room on Bethune Street with Mom and Dad both in the kitchen, laughing and singing show tunes.”

“Me too,” Felix said, giving her a squeeze. “But there's no going back.” Saying that gave him a big lump in his throat. He swallowed hard three times, trying to make it go away.

For most of their childhood, their mother had been an actress, going to auditions and taking voice and dance lessons and scene-study classes; their father had been a sculptor, working in a big studio downtown that he rode his bike to every morning after he dropped them off at school. But a few years ago, their mother had gone to law school, and their father had taken a job in an art gallery.
Maybe
, Felix thought,
that was when everything started to change.

From high above them, their mother pushed open a window and popped her head out. “Are you just going to stand there all day, or are you going to help unpack some boxes?”

“We're going to explore!” Maisie shouted back.

“Don't go too far,” their mother said. “And make sure you can find your way back.”

Felix laughed. “Not everybody has a backyard as big as eighty football fields where they can actually get lost,” he said. “With real temples and English gardens and who knows what else.”

“Isn't there a carriage house with a bunch of old cars in it?” Maisie said.

Felix pointed a finger at her. “Aha! You
were
listening.”

“Reluctantly,” she said, peering off into the distance where the grounds seemed to go on forever. “I see something way down there,” she said.

Without hesitating, Maisie walked off. As usual, Felix had to hurry to catch up with her.

Later, Felix and Maisie entered Elm Medona through a side door off a circular driveway practically hidden by trees and high hedges. It was the same door the servants and deliverymen used to use. Inside, no one would ever guess they were in a mansion. The small vestibule had a worn linoleum floor and a plain wooden staircase. One flight down was the mansion's enormous kitchen. And three flights up were the servants' quarters—which Maisie and Felix would now call home.

“This is depressing,” Maisie said as they climbed the stairs. With each flight they climbed, the staircase grew narrower and steeper.

Felix didn't answer. Once again, homesickness swept over him.

At the top, the door flew open and their mother came out, her big polka-dot purse slung over her shoulder and her blond hair pulled into a ponytail.

“It's as hot as Hades in there,” she warned them. “No way am I turning on the stove. Start unpacking while I grab us some sandwich stuff.”

“You'll be right back, right?” Felix asked her as she hurried past them.

“See if you can find the fan,” their mother called over her shoulder.

When Maisie and Felix walked into the apartment, Felix groaned. It was hotter inside than outside, the walls were painted a depressing, dull yellow, and he could smell the distinct odor of old lady.

“It's not bad,” Maisie said, just so her brother would feel better.

Truthfully, it was worse than bad. She walked through the small kitchen into an equally small living room. Their boxes stood stacked against the walls. The windows were tiny and smudged, the floors were old and scuffed, and nothing about it seemed like home. The living room opened onto a long, dark hallway with bedrooms lining each side and a bathroom all the way at the end. It had a big claw-foot tub and a tiled floor with funny pictures of goats and bulls and fish.

When Maisie opened one bedroom door she saw a small, square room with two twin beds, a bureau, and a rocking chair. She opened the door across the hall to reveal an identical room. The next room was the same. And the next.

“Boy,” Felix said, trying to imagine all the people who used to live there a long time ago. “Phinneas Pickworth had a lot of servants.”

“Well,” she said to Felix, “which room do you want? Not that it matters since they're all the same.”

“The one across the hall from yours,” Felix said.

Maisie pointed to the first room she'd looked at. “I'll take that one then,” she said.

“Okay,” Felix said. “I guess we should start unpacking.”

“We're going to die of heat exhaustion,” Maisie said as she went back into the living room to find the boxes with her name written on them.

“I'll get us some water,” Felix said.

In the kitchen, he tried to find glasses in the cupboards, but they were all empty. Then he saw it: a door that opened into a tall, narrow elevator.

“You've got to see this!” he called to his sister.

Maisie came over and peered inside. She tried to squeeze in, but Felix yanked her out.

“You're no fun,” she said. “Hey, I know! Let's go see what the rest of the house looks like.”

“I don't think we're supposed to do that,” Felix told her.

“Says who?”

He thought for a minute. No one had actually told them they couldn't go downstairs, but it had been made clear that they lived on the
third floor
, and the rest of the house belonged to the preservation society.

“We're getting a tour on Monday,” Felix reminded Maisie.

“Monday is a million years from now,” Maisie said.

BOOK: Angel of the Battlefield
12.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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