The Ascent of Mt. Moriah is the first to be named. There was formerly an excellent bridle path to the summit, and a large log cabin for protection against a sudden shower. For the past two years, however, the carriage road up Mount Washington has attracted the greater part of the travel, so that the path has not been re-opened. The mountain is 4,700 feet in height.
It can still be reached on foot, and the bridle path can easily be reopened. The ascent will furnish a very charming excursion for those who care to undergo the fatigue.
Eastman's White Mountain Guide, 1859.
It was time to put away pencils, books and papers. And warm enough to toss aside long coats and longer underwear. Warm enough, too, that his canvas pack, hidden away in the bottom of the trunk at the foot of his bed all winter, called to him like the magical sirens he had studied in his lessons.
It felt like a pull in the pit of his stomach.
Scott fairly jumped to the window in his excitement and yanked it open. Warm twilight air, a swirly mix of marigolds, grass and horse, filled the room. He stuck his head out and took a deep breath, tasting the air on his tongue, wanting to eat it like one of Aunt Elizabeth's Christmas snickerdoodles. One bite, a lick of sugar and cinnamon, another bite—gone!
He pushed the window closed, but the sash stuck midway and he had to pound it the rest of the way down with his fist. Satisfied, he hopped to the closet door.
"Scotty? What's that noise? Are you all right?" Before he could think of a suitable response, Grandfather had opened the door and swept inside, pushing out the marigolds with pomade and tobacco.
"The window," Scott said. "It was stuck."
Grandfather waved his hand in dismissal. "Leave it for Skimmerhorn to fix." He peered about Scott's room as if seeing it for the first time. "Although I daresay a closed window is a proper one."
He didn't like it when Scott hung out the window. What if someone saw you there? It makes you look common.
"Scotty, a word." His voice was the one used for recalcitrant clients. It was quiet, with steel behind each letter. Scott had seen lesser men show belly. He eased his hand away from the closet handle as if it were the fine crystal vase that sat atop the piano in the parlor.
"I've arranged to have you apprentice with me at Garrett Enterprises over your school break. You're almost twelve and will attend the university in a few short years, this is an important time for a young man. More specifically it's important to get a foothold for your future."
The skin on Scott's forehead tightened and his hands went numb. "But Grandfather, Carter and I…"
Another wave, another dismissal. "It's been arranged, my boy, starting tomorrow. Duty is the best of all teachers." He turned on his heel, talking over his shoulder, "If Willoughby had any sense he'd have his boy do the same." He left, taking most of the air in the room with him.
Grandfather had a habit of dismissing people and ideas. Scott had politely asked him about taking a trip to the mountains, of walking to see the waterfalls and lakes. His grandfather had responded with disappointment. Why would Scott ask for a trip outside the city, as if what he had wasn't good enough? A horse, a new suit of clothes, the comfortable house were all nice things. Scott obviously didn't appreciate the nice things he'd been given.
He burned with panic when he looked to the closet. His whole summer was in there.
The closet held a secret place, as part of the adjoining room. His dead mother's to be exact. He'd found the hidden door by accident when he sat in the closet to read the newest serial of Dickens acquired from Cook. Judging by all the fingerprints, she had gotten it from someone else. Lots of someone else's. He kept it in the closet because Grandfather said Dickens was a foreigner and a socialist. Scott wasn't sure what being a socialist meant, and most of the staff were from someplace else other than Boston, but he liked the stories.
He used to sit in the secret place to hide from Grandfather just to worry him, and wondered if his mother did the same. Like his father, she was a shadow to him, nothing he could touch. Sitting there in that small space made him feel closer to her somehow.
But he'd outgrown that and now it held his various treasures.
Pushing aside hangers of shirts and jackets, he felt for the tiny knob. Opening it revealed a small stack of novels, a pearl-handled pocket knife, three lead soldiers in blue and white, a model ship made of bone that was his great-grandfather's (the same type he had sailed in the War of 1812), a few brass buttons found in the street, and a bag of colored stones. In the coveted spot on the highest shelf next to the ship, was a book, covered in green cloth and gilt lettering.
He and Carter had found a White Mountains Guide in the Willoughby study amidst all the medical journals. When they asked about it, without too much excitement—they didn't want to raise questions after all—Dr. Willoughby readily gave it to them.
It took less than an afternoon to read about Mount Moriah, Echo Lake, the Old Man of the Mountain, and all the other things. Even less time to decide they wanted to go see them.
The book's map, carefully pinned to the inside wall beside the closet shelf, had almost as many fingerprints as the Dickens serial, but these were all his and Carter's. They would take the train from Haymarket Square for five hours to Portland, New Hampshire, then get on the Grand Trunk Railway for another four hours which would take them all the way to the eastern side of the mountains. In one day! He had memorized the route ages ago but took it from the wall, folded it, and tucked it back inside the book just in case.
His heart beat faster—tomorrow had to be that day.
A pang of responsibility stung. He didn't want to tell Grandfather, he really didn't, but there wasn't going to be any way he would miss the fact Scott wasn't at breakfast. Grandfather had been distracted this evening, perhaps it would take a while for the absence to penetrate. By the time he noticed, maybe the thought of walking through something as grand as the White Mountains wouldn't seem so out of the ordinary. Wouldn't seem like Scott was running away from his obligations.
And maybe Grandfather would undo his four-in-hand tie and take a stroll on the wharf with the dock workers. A snicker rose up from the back of his throat.
For the hundredth time, he told himself that Grandfather would understand. He went to unearth his pack from the trunk because tomorrow was almost here and he had to be ready.
Later, in bed, he turned down the lamp and listened to the distant sounds of people moving about, finishing the day. Somewhere in the kitchen Cook would be checking her menus, somewhere in the west wing Grandfather would be smoking his pipe.
After what seemed a very long time, the work was done and with a few creaks and groans the Garrett house slept.
Carter blinked, dry-eyed and owlish, staring at Scott with raised eyebrows. He could never be anything less than dramatic, made more so because the sun had yet to rise.
"We need to go." Not much of an answer, or an explanation, but Carter seemed to take in stride.
Scott helped him with his pack which his friend, still more than half asleep, pulled on without question. He couldn't have timed it better, a little earlier and he probably wouldn't have been able to awaken him by flinging pebbles at his windowpane, an hour later and the house staff would be readying it for the day.
"You lead," he mumbled. They trusted each other without understanding why. It came fairly naturally by now. They were brothers for all intents and purposes, although Carter had two of his very own—and a sister. One thing differed: Carter knew he would follow in his father's footsteps and happily become a doctor. Although he didn't know what else he was suited for, Scott had no such dreams about following Grandfather. And his father was a different matter entirely.
"Sorry," Scott said, and stepped off the curb. The farther they got away from the Willoughby house, the more the sky became that odd grey that happened right before a thunderstorm. "Sorry it's so early," and hoped Carter wouldn't ask.
No such luck.
"Grandfather wants me to apprentice with him this summer."
The statement gained weight and fell to the ground with a heavy crash. Carter never answered, just started walking faster, his pack rising and falling in easy rhythm. Urgency was best, the finer details of the trip could be worked out later.
Scott's heart felt lighter with each step, could almost smell the pine of the mountains rising above city odors.
They turned a corner and standing in a doorway was the oddest looking woman he'd ever seen. She was small, barely above Scott's height, wearing a tight-fitting black sort of dress that showed her legs and something lacey wrapped around her shoulders. Despite the greyness of the morning, her complexion was like cream in a bowl. Large brown eyes considered them over one hand, folded under her chin.
"What do we have here?" Her eyes roamed from Scott to Carter and back again. They were the kind that saw everything. "Out for a walk, gentlemen?"
The gentlemen part was funny. Or maybe it was the way she said it, all deep and husky. She watched him as he laughed, and he didn't know why. It was like he surprised her.
"Sort of…" Carter stammered out. It was a first, he'd never seen his friend at a loss for words before. It didn't last long. "We're going to the White Mountains."
"Oh my, that's a long way isn't it? Are you here to get your fortunes read before your trip?"
She reached out, put her hand on Scott's. It was warm. "No, Miss, we need to meet the train in Haymarket Square."
A man he hadn't seen unfolded himself and came out from the shadows of the doorway. He heard Carter take a breath, then another. The man was lean, all sinew and muscle, with dark blond hair slicked back from a high forehead.
"New customers, Myra?" He stood beside the lady, not even looking at her, then glanced at Scott. Smiled in a way that made him feel hollow inside.
"Not yet. What Jack is trying to say, and not in the most helpful way, is that most people show their appreciation by leaving a coin or two for a glimpse into their future lives. Good fortune is not a trifle."
The man grabbed her elbow and whispered something in her ear. She shook her head side to side with sharp flicks. He hesitated, then melted back into the shadows.
"Well now, which one of you is first?"
Carter gave him a punch on the shoulder. He opened his mouth to say something but before he could get anything out she had his hand again and turned it palm side up. Her fingers, soft as feathers, traced the lines.
He saw concern on the lady's face. Sadness. It knocked something loose inside of him and made it rattle around.
She patted his hand three times and chanted in sing-song. It sounded like a prayer.
"What does it mean? What's his fortune?" Carter's voice petered out, and the boardwalk was filled with her silence.
She curled his fingers into a ball and let go. "Sometimes the truth is hidden and even I can't see what will happen years from now."
Scott didn't look up, he kept his face angled away. But his arm crept around his middle and hugged.
"What I did see is your trip to the mountains. You'll have a fine time and meet all sorts of people. You may even see a bear or two."
When she turned to Carter her eyes looked wet. "And you young man?"
He stuffed his hands into his pants pockets. "No thank you, Miss. I don't want my fortune told."
She smiled but it didn't reach her eyes. "Then you'd better get going or you'll miss your train."
They didn't have to be told twice.
"The station is just ahead," Carter offered, and bit his lip as they came to an alleyway.
Something was happening down its dark length and Scott both tried to figure it out and didn't want to figure it out. His imagination was already at full gallop after meeting the lady in black.
A harsh breathy, wet noise and Carter was thrown against the wall like a marionette whose strings had been pulled too tight. A hand plucked at the pack on Scott's back then splayed over his shoulder, nails digging into his skin dragging him into the darkness. The stench of overpowering whiskey hit him when a face lay wet against the nape of his neck.
"She said to leave you alone, but with them fancy clothes you gotta have money somewhere."
Nails dug in again, hard enough to hurt and Scott flinched, tried to move but couldn't. Too fast for thought, he pulled out his pocket knife, and turned wanting the man behind him gone.
He wasn't fast enough.
One hand bunched in his pack straps, the other grabbed his chest, pulling him closer. He slashed the knife against the hand holding his pack, pulled away and left it behind. Feet spun in the air as he was lifted. Despite the nails cutting into his skin, the awful slaver all down his neck, maybe blood too—he still had the knife and he brought it down and across again and again, but didn't know if he was hitting anything.
A sudden slackness as the man's hand dropped away—an opportunity that Scott took.
No pack, only a shirt ripped at the shoulder, he wheeled away and ran down the alley, skidding out the end. His arm curled around Carter's waist, took one of his arms and hauled him upright, supporting his weight.
"We have to hurry," he said, and forced himself to go faster.
He heard a clatter of carriage wheels and familiar shouts. Suddenly, Dr. Willoughby was there, taking Carter away from him.
Scott shivered, not daring to look at his grandfather—not yet. There was so much to tell, but he couldn't start the words. And when he did look up, and saw the fear and confusion on the haggard face, his words simply fled.
Grandfather waited until they returned home.
Scott watched him go to the window and look out. His voice, when it came, was full of steel again.
"You're supposed to behave, Scotty. It's reprehensible, that Carter Willoughby filling your head with this nonsense of walking to the mountains—you'll not see him again."
"Sir, it was my idea to go to the mountains, not Carter. I talked him into it."
Grandfather turned, eyebrows raised. "I see. Well, it makes no difference. Bah! Leaving like a thief in the middle of the night. Your mother ran away once."
"Was she really that bad?"
His grandfather set his jaw and walked to the doorway. Then he stopped, his back to Scott. "Yes, she was," he said finally, disappearing into the hallway. "and you are just like her."
For some reason the words didn't bother him. He felt, instead, a measure of pride.
Hours later, in bed listening to the house creak and moan, Scott looked down at his palm and traced the lines he found there. Some were shorter than others, some looked like crisscrossed embroidery thread where others were just straight.
The lady had lied. She'd seen things there—but what?