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Dan Pruitt stood in the park looking out across the Morgan River. It was early October and the brilliant gold,
orange, and red of the leaves over his head matched the glowing gold,
orange, and red of the setting sun.
'Nice work,' Dan said aloud. He was talking to God, and he was absolutely sincere. 'Maybe even better than yesterday.'
Dan had discovered that he was not one of those people who could kneel at his bedside every night,
fold his hands, and pray to a distant God up in the clouds. No, at twelve years old, Dan preferred a conversation that lasted the entire day and included comments like the one he had just made. At night he did take time to reflect on his day and offer a more formal prayer, but the relaxed approach was his usual style.
Dan turned away from the river and headed back across the park toward Eckert House. He knew his family would be there shortly, for they were going out to dinner to celebrate his little brother, Jack's, birthday.
Dan stopped for a moment to look at Eckert
House as its front windows reflected the brilliant colors of the evening sky.
Eckert House was once the home of the wealthiest family in the town of Freemont, Pennsylvania, but when their large fortune was all spent, the family gave the mansion and all that was in it to the town. It was restored and turned into a museum, a museum that was now famous, in part, because of Dan.
Dan had accidentally uncovered a valuable statue of a bronze angel that he had nicknamed Loretta. As a result both Eckert House and Dan were known all over the country.
Being on television and in national magazines had been the high point of the past summer, but as Dan passed a large granite monument, the town's war memorial, he was also reminded of one of the summer's low points. Dan stopped. He had almost died on this spot.
'Thanks,' Dan whispered in prayer, remembering how he had been saved from Rick Doheny, the desperate man who had tried to kill him and was now in jail. The past summer had been full of dangers that Dan was happy to forget. Now things like watching a sunset or going out for pizza with his family,
things that he had never given much thought to before, were suddenly very important to him.
The war memorial was an important marker to Dan for another reason, too. On it, he was sure, was the solution to a mystery he had been trying to solve all summer.
All the soldiers from Freemont who had died during a war had their names chiseled into the large granite monument. One of those men was the father of a boy who had written a diary during World
War Two that Dan had been investigating. He was trying to uncover the boy's identity.
In the diary, the boy had written his deepest and most personal feelings. He was very honest about his fear that his father would be killed in the war, a fear that Dan felt had come true, for the diary abruptly stopped in April of 1945, just before the war in Europe ended. The boy's father had been fighting there. Dan concluded that the father's death was why the boy never finished the diary.
The woman in charge of Eckert House, Miss Alma
Louise Stockton LeMay, had given the diary to Dan and asked him to solve the mystery of its author. She also asked Dan to find out, if possible, how it came to be in a box in the attic of Eckert House, for it seemed to have no connection to anyone who had ever lived there.
Miss Alma was older than seventy, but less than a hundred. She weighed no more than ninety pounds, but could make grown men three times her size tremble with fear. She was a terror, a person whom you did not want as an enemy.
Just the week before, she had refused to meet with a real-life prince who had come thousands of miles to
Eckert House for a visit. He was twenty-three minutes late for his appointment. Miss Alma told him to come again another day---after he had bought himself a new watch. Dan liked her very much.
Across the street Dan saw his mother pull up, roll down the window of her car and wave to him.
'I'll be back in five minutes. I have to get your sisters,' she called.
In the front seat was Dan's Grandpa Mike. This was the first time he'd been out of the house for something other than a doctor's appointment since he'd had a stroke earlier in the year. Grandpa Mike still walked very slowly with a special cane, but his speech was getting much better. There were times when he could speak whole sentences now. Dan waved back. Grandpa Mike also waved.
'Well,' said Dan for what he felt was the millionth time as he gazed up at the monument, 'the name of that boy's father is right here. The solution to the mystery is right in front of me.'
Dan was not alone in trying to solve this puzzle.
His cousin Pete, and their best friend Shelby (both also eleven) were with him every step of the way. So was an older man named Will Stoller, whose brother's name was on the western face of the monument. Dan reached out and touched the name carved into the reddish stone.
'Henry Stoller,' Dan read. 'What was it like to die so far from home? Did you know you weren't coming back?'
'I think he did,' answered a voice from the other side of the monument. Dan jumped.
Will Stoller stepped into view. 'Sorry,' he apologized.
'I didn't mean to startle you.'
Will was in his seventies, but he could easily have passed for a man much younger. He had proven to be a good friend, and he was probably the one person in Freemont who truly understood why solving the mystery of the diary was so important to Dan.
Just as Will had waited for news of his brother to come home from a war so many years ago, Dan now waited to hear that his own father was coming home from a war. Dan's father flew fighter jets for the Navy and was stationed overseas in a very dangerous area.
'What happened to that boy's father and what happens with yours are not connected in any way. You know that, don't you?' Will looked kindly at Dan.
Dan knew it in his head, but he never quite felt it in his heart.
Will continued. 'My brother's last letter to us felt like a good-bye. He told me to take care of my mother,
that I could wear his jacket, that kind of thing. Has your father written you anything like that?'
Dan shook his head. His father had not. In fact, in his last letter he had continued with a subject that he and Dan had been writing back and forth about all summer.
It was a scripture passage, one of the few references to Jesus as a boy: And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men. Dan's father had asked Dan to give that verse some serious thought. Dan had, and different parts of it had jumped out at him over the past few months.
He had connected Jesus growing in wisdom to being smarter, growing in stature to growing stronger, and growing in favor with God to having a deeper relationship with his Heavenly Father. Dan knew that these were qualities that his own father expected him to develop as well. Now he was trying to figure out the last few words: what did growing in favor with men mean?
Well, thought Dan, hopefully it'll come to me if I
think about it long enough. Another mystery of the universe solved by Daniel March Pruitt.