It was only a quick walk to Murphy's Woods from Anjeli's backyard where Heather and Anjeli had been enjoying the hot July day, so they soon reached the edge of the woods. Instinctively, Heather grabbed her friend's hand as they stepped onto the dirt path that led through the woods.
It was considerably cooler under the shade of the tall oaks. The two girls kicked through the clumps of dark, damp leaves while chattering to each other. Soon, Heather forgot her first fears and joined Anjeli in skipping in between the trees and turning over the many rocks that lined their path.
"Anj, I bet I can do fifteen cartwheels in a row!"
"Let me see you try, girl!"
Heather proceeded to try, but on the seventh, she slammed hard into the trunk of two oaks that had grown together.
"You OK, Heather?" asked her friend, hurrying to her side.
Heather pulled herself up on a branch of the tree mass. But before she could even dust the leaves off her shorts, Anjeli pushed her aside.
"Hey!" said Heather indignantly, from the ground.
"Oh my God..."
"Heather, come here, quick! I found something!"
Heather scrambled to her feet. Slowly, Anjeli reached down into a tiny crevice under the tree and pulled out a package about the same size and shape as a book. It was wrapped in what looked like an old, yellowed newspaper.
"Oh my God, Anj, what should we do?" asked Heather with a note of panic in her already-trembling voice.
"I'm gonna open it."
"Be careful, Anjeli, it might be a bomb or something!"
Anjeli scoffed, reached into her pocket for her Swiss Army knife and started to slit the ends of the package where they seemed to be waxed together. Heather couldn't stand the suspense. She closed her eyes and counted to ten. But before she had even reached four, Anjeli's deft fingers had the package open, and the treasure lay in her hands.
From the cease of paper crackling, Heather knew that the secret was unveiled. She slowly opened her eyes and read the cover of the blue book with gold trim:
A STAMP COLLECTION
FOR YOUNG BOYS
There was a long silence, a very long silence.
Finally Anjeli spoke. "Stamp collecting?"
Heather tried a bright smile. "It's not so bad. My cousin used to collect stamps, and they were really . . ." she swallowed hard, and finished, ". . . valuable."
Anjeli almost dropped the book in excitement and hurry to look inside. And lo and behold, there was page after page of yellowed paper, covered in neatly placed stamps. Anjeli read some of them aloud.
"U.S., eight cents. England, five pence. Mexico, ooh, Heather, look at this beautiful flower!"
The girls paged through the book. Each stamp had its own special square that was exactly the size of the stamp. Underneath each stamp were two lines where the country and cost were neatly penned.
"I wonder who owned this," mused Heather. She flipped to the inside front cover, where, in the same painstakingly tidy cursive, was written:
Edward Williamson, 1943
"We've got to try and find him, no matter how valuable these are."
"It doesn't say where he lived or anything."
"Well, he must have lived close to these woods, if he hid it under this tree. I wonder why he had to leave it here," said Anjeli, almost to herself.
They sat down under the cooling shade of the oak, each quietly running down the list of possibilities.
Maybe he was running from the police and had time to bring only one thing with him, thought Heather, and he had to leave it behind when he knew they were about to catch him.
At the same time, Anjeli thought, Maybe he knew a thief was after it because it was so valuable. Maybe he was planning to come back for it one day, but something happened so he couldn't . . .
"Remember last year, during that elective 'How to Use the Library,' when we had to search that guy who used to live in Brevitown in 1976 on the computer that keeps all the records at the library? I'll bet that will work with Eddie here if we can get the librarian to let us use that computer!"
Heather gasped. "We've got to get to the library!"
Heather and Anjeli stopped their bikes in front of Brevitown Library. The two girls dashed inside, with Anjeli carrying the book in one hand. Left, then right to the children's department.
"Excuse me, ma'am," Heather panted, "we need your help."
"Of course," said the librarian, looking worried.
"Um, it's not an emergency or anything, but we found this book"—Anjeli held it up—"in a tree in Murphy Woods. We were wondering if you had any information on Edward Williamson's family. They lived in Brevitown around 1943."
The librarian looked much less worried. "Of course, dear. Let me check our records for 1943." She got up (her name tag read Judy) and moved toward the room behind her desk. The girls eagerly followed her.
Sitting down at a computer, Judy said, "This is where we keep all our records for past years. They date back ever since the library was built in 1889."
She typed in 1943, then Williamson. What appeared looked like this:
His wife Muriel
His daughter Mary
His son Michael
His son Edward
Moved in 1941. Moved out 1943. Edward and his wife Alicia moved back 1995 and reside at 1284 Copper Street.
"Thanks so much gotta go have a nice day!" said Heather and Anjeli in one breath, grabbing the book and dashing back out the way they had come.
They jumped back on their bikes and raced through town till they came to the turnoff for Copper Street. "1134 . . . 1168. . . 1192. . . 1258. . . 1284!" the two chanted together, stopping in front of a white shuttered house with blue trim. Abandoning their bikes and taking a big breath, Anjeli and Heather walked up the cobblestone path.
"Ding-dong, dong dongitty ditty dong dong!" They tried to suppress their laughter at the doorbell's tune. Then a pretty woman who looked sixtyish, with white hair cut in a bob, answered the door, smiling.
"Yes, girls? Can I help you?"
"Um, we're looking for an Edward Williamson? Does he live here?"
The woman's smile grew. "Eddie, dear! You have a visitor!"
A minute later, a man with a white beard who looked about the same age as the woman shuffled to the door. "Yes?" he inquired kindly.
"Mr. Williamson, sir," stuttered Anjeli, "we found your, um, your book. Here," she finished, thrusting the book in his face. His face lit up like a Christmas tree.
"Why, however on earth—well, do come in, my dears, please! He led them into a cheery room with lots of sunlight. "Please, do sit down," he said, motioning toward a white couch with bright-colored throw pillows. He settled himself in an armchair across from them. "When I was a boy," he began, "eight years old or so, I collected stamps. They were the light of my life, so to speak. My father traveled frequently on business, and wrote my family and me letters from wherever he happened to be. I was allowed to keep the stamps. They were a bit like"—he paused to think—"my window to my father during those times that he was so far away."
"Why did you decide to hide them, if they were so important to you?" interrupted Anjeli.
The weathered man sighed. "Now, that was a sad story. As you girls have probably learned in school, World War II was going on in 1943."
The girls nodded.
"Well, when I was a boy, many people were very afraid that our enemy, the Germans, were going to attack along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean in submarines. One day, during one of the rare times my father was home, our family went to Martins Beach for a picnic and a swim. I'm sure you girls have been there."
They nodded again.
"Well, my father was standing on that big cliff near the back of the beach, when he thought he saw the tip of a submarine poking out of the water near the shore. He panicked, and he made us all hurry back to the house where we picked up the luggage we had packed in case of such an `emergency.' I only had time to grab my book of stamps and hide it in the woods that were next to our house."
He paused to take a breath. The girls were enthralled by his story.
"But when Alicia and I moved back here in 1995, I couldn't seem to find the tree I had hid it in, my horrible memory being what it is. I can't thank you enough for bringing it back to me. But now it's your turn to tell a story. How on earth did you find me?"
"Well," said Anjeli and Heather in unison, "it started like this . . ."