To help the war effort in 1942, Charlotte collects scrap metal. When someone steals it, she must search for the culprit-and face her worst fears!
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Voices at Whisper Bend
By Katherine Ayres
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2009 Katherine Ayres
All rights reserved.
"How was school, honey? Did you do all right on that history quiz?" Ma stood at the kitchen sink, peeling vegetables for homemade soup.
"The quiz was postponed," Charlotte began. "We had—"
"We had an air-raid drill," Robbie interrupted. "A long, scary one. And I got stuck sitting between two girls. Phewie!" He waved his hand in front of his nose.
Charlotte pushed back from the kitchen table where she was mixing black, blue, and white paints in a can. "You stop that right now, Robbie Campbell, or I won't paint your dumb tugboat for you."
"But, Charlie, you promised," Robbie protested.
"Spit on your hand and swear then, buster," Charlotte said. "Repeat after me. Girls do not stink."
Robbie raised a grubby hand, palm facing toward her. "Some girls do not stink. Is that good enough?" He wrinkled his nose and Charlotte held back a laugh.
"Why don't you quit while you're ahead, Robbie?" Ma said with a grin. She turned to look at Charlotte. "Was the drill a bad one?"
Charlotte shrugged. She swirled the paint in the can with a wooden stick, making the white disappear into the darker colors. "Like Robbie said, it took a long time."
"Did many kids get upset this time? Did Betsy?" Ma wore her serious look. Betsy Schmidt lived next door. She and Charlotte had been best friends forever. So had their mothers.
Charlotte didn't want to be disloyal to her friend, but she couldn't lie, either. "Betsy cried some. So did a few other kids. The Cussick twins always pray during the drills. I know that should make me feel better, but instead I feel worse. Like we're really in trouble and it's not just practice."
"I wish we lived out in the country," Robbie said. "Even those mean old Germans wouldn't bomb cows."
"I'm sure they don't plan on bombing schoolchildren, either," Ma said. She sat between Charlotte and Robbie at the table and took their hands in hers. "You both know it's a precaution, don't you? The school turns out the lights just in case—so it won't look like a war factory from above and become a target like the steel mills are. But you're not to worry. German warplanes haven't crossed the Atlantic Ocean yet, and we pray they never do."
Charlotte nodded. But sometimes it was hard not to worry. In a factory town like Braddock, the air-raid drills came once a month, with blaring sirens, and quite a few kids got upset. Teachers postponed tests and homework afterward.
"I'm glad Pa works on the Rose," Robbie said. "If he sees a German warplane, or even hears one, he'll rev up his engines and zoom away so fast his wake will smack the shore like ocean waves. Vroom!" Robbie lifted his homemade wooden tugboat and put her through maneuvers that would capsize the biggest tug on the river. "I guess we're luckier than Betsy, aren't we?"
Ma nodded. She didn't say the words, but Charlotte knew what she was thinking. Betsy's father worked at the Edgar Thomson, the steel mill upriver. Now that was a target. Huge brick chimneys soared into the sky, blowing out smoke and shooting flames all day and all night. They could never douse the lights of the steel mill, nor hide those tall chimneys from a bomber. All along the Monongahela River from Pittsburgh to West Virginia, mills were belching out smoke and flame, proud to be helping the war. Targets, every one of them.
Robbie nudged Charlotte's arm. He sailed his tug right under her nose. "Are you going to mix all day, or are you going to paint?"
Ma smiled again, and returned to her vegetables.
Charlotte shook her head. Were all nine-year-olds so impatient? "Hand it over. Is this color close enough to the Rose?" She daubed the stirring stick on the newspaper that covered the kitchen table.
"Not bad, for a girl."
"I'll paint you if you don't watch out." She took the boat from him and waved a dry brush at his right cheek.
The color she'd concocted pleased her. The main deck, hull, and engine room of Pa's tug were the same dark blue-gray she'd mixed. The engine house rose up high above it, a scrubbed, clean white. And Pa had chosen bright blue for the stacks. Robbie had done a pretty good job with the model. Of course, he'd had help. Their older brother Jim had taught him how to use the chisel and plane and how to get the size right.
"I want to make barges too, Charlie, but I can't figure out what wood to use. Everything we've got is too thick. And with Jim gone and Pa so busy, I don't have anyone to help me with the saw."
"I know." Charlotte dipped her brush and began to smooth paint on the wooden hull. She kept her eyes focused on the brush and the pine boat. She didn't want to look at Ma's back, which was sure to be stiff at the mention of Jim. "How about an orange crate? Bet you could find an empty one at the market. Those boards are real thin. You'd just have to watch out for splinters."
"I got sandpaper. I'm a good sander. And I could paint rocks black and glue them on the barge, for coal." He stood. "Can I go now, Ma? Can I try the market?"
"Isn't it still raining?" Ma asked. She lifted one of the kitchen curtains aside.
"Just April showers. I won't melt. Please, Ma?" He was hopping up and down on one foot.
Ma nodded. "Okay. But just to the market and right back. No sightseeing today, mister. And dry your feet when you get home."
Robbie dashed out the back door. Charlotte continued to paint. She felt Ma's hand on her shoulder. "It's nice of you to help your brother with his boats."
"This size boat I can handle," Charlotte said.
Ma nodded, a faraway look in her eye. "He misses Jim a lot."
"He's not the only one, Ma," Charlotte said. She set down the paintbrush and boat, stood and leaned into Ma's shoulder. "Where do you suppose he is right now?"
"God only knows," Ma said, scrubbing hard at a carrot. "God and the admirals."
Later that evening, Charlotte sat close to the radio and listened hard to the President's voice as he told the country bad news. Robbie lay on his stomach on the carpet next to her and rested his chin in his hands. As usual, his dark hair stuck up in messy tufts. Across the room, Ma sat close to Pa on the sofa, still wearing her apron. She stared at the radio as if Mr. Franklin Delano Roosevelt himself were going to step out of that wooden case and sit down on the green rocking chair where Jim used to sit, to tell them how badly the war was going.
Charlotte traced the large tan roses in the carpet as the President's crackling voice reviewed all the battles lost to Germany and Japan. Then his voice softened, and she listened harder.
"As we here at home contemplate our own duties, our own responsibilities, let us think and think hard of the example which is being set for us by our fighting men."
They're on my mind all the time, Charlotte answered him silently.
The President continued. "Our soldiers and sailors are "
They're our brothers, Charlotte thought, like Jim. Back in December when America joined the war, he'd gone in and talked to Mr. Butler at the draft board. Mr. Butler had suggested that Jim would make a swell sailor, what with helping on Pa's tug most of his life. So Jim had enlisted in the Navy and traded the Monongahela River for an ocean somewhere.
Charlotte blinked and turned toward Ma for comfort, but Ma's eyes looked swimmy. Next to Ma, Pa sat with his hands clenched into fists.
The President's words brought pictures to Charlotte's mind, pictures from the newsreels. She'd seen the map of France covered by a big black swastika. Seen the long lines of German soldiers marching in their heavy black boots. Seen a huge ship take a hit from a torpedo and roll over into the ocean, dumping all the sailors overboard to die.
Mr. Roosevelt's fighting men were boys—brothers and sons, cousins and neighbors.
"They are the United States of America. That is why they fight. We too are the United States of America. That is why we must work and sacrifice.
"It is for them. It is for us. It is for victory."
On the radio, a band began to play. Robbie stood up and saluted the President. Pa switched off the set.
Ma straightened. Charlotte watched her blink a couple of times, like she had a speck of dirt in her eye. Then she cleared her throat and turned to Charlotte and Robbie. "Your schoolwork done?"
"Yes, ma'am. But I got sanding and gluing to do." Robbie saluted again and marched off to the kitchen and his model boats.
"What about you, Charlotte?"
"Yes, Ma. There wasn't much schoolwork because of that air-raid drill." Charlotte could tell that Ma wasn't really worried about science or arithmetic—she just didn't want to think about the war anymore.
"Then how about a game of dominoes, Lottie?" Pa asked Charlotte. He rolled up the sleeves of his plaid shirt, like he was ready for serious business.
Charlotte got out the wooden box of dominoes and took a seat on the floor next to a flat-topped trunk. Pa gathered pencil and paper from the lamp table and sat across from her.
As they turned the dominoes face-down and mixed them, Charlotte was still running the President's words over in her mind. He hadn't just talked about faraway battles; he'd spoken about people here at home, too. How they had to help the soldiers and sailors win the war. She spoke to Pa softly, so as not to bother Ma, who had pulled out her sewing basket and was threading a needle. "Mr. Roosevelt was talking about us tonight, Pa. How we all have to work hard and sacrifice."
"Yep, that he was."
"But, Pa, I don't understand. How can we help?"
Pa smiled at her. "Folks around here are already doing what they can. The mills are running night and day."
"I know," Charlotte sighed.
"And not just in Braddock," Pa said. "Up and down the Mon valley, we're pouring more steel every day Makes a person proud."
"I know, Pa," Charlotte said again. "You're doing a lot, too. Running extra trips on the river so the mill won't run out of coke and coal and ore." Charlotte glanced toward the sofa. "Even Ma, she's over there patching a dress so more cloth can go for uniforms, but "
Pa took her chin in his hand. "What's bothering you, sweetheart?"
"What about me, Pa? Mr. Roosevelt said every man, woman, and child. I'm twelve. How can I help fight the war? Jim's doing so much "
"You're already saving your money and buying defense stamps. And you've helped your ma plant a victory garden."
"That's not enough."
"Wait till summer comes. You'll be weeding and watering, you and your brother. And you can help Ma with the canning and pickling." Pa reached into the boneyard for his seven dominoes.
"I did that before we went to war, Pa. I want to do something real." Charlotte picked her dominoes and set them up, checking the faces.
Pa held up a domino and grinned. "Ah, I got double eights. Unless you got the nines "
"No. You go first, Pa." Charlotte sighed again. The only double she had was the double zero. Nothing. And that's about how useful she felt.
Before she went upstairs to bed, Charlotte stood beside the front window and looked out. Just another damp April night. She touched each point of the blue cloth star that hung in the window Jim's star. Ma had hung it up the day he left for the Navy, like every mother did who sent her son to war. But where was Jim now? How was he? Was it bedtime where he was, or morning? Dark or sunny?
With one finger, Charlotte planted a kiss on the top point of the star, just as she did every night at bedtime. "Good night, Jim. Wherever you are, sleep well."
Upstairs, Charlotte pulled on her nightgown, but she didn't feel sleepy. The President's words and the wail of the air-raid siren still echoed in her mind. She stood near the window and looked outside again, across the backyards. Upriver, the sky glowed orange-gold from the furnaces of the Edgar Thomson. Straight ahead, she could see a small piece of the Monongahela. With all the rain, the water would turn brown and muddy, and the current would pick up.
Charlotte shivered as she remembered another time when the river had run fast, filled with spring rains. Sometimes it felt like only yesterday, instead of years ago, when she'd run too fast along Pa's wet deck and slipped into the Mon. She couldn't forget how that oily brown water had closed over her head and she'd sunk down, down, into murky nothingness. When she'd tried to open her mouth to call for help, cold, choking water had rushed in, ripping like icy knives into her lungs. But Jim had been there to fish her out. He and Pa had pounded her chest and got her breathing again. She'd been all right after that, except when the memory came back in the middle of the night.
Nights like that, she missed Jim the most. He'd been there, he understood—she could knock on his door and he'd listen and then tell her stories until she felt all right again.
She hugged her arms, suddenly missing Jim with a fierce, cold ache. Why did she still want to go cry on her big brother's shoulder? After all, hadn't the accident happened a long time ago? Hadn't she outgrown all that?
As far as the rest of her family knew, she was fine. And most of the time, she was. Most of the time, she figured she was just a cat, a critter that didn't much like the water. But a critter with nine lives. She'd used up one of her nine that spring day when she was five and slipped off the tug into the Mon.
Enough, Charlotte, she scolded herself. She'd be as cranky as a cat if she didn't get to sleep soon. And there'd be that postponed history quiz first thing in the morning. A good grade would help her final report card. She climbed into bed and pulled the blankets up to her chin. Warm and dry, I'm warm and dry. Maybe if she said the words often enough, she'd believe them. She closed her eyes and waited for sleep.
In the night a dream came.
Charlotte sat up in bed, wide-awake and sweating as bits of the dream still clung to her mind. There she was in rough water, huge waves swelling and sinking all around. Through the darkness, she could see Jim balancing near a ship's rail. Then a lurch and a wash of seawater and Jim disappearing.
"Just a dream, a nightmare," Charlotte whispered to herself. She wiped sweat from her face with a corner of the sheet and took a deep breath. But the palms of her hands still stung where she'd dug her fingernails in, trying to hold on to that phantom ship's rail, and trying without success to sight her older brother in the whirling black water.CHAPTER 2
The next morning Charlotte knelt in the damp grass, petting a pale gray cat. He was one of the dozens that belonged to old Mrs. Dubner, who lived next door in the corner house. The cat's fur was matted and rough with burrs. Charlotte pulled a couple out. "Looks like you had a bad night too, kitty," she said. "Hope you didn't have bad dreams."
"Hey Charlotte!" Betsy called from her doorway on the other side of Charlotte's house. Betsy hurried to the sidewalk, pulling on a sweater, her pale brown pigtails bouncing. "Sorry I'm late again. Why are you petting that nasty cat? He probably has fleas. He looks like he's been in a fight."
"He just needs a good brushing," Charlotte said. She stood and stepped carefully across a wide crack in the sidewalk. "Betsy, did your family listen to the President last night?"
"Sure. Everyone here at home's going to have to pitch in. I'm buying an extra war stamp this week. How about you?"
Charlotte shrugged. "Buying a measly war stamp doesn't seem like much. Not with what our brothers are doing." They turned off Talbott and headed north, toward Braddock Avenue. Once they crossed Braddock, the climb would start, but for now the hill still lay in shadows, waiting to burn their leg muscles.
"We could lie about our age and get jobs at the mill," Betsy suggested. She pulled her shoulders back. "We're both tall."
Charlotte laughed. "They'd never believe us."
"What about the Red Cross? They'd let us help."
"Rolling bandages? Little old ladies do that." Charlotte shook her head. She and Betsy crossed Braddock Avenue, passing by all the stores and businesses, and began the long uphill climb. "I wish we could do something interesting," she continued. "Like being spies."
"Are you kidding?" Betsy huffed as she spoke. She wasn't much of a climber.
"Come on, Bets. We could do it. Nobody would ever suspect a couple of kids. We could sneak places and overhear war secrets."
Betsy shoved her shoulder. "You're nuts, Charlotte Campbell. What war secrets are we going to hear in Braddock, Pennsylvania? Nope, unless your brother can smuggle us onto a Navy ship and slip us into Germany or France, we're not going to hear anything more interesting than Mrs. Dubner swearing at her cats."
Charlotte felt the familiar burn in the back of her calf muscles and picked up speed. The best way to make your legs stop aching was to get to school fast. She kicked at a stone and sent it flying across the street. "Mrs. Dubner does swear a blue streak. I caught Robbie using some of those words on Monday. Now he owes me."
Excerpted from Voices at Whisper Bend 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.
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Calling all girls who like mysteries!!! Voices at Whisper Bend is a very good book for girls, especially if you like mysteries. It is also one of the books in the History Mystery series, and it¿s the best book in that series that I¿ve read so far. Ms. Katherine Ayres describes everything and everyone so vividly that whenever I read it, it feels like the story is going on right before my eyes. There is this one part when they are in their boat on the river that reminded me of when I went white water rafting on the Delaware River (only it was a warm sunny day, not at night, the water was barely murky, not pitch black, there was hardly any white water, not really rough waves beating against the sides of the boat, and we occasionally got stuck on a rock or two). It takes place in Pennsylvania in 1942 during World War II. Charlotte Campell, the main character, and her friends: Robbie Campell, who is also her brother, Betsy Schmidt, who is Charlotte¿s best friend, and Paul Rossi, who is this somewhat weird kid in Charlotte¿s class, get an idea to have a scrap metal drive at their school to help all of their older brothers, but then all the metal that they collected gets stolen overnight! Can Charlotte and her friends find the stolen scrap metal? Who did it in the first place and why? Did the school janitor do it? Did the school bully do it? There`s only one way to find out read the book!
It was a really good book that always left me wondering when I had to put it down.
This book is wicked good! It isn't quit as good as The Night Flyers, but still is good. This book shows you how change is an every day thing even though you might not relieve it. Wheather it be a fear or how you feel towards someone. As I'm goin to say as always, I'd recomand this book for ages 10-12.