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Valentine Harper’s father has been in Colorado for more than a year seeking his fortune in the Silver Rush. But she’s tired of waiting for his overdue return. Aunt Margaret is nice, but Uncle Franklin seems unhappy to have an extra person in the house and Cousin Harold’s pranks have been getting meaner. Unfortunately, a girl can’t get far on her own in ...
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Valentine Harper’s father has been in Colorado for more than a year seeking his fortune in the Silver Rush. But she’s tired of waiting for his overdue return. Aunt Margaret is nice, but Uncle Franklin seems unhappy to have an extra person in the house and Cousin Harold’s pranks have been getting meaner. Unfortunately, a girl can’t get far on her own in America in 1885. But with a haircut, the right clothes, and a big dose of courage, Vallie Harper just might make it on a journey across the country to look for her father, and pull off an adventure that will change her life.
In 1885, unhappy living with her aunt and uncle in Pittsburgh, Valentine Harper disguises herself as a boy and runs away to Colorado determined to find her father who has gone there in search of gold.
A Heart of Gold
At the landing, halfway up the front stairs, Valentine Harper stopped to study the bright patterns of light spilling onto the window seat from the stained-glass window above. Shifting her schoolbooks from her right arm to her left, she turned and climbed to the second-floor hall. Near the top, she stopped again. Something felt wrong.
Bridget always closed the doors after she straightened the beds, but that afternoon Vallie's bedroom door stood open. Harold must have invaded her room again.
She ran along the hall and charged into her room. The white spring coverlet on the bed lay as crisp and smooth as one of Bridget's aprons. And Harold, sneaky as a weasel, couldn't smooth sheets worth spit, which meant he hadn't put something nasty in her bed again. She dropped to her knees and peered underneath but saw only polished pine floor.
In the clothes cupboard Vallie saw more signs of Bridget's careful work--clean dresses were hanging from their usual pegs and starched petticoats were lined up in a row. Nasty Harold hadn't messed here today either. Once he'd tied her pantalets in knots.
The dresser, washstand, rocking chair and bookshelf all seemed in order and untouched. Then something caught Vallie's eye. One of the curtains that surrounded the window seat was bunched up.
As Vallie stepped closer she noticed strips of shimmery blue cloth and little bunches of white fluff stuck to the green velvet cushion. Oh, no, she thought as she shoved aside the curtain. Back in one corner lay a misshapen lump. Vallie's stomach churned. That lump was her doll.
Maria's painted china face still smiled, her bright blue eyes still looked out, but the rest of her! Her dark brown curls had been tugged and mussed. Her blue satin dress had been torn to ribbons, her lace petticoats shredded and her soft cloth body ripped until chunks of cotton stuffing poked out every which way.
Vallie hugged Maria to her chest and squeezed her eyes to hold back the tears. The doll had come in the mail, a gift for her twelfth birthday.
"She reminds me of you, Valentine, with her chocolate brown curls, her blue eyes and her smiling face," Papa had written from Colorado. "Something tells me this doll has a heart of gold, just as you do, Dear Daughter. Keep her with you always, your secret strength in times of trouble. Happy Birthday, my sweet."
Vallie sniffed and examined Maria once more. Only the face and hands were undamaged--Harold hadn't smashed the china parts. That didn't make sense.
She turned and studied her perfectly made bed. Of course, she thought. Wretched Harold had arranged this to look like the work of Mischief, the kitchen cat, just as he had with his filthy prank two weeks ago.
The memory of that horrible night sent a shudder along her spine. At first, she'd not noticed anything unusual, not until she turned back the coverlet to crawl into bed and found a dead mouse on her pillow. Her scream had brought the entire household running to her room.
Bridget arrived first, her green eyes flashing fire. Then Aunt Margaret, clutching her dressing gown, followed by Uncle Franklin, complaining about losing his night's rest for some flighty female he shouldn't have to worry about. Finally Harold showed up, with a sleepy, innocent look pasted over his face. He'd fooled Aunt Margaret and Uncle Franklin well enough, and poor Mischief had been locked outdoors for three days as punishment. Not this time.
Tucking Maria under one arm, Vallie charged across her room and down the hall. Without stopping to knock, she shoved open Harold's door.
"Well, hello, Cousin," Harold said from where he was sprawling comfortably on his bed. "What brings you to my room? Did you want to have a friendly chat?"
"I'd sooner make friends with a copperhead. Why did you rip up my doll?" She shoved Maria right under his freckled nose.
"Me? Whatever gave you the idea that I'd hurt your poor, dear dolly?"
Vallie's hands curled into fists. "You're mean and you're a bully. I'm going to tell your friends on you. I'll tell them how you pick on me--a girl, and a whole year younger. See what they say about that."
"You just try it," he said, glaring. Then he sat up and smiled as if he were the nicest boy around and called out, "Mother. Oh, Mother. I think you'd better come upstairs right away."
"You're not going to blame poor Mischief again. I won't let you."
"You think you can stop me?"
Aunt Margaret stepped into Harold's room with a sheet of notepaper in one hand. "Yes, dear. What is it?" She looked from Harold to Vallie with a half smile on her face.
"Aunt Margaret, my doll--"
Harold interrupted. "That naughty kitchen cat has hurt poor Cousin Valentine's doll. We really should do something--she's quite mean. And look here." He stuck out one pudgy arm. "She scratched me."
"If Mischief scratched him, she had a reason," Vallie said. "He was--"
"I was trying to rescue your silly doll. That's the reason." While Aunt Margaret bent to examine his arm, he stuck out his tongue at Vallie.
Aunt Margaret sniffed. "Dreadful cat. I'll speak to Bridget right away. Now, have you washed that scratch, Harold? We don't want it to fester."
"Would you please wash it for me, Mother? I'm not so very brave about cuts."
"Well, of course, my sweet boy . . ."
Vallie turned in disgust and marched back to her own room. She shut the door tight and climbed into the window seat with her doll still in her arms. Aunt Margaret was hopeless.
So was Maria. Vallie patted the soft, half-empty body. It would take forever to stitch up every rip, and her fingers were more suited to helping Bridget knead fat loaves of bread than to making tiny stitches. Still, she pinched a wad of cotton between her fingers and poked it into a hole. Something stopped her finger--something hard, right in the middle of Maria's cloth body.
Vallie rolled the doll over and slipped her finger into a long rip on the back. Sure enough, something stiff filled the center.
"Sorry, Maria," Vallie whispered as she reached into the rip and pulled out a handful of stuffing, then another, exposing a packet wrapped in brown paper. Her fingers shook as she tugged at the paper. Finally it came loose, and she eased it out of the limp body and set Maria aside.
The packet weighed heavy in her hand. Someone had tied careful knots. As Vallie unfolded the brown paper, shining round weights dropped into her skirts. Gold! Somebody had filled her doll with five gold eagles, each of them worth ten dollars.
Papa's words came back to her, and she understood. ". . . this doll has a heart of gold . . . your secret strength in times of trouble." He had sent Maria last winter, but for more than company.
The late-May sun set the gold pieces afire. Vallie sat thoughtfully and studied them. She'd done as her father had asked--obeyed Aunt Margaret and Uncle Franklin, studied hard in school, tried not to make extra work for Bridget and gotten along as well as anyone could with that weasel Harold around.
And she'd waited out the year that her father needed to make his fortune in Colorado. Then another four months, almost five, had passed and it was May 1885. Still he hadn't sent for her to join him; his letters spoke of nearly and almost and soon.
"What if this is a sign?" she asked Maria's sweet face. "What if I was supposed to find the gold today, just when Harold was so cruel?"
She hugged Maria tight. "Papa said it himself. You are surely a strength, and if this isn't a time of trouble, I'll eat my shoe." She turned to the window and looked out into the backyard and beyond, to where the sun hung low in the sky, shining gold like one of her eagles. "West," she whispered. "I'll come West to find you, Papa. Just see if I don't."
Posted February 19, 2004
This book by far is one of the best books I have ever read!Who would have ever thought a girl like Vallie who plays with dolls could punch a boy and manage traveling through the wild west! I'd give this book 100,000 stars, if I could!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 15, 2011
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