Chapter 6

“I talked to Verdon Arbogast today,” said Mr. Crockett to Mabel, as she dropped her backpack in the press office after school. “I told him who I was, and he laughed and said it was a big mistake. He had mistaken you for the daughter of an old school-mate.”

Mr. Crockett was drinking coffee and flipping through an atlas.

“Did you give him back the picture?” asked Mabel.

“Yeah,” responded her father, zeroing in on a map page showing parts of Northern Europe. “He says the man in the picture is the school friend he’s looking for. Seems like a nice enough guy. He says he’d be glad to help you find some history information if you need it.”

“Okay,” said Mabel, “but I’m planning to do some research this afternoon, anyway.”

She felt somewhat relieved. Mr. Arbogast had had a strange way of turning up in odd places, and she was just as glad not to be of interest to him.

“I’m thinking about the retreats article,” said Mr. Crockett,”and wondering just how much ground we should cover.”

Mabel looked at the map page. Her father’s finger was underneath a group of little islands, jutting out into a body of water called the Barents Sea.

“There’s a place,” he said, “here in the Vestfjorden area, that’s supposed to be really neat. Well, we’ll think about it.” He closed the book. “You’d have to wear plenty of long undies there.”

Mabel gave him a quick hug, and went back outside. She and Ivy had agreed to meet Van at the co-op, then walk to the library. She crossed the street, and waved at the Fairweathers who, at present, had more roof than yesterday, but less front wall. Mrs. Fairweather, working at a desktop computer, waved back while the younger Fairweathers wrestled in a heap in the living room.

Mabel squeezed between displays of fruit and flowers, stacked high in front of the grocery store, and skipped by Jackman’s Drugs, which was enthusiastically promoting a product called WIPE-OUT which promised to “eliminate river mud in one application.”

A wooden porch, loaded with rocking chairs, ran the length of Franklin’s Guest House to Mabel’s left. It was a more interesting route to detour from the sidewalk by heading up the steps at one end of Franklin’s porch, and down the steps at the other.

Smaller children enjoyed sticking their noses against the glass to get a look at who might be staying in a first floor bedroom. Mabel had outgrown brazen spying and preferred a discreet sideways glance.

Today’s downstairs activities seemed to be routine and uninteresting. Nothing better than an old man rummaging through a dresser drawer in front of a mirror…then Mabel froze. Something was so horribly wrong with the mirror reflection that she forgot to be discreet at all, and stared.

This was not an old man. Old people were supposed to look like Norton Halfslip or Miss Penny, not like…that. The person’s leathery skin looked greenish and moldy, and was tightly stretched, displaying the contours of his skull. The full length of his yellow teeth showed in a nearly lipless mouth, and the only loose skin on his face sagged in layers under his eyes. A few wispy curls of gray hair still clung to his head, and whatever flesh might have existed on his bones had shrunk, so that his clothes hung on nothing but a bent and bony frame.

Mabel pivoted in a split second, and stood with her back flat against the wall next to the window. Had the…man…merely glanced in the mirror he would have seen her. Maybe it was someone with a terrible debilitating disease.

She hoped no-one else had noticed her, and resolved to walk calmly off the porch at the far end as if nothing unusual had happened.

The north side of Franklin’s Guest House faced the Willibunk River Bridge. Slowly, and not entirely steadily, Mabel descended the steps and approached the crosswalk at the base of the bridge.

Behind her the spring of a screen door creaked, and she spun with the gut-wrenching expectation that she would be looking at something grotesque and deathly. This was the first time she had ever been relieved to see Verdon Arbogast. He smiled at her.

“Ah, Miss Crockett,” he said. “I was just thinking about you. Your father came and spoke to me today.”
He put an odd inflection on the word “father,” as if he found it a strange word to say.

“Yes,” replied Mabel, “he told me.”

Arbogast gestured to indicate that he too intended to cross the street, then followed Mabel as she approached Mona Lisa’s on the other side.

“Just a minute,” said Arbogast. “I’d like to talk to you.” He stopped on the street corner and leaned against a lamppost.

Mabel glanced at the co-op and thought for a second about ignoring him and running inside, but she waited a moment, and looked at Arbogast questioningly.

“So,” said Arbogast, “they’ve never told you.” A knowing grin crept onto his face.

“Told me what?” asked Mabel. She had the distinctly uneasy feeling that she was the prey in a cat and mouse game.

Arbogast shook his head in amusement, and lit a cigarette. “You’re adopted. You didn’t know that?”

Okay, thought Mabel. We were right all along. This guy’s a flake. She forced her face into an obviously fake smile, said, “Oh, okay. Bye,” and reached for the door of the restaurant.

“The picture I gave you,” called out Arbogast, before Mabel disappeared inside, “is of your real father!”

Never had the co-op’s gallery been so warmly welcoming. Mabel closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Water gurgled in Hippocrates’ fountain, and the plants lent the air a moist richness. Delicate scents wafted from the kitchen, and down the hall someone was playing quiet violin music.

“One for dinner Miss?” said a deep, rich baritone.

Mabel opened her eyes, and looked up. Way up. Noah Peale smiled at her and pointed down the hall.

“Van and Ivy are in the studio,” he said. “The Doc came by to see how Patience is settling in.”

Mabel nodded in thanks, and started down the hallway. A stairway on the left led to second level studios and apartments.
She ran up and entered a spacious, light-flooded studio.

Easels were scattered about haphazardly, as were an assortment of drawing and painting tools. Patience, wearing a denim overall dress, was conversing with her visitors near a back window which overlooked the Willibunk River. Her hair was pinned, loosely and charmingly, on top of her head, and on a pad in front of her she had started a striking watercolor study of the riverfront.

“Well honey,” said Dr. Rotter. “It’s good to see things are going so great for you over here.”

Mabel smiled at the scene. It was clear that the doctor was still besotted with his latest creation. In her presence his gruff demeanor dissolved into puppy-dog sweetness.

Mabel sat down next to Ivy, who whispered in her ear, “Look at Van. He’s in love.”

Indeed, it seemed so. As Patience expressed her delight over the colors outside the window, Van seemed actually fascinated. Ivy and Mabel giggled as two science-loving guys were held spellbound by a conversation about burnt umber.

“It’s a color of such depth,” continued Patience, turning her attention toward the girls. “Like your hair Mabel, it’s exquisite.”

Her expression changed from rapturous to concerned. “But you look pale today Mabel, and tense. Is something wrong?”

Mabel was startled that Patience had detected her mood so accurately. “I just had a really weird conversation on my way over here,” she said thoughtfully. “Van can probably guess who it was with.”

“Arbogast?” asked Van.

Mabel nodded. “Yeah. Now he’s telling me I’m adopted, and that guy in the picture he showed us is my real father.”

“I told you he looked like you,” said Van.

Dr. Rotter chuckled and leaned back in his chair. “I don’t know this Arbogast fellow, but I can verify that that’s not the case,” he said.

All eyes turned toward him, and he continued. “Before they took my medical license, I was a family doctor. Right here in Logjam, before they opened up that clinic across the river.”

“And?” prompted Ivy.

“And,” responded the doctor, looking at Mabel. “I was there when you were born, I delivered you, and can thereby assure you that you are NOT adopted.”

“Well, like I said,” responded Van. “Arbogast is nuts.”


“How’s your essay coming?” Mabel asked Ivy, as they crossed the street with Van, and headed up the block toward the Logjam Public Library.

“I’m going to write about the logging operation,” answered Ivy. “According to my grandfather, there used to be a road running through the woods behind Dr. Rotter’s, to the mill. This doesn’t have to be a very long essay, anyway. I’m sure I can dig up enough information.”

“I don’t need to do much digging at all,” volunteered Van. “I’m interviewing Dr. Rotter about his days as the only physician in town, before they built the medical center.”

“Sounds like you have it nailed,” said Mabel, as they climbed the broad brick stairway to the library’s front door. “I’m hoping I can find something about that empty lot, without having to talk to you-know-who.”

“So, how come I haven’t met this guy?” asked Ivy.

“Consider yourself lucky,” said Van. “He’s obviously delusional.”

The library building was a two-story square house, similar in design to Dr. Rotter’s, but less ornate, and in considerably better repair. Its stucco covered exterior was freshly painted daffodil yellow, and a parking area beside it had recently been spread with a new layer of gravel.

Once inside, Mabel stopped and noticed the smell. It was one of her favorites–a combination of old books and the furniture wax used to keep the blond wood tables and chairs buffed. Mr. Fu, the twig-like reference librarian, smiled at her and peered over his reading glasses as she approached the information desk.

“I’m doing an essay for school,” began Mabel.

“The infamous eighth grade Logjam history essay?” asked Mr. Fu, standing up.

Mabel smiled and nodded, as Mr. Fu motioned for her to follow him into a room to her left. An enclosed porch in its former life, it now stood packed with shelves full of reference volumes, Dewey Decimal files, and several computers.

“On the computer files,” began Mr. Fu, “you can find many issues of ‘The Weekly Willibunk,’ which was published in the years before ‘The Willibunk Journal’ became popular.”

“There’s an empty lot across the street, and down a block, with nothing on it but a chimney,” said Mabel. “I’d like to find out what stood there.”

“I believe it was a house,” said Mr. Fu, pausing to consider. “But let’s look at a plat of River Street from the time of the fire, to see what it says.” He pulled a black footstool toward the back of the room where a series of wooden boxes stood on a high shelf. He glanced at several rolls of paper before giving a satisfied nod, and climbing down with one.

“The Town of Logjam, circa 1912,” read Mr. Fu, as he unrolled a poster sized paper on the table. “Here is River Street,” he said, pointing at the chart. “Now, if you look, you will see that there is a border drawn around each lot along the street, and at the edge of the border you will find a name. The name tells you who owned a particular lot at the time this plat was drawn.”

The plat smelled of old musty paper, and was splotched with yellow and brown stains. Mabel ran her finger in a northerly direction along River Street, but rather than the circle which now existed in front of Dr. Rotter’s house, the plat indicated a dogleg in that portion of the street, where the road narrowed and continued to parallel the river until it ran off the map. A notation on the narrower part of the road read “Mill Road.”

“Ivy was right about the mill,” she said, scanning the plat for lots she might recognize. Several lots south of the dogleg, she read the words, “St. Apple Parish.”

“Okay,” said Mabel, “here’s the little brown church, and next door, where the fireplace is left is…C. Wickers.”

“Wickers,” said Mr. Fu, thoughtfully. “Colleen Wickers. As I recall, I’ve encountered that name in articles about the fire of 1915. In fact, I will leave you to it. Checking that name on the computer’s search engine might be a good place to start.”

Mr. Fu gave Mabel a pat on the back, and headed across the room to assist a man who was trying to flip through an encyclopedia while he balanced a wriggling baby on his arm.

Van pulled up a second chair as Mabel situated herself in front of a computer monitor.

“I’ve got everything I need,” said Van. “I’ll have to get a little more information from Dr. Rotter, that’s all.”

“Lucky you,” said Mabel. “I’m about to do a search on somebody named Colleen Wickers, who used to own that lot.”

Mabel typed the name into a box on the screen titled “search articles” and hit the “go” button.

The computer hummed, the word “searching” flashed on the screen, and in a few more seconds a list of five articles materialized, in chronological order.

“Okay!” exclaimed Mabel, pleased and surprised at the results. “Let’s see what we’ve got.”

The first listing read: “New Science Teacher at Logjam has Special Interest in Healing–Weekly Willibunk, September 24, 1912.” Mabel double-clicked on the heading, opening a copy of the article:

Colleen Wickers, newly hired to teach the sciences
to Logjam students, brings another talent which she
hopes to share with the town. Extensively trained
and experienced in the use of herbal medicinals, Miss
Wickers feels that the Logjam Basin area is a rich
source of naturally occurring products which residents
of our town can learn to use to their own benefit.

“Cool,” said Van, approvingly. “She was a science teacher.”

“Even cooler,” added Mabel, “she was an herbalist.”

She double-clicked the next reference: “Environmental Controversy at the Logjam Mill–Weekly Willibunk, August 19, 1913.”

Management practices at the Logjam Mill have begun
to generate controversy between the Mill’s management
and a local environmental movement. Environmental
spokeswoman and Logjam teacher, Colleen Wickers, is
leading a group of protesters determined to discourage
the logging operation’s practice of clearcutting the
extensive forests north of town. Miss Wickers argues
that clearcutting creates erosion along the riverbank
which leads to pollution of the river, and threatens
the health of fish and other animals which depend on
the river for subsistence.

“This is really neat,” said Mabel, grinning at the computer. “Maybe my essay can be about Colleen Wickers, even if nothing interesting happened on that lot.”

“Check out the next one,” prompted Van. “It’s about a doctor.”

Mabel clicked the heading: “Local Physician Warns Against Danger of Unscientific Therapies–Weekly Willibunk, April 11, 1914.”

Logjam physician, Dr. Angus Cordish, has suggested that
residents of Logjam may be endangering their health by
not seeking the ministrations of a doctor trained in
scientific medicine in the early stages of illness. When
asked about the herbal therapies many residents have
sought from local teacher and herbalist Colleen Wickers,
Dr. Cordish expressed the opinion that such measures
are “at best nonsense, and at worst witchcraft,” and
could not be relied upon to better the human condition.

“Wow,” said Mabel, “he was a jerk.”

“Hey, you can’t be too careful,” countered Van. “There were a lot of quacks back then. Still are.”

“Colleen wasn’t a quack,” said Mabel. “She was a healer.”

Van pushed his glasses up, and said, “you’re acting like you know her or something. Let’s get real.”

“Next article,” said Mabel, clicking on a heading, which read: “Mysterious Disappearance of Logs Follows Protest–Weekly Willibunk, October 15, 1915.”

A mysterious and seemingly inexplicable event occurred
yesterday in Logjam. In defiance of a demonstration
led by schoolteacher and herbalist Colleen Wickers,
Logjam Mill foreman Henry Stumpworth ordered a large
section of forest bordering the Willibunk River, three
miles north of Logjam, to be clearcut and the logs sent
downriver to be milled. Mr. Stumpworth has previously
stated that bowing to the demands of protestors would
ruin the town’s main industry, and referred to Miss
Wickers as a “rabble-rouser” and a “witch.” Although
many loggers attest that the trees were cut and sent
downriver, they never arrived. Instead, witnesses in
town state that the river was soon clogged with a
profusion of useless sticks, rather than the expected

“You know what, I’ve heard that story before,” said Mabel. “But I hadn’t heard the particulars about who was involved.”

Sensing that someone was reading over her shoulder, she turned to find Ivy’s large hazel eyes peering at the screen.

“Yeah,” said Ivy. “It’s kind of a town legend. What my grandpa says is that lots of people blame Colleen Wickers. They thought it was some kind of witchcraft.”

“Okay,” said Van, “so she may not have been a quack, but she was a witch.”

“Van,” said Mabel, whacking him with her notebook, “what is your problem? People can be stupid and jump to stupid conclusions. It’s called mob mentality.”

“Yes,” agreed Ivy, “and I know what that last article is going to be about. My grandpa calls it the skeleton in Logjam’s closet.”

“Yuck,” said Mabel. “Just where is this closet, anyway?”

Van whacked her back. “A skeleton in the closet,” he said, “is a secret that people don’t like to talk about.”

“I knew that,” said Mabel, clicking on the last heading: “Fire Severely Damages Town, Leaves 3 Dead–Weekly Willibunk, October 25, 1915.”

A fire of undetermined origin broke out in Logjam last
Wednesday, destroying an estimated 75% of the town.
There has been much suspicious speculation amongst
Logjam residents, in light of last week’s mysterious
disappearance of a large number of logs which disappeared
somewhere between the upriver site from which they were
cut, and the Logjam Mill, which received only a great
tangle of useless sticks.

The fire is presumed to have originated at the
north end of River Street where the damage was most
severe. Although most residents evacuated their homes
without injury, there were three apparent casualties in
the blaze. Among the missing and presumed dead is Colleen
Wickers, a Logjam schoolteacher, recently involved in an
effort to impose environmental restrictions of the town’s
logging industry. Preliminary evidence suggests that the
fire may have started at Miss Wickers’ residence at 9
River Street.

Also presumed lost in the fire are Jonah and Laura
Crockett, a young married couple who lived in the upstairs
apartment at 9 River Street. Mr. Crockett has been described
by several town residents as a former student of Miss
Wickers, who of late had developed an apparent addiction
to alcohol and was often seen in town exhibiting signs
of intoxication. It has been suggested that drunken
behavior on the part of Mr. Crockett may have been responsible
for the blaze.

“That’s not true!” shouted Mabel, rising to her feet in such haste that her chair fell over backwards.

Van put his hand on her shoulder and eased her back into her chair which Ivy had picked up. “Let’s remain calm,” he said. “Now, just what is it that’s not true?”

“I don’t know,” answered Mabel. She felt crushed, and yet bewildered by the emotional involvement she was feeling with the news stories. “I do not believe,” Mabel continued, in a measured voice, “that Colleen did anything bad, or that Jonah Crockett, whoever he is, was a drunk.”

“You’ve never heard of this guy?” asked Van. “He’s probably one of your relatives, you know.”

“No,” replied Mabel. “My parents moved to Logjam when they inherited their property from a great-aunt somebody, but it wasn’t Jonah or Laura.”

Mr. Fu returned from the far side of the room. The man with the fussy baby had completed his business and left. “This might be of interest to you,” said Mr. Fu, handing Mabel a musty and water-damaged book.

The book was dark blue, with a title embossed in worn gold leaf. It read, “Logjam School 1912-1913.”

“It looks like a yearbook,” said Ivy.

Mabel gently laid the book on the desk, and opened it. She flipped through the first several pages, which contained black and white photographs interspersed with poetry. Then a section labeled “Faculty.”

“This guy was the principal,” said Van, pointing to a picture of a man with a dark moustache.

“Look,” whispered Mabel. She pointed to a photograph at the bottom of the page. A young woman with pale, kinky hair, pulled into a loose ponytail, had smiled for the camera, unlike many photographic subjects of her era. She had strong cheekbones and dark eyes. The caption under the picture read, “Miss Colleen Wickers, Science.”

“Doesn’t she look like a witch to you?” asked Van. In response, both Mabel and Ivy whacked him with their notebooks.

Mabel continued to flip casually through the remainder of the yearbook, pausing periodically to look at the peculiar clothing students wore at the beginning of the 20th Century. Suddenly she stopped, and quietly said, “whoa.”

“Whoa what?” asked Van.

Slowly, Mabel reversed direction, and opened to the previous page. Van’s eyes grew large behind his glasses.

“Whoa,” he echoed.

There, on page 33 of the eighty-seven year old Logjam School yearbook was, unmistakably, a copy of the photograph Mr. Crockett had returned just that day to Verdon Arbogast. Two young men, working at a table. Under the photograph, the caption read: “Verdon Arbogast and Jonah Crockett.”

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