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Authors: Esther Wood Brady

Toliver's Secret

BOOK: Toliver's Secret
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Published by Yearling, an imprint of Random House Children's Books a division of Random House, Inc., New York

Text copyright © 1976 by Esther Wood Brady
Illustrations copyright © 1976 by Richard Cuffari
Cover art copyright © 1993 by Dan Andreasen

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ISBN: 0-679-84804-5
eBook ISBN: 978-0-553-53536-5

Reprinted by arrangement with Crown Publishers

v3.1

Contents
One

G
randfather must have lost his wits.

Ellen was sure her grandfather had lost his wits when she saw him slip into the dark kitchen and lock the door with a big key. Without giving his usual cheery greeting he tiptoed to the window and pinned the heavy curtains together with a knitting needle.

“Don't want anyone peeping in this morning,” he said to Ellen's mother who was making bread on a table by the fireplace.

Lights from a small fire on the hearth darted about
the big old kitchen. From the dark corner where she sat brushing her hair, Ellen could see light glimmering on a tiny silver box he carried in his hand.

“Is the loaf ready now?” Grandfather whispered to her mother.

Mother's white cap fluttered up and down, but she did not speak. Very carefully she patted and shaped a small round loaf of bread.

“Well, then, let us go ahead,” Grandfather said as he gingerly placed the silver box on top of the lump of dough.

Ellen stared at the little box. It was his favorite silver snuffbox. She was too surprised to speak when she saw him press the snuffbox into the dough, smooth over the hole that he had made and dust off his hands. His round face had a wide impish smile.

“No one will find it there,” he said gleefully. He stepped back and cocked his head to one side. “Bake it crisp and brown, Abby, with a good strong crust. It has a long way to travel.”

“You're quite sure no one will find it, Father?” Mother sounded frightened.

“Now don't worry, Abby. No one will find it.” He patted her shoulder and gave her a kiss.

Ellen saw that he was wearing the white wig with
the turned-up tail that he always wore when he went to the tavern. Underneath his blue wool coat he wore a long waistcoat with brass buttons down the front. He was short and stout and the buttons marched down his waistcoat in an outward curve. He never wore these clothes when he worked in his barbershop.

Ellen was so puzzled she had to speak up. “Whatever are you planning to do, Grandfather?”

Quickly her grandfather spun around and peered into the deep shadows of the old kitchen. He gave a sharp cry that made her jump up. “I thought you had gone to the corner pump, Ellie!”

Ellen curtsied. “I was just about to make the bed, but I'll leave now, Grandfather.” She picked up her red cloak and pulled the hood over her long brown hair.

Grandfather stepped across the room and grasped her by the shoulders. “Don't ever speak of what you have seen, Ellen Toliver,” he warned in a gruff voice she had never heard him use before. He was usually so friendly and cheerful, even in the early morning, even with the British officers around. But now his twinkling blue eyes looked as hard as points of steel. Ellen was so startled she dropped her cloak.

“But I was just wondering—”

“Stop. You are no longer a babbling child,” he said sharply. “About this you must never talk! Do you hear, Ellen Toliver?”

Ellen nodded. Grandfather wasn't acting like himself at all.

Suddenly, with his usual cheerful smile, he bent down and hugged her to his side. From under his wig she could see some of his sandy red hair peep out around his forehead.

“I must have alarmed you, Ellie—and I am sorry,” he said as he kissed her cheek. “But this is something of concern to me—very great concern! And only your mother knows about it. No one else. But now that the three of us know, the three of us must keep it secret.”

Ellen nodded. She wasn't sure just what the secret was. But she certainly would not talk about it.

“Sh-h-h-h!” Mother took off her white cap and pushed back a curl that fell across her forehead, leaving a smudge of flour on her brown hair. She cocked her head and listened for a noise upstairs. “Sh-h-h! No telling who might be awake up there.”

In the bedrooms upstairs lived six British officers who had moved into Grandfather's house when the redcoats took New York three months ago. Ellen disliked
those officers. Always sniffing snuff up their proud noses and sneezing daintily into white kerchiefs when they weren't striding about giving orders.

She hated the way they ordered Mother to bring tea and biscuits to them every morning. But still, they were the masters of the house now. Ellen and her mother curtsied whenever they saw them, and stepped out of their way politely.

“Just pay those redcoats no mind,” her grandfather had told them. Sometimes, in the evenings, he would mimic them. He'd take a pinch of snuff from his snuffbox, and with his little finger crooked, he'd put it on the back of his hand and sniff. Then he'd sneeze and sneeze! He'd put his nose in the air very haughtily and dance about the room, flipping up the tails of his coat.

“The Redcoat Minuet,” he called the dance. “Come and dance the minuet, dear lady.”

Ellen would pick up her skirts and dance with him, holding her hands high, pointing her toes and tossing her head as if she were a Tory lady wearing a big white wig. When they finished the minuet, they'd whirl about the room until they fell back laughing in their chairs to catch their breath. It was fun to do silly things with Grandfather. Ellen's father had never
played like this. He had been very serious.

Sometimes Mother would dance, too, pretending a wooden spoon was an ivory fan. It was good to see her laugh after all these months of worry.

Now, in the early morning half-light, Mother pointed up to the ceiling. “Be very quiet,” she warned. “Someone may be awake up there and hear us talk about the bread. We must be very cautious.”

They stood still and listened. Ellen shivered at the sound of the wind howling over the rooftops, but she heard no stirring of the redcoats upstairs.

“Lazy lobsterbacks!” grumbled Grandfather. “They're still abed up there. They spend their evenings in the taverns and sleep until noon.” Grandfather always got up early and he thought everyone else should too.

For years and years Grandfather Van Horn had been a barber and a wigmaker in the town of New York. Nowadays his shop, in the front part of the house, was filled with British officers who came to have him shave their chins or powder their hair or dress their white wigs. The British officers liked the cheerful little Dutchman.

Ellen watched her grandfather take the wooden bucket from the hearth and look inside. She knew
well enough what he would say.

“What a lug-a-bed you are, Ellen. You haven't gone out to the pump yet.”

She picked up her red cloak from the floor. “It's because—”

“Don't like snowy mornings, eh?” he teased her. “I may be a stubborn Dutchman, but you know I like the bucket full of water first thing in the morning. Sometimes you're so late I can't wash my face until seven o'clock.”

“I'll save water for you to wash your face, Father,” Mother said hastily. “Ellen is just slow to get started in the mornings. I know how she feels.”

“Slow!” cried Grandfather. “She's like a turtle! It seems to take her an hour to come back from the pump. I used to buy water from the drayman, but I thought it was good for Ellen to go out. She stays indoors too much.”

Mother's eyes were anxious. Her face was so thin now, it made her eyes look huge. “I hope you'll excuse her, Father,” she began slowly as she tightened the knot of brown hair at her neck. “She's not used to this town yet—living quiet as we always did in our little village. We've been here scarce a month and it takes time to get used to different ways.”

“Nonsense!” said Grandfather. He poured the last of the water into a mug and handed the bucket to Ellen.

BOOK: Toliver's Secret
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