Stopping to Homeby Lea Wait, Dan Andreason (Illustrator)
This exceptional debut novel is now available in paperback. After losing her mother to smallpox and her father to the sea, 11-year-old Abigail must build a new life for herself and her younger brother, Seth. But carving a future in the harsh 19th-century Maine seaport of Wiscasset proves difficult.
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- Product dimensions:
- 0.38(w) x 5.00(h) x 8.00(d)
- Age Range:
- 8 - 12 Years
Read an Excerpt
Wiscasset, District of Maine
Don't cry, Seth. No one will take you away." I looked straight at Doc Ames. Seth's arms tightened around my waist. I could feel him shaking as he burrowed his head deep into my long petticoats and apron. "I promised Ma I'd take care of Seth. That's what I'm going to do."
"Abbie, you're a strong girl. Stronger than most for eleven. But life isn't easy. You'll be able to find service in some home in Wiscasset. But Seth is too young to work. Let him go to the orphanage in Portland. He'll learn a trade there. When you're older, maybe then you can bring him home."
Seth turned. His red curls were matted; his face swollen with tears. He looked at the doctor, and then at me. "Pa will come and take care of us, won't he, Abbie?" His voice softened, and his shoulders slumped against me again. "Pa will come."
"Your father's been gone over six months now, Seth. There's been no word from any aboard his ship." Doc Ames shook his head. "No other relatives?"
"We have a grandmother in Baltimore." Ma had come from Baltimore. She had once said her mother might still be alive. A grandmother would want her grandchildren, wouldn't she?
I pulled the blue knit shawl tighter around my shoulders and looked once more at the room that had been home for Seth and Ma and me. And Pa, when he'd not been at sea.
There are folks who are rich and folks who are not. And my ma and pa and Seth and I, we are not. Our home was a small, low-ceilinged attic over the room where Widow Wink lived and made and sold her ginger beer on Water Street, near Union Wharf. Now the smell of ginger mixed with that of the sulfur Doc Ames had thrown on the floor to try to rid us of the smallpox, and with the salt river air that blew through the walls and the slats in the wooden shutters.
The pallet where Seth and I sometimes slept and the quilts that covered, if not warmed, us were in one corner. The table where we ate and Ma and I sewed was in the center of the room. On it was Ma's one treasure: a small female eider duck carved out of wood. A peddler for whom she had once sewn a waistcoat had given it to her. Sometimes Ma had sat and stared out over the river, stroking the wood as if it were a real bird. I looked at the duck. I didn't look into the corner where Ma lay.
Her body was on the pallet she had shared with Pa when he was ashore, and with Seth and me, for warmth, when he was not. I had already washed her with river water, combed and braided her long dark hair the way she liked, and covered her body and face with her favorite green quilt. She was my ma, but she was not beautiful, and the pox had not been kind to her. There was nothing else to be done for her now.
Doc Ames ran his hand through his long thinning gray hair. He had spent more time with us than most would have. There were others in Wiscasset who needed him. Others who could pay for his help. And it was late in the day. No doubt his wife had hot biscuits and boiled ham waiting for him. The thought of supper made my stomach rumble.
"It is too cold to leave you two here tonight. You need warmth, and you need food." He looked around. It was clear we had neither fire nor provisions.
"Come with me. Captain Chase is ill, and his young wife without help. Their kitchen girl fled to her people in Hallowell for fear of the pox. You could work for your keep, Abbie, and for now they might find a place for the boy, too. It would give you time to write to your grandmother in Baltimore."
If there were any chance Seth and I could stay together, I would take it.
I wrapped our thickest quilt around Seth and picked him up. The warmth from his body would warm me, too, at least a little. I didn't remember how it felt not to be cold. Winters are long in the District of Maine. I tucked Ma's eider duck under the quilt with Seth. We needed to take a bit of Ma with us.
Water Street was filled with red flames and black smoke. It looked like the picture of Hell in the Reverend Packard's Bible. The flames were from tar barrels filled with burning oil that people thought would kill the pox. Low mists of river fog mixed with the smoke, merging the land and water with red streaks of sunset.
"Red sky at night, sailor's delight," Pa always said. There would be fair weather tomorrow.
I carried Seth along the rough dirt and stones of the street, following Doc Ames and stumbling with Seth's weight and my weariness. The smell of burning tar filled our noses. Seth coughed deeply. I forced myself not to cough, and shifted his weight, making him easier to carry.
Suddenly the church bells rang.
Mr. Webber, the sexton, only rang the church bells on a weekday for one reason. He rang the bells when someone in town had died.
For the past two weeks he had rung those bells five or six times a day. Doc Ames and I counted quietly together.
Three rings. A child had died. Nine rings would have been for a man; six, a woman.
We stood still. The second group of rings would tell us how old the child was.
One ring. Then another. Then another. Then silence. Three years old. I looked at Doc Ames.
"Must be Willy Bascomb; his fever went high," Doc said.
Willy Bascomb. The little boy with the dark skin and big eyes who had chased his dog through the church during services only last month. His father was a mariner, like our pa, and Willy and Seth had often played together on Union Wharf. I held Seth tighter.
"I'll tell Mr. Webber about your ma before I stop home."
"Thank you." It would take longer for Mr. Webber to ring for Ma. In January we'd opened our last jar of strawberry jelly to celebrate her thirtieth birth day.
The streets were empty but for the barrels of flames. We left the wharves on Water Street and turned up Main Street, passing Mr. Johnston's store, where we owed money, and the newspaper office, and Whittier's Tavern, where Ma had gone when she'd hoped for letters from Pa. The stage from Boston usually stopped at the tavern twice a week. But now there were white flags of sickness in front of many Wiscasset houses, and no stages stopped.
Finally, when I could hardly go farther, we turned onto Union Street. The doctor stopped in front of a large white house. It was wider than four houses on Water Street put together, and twice as tall. I had seen houses like it before. There were maybe a dozen in town, and more being built up on High Street. But never had I expected to see the inside of one.
A white flag hung over the large paneled door, as a flag had covered our door. Money did not make a difference to the pox. I thought of Ma on her cold pallet, and tears started to come.
Doc Ames looked at me sharply. "Abigail, remember. You'll need to mourn for your ma, but you can mourn as well in a warm kitchen where you'll be of use as you can in a cold room with no food."
I tried to brush away the tears without waking Seth. When you're four you can sleep anywhere, and Seth was used to sleeping in my arms.
"I can work." I stood up straight and tried to smile. I wasn't very tall, and some would say I was scrawny, but I could work as well as any my age, and better than many. I knew fire and food didn't come without work.
"If you don't make trouble, and help as you can, then they may let you stay for a time. Usually no one would take you, coming from a sick house as you do. But Mrs. Chase has had the pox herself. She's getting better, as Seth is, although she's still weak. Now she's nursing her husband."
I knew cleaning and I knew cooking and what I didn't know I could learn. The teacher at the new brick schoolhouse had said I was quick in learning. I suspected she was right. School learning was the easy kind, though. Learning to please folks was harder.
"I will do what needs to be done." I wished I'd taken the time to rebraid my tangled brown hair so I looked neater. Too late to do that now.
Doc Ames knocked on the door.
The young woman who opened it was very pale. She had probably been pretty a few weeks ago. Now her blond hair hung loosely about her face, perhaps to conceal pox marks that were still healing, like the ones on Seth's back. She held her candlestick out toward Seth and me and then looked at the doctor.
"Mrs. Chase, I've brought you help."
I tried to look taller, and capable. It was hard, with Seth and the quilt tangled in my arms.
"The care of two children is not what I call help, Dr. Ames." Mrs. Chase wrinkled her nose and backed into the hallway of her house. She was wearing a loose white high-waisted muslin gown and shawl that made her look even thinner and paler than she was.
"We need no care but what I can give." My words slipped out as I saw her moving away from us. "I can cook and clean and sew as well. And wash and carry wood and make soap." It was our only chance. She had to take us.
"Shush, Abbie." Doc Ames frowned at me. "Mrs. Chase, you need help with the kitchen and with caring for the captain. Abigail and Seth Chambers here have just lost their ma. Abbie had the pox in the epidemic ten years ago. She won't get it now. She's a good nurse. She helped Seth over the fever. And their ma might have lived if she hadn't been sickly before the pox came."
Mrs. Chase looked at me and at Seth. For a few moments no one said anything. Seth whimpered in his sleep and tried to snuggle closer. The whimpers were as much from hunger as from grief or discomfort. There had been no food for two days. I had given Ma the last of the broth Widow Wink had left on the stairs for us.
Mrs. Chase finally spoke. Her voice was softer this time. "Losing your mother would be hard at any age. And you're right. I could use some help with the captain." Decision made, she turned to the doctor. "Doc Ames, please see if there's anything you can do. His fever's broken some, but the rash has started. His back is hurting him something awful."
Just like Ma had been after five or six days.
She pointed toward the left. "The kitchen's that way. There's enough beef soup on the fire and bread on the table for you and your brother." She turned toward the stairs. "There's bedding in the corner of the kitchen that Jessie used before she ran to her folks. You can use that. After you've eaten, go outside, by the back door you'll see it and get some wood from the pile and bring it upstairs. I'll need more logs for the captain's fireplace soon."
She headed up the circling stairs, holding her candlestick high. Doc Ames followed.
He looked back a moment and spoke softly. "It's up to you, Abbie. Each of us makes his own future."
I walked through the room to the left, carrying Seth carefully so we wouldn't touch anything. It was an elegant room, with a polished wood table and chairs. Above a mantelpiece silver candlesticks shone in the red tar barrel light coming through the glass windows.
Captain Chase and his wife had three fireplaces.
One in the kitchen, to be sure, but here was another, unused for now and that I could see was for company, and Mrs. Chase had talked of still another, upstairs in the captain's chamber. It was hard to think of such luxury. We had had no fireplace at all, just the heat from the sides of the chimney that took the hot air from Widow Wink's fire downstairs to the roof above us. She had been kind enough to let us use her kitchen for cooking each morning. But when she was not to home there was no fire and no heat.
The Chases' kitchen was large, and the fire well banked. I put Seth down near the hearth and added a bit of kindling from the pile next to the fireplace. The fire heated up easily enough. I shivered as the warmth entered my outstretched fingers and I realized how cold the rest of my body was. Seth smiled drowsily at the red and yellow flames.
The heavy iron pot on the crane was half full of beef soup. There were even pieces of carrots and potatoes in it. I didn't wait for it to heat more. I ladled some into a pewter porringer and broke off pieces of dark bread from the loaf on the table.
Seth opened his mouth as soon as he saw what I had. I sat next to him on the floor near the fire, spooning the fragrant broth into first his mouth and then my own. When there was no more in the porringer we wiped the bowl with the bread and ate it, every crumb. I cannot imagine anything tasting as good as that soup and bread.
"Seth, we are going to be warm here. We are going to have food. And we will stay together. You must be very good and I must work very hard and we will be all right." I spoke to myself as much as to him. I hugged him tightly and tucked him under the pile of many-colored quilts and woven blankets Jessie had left. I put Ma's eider duck on a small empty pine shelf above the pallet.
I didn't want the captain to wait long for his wood.
As I filled my arms at the woodpile, the bells tolled again. Six rings for a woman. Doc Ames must have told Mr. Webber about Ma.
The bells were still ringing when I reached the captain's bedchamber. It takes many minutes to toll a lifetime.
Copyright © 2001 by Lea Wait
Meet the Author
Lea Wait made her mystery debut with Shadows at the Fair, which was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Shadows on the Ivy, the third novel in her acclaimed series featuring Maggie Summer, is forthcoming in hardcover from Scribner. Lea comes from a long line of antiques dealers, and has owned an antique print business for more than twenty-five years. The single adoptive mother of four Asian girls who are now grown, she lives in Edgecomb, Maine. In addition to the Antique Print mysteries, Lea Wait writes historical fiction for young readers. Her first children's book, Stopping to Home, was named a Notable Book for Children in 2001 by Smithsonian magazine.
Visit her website at www.leawait.com.
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i thought this was good and made me relize what was important in life but usually i hate historic books
I bought this book for my daughter, who is 10 -- she loved it -- and so did her 15 year old sister. It has just the right mixture of history and humor and a gutsy heroine ... definitely a winner.
I try to find books for our mother/daughter book club, and Stopping to Home was perfect! Lots of details that mothers loved, and a story that the girls could relate to. Provoked some interesting discussions of what girls were expected to do in the early 19th century! Check it out if you're looking for a book to share ...
I love books about old times, and this was one of the best I've read. Abbie and Seth are really great characters, and I really liked all the details about living in Maine in 1806. The ending was so happy I cried a little bit -- and then I sat and imagined what happened to Abbie and Seth AFTER the book was over! I wish Lea Wait would write another book like this one!
Stopping to Home is suppposed to be for children, but I'm a grandfather and thoroughly enjoyed it. Vivid characters, a wonderful plot in which imaginative Abbie find solutions to adult problems, and a peek at early New England life. Recommended for ALL ages!
The book was heartwarming and brought a tear to my eye, I enjoyed every page of this book from cover to cover. Look forward to reading more books by Lea Wait.
Lea Wait, who lives across the river from Wiscasset, Maine, where her first historical novel is set, is a force to be reckoned with in the world of young adult books. Not only that, but in addition to more titles coming in that field, Wait has an adult mystery in the works, to be published soon. 'Stopping To Home' is a splendid first novel. Wait's research is careful and not obvious, but it puts you squarely in the early 19th century world of two orphans, whose mother has died of smallpox. Will a young widow take them into her household, even if she doesn't know how she'll support herself any more? We can be sure that young Abbie will figure out a way to help the widow, and to give her 5-year-old brother a feeling of home and family. Wait's sense of place is excellent, and the reader is hooked in this world right away. We anxiously await more books from Lea Wait in the young adult historical novel field, as well as her forthcoming adult mystery series. Wait is clearly one excellent writer to turn to as an antidote to some of the insipid authors being published today. Keep her name in mind!
It's 1806 in the small village of Wiscasset, Maine, and eleven-year-old Abbie Chambers and her four-year-old brother, Seth, are on their own. Their mother has just died, and they haven't heard from their father, a sailor, in years. Abbie takes a position helping the young wife of Captain Chase, an ailing sea captain, on the condition that her brother be given a home there as well, so that he will not have to be sent to an orphanage. When the sea captain dies, the Widow Chase is left alone with no income and a baby on the way. Abbie and Seth are dependent on Widow Chase, but in a way, she is dependent on them, too. This was a heartwarming historical novel about a girl's struggle after her mother's death to keep her brother with her against all odds. I highly reccomend this book.