The Letter—Part 4
On the east side of Horatio House, several massive oak trees shaded the historic Georgian-style brick mansion from the bright mid-morning sun. Clancie and Vic parked their bicycles in front of the hedge of late-blooming pink azaleas that rimmed the inn’s walkway. The girls bounded up the steps and knocked. When Margaret Carroll Jacobs, the innkeeper, opened the painted wooden door, they encountered the scent of brewed coffee and cinnamon rolls. Aunt Margaret was known for having a fresh pot and sweet buns at the ready from dawn to dusk.
“Clancie! Vic! I was thinking about you two this morning and wondering when you would stop by.”
“It’s hard to get away from Grandma,” Clancie commented, grinning, as she embraced her aunt.
“For sure,” Aunt Margaret responded with a knowing smile as she ushered the girls inside. “I know you want some coffee, right? How about a cinnamon roll, too? I just pulled some out of the oven.”
The cousins murmured their appreciation as the trio trooped into the kitchen. Vic and Clancie each poured themselves coffee, scooped a warm bun onto a saucer, then perched on one of the padded vinyl chairs at the oblong dinette table. Aunt Margaret flitted around the kitchen as she chatted with them, asking both for updates on school, boyfriends, and summer activities. She didn’t mention the jewelry box or the letters. Clancie and Vic didn’t either. The cousins agreed beforehand to avoid discussing the fiasco with Grandma Marjorie unless Aunt Margaret brought it up. Instead, they planned to browse the Horatio House library for clues to Daisy’s identity before bombarding their aunt with questions.
“So, girls, what are your plans for today?” Aunt Margaret asked as she measured out coffee beans and dumped them into a grinder. “Hang out at the town beach?”
Clancie glanced at Vic and the older girl answered. “If it’s okay with you, we’d like to explore the Horatio House library.”
Aunt Margaret spun around to face the girls. “Really?” she said, arching an eyebrow as she dried a baking sheet with a dishtowel. “I expected you’d be doing something more exciting than that.”
“We thought we might find something interesting,” Clancie volunteered. “Maybe about our family history. I mean, Carrolls have lived in Worthington Cove for generations.” Vic shot her cousin a warning frown but kept silent.
“That’s true,” Aunt Margaret agreed. “But most of the archives in our library pertain to the Worthington and Howard families. I’m not sure you’ll find much on the Carroll family.”
“But we might come across something, right?” Vic pressed, smiling at her aunt.
“I suppose anything’s possible.” Aunt Margaret turned back to the sink and dried another baking sheet. “Spend as much time in there as you want. I’ll be somewhere around here if you need me.”
Several minutes later, Clancie and Vic made their way to the inn’s library. The elegant room was quiet when they entered, and Clancie suspected it wasn’t frequently visited by the inn’s guests. She inhaled the musty scent of antique paper and surveyed the collection of books. An assortment of leather-bound volumes filled wooden bookshelves built along the room’s long wall. The historic publications beckoned to her, captivating her with their potential to reveal secrets and scandals. Near the bookshelves, in the center of the space, stood an enormous mahogany desk with a matching wood and leather chair. A brick fireplace, with a barrister’s bookcase flanking each side, occupied the shorter adjacent wall. Two leather armchairs were positioned in front of it.
“I’ve always loved this library,” Clancie mused as she walked to the left side of the bookshelves. She reached up and traced the book spines on the top shelf with her index finger. “I’ll start here if you’ll look at the books on that end.”
“Sure,” Vic agreed. “Let’s pull anything that mentions the Vietnam War. Oh, and any yearbooks from the sixties.”
As she perused the shelves, Clancie occasionally paused as her fingertip brushed over a familiar title. “This collection is amazing,” she uttered. “There are so many classics. I just want to read them all.”
“Stay focused, cuz,” Vic shot back while examining the works on the other side. “You’ve got all summer to read.”
Clancie sighed and continued to explore, marveling at other titles she encountered. The search absorbed her attention, and she didn’t detect her cousin walk up behind her.
“Well, nothing useful on my side,” Vic complained. “Did you find anything?”
Startled by the sound of the older girl’s voice, Clancie jumped. “Geeze, Vic. Don’t sneak up on me. And no. I didn’t either.”
“Then let’s go through the smaller bookcases by the fireplace.”
Clancie tore herself away from the shelves on the larger wall and approached the barrister’s case on the left. Stacked on the shelves behind the glass doors were vintage hardcovers, including a world atlas, physician’s desk reference, dictionary, and encyclopedia set. None of these books, however, would help them figure out Daisy’s identity. Still, the old publications enthralled Clancie and tempted her to open the doors and leaf through them. She didn’t, though, for fear of damaging valuable antiques. She joined Vic at the other bookcase instead.
Vic shook her head and plopped into the armchair. She exhaled and scowled at her cousin. “Nothing. How about you?”
“Nothing.” Clancie sighed and dropped into the other chair. “What do we do now?”
Vic fidgeted with her hair, twirling brown strands between her fingers as she stared blankly at the bookcase. “Unless Grandma told her, there’s no way that Aunt Margaret knows what we’re searching for.” She shifted in the chair to face Clancie. “Let’s ask her about old yearbooks. That we thought it’d be fun to see how our relatives looked when they were our age. Couldn’t hurt, right? I mean, what do we have to lose?”
“What if she tells us to hunt for them in Grandma’s attic?” Clancie responded, her voice thick with apprehension. She pulled her legs up into the chair and hugged her chest. The thought of misleading their aunt gnawed at her, like a rat chewing her insides. Especially when she knew that Grandma Marjorie would be angry and hurt if she found out.
“I’m not sure I could do that. Not after what happened yesterday.”
The older girl shrugged and stood up. “Figuring out the story behind the letters was your idea,” she snorted, “and now you’re getting cold feet?” Vic shuffled toward the library door. “I should have expected as much. But we started this, so I’m not quitting. You do what you want.”
Clancie dragged herself out of the armchair and trailed behind the thwap, thwap, thwap of Vic’s flip-flops as her cousin walked down the hall to the kitchen. Aunt Margaret had left cinnamon buns stacked on a platter. Vic grabbed one more and reclaimed her spot at the dinette table. Clancie did the same.
“I’m asking her,” Vic announced as she tore off a chunk of the roll. “I don’t see why I shouldn’t. She’d never think to mention that to Grandma. It’s not a big deal, really.”
Clancie bit into a cinnamon bun. She swallowed, and the doughy confection felt like a stone in her stomach. The impression that their scheme was underhanded nagged at her. More than likely, though, Vic was right.
“Okay. I’m in,” Clancie grumbled. “Ask her.”
At that moment Aunt Margaret walked into the kitchen. “Ask me what?” she inquired as she refilled her coffee mug. “Didn’t you find what you wanted in the library?”
“Well,” Vic began, “we’re looking for old yearbooks from Stevensville High School. To see the pictures.” She grinned at her aunt. “I bet high school was much different when you were our age.”
“Not that different.” Aunt Margaret laughed. “Just our clothes and hairstyles.” She sipped her coffee. “I haven’t thought about our yearbooks for a long time. Hmm… I’m fairly certain they’re at Grandma’s house. Probably in the attic.”
“That’s what we thought,” Clancie replied flatly, disappointed with her aunt’s revelation. Unless the girls confronted Aunt Margaret with a direct question or Vic searched Grandma’s attic alone, they were at a dead end. Clancie looked down at the table and avoided catching her cousin’s eye. Vic would surely dismiss her as a child now if she appeared hesitant to cross their grandmother.
Aunt Margaret continued to reminisce. She recalled how she and their Uncle Thomas had met during their junior year at Salisbury State College and married two years later. He also grew up on the Delmarva Peninsula, she explained, but in Wicomico County near the Maryland/Delaware border. Eventually their aunt excused herself, explaining that she had to attend to her guests.
Before she left, the older woman suggested the girls try the public library. It might be easier to find the yearbooks there, she said, rather than combing through the clutter in Grandma’s attic. Clancie brightened at the recommendation. The prospect of locating the yearbooks without defying Grandma Marjorie buoyed her spirits and dissolved the heaviness lodged within her. She thanked their aunt, then the girls left Horatio House.
The cousins rode three blocks to the Worthington Cove branch of the Queen Anne’s County Library. From past visits, Clancie knew the modest branch had limited resources. The smaller space contained children’s books, while adult fiction, nonfiction, and reference books occupied the larger area. Vic was acquainted with the librarian, Mrs. Jenkins, and greeted her by name as she asked if the library had the Stevensville High School yearbooks from the sixties.
“You’re in luck, hon,” Mrs. Jenkins answered as she stepped out from behind the desk. “I collected the local high school yearbooks on my own. For the residents here on the island.” She walked Vic and Clancie to the reference row. “Stevensville High closed in 1966, so I don’t have many from there. After that, students here attended the new high school in Centreville until Kent Island High School opened.” Mrs. Jenkins stopped in front of a section where about two dozen slim bound books stood upright on the shelf. “You’re welcome to browse through as many as you want, but they need to stay here in the library. You can sit here,” she offered, pointing to a nearby table with four chairs. “All I ask is that you put them back in order when you’re done.”
Clancie and Vic examined the volumes on the shelf. The school’s yearbooks, arranged in chronological order, dated back to 1942. Clancie held her breath as she counted across the spines. Twenty-three books later, she pulled a volume from the shelf. Her heart pounded as she exhaled.
“This is it,” she said to Vic as she laid the book on the table. “The yearbook for 1965. I’m so nervous, my fingers are trembling.”
Vic opened the book to the section with the senior portraits. “Let’s start here and work our way to the end of the book.”
With both their heads bent over the aged book, Vic carefully flipped through the yellowing pages. She lightly stroked each face that stared out of the portrait lineup as she combed the captions for the name “Daisy.” She slowed when she reached the page with surnames that began with a “C” and paused at the photo of Margaret Carroll.
“Here’s Aunt Margaret,” Vic murmured, pointing. “She looks so young. And check out her hair,” she laughed. “A bouffant!”
Clancie leaned in. “Look, they made a mistake. Her picture’s in here twice. But her hair’s different in the second photo. It’s long, not poufy, and she has side-swept bangs.”
“Yeah, weird.” Vic studied the names under the photos. “That’s odd.” Vic turned to face her cousin. “The name under the second photo is Mary Rose Carroll.”
Then Vic gasped. Wide-eyed, she grabbed Clancie’s forearm. “Oh my god, Clancie. Could Aunt Margaret have a twin sister?”
To be continued.