Someone told me that nothing new ever happens to 12 year olds, but that isn’t true. After all, I found my family’s lost jewels, helped my great-grandmother’s ghost and saved the mill that was in my family for four generations. And that was all before breakfast.
The story of Great-Grandma Daphne’s jewels was talked over at every big family gathering. The relatives who lived all over the country had been arriving for two days for our annual Halloween party. We run a guesthouse, a restaurant and have one of the last working mills left in Ohio. Every Halloween, we decorate with ghosts, ghouls and bats of all descriptions. The relatives always look around carefully. If we made any big purchase or renovations, they always accuse us of finding the jewels and hoarding them for ourselves.
Great Uncle Alf was the worst. “Daphne! Where did you get the money to paint the mill,” he barked at me soon after he arrived. His hair was combed over a gleaming bald spot. I was named for my great-grandmother who had given hope to each succeeding generation of Dornots with the story of her missing jewels.
“Yeah,” chimed in his pointy-nosed daughter, Babs. Her grey hair stuck up in all directions. She looked almost as old as her father. They both lived in Florida, but wouldn’t miss a Halloween. “Your parents are always spending money! Where do they get it from?” she demanded. Normal people might direct these questions to my parents, not me, but my relatives are not normal. My parents tend to bite their heads off.
“My parents have built up a good tourist trade,” I tried to explain for the four-hundredth time. It fell on deaf ears. Alf and Babs were whispering with my Great-Aunt Ada, who was casting suspicious looks in my direction. Great-Aunt Ada rarely talked to me, and she never smiled either. She was always poking into closets and examining the attic. Then she would whisper to Alf, and Alf would bark at me when my parents weren’t around. Great-Aunt Ada lived in Kalamazoo with her daughter, Patty Sue. Patty Sue never came to visit.
“Where did you get the money for the maple syrup equipment?” barked Alf when Great-Aunt Ada had finished whispering in his ear. I sighed. Only a few jars of syrup were left, but obviously Great-Aunt Ada hadn’t missed them. When we first started selling it in the spring, it had been very popular. We also offered it with our Aztec Gold pancakes in our restaurant.
“We make a fair amount with fresh eggs and shiitake mushrooms,” I started to explain ruefully, thinking about my hen-pecked arms. At least the mushrooms don’t peck me, I thought.
“Eggs and mushrooms,” scoffed Alf. “Huh!”
“You shouldn’t have strangers tramping all over the mill and the farm!” Cousin Babs insisted, as though I have any decision-making influence at all. Not! I thought. “Someone else probably found those jewels years ago, and we’ll never see them!” Great-Aunt Ada gasped and shook her head.
“My mother would never have hid those jewels where strangers could find them!” Great-Aunt Ada finally spoke to me. “She meant them for the family. She was going to tell me where they were, and then she died!” Great-Aunt Ada’s thin lips closed around whatever else she might have said, and she turned her back and walked away.
At this point my parents came and announced dinner was ready. My relatives all crowded around a large circular table in the dining room. The walls of the restaurant were decorated with cobwebs, vampires and pumpkins. Smoke drifted out of a cauldron in the corner. A couple of guests were dressed up as a witch and a courtier. They were spooning up cream of pumpkin soup.
“Gina,” my mother said to her sister. “Sit next to me.” Gina was a Mignone, not a Dornot, and much nicer than the usual relative. I squeezed in on Gina’s other side. Gina lived up in Cleveland, but she always comes to give my mother support. Gina’s husband, Alberto, was in Mexico visiting his mother. He preferred not to meet my father’s relatives if he could avoid it.
My father did not have any brothers or sisters. He inherited the mill from his father, who had died ten years before. I still remembered Gramps fondly even though we all called him “Grumps” behind his back. He never had a kind word for anyone before noon, and was always trying to keep people up at night with stories of lumbago, rickets and gout. I’m still not sure what those things are. I got practiced at dodging him in the morning and sliding away to read before bed. In between, he was always working hard around the mill and farm. He used to tell me he was proud of how we were making the mill successful again.
My mother had raised vegetables as a little girl, and she introduced a large kitchen garden to the farm when she married my dad. We also raised chickens, collected eggs, and more recently we started a shiitake mushroom farm out in the woods behind the mill. We employed ten local workers, which made my parents very proud. We worked hard all summer. When the relatives came, with their complaints in October, my parents were not particularly kind.
Johnny, one of the local workers, came in with a steaming bowl of pan-seared sausages and shiitake mushrooms. Olga, our chef, squeezed orange juice over them and sliced the orange pulp into the dish. My mouth watered.
Out back, the mushroom farm was still putting out hundreds of mushrooms a day and would until the frost made them go dormant for the year. My parents put shiitakes in practically everything now, aside from what they sell to local restaurants.
“Daniel! You’re making maple syrup now!” Great-Uncle Alf barked at my father. He must be very upset to bring this up with my dad, who could be just as grumpy as my grandfather used to be.
“Yes,” my dad barked back. “Feel free to come and give us a hand next March, and you can take some home with you.” My father was always offering to let the relatives come and work, but they were never interested.
“But where did you get the money?” Babs demanded, unwisely in my opinion.
“None of your business!” My father snapped back.
“You found the jewels!” Babs insisted.
“We bought the equipment from a farm that sold out to developers, and the price was very reasonable.” My mother pointed out calmly, trying to keep dinner peaceful as she handed around rice and salad.
“Of course we haven’t found the jewels,” my father frowned at Babs, his cousin. “Even if we did find the jewels, they would be ours not yours!”
Everyone gasped at this. My father might as well have thrown gasoline on the table and then a lit match. Great-Uncle Alf stood up and stepped back. Babs and Great-Aunt Ada weren’t far behind. Only Gina, her two kids and my family remained seated.
“Maria,” Alf said, turning to my mother. “Did you hear what your husband said?”
“Yes, I did.” My mother returned, “Why are you so surprised? We bought you out, remember?”
The mill had always paid them a small dividend each year, but Alf, Babs and Ada started demanding larger amounts of money after Gramps had died. My father finally agreed to pay them each a big lump sum five years ago, but in return he had bought out their interests in the mill property. Money had been very tight at the mill ever since, and we had a terrible mortgage.
“I never agreed to give up my mother’s jewels!” Great-Aunt Ada exclaimed.
“You gave up all rights to the property and whatever might be on it,” my father responded.
“We didn’t think you meant to keep the jewels!” Babs looked like she was trying to decide if crying would help.
“What jewels!?” My father lost his temper finally. “There are no jewels! If there were, we would have found them! We work very hard around here. Anything we have, we earned. We could still lose the mill if we have a bad winter.” His eyes flashed as he looked at Alf, Ada and Babs, none of whom worked and hadn’t as long as I could remember. I focused on a grinning pumpkin on the far wall and tried not to imagine what we would do if we lost the mill.
“Ada, tell them about Mother’s jewels.” Alf said, as though Ada would be imparting weighty secrets.
“Oh, not again!” muttered my cousin Luciano, Gina’s younger son, who was 9. “Shh, I like hearing about the jewels,” his older sister Tatiana returned under her breath. She was my age.
“My mother was the daughter of the Earl of Westershire in England.” Ada sounded as if she was describing the queen of England. Luciano rolled his eyes. “Her mother left all her jewels to my mother, and they were carried here by her brother, Edward, Westershire’s heir. At the time, in the roaring twenties, the town of Cliffside was burgeoning and wealthy. Daphne and George, my parents, lived in a grand house that has since burned to the ground. The mill was very successful. However, after a string of burglaries during the Great Depression, my mother, Daphne hid her family jewels. She told me that one day she would tell me the location. Before she could, she fell down by the river and died.”
During Great-Aunt Ada’s retelling, she, Alf and Babs had sat down again.
“Where by the river?” I asked. “How did she die?” I had never heard that part of the story before.
Gina and my mother exchanged a look, which I interpreted as: The kids are finally old enough to hear. They both continued eating.
Great-Aunt Ada looked around, pleased at all the attention. “She went missing early one morning. It took us the best part of a day to find her. She was found down past the mill. She had crossed the covered bridge and walked along the far side of the river where there was no path, away from the waterfall. She had fallen and struck her head on the rocks by the shore. The doctor thought she must have died instantly. The cliff wall was high there, and we could not figure out why she was there. It was one more part of the mystery.”
“She probably sold the jewels over the years.” My father said quietly. “After the Great Depression, times were harder. A lot of people needed credit, and never paid. We have all the records. The mill was making much less then.”
“She didn’t sell her jewels!” Alf insisted. “My father, George Dornot, always took care of her.”
Dinner was over soon, and my cousins Luciano and Tatiana escaped to my room with me. We played poker with pennies until all the relatives were quiet. Tatiana won so much I started to think she might be using marked cards. My cousins crept off to their rooms, and I lay looking up at the ceiling crack above my head. Tomorrow was Halloween. Afterwards all the relatives would be leaving. I slept but something woke me early. I rolled over, feeling fully awake. The LED glow of my clock-radio said it was six a.m. As I looked out my window, I could see the covered bridge from Great-Aunt Ada’s story. The sun was up, but most other people wouldn’t be stirring until seven a.m. Breakfast wasn’t served until eight a.m.
I decided to retrace my grandmother’s last steps. Why had she gone to the far side of the river? We owned the land over there, but we mostly worked and farmed on this side. Our guests occasionally picnicked on a meadow across the covered bridge and a few people lived across the river, beyond where our land ends. The beautiful bridge helped bring the tourists. They come to see the river, the old working mill, the covered bridge and to have a meal overlooking them. We still grind flour and corn occasionally, and we offer the flour and cornmeal in the gift shop along with maple syrup and local crafts.
I put on a thick fleece, and walked down past the mill wheel. Over my shoulder, the river flowing down the gorge was white as it fell, and green as it flowed over the rapids. My footsteps echoed strangely as I started over the red covered bridge. I wondered what my Great-Grandmother Daphne had been thinking about as she came this way.
“Daphne!” I heard my name echo behind me. I turned around, and there was my cousin, Tatiana, hurrying after me. “I heard you leave! I’m coming, too. Maybe we’ll find the jewels.” Tatiana giggled.
We picked our way carefully past reeds and grasses, slowly turning brown with the coming cold. Dogwoods had already dropped their fruit. Soon the cliff wall closed in around us, and we had to pick our way over rocks to continue. We had arrived where Great-Grandmother Daphne fell. We stopped and looked around. We were beyond the river bend, and although we could not see it, we could still hear the roar of the waterfall behind us. The gorge was narrowing again where we stood. The water was deeper. I stepped out into the river on a large, flat stone. I turned and looked up at the cliff. Above Tatiana’s head I saw a black opening in the cliff. I pointed.
“Tatiana, a cave! Maybe Great-Grandmother was here checking on the jewels! Maybe they are up there.” I was very excited. If I could find the jewels, we could pay off our mortgage, and the mill would be safe again.
“How do we get up there?” Tatiana asked after joining me on the rock. We both looked up at the cliff. We couldn’t see any way up there.
“Let’s go see if there’s some kind of trail,” I suggested. We stepped carefully over the rocks. Suddenly a rock moved under me, and I almost fell. I held onto Tatiana’s shoulder as I felt my foot twist under me. I wondered if that was what happened to Great-Grandmother Daphne. I felt myself freezing up with fear. Tatiana turned around.
“Are you okay? You almost fell, didn’t you?” Tatiana smiled. “Good thing I came!” I started to giggle, and soon we both were laughing. After a few minutes, we felt better.
When I caught my breath, I said: “I think I twisted my ankle.” Tatiana helped me to a rock I could sit on.
“I’m going to explore a little further,” she said. “I’ll be back in a couple minutes.” I watched her picking her way around another bend. I caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of my eye, toward the river. Something transparent waved a little in the breeze. Slowly, the light changed, and became the shape of a woman with her eyes closed. She was shorter than my mother, and had the sharp, pointy nose of my Aunt Babs. She started to fade out, and I called her, “Great-Grandmother Daphne!”
When I said her name, her image intensified, as if she heard me and came farther toward me. She opened her eyes, and they were the same blue as my father’s. “Great-Grandmother? Child, what is your name?”
Now some people might run screaming at the sight of a ghost, but I already pointed out that my family isn’t normal, and I suppose I’m not either.
“My name is Daphne Dornot.”
“I say. That’s my name as well. Are you indeed my Great-Granddaughter?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I responded. Her image wavered a little on the edges, but I could see she was wearing old-fashioned clothes, and her blonde hair was swept up in an elegant french twist.
“You must be looking for the jewels.” She said with a glimmering smile. We both heard Tatiana returning, and we turned to look. She was still out of sight. Great-Grandmother turned back urgently, “Don’t let Ada have them! She was always borrowing them, and I would find them on the floor or outside in the rain. George wanted me to give them to her eventually, but they are mine, and I want you to have them. Imagine. My Great-Granddaughter. Named for me.” She almost faded away entirely when she whispered: “You are on the right path. Now that I know you will find them, I can be at peace.”
Tatiana came back as I was gazing at the river. Great-Grandmother Daphne was gone.
“Only a little further!” Tatiana cried. “First we get to some bushes. Then you will be amazed! I found a natural staircase. I believe it goes right up to the cave. Can you make it?”
While I sat there, my ankle pain had gone. I got up, and found that Tatiana was exactly right. The natural staircase was very steep, and a few times, we had to stop and catch our breath. I thought about whether or not to tell Tatiana about Great-Grandmother’s ghost, but I decided she would just think I was crazy. We ducked and entered the cave.
I hadn’t thought to bring a flashlight and neither had Tatiana. Slowly our eyes adjusted to the dark, and we could see shapes. When we stepped farther in, we could see boxes marked: “Westershire” and “Dornot.”
We opened the first box, and even in the dimness, jewels sparkled and winked at us. It was too dark to know if they were rubies or emeralds or sapphires. The pearls and diamonds were obvious, though. I closed the lid again.
“OMG.” Tatiana said. “OMG.” She got up, and pulled me to my feet. She spun us around in a circle, whooping. “We found them! We found them!”
My ankle didn’t hurt at all on the way back to the Cliffside Mill Restaurant. My mother and Gina looked at us oddly when we kept laughing over our breakfasts. Tatiana agreed not to tell anyone anything.
“It’s your secret, and your dad’s family jewels. I’ll tell my brother after we get home. My mother would be mad at me for walking along the river without permission. You can tell everyone.”
My parents were in the restaurant manager’s office talking about the party when I finally found them. At first, they did not believe me.
“Honey, there are no jewels. I don’t have time for some hike down the river with you yelling: ‘Fooled you!’ at the other end. You know how busy Halloween is here.” My dad was cranky.
“But dad, I really found them! There’s a cave in the cliff near where Great-Grandmother Daphne fell. Inside it are boxes marked ‘Westershire’ and ‘Dornot.’” I could not believe he thought I was trying to waste his time. Parents!
Suddenly he sat down. “You’re serious.”
“Yes! Dad, we saw jewels in the first box!”
“Maria, can you hold down the fort?” My mom nodded. She looked at both of us. “I’ll take care of the suppliers, you go!” She shooed us away. A big smile broke free of the stress on her face, and she looked years younger.
My dad and I hiked up the river. After he pushed through the bushes, he looked up the long stone staircase. “You climbed that?”
“Sure, Dad!” I started back up again. When I opened the first box, my dad got a huge smile on his face.
“You’ve save the mill!” Little did he know I had also helped his Grandmother Daphne’s ghost find peace. I kept that to myself.
“And all before breakfast.” I smirked. He laughed. He put necklaces around my throat and rings on my fingers. Other boxes turned out to have a sterling silver tea set, silverware embossed with a “D,” and gold charger plates. Another box held porcelain figures and a collection of tiny snuff boxes. My dad hauled it all back to the mill after the relatives went home. Some of it went into a locked glass case in the restaurant with a card explaining the family legend.
Eventually he told Great-Aunt Ada, Great-Uncle Alf and Cousin Babs that I found the jewels, and we shared the profits with them. My dad let me keep a delicate gold necklace with tiny diamonds. We all agreed to give Tatiana a silver necklace with garnets. Some jewels my dad put in the bank “for the future.” I went back to the rocks near the cave every Halloween after that, but my Great-Grandmother never reappeared.
Pan-Seared Sausages and Shiitakes with Orange and Scallion
6 small Sweet sausages
12 Shiitake mushrooms
A Bunch of Spring onions
Heat a cast iron pan. Brown the sausages, occasionally throwing water in with the sausages to steam them a bit for about 10 minutes. After they are browned, rinse the shiitake mushrooms, slice and add to the sausage pan. Slice the sausages into rings about a half-inch thick and turn them up to cook them thoroughly. Stir fry for 10-15 minutes total once the sausages are sliced and mushrooms are added. Toward the end, add the sliced spring onions, just the pale white part. Retain the green slices to toss on top. Slice the peel from the orange. Press the juice from the peel slices into the pan. Take the remaining orange, cut it in half, and then cut both halves into thin, half moon slices and add to the pan. Makes enough for 4-6 servings.
We served it on rice.
Copyright 2013 Brenda Davis Harsham
Photo Courtesy of Karen Harsham