CHAPTER ONE: Six of one
It all started with the boat. If Mr. Davies hadn't given Leo that old rowboat, we wouldn't have been anywhere near the lake and none of it would have happened. At first, I'd think about that a lot, even though it didn't change a thing. I couldn't seem to help it.
But that Saturday night in March, two days before my life would change forever, I didn't even know yet that there was a boat. I was just sitting in bed scribbling away--with my cat, Rosie, asleep in my lap--feeling pretty near content.
If the neighbors had looked out at our house around eleven-thirty, they would have seen that all the windows were dark except for one of the dormers on the second floor. That was my room. It was way past my bedtime, but I was writing in my tablet like I'd been doing for the past two years, ever since I did that report on the Alaska Territory for Sister Agnes's class and came across something that made me sit up and take notice. I was at the library reading about Alaska in an old National Geographic when this one paragraph just leaped out at me. It told how a lady explorer named Dora Keen had risked life and limb to climb a glacier-covered mountain called Mount Blackburn. She faced all kinds of dangers--snowstorms and avalanches and freezing cold--but thirty-three days after starting up that mountain, she became the first woman to ever make it to the top.
Well, I just kept reading that paragraph over and over, soaking up the details. And the wonder of it. Because I'd never heard of a woman doing anything like that before. In school, when the nuns talked about explorers, they were all men, like Christopher Columbus or Lewis and Clark. Nobody had ever mentioned Dora Keen, who, in my opinion, was a sure-dog marvel. And that's when the idea started growing inside my head that I could be an explorer someday, too, just like Dora Keen.
Then I started wondering if there might be other women I'd never heard of who'd done astonishing things and decided to make it my business to find out. Leo and Miss Ida Henderson at the library helped me look through newspapers and magazines, and sure enough, we came across a whole slew of ladies who should have been written up in the history books but weren't. So Leo had one of his brilliant notions--that I write my own book about them--and he bought me a Big Chief tablet at Gilchrist Mercantile to get me started.
We talked over what to call it and finally settled on Remarkable Women and Their Amazing Adventures. I printed that on the cover, and then Leo said I should add By Bayliss Pettigrew, which I thought was a nice touch. Inside, I wrote about every woman we'd found, and I kept coming up with new ones till all but the last few pages of my tablet were filled with these ladies and their adventures.
Anyhow, that Saturday night in March, I was putting down the facts of Ruth Law flying an airplane from Chicago to New York and setting a new record, but also keeping my ears open. At the first squeak of my mother and daddy's bedroom door, I was ready to scoot under the covers like I'd been asleep all along. But it wasn't anybody in the house who broke the silence; it was the sudden pounding on the front door that startled me so, I nearly jumped out of my skin before recovering enough to switch off the lamp.
I sat there holding Rosie, my heart thumping like crazy, while the pounding on the door grew louder and more desperate. It took a few seconds for me to realize that it was probably just somebody needing Daddy, somebody with sickness in the family or a baby on the way. Not everybody had a telephone, especially out in the country, so it wasn't unusual for folks to come by the house at all hours.
Daddy was hurrying down the hall to the stairs, the floorboards creaking under his feet. Soon the pounding stopped, and I heard a man's voice, gruff with worry, and then my daddy speaking in that calm, steady way of his.
My eyes were beginning to adjust to the dark. I could make out the window at the foot of my bed and a square of night sky that was lighter than the blackness in my room. I was staring out the window, waiting for Daddy to come back upstairs, when all of a sudden something on the other side of the glass moved.
Well, I jerked back like I'd just met up with the boogeyman and was fixing to hop out of bed and go running for my daddy, but I held still long enough to take another peek. And what I saw was the shadowy outline of a head and shoulders pressed against the panes. Somebody was out on that roof, hunkered down so he wouldn't be seen. A thief, most likely, intending to break into the house till he heard the commotion downstairs. And now he was just biding his time, waiting for things to get quiet again.
Except . . . I'd never heard of a house being robbed around these parts. Kids might raid a watermelon patch or make off with a few eggs from somebody's chicken coop, but we'd never had what you'd call an honest-to-goodness crime spree in Lenore, at least not that I could recall. And then it came to me. There was only one person in town who made a habit of coming and going at night by way of an upstairs window when there were perfectly good doors he could have used.
Leo, I thought, and let out the breath I'd been holding in.
It was Leo who had shown me how we could go across the roof to the open sunporch outside Mother and Daddy's room and take the porch stairs down to the yard at night to play our tricks. Like the time we dressed up old Mr. Jackson's scarecrow in our grandmother's underwear, and a month later folks were still asking him how his girlfriend was doing. Or that Christmas when Leo and I sneaked over to the manger scene they'd set up in front of Sacred Heart and replaced the baby Jesus with a smoked ham.
From the Hardcover edition.