Editor's Note: This is an ongoing series which runs each Thursday morning titled the Richland Chronicles Volume 5, by author Paul Lintern. It is set in the 1860s and tells the story of Richland County through the eyes of young people. This is the fifth in a series. Volume I was Amelia Changes Her Tune. Volume II was Isaac and Wolf Paw Find Their Home. Volume III was Autumn Keeps Her Secret. Volume IV was Mr. Gamble Starts a School.
Before the twins could decide what to tell Mr. Gilkinson, they saw a familiar face standing over them.
It was Mr. Day, who owned the Mansﬁeld Herald newspaper, and had just stepped out of the oﬃce door.
"Hello, children," he said. "What brings you to Market Square on a beautiful autumn day like this?"
"Hello, Mr. Day," Cassie said, glancing at Jacob.
"Did, uh, you see anything unusual about that wagon and the watermelons?" Mr. Day smiled. "I think Mr. Finney needs a new latch on the back gate."
"But there were people," Jacob said.
Mr. Day nodded silently, then said, "I have some licorice inside; care to join me?"
Cassie and Jacob did like to visit Mr. Day, who had been a family friend his whole life. He, like Grandpappy, liked to tell stories.
In fact, he made his living telling stories in his newspaper. One of his livings. He also was part owner of the Sandusky-Mansﬁeld railroad, and his family was the "Day" in Blymyer and Day Manufactory, which made Mr. Cook's sugar evaporators.
The oﬃce always smelled of ink and steam and other sweet oily aromas, from the machines in back that printed the newspaper and many posters and bills that people placed around town.
The men who worked for Mr. Day always had black stains on their hands and lots of smudges on their thick canvas aprons. Mr. Day held out the jar of licorice for the children, as he sat on the edge of his desk.
"So you saw some people in the wagon just now?"
"Yes, at least three of them. Negroes, I think," Cassie said.
"Why do you think they were there?"
"Probably being kidnapped," Jacob said, "I think we should tell Mr. Gilkinson."
"No wait," Cassie said.
“Mr Day, do you know something?"
Mr. Day looked around, then leaned in toward the twins.
"You do know why they were in the wagon, don't you?"
Cassie nodded. Jacob shook his head.
"Mr. Finney is helping those people escape slavery by guiding them to freedom in Canada. He is a friend of mine. A friend."
Jacob let the word sink in. Friend. Suddenly his eyes lit up.
Mr. Day is a friend of that man, and of runaways. He helps them!
"Now, I must know that you can keep a secret. You must tell no one about this. That is of utmost importance," he said.
The twins nodded, but both were clearly uncomfortable with the idea of keeping a secret from everyone, if that included family.
Mr. Day seemed to sense that.
"I'll tell you what. If you are discreet, you may share this with your mother and father. We have known each other our whole lives. We have been friends our whole lives. Friends."
There it is again. Could that mean...?
"Mr. Day, does Mama know about this?" Jacob whispered.
Mr. Day smiled.
"You talk to her about it."
They nodded again and started out.
"Oh, and tell her that Ermina is returning from her trip east early next week. That's my sister, remember?"
Oh right. She was Mama's friend growing up, Mr. Day's older sister.
"Can you believe it?" Cassie asked Jacob as they started home. Jacob shook this head.
"This is stranger by the minute. Oh, speaking of stranger, what about Mr. Gilkinson?" Cassie stopped, surprised that she had forgotten.
She turned to walk the other way and with Jacob continued to Mr. Gilkinson's nearby home, which also was his oﬃce.
"Things are probably a little quiet at your house these days, with your father and the boys all oﬀ in the brigade," Mr. Gilkinson said as he saw them come in.
Quiet is the last thing it is, Jacob thought.
They told him about the stranger, and Jacob's encounters with him. To Jacob's surprise, Cassie let him do most of the talking.
"I know the man you are talking about," Mr. Gilkinson said, and Cassie became visibly excited about it.
Jacob was relieved.
"You were right to be suspicious of him. I've been watching him, too, and you were right to come to me about him.
"But you were not right in forming your own detective agency and involving all your friends in looking for him," he said.
Cassie's mouth ﬂew open in surprise.
"How … how did you know?" she asked.
"I saw your little assistants marching up and down Water and Sugar Streets the other day. Even picked up one of the instruction sheets that, I assume, Cassie wrote out for them."
"That's amazing," Jacob said.
"Children, I have been at this awhile. And you haven't. That is why I should be looking into it, and you no longer need to. Do we understand each other?"
They nodded, both mumbling, "Yessir," before being gently dismissed to go home and ﬁll in their mother on all they had been doing, before he has to.
Cassie thanked him, although Jacob didn't know why, and they started back to Third Street.
Neither was sure what to do next, or how to tell Mama. Suddenly, Cassie stopped Jacob again, by grabbing his arm, just about where she had stopped him before on the square.
"Look, a wallet." Jacob saw it, too, and picked it up.
"I'll bet it belongs to that Mr. Watermelon Man. What was his name?"
"Finney, you ninny," Cassie said.
"We'll take it home and Mama can help us return it."