Under Copp's Hillby Katherine Ayres
An eleven-year-old immigrant must clear her name when things start disappearing from a Boston settlement house
Innocenza Moretti’s parents died in a fire when she was two. Ever since, she’s lived with her grandmother and seven lodgers in the flat downstairs from her aunt, uncle, and cousins in a crowded tenement in Boston’s North End./b>… See more details below
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An eleven-year-old immigrant must clear her name when things start disappearing from a Boston settlement house
Innocenza Moretti’s parents died in a fire when she was two. Ever since, she’s lived with her grandmother and seven lodgers in the flat downstairs from her aunt, uncle, and cousins in a crowded tenement in Boston’s North End. Innie’s world changes when she and her cousin Teresa become members of a settlement house where immigrant girls can learn more about American life. Best of all, they’ll get to participate in a library club. At school, Innie has to share books with two or three other girls. Having her own books would be like eating Sunday dinner every day. The girls’ first assignment at the settlement house is unpacking books that had to be moved because of the recent fire that tore through the city. But now valuable things are vanishing: a pottery mug. A silver teapot. Money. And the prime suspect is Innie!
With the help of Teresa and their new friend Matela Rosen, Innie searches for the real culprit. A secret tunnel under Copp’s Hill Burying Ground leads them to a surprising thief.
This ebook includes a historical afterword.
Read an Excerpt
Under Copp's Hill
By Katherine Ayres
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2009 Katherine Ayres
All rights reserved.
Innocenza Moretti crossed herself, slipped her rosary beads into her pocket, and turned down the aisle toward the door of Saint Leonard's Church. Behind her she could hear the slow tread of her grandmother's feet, but she couldn't bear to wait for Nonna even though she knew she ought to. Mass seemed to have gone on for a long time this morning, and sitting still made Innie itch.
As Innie made her way through the crowd of old ladies in long black dresses and shawls, she felt a tug on her elbow. Her cousin Teresa had caught up to her, and together they stepped outside into a bright April noon.
"Mama's making meatballs," Teresa said. "I can't wait."
"Me neither," Innie said. Zia Rachela was the best cook in the North End. Weekdays, Innie and Nonna had to fix suppers for the seven bordanti—young men, all fresh off the boat from Italy, who lodged with them in their downstairs flat. But on Sundays the men ate sausages, cheese, and bread by themselves so Innie and Nonna could eat upstairs with Teresa's family. Innie loved those Sunday dinners in her cousin's flat, surrounded by the joking and loud laughter of Zia Rachela's big family.
Innie took a deep breath of the salty spring breeze that blew up from Boston Harbor. Then she stopped and sniffed carefully. "Teresa, do you smell something? Smoke, maybe?"
Teresa turned to her with that worried look that always made Innie want to scream. "Maybe it's just the incense from church."
"No, it's not. Incense smells sweet." Innie scanned the sky. To the north, across the harbor, she saw a smudge of gray. "There! See the smoke?" she said, pointing. "Let's find out where it's coming from."
"Fine, but we can't let Nonna see the smoke," Teresa whispered.
Innie glanced back at the church and saw Nonna walk slowly down the steps, with Zia Rachela holding one elbow and Teresa's older sister, Carmela, holding the other. Carmela wore her trim blue American suit with a wide-brimmed hat. To Innie, she looked like a spring flower among the old-fashioned black dresses that the older women wore.
Teresa took three steps sideways as the women neared, putting herself between Nonna and the patch of smoky sky. "Mama?" she asked. "May Innie and I walk along the water for a little while? Please? It's such a pretty day."
"A walk?" Nonna scowled. "And who helps get dinner on the table, huh?"
Zia Rachela smiled. "Fifteen minutes, girls. Then come right home and get busy. Just don't get your dresses dirty."
"Mannaggia l'America! These girls don't behave right." Nonna pointed a bony finger at Innie. "Don't be late, you."
"Grazie, Mama. Grazie, Nonna." Teresa stood planted until Nonna had turned away from the smoke.
Innie tapped her foot on the sidewalk. Teresa was good at asking for favors, but it took her so long. "Hurry!" Innie whispered. "I want to see what's making that smoke."
The cousins left the church behind and headed north toward the water. At every street corner, clumps of men stood talking. Women bustled past, hurrying home to their kitchens. "Let's go to the burying ground," Innie said, after she'd nearly bumped into a man. "It won't be so crowded there, and we can see a long way from the top of Copp's Hill."
"I don't know why you have to look at every puff of smoke," Teresa said. "You, of all people. I'd think you'd try not to look."
At the top of Salem Street, they turned onto Hull Street and passed the Old North Church, where a long time ago, American patriots had hung warning lanterns in the tall steeple for Paul Revere to see. Just past the church, the girls entered the gates of the stone-walled burying ground. In spite of the crooked old tombstones, Innie liked to walk here, where trees and grass grew all around. Standing on Copp's Hill, a person could breathe fresh, salty sea air, for the harbor lay less than a block away, at the bottom of the hill.
Innie pulled on Teresa's hand, tugging her along the brick pathway, past trees just starting to show green tips, to the top of the hill. Below them, water gleamed blue. The harbor stretched out to Charlestown, then bent north. The smoke showed clearly now, a dark plume rising from East Boston or beyond.
"See, I told you. It is a fire." No sooner had Innie spoken than a loud boom echoed across the water. As she stood watching, yellow and orange flames shot into the sky. Innie bit down hard on her bottom lip.
"Looks like a bad fire," Teresa said. "I hope Mama got Nonna home before she heard that noise."
Another boom sounded, and a third, setting off more flares. Innie caught her breath and fingered the rosary beads in her pocket.
Teresa squeezed Innie's other hand. "You all right?"
"I'm fine. It's Nonna who gets upset, not me."
"But, Innie "
Innie yanked her hand away. She wished Teresa would mind her own business. "How many times do I have to tell you? Nonna remembers, not me. It's been nearly ten years—I was just two. I don't remember anything."
Teresa tried to catch her hand again, but Innie resisted. She turned and faced her cousin.
"I really don't remember," she repeated. "Not the fire, not the smoke." She sighed and looked out over the water where the gray plumes thickened and twisted together, darkening a wider patch of sky. "Look, I was a baby. I don't even remember Mama and Papà. Not one thing. So there." She tried to shake off the gloominess. "What do you think, Teresa? What exploded?"
"I don't know, Innie. Come on, let's go home. We gotta help Mama."
Innie studied the sky for another moment. The cloud of smoke grew thicker and wider every time she blinked. Some fire, that was. It would eat up a lot of buildings, and people too, unless they could run away fast. Her lips began a silent prayer. She let Teresa tug her down the hill and out the gates to Hull Street, where they turned left and made their way toward the bustle of Salem Street and home.
As she climbed the dark, narrow staircase of the tenement with Teresa, Innie could smell meatballs cooking. When they reached the crowded kitchen of the second-floor flat, Innie's stomach growled, begging to be fed. Zia Rachela, wrapped in a white apron, bustled at the big black stove, while Teresa's brother Antonio tried to snitch bits of pasta from a bubbling pot.
Innie breathed in the spicy smell, then checked the table and counted plates. Carmela had already set the table, Innie's usual job.
"Late again. You been bad, Innocenza," Antonio said. "Maybe you don't get to eat today." He laughed.
"Hush, you. Stop bothering our Innie." Zia Rachela smacked Antonio's fingers, but that didn't stop him from snitching. He was thirteen and a pest.
Zia Rachela ladled pasta into bowls, and Innie and her two girl cousins carried the bowls to the table and set out sauce and grated cheese. The family gathered around. Innie's uncle, Zio Giovanni, sat at one end of the table, with the three boys along one side in order of age—Benito, the hard worker, next to his papa, then Mario, who smiled so nice, and Antonio last. On the other side of the table, Innie squeezed between Teresa and Carmela. Zia Rachela set down a big platter of meatballs and took her place next to Nonna, closest to the stove.
Sitting between her beautiful cousins, Innie felt bony, but it wasn't for lack of eating. Zia Rachela always said Innie was too full of mischief to sit still, so she burned up all her meals before they could settle anywhere.
Still, Innie wished she looked more like Teresa. They both had the same long dark hair, dark eyes, and clear olive skin. But Teresa's face was smooth and soft instead of skinny. Teresa would grow up to be just as pretty as Zia Rachela and Carmela, Innie thought, while she would probably always look like a crow.
Her thoughts were interrupted by Antonio's voice. "There's a big fire over in Chelsea. You should have heard the noise. Me and my pals were right by the water when it started," he bragged.
"Instead of in church, where you belong," Zia Rachela scolded.
"Now, Mama." Mario sent a big smile down the table. "You and Nonna do enough praying for the whole family."
"Somebody needs to say a lot of prayers. Chelsea's burning," Zia Rachela said. She crossed herself.
Without meaning to, Innie did the same.
Nonna sat up straight and glared at Antonio. "Fire? Where's a fire? Chelsea, you say?" She shoved back her chair and stood, making the sign of the cross, then hurried from the room without another word. The kitchen door banged behind her.
Carmela glared at Antonio. "Big-mouth. Should I go help her, Mama?"
Zia Rachela shook her head. "Stay and eat. There's no help for Nonna when there's a fire, except for her prayers."
Innie sighed, wishing she could do something to make her grandmother feel better. If she closed her eyes, Innie could picture exactly what Nonna would do—go into her little room at the back of the flat and kneel on the bare floor, elbows resting on her bed. Then her fingers would begin counting the beads of her rosary as she murmured the familiar prayers. But at least the fire was in Chelsea, Innie thought. So far away that it wouldn't touch her own family. Except for Nonna, of course. Every fire touched Nonna.
"Stop with the fire talk," Zio Giovanni said. "This family knows plenty about fires and praying. Talk about something else. Something happy."
Everybody went silent, as if his words had frozen their tongues. Then Carmela cleared her throat. "I I have some news, Papà."
"Well, then. Tell your news."
"I was going to talk to you private, Papà. But you want something happy? I got a new job. I don't have to go back to the shirt factory. A pottery is opening over on Hull Street. It runs full-time, and they want me for a decorator."
Innie turned to stare at Carmela.
"What? Pottery decorator? What kind of job is that for a girl?" Zio Giovanni asked.
"It's a good job, Papà. I'll be painting nice pictures on plates and bowls. Miss Brown, the lady who runs the pottery, says I have a steady hand."
"The job pays good?" Zio Giovanni tapped his spoon against his bowl.
"Seven dollars a week, and I can walk there, so I don't have to pay streetcars." Carmela smiled and turned to her mother. "It's nice work too, Mama. No hot, noisy machines, no poking my fingers with needles, no Mr. Johnson snooping over my shoulder to make sure my seams go straight."
"You got a lady boss, that Miss Brown?" Zio Giovanni said. "Sounds good. I don't like the way those factory men treat girls."
"So it's all right, Papà?"
He nodded at Carmela.
"This is good news," Zia Rachela said. "I like you working nearby."
Next to her, Innie could feel Carmela shift in her chair.
"Grazie, Papà, Mama. I'll start this week then. But there's more. I want Teresa and Innie to come too. The pottery is part of a new settlement house for girls in the North End. They give classes one day a week for younger girls—sewing and knitting."
Sewing! Innie shot her cousin a look. She opened her mouth to protest but felt Carmela give her a stiff pinch on the leg.
"It's a good place to learn things. American things," Carmela continued, looking at her papa. "Then when the girls get old enough, they can work at the pottery too. Earn good money. With a nice woman boss."
Zia Rachela frowned. "But the girls have school. And chores."
"Younger girls, they go after school," Carmela told her. "It's just one afternoon a week, so they can still help you and Nonna. And the classes might even help them with school."
"Oh yeah, Teresa and Innie need all the help they can get." Antonio smirked across the table. Innie stuck out her tongue at him.
Her uncle spoke again. "They won't be out after dark?"
"No. Four until six. Home in time for supper. Please."
"All right, then. As long as they get their chores done." With that, Zio Giovanni helped himself to salad, then passed the plate. Benito, Mario, and Antonio nearly emptied the plate before it reached the girls. But for once, Innie didn't mind. The sooner the meal was done, the sooner she could tell Carmela just what she thought of her meddling.
After dinner, Zio Giovanni left to stroll the neighborhood. The boys ran down the stairs and onto the street in search of their pals. Zia Rachela went to check on Nonna. Innie, Teresa, and Carmela started to clean up the kitchen. Teresa poured hot water into the dishpan from a kettle on the stove.
Innie added soap, shoved a load of sticky spoons into the hot water, and began scrubbing. "You think you can boss everybody in the world, Carmela? You may be twenty-one and grown-up, but you're not my sister. You can't make me go to some settlement house and sew."
"That's how much you know, Innie." Carmela stood with her hands on her hips. "I'm doing you a favor is what. This isn't just about sewing."
"What is it about, then?" Teresa asked.
"It's a library club for girls. We sew a little, but mostly we read books, sing songs, and listen to the Victrola. We can even borrow books and take them home."
Books! The word boomed in Innie's ears just as the fire had earlier. In school she had to share her books with two or three girls. And for a fast reader like Innie, that meant waiting to turn each page until the other girls were ready. Getting to borrow a book and read it all by yourself, Innie thought, that would be like having Sunday dinner every day of the week. "How come I don't know about this?" Innie frowned.
"Like I said, the settlement house is new. Besides, you think I'd tell the boys or Papà about a club for reading books? He went to school two years, maybe three, back in Italy. He already thinks we study too long in America."
"So how does this club work, Carmela?" Teresa asked.
Carmela explained and Innie listened hard, trying to remember everything. One afternoon or evening each week, a group of girls the same age would meet, read books, and talk about them. They'd learn songs and folk dances. Girls in sixth grade, like Innie and Teresa, would meet on Wednesday afternoons.
Then Carmela got a bossy look on her face again and began a long list of do's and don'ts aimed right at Innie.
Innie imitated her exactly.
"Look, you," Carmela scolded. "The settlement house is a good place. I already promised you would come."
Innie scowled. "I don't like people promising for me without asking," she said. There'd been too much of that in her life already. "But I'll go this time. On Wednesday. For the books."
"You'll go Monday and Tuesday, too, this week, to help unpack books. They're still moving in. I'll talk to Mama and get you out of your chores."
"Who says?" Innie argued.
"I do," Carmela said. "Look, Innie. If you behave yourself and don't make trouble for once in your life, you could have a real good time. That's why I said you'd help—so the ladies will think you're nice. And you will be nice, because I work there, and if you act up I could lose my new job."
Innie could feel her temper begin to simmer. She opened her mouth to tell Carmela just what she thought, but Teresa interrupted.
"Wait, who are the ladies?"
"Miss Guerrier, who runs the library clubs, and Miss Brown, who runs the pottery. They live on the top floor in the new house. They're wonderful."
We'll see about that, Innie thought. But at least there were books. Books were always wonderful.
That evening, Innie and Teresa climbed past old lady Napoli's flat on the third floor of the tenement, all the way up to the roof. Looking out over the jumbled rooftops and narrow, crooked streets, they saw people all over the North End standing outside, watching the sky, and talking excitedly. Even three stories up, Innie could hear the hum of raised voices. She could smell the fire.
Smoke hung like a heavy curtain over the whole of Boston. It burned Innie's eyes. To the north, the sky glowed a deep orange-red. That fire in Chelsea was bad and getting worse. Innie wondered when the firefighters would be able to douse it. "Soon," she whispered softly.
"Put the fire out soon."
"You'll be all right?" Teresa asked.
"Sure, sure," Innie said.
Later that night, though, Innie couldn't sleep. Nonna was still praying, keeping her vigil in the small room they shared behind the kitchen. Innie huddled under the blanket on her cot, staring into the darkness. She kept remembering that orange sky and wondering. How many people will burn this time? How many mothers and fathers? How many girls will become orphans tonight?
Excerpted from Under Copp's Hill by Katherine Ayres. Copyright © 2009 Katherine Ayres. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Katherine Ayres writes fiction and nonfiction for all ages and teaches writing to graduate students at Chatham University. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and when not writing or teaching, she loves to walk, hike, kayak, spend time with kids, knit, and keep watching for bears. Visit her at www.katherineayres.com.
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Innie Morretti is from an Italian immigrant family in Boston in 1908. As Innie and her cousins grow up surrounded by Italians from the old country they strive to become Americanized. The historical fiction novel pecks apart the struggle these children faced. The settlement houses played an important role in immigrants' lives by teaching them skills and sharing the American culture. The settlement house these girls attended had a library club. When money and things go missing a thief is suspected. Innie is thought to be the guilty party, because of her reputation as a troublemaker. The mystery has no wild surprises or a red herring, but the story is well written. Ayers ascribes each character with a personality and the reader knows what to expect from them. The descriptions of the tenement houses and settlement house show readers what the era was like. Reading the book for enjoyment the reader will not be disappointed. If in search of a better understanding of the time and area the reader can gain much understanding. For these reasons I recommend this book. ????
Another good History Mystery Book. Innie is so michievious that I couldn't help but read what was going to happen to her next. This book can be pretty exciting. The best part is when they go underneath a cementary. If you liked Voices at Whisper Bend, The Night Flyers, and The Mystery of the Dark Tower then I would recommand this book to you.