A beginning- summer 1908
There was a time when we were all happy and innocent to the ever changing world. As children we could all be who ever we wanted to be and we didn't have to follow the rules of society. Back then it didn't matter if Parker was the heir to Norse Castle and was best friends with Ethan who was the son of Norse Castle's head cook. The gang of children would spend our summers in the Back Woods wading in the winding creek that divided Norse Castle and Southerton Greens. I remember it was here we could be a thousand miles away from everything or every one with only our dreams to play out.
My brother Marcus, who was then thirteen years old had stolen the copy of father's atlas and had perched himself on the large rock we had called the Captain's Throne. Marcus claimed that if one stood on this rock one could see all the way to the next county. He and Parker would stand on the rock proclaim that one day would see the whole world. I was seven and at that time standing on the rock I could only see the dense trees of the Back Woods that surrounded me and I felt sure at that time I would never want to leave Southerton. But Marcus made it very clear one day he would get off that rock, head down to London where a train or boat could take him any place he wished to be. Today however in the middle of summer the boys were much too young to leave their tiny bit of England. The boys or "the explorers" as they called themselves were Marcus Harrington, Parker Welford, and Ethan James and all of them sat admiring the new atlas our father had brought back from London two weeks ago.
Our new atlas was stiffed leather bound, with clean cut pages that had gold trimming on them. I admired the book for its grand appearance. The boys admired the book for the new country lines that had been drawn since the last atlas was published.
"Every day people are discovering new lands, and we can be the next ones," Marcus spoke daringly to his comrades.
Laurel, who had tried to climb the rock in her mint green dress and her flower pinned hat, could not make it up to stare at the pages the boys had been entranced with. She could barely see the pages through the tiny cracks the boys had between their arms. Laurel had always wanted to be a part of "the explorers" but could not manage a way to keep up her modesty and be an explorer. Laurel was then eleven and was at the age mother said "she had to practice her delicacy." I was still fortunate to be young enough to trump around climbing rocks or to swim in the creek and right then I hoped I would never have to practice my delicacy. If Laurel had truly wanted to be a part of the explorers she would have hiked up her dress and climbed on top of the Captain's Throne and prove to herself and the boys she could be just as tough as them. But the truth is Laurel didn't really care about being an explorer she only cared about catching a glimpse from Ethan who seemed to have captured her heart in early spring. She had done all she could to make Ethan love her. That morning she had spent two hours primping herself for our daily hour or so in the Back Woods. She had made sure every curl was in place and even put on mother's rouge and mother's perfume. Sadly though at that time I think Ethan cared two straws about Laurel and I had heard him snicker about how the rouge made her look like a clown and the perfume made him want to chop off his nose.
Fortunately for Laurel mother would never notice some missing items as she and father were off yet again to Scotland for a short holiday and were not due back for another fortnight. They had left the day after father came home from finishing his business in London. We were always at the care of Nanny Mugabe who every day after lunch took a long nap and expected us to do the same. Instead as soon as the weather turned warm us Harrington kids would run all the ways to the Back Woods not stopping for any breath. It was here and only here we found solitude and we grasped at it every chance we got.
Besides Ethan's harsh jokes I overheard Ethan barely noticed Laurel that day because of father's atlas and Laurel was left to her own devices of picking wild flower petals to determine Ethan's feelings. A waist of a good flower I thought. Maybe because I was younger I couldn't understand why my sister liked a boy especially when it was so clear he did not like her. Ethan James, actually had a crush on Susan Sedley, who was once a friend of Laurel's but that friendship was dissolved when Laurel found out Ethan, kissed Susan at the May Day fair. Of course Laurel didn't hear the fact that after the kiss Susan gave him two hard slaps. But for the past few weeks Laurel had heard nothing of Susan from Ethan and that made her hope he could like her. I quietly laughed at Laurel's behavior and how idiotic it all seemed.
The only boy in our gang who was not involved in the explorers club was Kelby James, who for a year older than me took much more an interest in fine works of literature than exploring distant lands. I didn't want to be an explorer either; I wasn't old enough to think about one day leaving Southerton. It had been a part of our family since King Charles the second. It wasn't anything grand compared to Norse Castle that had been built in the days of Queen Elizabeth but it was a prized estate. One that I in my small age still found nooks I could hide in for hours. My ancestors took Southerton Green from a lonely country home used as a hunting lodge of the third cousin of King Charles to its grandest scale being built in modern architecture when Napoleon was emperor. My Grandfather Harrington used to tell me of the grand days that seemed forgotten by everyone. I promised him I would recapture the grand days and bring them back to Southerton. Of course by 1915 I would learn of the Harrington finical destitution and would know to become once the grand family we used to be would be utterly hopeless. But right then in 1908 I thought no family could be better off than us Harrington's at Southerton Greens with a house in London and a mining factory in Wales.
"Fiona! I want to play!" My little sister Gloria called from the banks of the creek.
Gloria, my younger sister, who was then four, still, had her baby fat including puffy cheeks and stubby legs. No one seeing her then would realize she would become England's high class model by the time she was sixteen. She would always long for adventure but she would be kept from it mostly because of her age.
"I am not playing!" I yelled back to her.
I was panning the stream for gold. My legs were up to their knees in icy water soaking most of the skirt of my dress. My dress turned from a soft blue to an ugly brown as the mud splashed on me. I was bent over with one of cook's pie pans scrapping the bottom sand hoping to find any sign of gold. In one of our history lessons we had learned about the California Gold Rush of 1849 and I had hoped that our creek could be lined with gold but no one had ever dared to see. I knew why no one dared to look the water was almost a numbing cold and their seemed to be little success no matter how long you looked. Grandfather Harrington told me you just can't read history you must act on it, looking back on it I doubt standing in a creek is what he meant but at seven years old you could still have silly adventures.
"Fiona! I want to play!"
"No you can't, mother says you can't come in the creek."
"Laurel, you have to take care of Gloria," I pleaded.
"No! You promised you would do all my chores and one of them is caring for Gloria when mother is away."
"But," I moaned.
"Do want me to tell mother you broke the China rose teapot?"
I wasn't trying to break the teapot. I grumbled to myself that I really didn't think it was my fault that Pippin came running through the room as I was trying to host a tea party for my doll who I pretend was Queen Victoria. But apparently I broke the teapot and Laurel being the only witness to the incident had blacked me into doing her chores for a month. Years later I would find out Laurel told mother anyway but mother did not punish me because she hated that tea pot. The China rose tea pot was Grandma Harrington's and passed down to us but mother had always hated it and was glad when it was broken. If I had known that then I would never put up with Laurel's behavior.
Laurel finally noticed that my dress had become soaked and practically ruined with mud stains.
"What are you doing?" She yelled to me.
"Panning for gold like they did in California,” I said back.
Hearing this Ethan chimed in "there is no gold in that creek and if there was Lord Welford would have already dug it up."
"What does my father need with little rocks no bigger than finger nails? Fiona girl, if you find any gold you can keep it." Parker said pretending to stick up for his father, who was known in Parliament as being one of the cheapest Lords in the House. Penny and Pence Welford, I had once heard father call Lord Welford in one of his fights with mother.
“I agree with Ethan," Laurel said "there is no gold in that creek and you have ruined your dress for something that doesn't exist. Now get out of that creek and act like a lady."
By now all attention was shared between me standing in the creek, Laurel standing on the grassy patch of the creek bank, and the boys watching us fight up on Captain's Throne. No one had noticed at that moment Gloria had made her way into the creek and was getting to the point the water was close to her shoulders. None but Kelby James, who had been lying in the grass enjoying a bit of warm sun and strawberries to his delight. Kelby had seen Gloria make her way into the creek and slip on rock, going under quietly without a gasp or splash to get our attention. A large splash got our attention as we turned to see Kelby jumping in to pull Gloria out of the water. In slow motion I watched Kelby grab her out, laying her limp body lie across her arms as he ran to Norse Castle.
"See what you've done," Laurel pushed me "Gloria could have died, and it would be all your fault."
But then we heard it. A wonderful, pitiful, sore cough coming from behind Mrs. James' body. Gloria had woken up and now was coughing up all the water she had swallowed.
I remember clearly Laurel taking a deep breath and putting her arm around me. As if at that moment all our fight was over and we would be happy from this time forth. Looking back on it I am sad to say our fighting did not cease and we were not always happy. I could tell the story otherwise but I want this to be as accurate as possible.