Chapter oneThe first bid was for two-dollars. Then it was six. I had just bid eight and decided I was willing to go up to as much as twenty. I wanted those books. I raised my hand, signaling my ten-dollar bid. The fast talking auctioneer urged the bidders higher but he had no other takers. A little surge of adrenaline swept through me as I realize my bid has won. The box of old books was mine.
I had picked up some intriguing pieces at the auction today and I think these books might be a real find. A quick inspection at the car revealed that I had purchased fourteen books and an envelope full of old greeting cards. The books were all smallish; most no bigger then a modern paperback and some were leather bound. The frayed edges poking out showed the books to be, if not well loved at least well used. A group of blue cloth bound books proclaimed they were, MacMillan’s Pocket Classics. Checking the titles I found, Silas Marner, Macbeth, Merchant of Venice and Treasure Island. They must be high school English textbooks. These dated from the turn of the century, easily a hundred years old and in really good condition considering their age. There were also copies of Dracula, The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds. If any of these turned out to be first editions I will have truly found a treasure.
As I Pulled one of the larger books from the pile a newspaper clipping that had been stuck to its side fluttered to the ground. Picking it up, I was delighted to see that it was a wedding announcement. Dated June 26, 1891, it gave the particulars of the marriage of Lea Smith and David James Dean. I opened the book to put the scrap of paper inside and found a picture tucked in at the back. An embossed cardboard folder held the picture, which was of a striking young Victorian couple. They stood beside a Grecian column, dressed in what I felt sure was their wedding finery.
Looking closely at the book I could just make out the letters L J S, that were imprinted on the front of the book. The letters were in an intricate, interlocking curlicue script so elaborate they were almost unreadable. Opening the cover page, I found written in a small neat hand: Property of Lea June Smith. Leafing through the rest of the book I noted the dated entries that were scripted in the same tidy handwriting. What luck, this must be the journal of the young women mentioned in the marriage announcement and I thought, hopefully, the woman in the photograph. Tucking everything back in the box, I loaded up the car and headed home excited about my auction finds.
I needed to give everything a good cleaning but I was eager to get started on the part that I enjoy the most. I love to research the history of the things I find and making that connection with the past. So far my most interesting finds have been a mint condition antique Ouija board that I found in a box of old games, and a 1850s silver plate tilting water pitcher with cups. I always wonder what tales these things could tell if they could only speak. What stories were waiting to be discovered in the contents of this box? With that notion to motivate me I carried it into the house and got started.
In the kitchen I dampened a soft cloth and began gently wiping the dirt and dust from the small volumes. I saved the journal for last and picking it up set the picture and clipping aside for later review. I had been thinking of this as “Lea’s diary”, and was very curious to see what she had written. After wiping the journal free of dirt I could see the spiral pattern of ivy vines that twined up and around the edges, some of the leaves spilled out and seemed to be supporting the faint gold letters of her initials. Once, the ledger had been tanned a deep green but now the leather had faded to a soft gray and over the years, in the spots where it had been touched the leather was a shiny silver.
Finished with the cleaning, I looked again at the picture. Taken in a portrait artist’s studio, the picture captured the faces of the young bride and groom, as they stood rigid, waiting for the flash. The girl in the picture had dark hair and it was crowned with a coronet of orange blossoms. From under the blooms the veil cascaded to the floor and pooled around her feet. Her lips curved in a shy smile, but the eyes that stared at the camera’s lens looked out with an unapologetic and direct gaze. There bodies did not touch except for where her hand rested on his sleeve.
I could wait no longer, taking the journal with me I settled into my favorite reading spot on the screened in porch and began to read.
January 1, 1890
Once again, I find myself acting as chaperone for M. I know such is the lot of an older sister and while I am happy to accommodate her, I find it awkward to intercede when I feel their actions become inappropriate. I will admit, I find the job less tedious now that they are betrothed.
Mother worries that I have not found a husband of my own but I do not have the same concerns. I think I would be happy being kind Auntie Lea, to M’s hoped for brood.
And there she was, Lea had arrived. This young woman from the past had reached across time and now sat with me on the sofa. For the rest of the afternoon I was lost in Lea’s world. I listened as she described the lace on M’s wedding gown and I felt her boredom while having tea with Aunt M J.
Totally engrossed in what I was reading, the time passed quickly and looking up at the clock I was surprised to see it was almost 9:30. I started to close the ledger but then my eyes fell on this entry.
March 15, 1890
Beware the Ides of March, indeed! As of now, I promised to keep Mary’s secret between just the two of us but feel I may not be doing the best by her. I fear for her, if C should find out.
Diana, for the Poplar Grove Muse