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Hide and SecretBook Three: The Mysteries of Middlefield Series
By Kathleen Fuller
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2011 Kathleen Fuller
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Three ... Two ... one ... ready or not, here I come!"
Anna Mae Shetler heard Jeremiah's voice over her shoulder and knew he'd be catching up to her, fast. Amos and Jeremiah Mullet were her best friends, and the three of them had played hide-and-seek in these woods for as long as she could remember.
She pushed deeper into the trees, deeper than she had ever gone before, looking for a place to hide. She gasped for breath and felt the bite of January air.
A quick thaw two days ago had melted much of the snow, but it was still cold. Anna Mae dodged around bare branches and leaped over patches of snow. She had no idea where Amos was, but she could hear Jeremiah cracking the underbrush behind her, hot on her heels.
Since she was five years old, Anna Mae had always outrun him, found a place to hide. But not this time. She felt a grip on her shoulder and glanced back to see Jeremiah pulling on her blue wool coat.
"Gotcha!" He yanked harder.
Just as she tried to break free, her foot skidded on a frozen patch, and she lost her balance. Her feet went out from under her, and she slid backward into a pile of cold, wet leaves.
"Ooof!" Jeremiah hit the ground beside her. He rolled over, grinning. "You're it."
Anna Mae pushed herself up to a sitting position and tried to catch her breath. She pulled at a couple of leaves stuck to her cheek.
Jeremiah looked around. "Where's Amos?"
Anna Mae shrugged. "How should I know?" Her tone came across sharper than she had intended.
Jeremiah reached for his yellow straw hat and brushed wet snow off the brim. "Are you all right?"
"Ya, I'm fine." She wasn't hurt, just annoyed that she'd been caught.
"Good," he said. "'Cause I got you. Guess you're not the fastest anymore."
Anna Mae sat there fuming until the dampness of the cold ground began to seep through her skirt. "You don't have to rub it in." She jumped to her feet and straightened her coat. Then she checked her black kapp to make sure it was still in place.
"Let's go find Amos."
Amos was fourteen, a year older than both Anna Mae and Jeremiah. He was Jeremiah's opposite, stocky and slow, where his brother was lean and tall.
And fast, she had to admit. Faster than she was, now. The idea bugged her.
She and Jeremiah had been competitors for years, whether it was running races or playing baseball or getting the best grades. Right now they both had straight A's, and Anna Mae intended to keep it that way.
She scowled at the triumphant expression on Jeremiah's face. "Don't get too proud," she said. "I slipped."
"After I caught up with you."
For a minute Anna Mae watched him, grinning, his freckled cheeks red from the cold. Then her eyes drifted beyond him, to a tall, thick tree a few yards away.
"Look!" She pointed.
Jeremiah's eyes followed the direction of her forefinger.
"Ya, I see him." He lowered his voice. "Amos doesn't realize he's too big to hide behind a tree."
Anna Mae squinted against the winter sunlight. Sure enough, to one side she could see a bit of Amos's jacket and his two elbows, sticking out from behind a tree trunk. Apparently he was leaning with his back against the tree, trying to catch his breath.
"No," she said. "That's not what I mean. Look there."
She could tell by the expression on Jeremiah's face the moment he saw it. A broad, stout oak tree, now stripped of most of its leaves, with gray wooden planks nailed at intervals up the trunk to form a ladder.
Jeremiah stared at her for a split second. "A treehouse?"
"Looks like it," she said. She walked toward it. "Seems like it's been here a long time. Why haven't we found it before now?"
"We rarely come this far," Jeremiah said. "Besides, the place is so well hidden you wouldn't see it unless you knew it was here."
Anna Mae gazed up. He was right. The treehouse itself, like the ladder, was weathered a silvery-gray, almost the same color as the branches. It blended perfectly with the tree and with the surrounding woods. Perfectly camouflaged.
"You think it'll hold us?" she asked.
Jeremiah laughed. "One way to find out." He was already hauling himself up the wood planks attached to the trunk.
Anna followed. A few seconds later they were in the tree-house, flopped on the floor and panting.
"This is amazing," Jeremiah said.
It was. High up in the tree, Anna Mae felt completely invisible, separated from the rest of the world. The tree-house was one big platform with walls and a roof and window openings on two sides, looking out into the woods.
"Jeremiah!" Amos's voice came floating up to them. "Anna Mae! Where are you?"
Jeremiah grinned and stuck his head out one of the windows. Anna Mae went to the other opening and looked down. Directly below them was Amos's broad form, topped with a straw hat just like his brother's.
"Up here," Jeremiah said.
Amos looked around, obviously bewildered.
"Up!" Jeremiah repeated. "Look up!"
"Oh!" Amos grinned. "How'd you get up there?"
"Come around the other side of the tree," Anna Mae said. "But be careful."
In a moment or two they heard the sound of Amos's heavy boots on the planks. His large head suddenly poked through the opening.
"Pretty neat, huh?" Jeremiah said.
"Ya." Amos hauled himself through the opening and collapsed beside them on the wood floor. "Where'd it come from?"
"No idea," Anna Mae said. "But it looks like nobody's been here in a very long time."
Amos jumped to his feet and stomped around the perimeter of the treehouse, looking out the windows.
"Careful," Jeremiah said. "We don't know how sturdy it is."
"It's fine." Amos kicked at a loose floorboard. "Except for this loose board."
He hit the board one more time with his boot, dislodging it.
"Take it easy." Jeremiah walked over and examined the board.
"I didn't mean to. I didn't know it was that loose."
But Jeremiah ignored his words. He touched the rough-grained board and moved it aside. "Wait. Something's wrong here."
Anna Mae glanced down. "Wht do you mean? I don't see anything but an empty space."
"Exactly. It's a space. Like a hiding place." Jeremiah looked up at her and Amos. "We should be seeing all the way through to the ground."
Amos sniffed. "I don't get it."
Instead of answering, Jeremiah reached inside the hole. A moment later he pulled out a long, narrow steel box.
Anna Mae let out a gasp. "What is that?"
"I don't know." Jeremiah set it on the floor. "But like this treehouse, it's old. And it's heavy."
"It don't look that heavy to me." Amos grabbed it up by the handle. As he lifted it, the handle broke. The box slammed against the floor. The lid flew open. Coins jangled against the wooden floor, and dozens of bills spilled out—mostly ones, but a few fives and tens too, even a couple of twenties.
"Whoa. That's a lot of money." Amos looked at Anna Mae and Jeremiah and started to grin. "We're rich!" He began grabbing bills and coins and stuffing them into his book bag.
Anna Mae felt a strange rippling in her stomach, an excitement she couldn't quite identify. Amos was right—it was a lot of money. More than she'd ever seen all in one place. Shock quickly gave way to something else—the realization of all the things she could buy or do with that much money.
She could tell Jeremiah felt it too. His eyes grew wide and round, and for a minute or two he couldn't speak. Then he shook his head, like he was coming awake after a hard nap, and put his hand on Amos's arm. "Wait a minute. That's not our money, Amos."
"Ya, it is. Finders keepers. Daniel's always saying that."
Anna Mae looked at Jeremiah and saw the serious expression in his eyes. He was right, of course. It wasn't their money. Whoever it belonged to, whoever had left it here, it wasn't theirs to claim. "Daniel doesn't know what he's talking about," she told Amos.
Amos crossed his arms. "Daniel's my freind."
Anna Mae wasn't going to argue with him. Amos couldn't understand that Daniel Beiler wasn't a nice boy. Everyone knew it. Everyone except Amos.
Instead, she looked at the money again. She'd never seen so much cash before. She wished, just briefly, that she had been here alone and found it. Then nobody would know ...
"Wonder where it came from?"
"Or who it belongs to." Jeremiah sat cross-legged on the wood floor. He glanced up at Amos. "Put the money back."
"Amos. Put it back."
"Ach, all right." Amos fished the money out of his bag while Jeremiah picked up the metal box and examined it. The handle was rusted through, and the bottom and corners were covered with rust as well.
"I'm telling you, it belongs to us." Amos squatted down and grabbed a fistful of the coins, letting them run through his bulky fingers. "I bet this would buy a lot of candy at the store."
For a moment Anna Mae was tempted to laugh. Then she thought about her first reaction to seeing the money. In Amos's simple world, candy was the only thing he could think of to want. A quick rush of shame flooded through her; anything she'd buy with someone else's money would be just about as important.
"Amos." Jeremiah held his palm open to his older brother.
Amos frowned and dropped the coins into Jeremiah's hand. "Can we at least count it?"
Anna Mae nodded. "I'd like to know how much there is. Then we can decide what to do with it."
Jeremiah hesitated, then looked at the bills again. He wasn't one to give in to impulses. He thought everything through, a quality that sometimes annoyed Anna Mae. But this time she didn't blame him. They couldn't take the money for themselves. Yet should they tell anyone about it? She didn't know.
"All right. We'll count it." He emptied the rest of the money out of the box and set it down beside Anna Mae. The three of them sat in a circle, the bills and coins in the center. "Amos, you find all the one-dollar bills, okay? You can count those."
Amos grinned and started shoveling through the bills.
"Careful." Jeremiah's voice reflected the usual patience he had with his brother. Amos had some learning problems, and everyone got frustrated with him. Even Anna Mae sometimes. All through school he'd been called lots of names—stupid, dummkopf, even retarded, by the really mean children. But Jeremiah and Anna Mae always stuck up for him. Now no one called him names anymore.
Except Daniel. Sometimes Daniel still made fun of him. Anna Mae didn't understand why Amos kept thinking Daniel was his friend.
Jeremiah picked up the rest of the bills. He shoved the coins toward Anna Mae. For the next five minutes they counted the money, Jeremiah and Anna Mae silently, Amos whispering out loud, sometimes getting off track.
"Three hundred and ten dollars." Jeremiah stacked the bills on the floor. Amos watched his brother and did the same thing with the ones he held in his hand.
"Wonder what Daed would say about all this money?" Amos kept touching the bills and pulling his hand away, as if the money drew him like a magnet.
"He'll say nix. We're not going to tell him." Jeremiah looked at Amos. "Understand, Amos?"
Amos shook his head and wiped his dripping nose with the back of his sleeve. "Why not?"
"Because we're going to put it back where we found it."
"Why? That don't make no sense. We can't spend it when it's sitting in that old box, doing nix. Somebody might as well use it."
While the boys argued, Anna Mae peered at the box. The lid was open, and there was something lying in the bottom. She glanced at Jeremiah and Amos, who were still discussing what to do with the money, then reached inside the box and pulled out a small book with a faded, cracked black leather cover.
"What do you think we should do, Anna Mae?"
Before they could turn and see, she shoved the book under her skirt. "I think we should put the money back," she said. "At least until we can find out who it belongs to."
"Yes," Jeremiah said. "It would be dishonest to take it if it belongs to someone else." Jeremiah turned to his brother. "You understand that, don't you, Amos?"
Amos nodded. "Ya. Just wishing, that's all."
"Gut," Jeremiah said. "Now we need to geh. Daed will be expecting us for chores."
They all climbed out of the treehouse. Anna Mae came last, tucking the little book up her coat sleeve so Jeremiah wouldn't see it. Amos took off toward the Mullet house, and Jeremiah followed. "Bye, Anna Mae," he said over his shoulder. "See you tomorrow."
When he was out of sight, she brought out the small black book. Anna Mae didn't know why she had kept it from him; she just felt she wanted to keep it private, somehow. Now, alone in the fading afternoon light, she ran her fingers over the worn leather cover and opened it. The words on the very first page left her stunned and breathless:
My Diary Bertha Byler
Anna Mae couldn't believe it. If this was her grandmother's diary, it also might be her grandmother's money and her grandmother's treehouse. But how? What did it all mean?
There was one way to find out.
She could read the diary.
Nee, that wouldn't be right. She ought to give it to her grandmother. Tell her about the money too. She also thought she should tell Jeremiah and Amos about it.
But she didn't want to share it, at least not before she had a chance to find out what was in it.
The idea gnawed at her, a thousand squirmy things in her stomach, trying to get out. Grossmammi always said that "curiosity killed the cat." And for the first time in her life, Anna Mae understood how curiosity could drive a person to do something she knew was better left alone.
Chapter TwoJeremiah caught up with Amos at a clearing at the edge of the woods. But his brother wasn't alone. Daniel Beiler was with him.
Jeremiah hung back in the trees for a minute, shielding himself behind an oak. Amos was always saying that Daniel was his freind. This was Jeremiah's first chance to see how Daniel treated Amos when no one else was around.
Daniel was smaller than Amos, short and wiry, but he carried himself with a swaggering, confident air. He had curly brown hair and eyes as cold as pale blue marbles, and at the moment he stood in his usual posture, with his hands on his hips and his chin jutted out.
"Where you been, dimwit?" Daniel said, poking Amos in the chest.
"Playing." Amos waved a hand vaguely back toward the woods. "What does that word mean, dimwit?"
Daniel curled his lips in a half-smile. "It's just a nickname. Friends have nicknames for each other, right?"
"So, answer my question. Where you been?"
Amos bit his lip and scuffed at the dirt with the toe of his boot. "Can't tell. It's a secret."
"A secret?" Daniel's eyebrows shot up. "What kind of secret?"
"A big secret," Amos said.
Daniel drew closer and slung an arm around Amos's shoulder. "The kind you only tell to your best friend?"
"Ya." Amos nodded.
"And I'm your best friend."
"Well, except for Jeremiah and Anna Mae."
"She's a girl. He's your brother. They can't be your best friends."
Amos frowned. "Then you are, I guess."
"So tell me about the secret."
"Promise you won't tell? Jeremiah would be real mad."
"'Course I promise. What are friends for?"
"Okay. Well, you won't believe it. Me and Jeremiah and Anna Mae found a whole bunch of—"
Jeremiah stepped out from the shelter of the trees, breathing hard as if he'd just arrived. "Amos. I've been looking all over for you. We have to get home. Daed's expecting us to do chores." He turned toward Daniel and nodded.
"Daniel and me, we're just ... talking," Amos said.
"Ya. Well, you'll have to talk some other time. We need to go."
Amos waved good-bye and followed Jeremiah toward the road. When they were out of earshot, Jeremiah turned. "Be careful, Amos. Do not tell Daniel about the treehouse, or about that money. Understand?"
"Why not? He's my friend."
"For the hundredth time, Amos, he's not your friend. Daniel isn't a nice person. He only cares about himself."
Amos scowled and stomped away. "He is so my friend," he yelled over his shoulder. "You don't know. You don't know anything."
* * *
Anna Mae looked down at the kitchen floor as she removed her coat. She hung it on the peg near the back door. "I'm sorry, Grossmammi. I was with Jeremiah and Amos—"
Her grandmother's frown deepened. She stood at the counter near the stove and stirred a pot of chicken stew. The meaty aroma of chicken, potatoes, and salty broth made Anna Mae's stomach growl. "You shouldn't be wasting your time with those buwe."
Excerpted from Hide and Secret by Kathleen Fuller Copyright © 2011 by Kathleen Fuller. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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