Young Spy

Photo illustration by Unsplash.com

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.

Sometimes you don't see something until you start looking for it.

Jacob had suddenly become more observant as he walked along the streets of his hometown. Mansfield had grown in his lifetime, from a village to a city just a few years ago, and now was bustling with nearly 6,000 residents, plus three railroad lines bringing goods -- and people -- from every direction.

How well do we know the people that are here? Especially the new ones?

With soldiers training nearby, Jacob wondered if there might be Confederate spies lurking in the corners, watching what the Sherman Brigade was doing, then passing the information on to the enemy.

First thing to do is get a lay of the land.

That meant a trip up the oak tree, spyglass in hand, this time with the bugle hanging from a bedpost in the house.

A tree full of leaves makes it hard to look out, but Jacob knew the branches well enough to find a vantage point in almost all directions.

Look for anything unusual.

To the north, he could see the house on the hill north of the camp. He didn't know who lived there but it would be an easy place to observe the camp.

Wonder where they are from? Are they related to anyone down south?

To the east a little, he could see the Oak Hill Cottage, empty and closed up, after the Robinsons moved away earlier this year.

A perfect place to hide inside and peek through the curtains.

He scanned the flats, along the railroad tracks, up and down Touby's Run with its meandering water. 

No one would hide around there for very long, but I should watch for wanderers.

He spied his way up Main Street.

Can't see much but the backs of the buildings. I'll have to walk the streets to get a closer look.

The steeples of the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches on the square caught his attention. He remembered Mr. Longfellow's new poem about the Ride of Paul Revere, the event that began the War for American Independence. The class had just recited it.

They showed lanterns in the Boston church to tell if the British were coming. One if by land and two if by sea. Someone could sneak up in the steeples and give a similar message to a spy.

He looked closely at the belfry of the Methodist Church, where East Diamond meets Market Street. 

Is that someone up there?  Someone with a spyglass? Or a rifle?

His heart raced.

What should I do? How do I sound the alarm? Why, oh why didn't I bring up my bugle? 

He took another look. No one was there. Everything was clear.

Did I see things?

He scanned the doors of the church, looking for someone who might be escaping. Suddenly, the side door flew open and a person walked out, dressed ... as a woman! He looked closely. It was a woman. It was the widow Baughman.

He sighed.

She's not a spy. She's a Sunday School teacher.

He let his heart relax a little before continuing his search.

Presbyterian steeple on the square, nothing.

Fairgrounds at the point, nothing. Catholic Church on Mulberry, nothing.

YMCA house on Main, nothing.

Congregational Church on Market, nothing.

Central School, wait someone is the roof!

Oh, it's just Mr. Beal cleaning out the vents. He wouldn't be able to see the camp from there, anyway.

The Episcopal Church, nothing.

Disciples, no.

Lutherans, no.

Female Seminary, no.

I probably shouldn't be looking too closely that way, although that could be exactly what the spy is counting on.

He completed his thorough search, with only a few suspicions. Now it is time to walk the beat.

"Jacob, come down for chores."

"I can't Mama, I'm busy."

"Doing what, exactly?"

"I, uh, am on my way down."

Better not draw too much attention. I'll go looking after the chores.

Jacob scurried down the tree and jumped into his chores, trying to finish in record time, before he caught himself thinking that it would look strange for him to be rushing without having a reason he could tell Mama.

He slowed his pace as much as he could stand.

"Mama, may I run over to Tracey and Avery's for some candy? I have my own nickel."

"Chores done?"

"Yes'm."

"Be back in an hour to head to the camp, and don't eat all the candy as soon as you buy it. You'll spoil supper."

"Thanks, Mama."

Jacob strolled through the kitchen and out the door, purposefully looking nonchalant until he was out of Mama's view.

Then, he dashed down Benton street two blocks to Main, and began a careful look at all the stores and businesses. He thought of all the people he knew, that Papa had worked for and with -- Mr. Vonhof, Mr. Sturges, the Wilers and Coffinberrys. 

What am I doing? These are all nice people, been here longer than me, long before any war.  There is nothing here.  It's just business as usual.

And then he saw him. A stranger lurking in the doorway of Dr. Conrad's office. Coat pulled up to hide his face. Looking down the hill, then away.

Jacob and the stranger's eyes met briefly and Jacob turned away, startled.

Deep breath, calm yourself. Now, slowly, without drawing attention, turn and look back at the doorway.

He turned. The stranger was gone.

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