(Author’s Note: This is the continuation from previous newsletters. To find the earlier installments, please CLICK HERE)
18th Installment of Adelaide’s Secret
By C. Jane Reid
The text message I received from Adelaide was brief.
Dinah’s gone. Staying for funeral. Call when back. Keep writing. A-
I sent a short reply. I was sad to learn that her sister had died. If I knew more about the family, I'd arrange to send flowers or a card, but I wasn't even sure where Adelaide had gone. California, I thought, but beyond that, I knew nothing.
Instead, I thought I would try to follow Adelaide's command: Keep writing.
The first part of the story was finished. Beta readers had gone over it, and I'd worked through it again as well. With the deadline looming for shipping our very first kit club orders, I was busy figuring out how to turn my story into a book. Between that and piecing together what I was learning from Josette's letters, I hadn't written much farther on Ailee's story. Which meant I was dreaming again.
I always know when I've gone too long without writing--my dreams turn vivid. I remember them in great detail, and those details are often unsettling. And dark. It is usually nighttime in my dreams.
But the latest one had taken place in daylight. I'd been on an island, a large island with forests and a river. I stood on a hill overlooking sand dunes. A large tree shaded me from the summer sun, and the breeze off the ocean was warm and tasted of salt and sand. I thought I could hear hoof beats on wooden planks off in the distance, the sound muffled by the ocean waves.
I heard someone come up behind me, and I turned in greeting, but the words caught in my throat. It was a bear. It rose up on its hind legs, maw opening wide, like its jaw had come unhinged, and a horrible sound came from it that was like a cough twisted into a growl.
I stumbled back and tripped over a tree root. I was falling . . .
I woke up out of breath.
It was no secret where the dream had come from. I'd been pouring over the pieces of letters that survived from Ailee and Elsie and Josette, and mention of the island occurred every now and then, as did the bears. I still wasn't certain what the bears were, though Ailee wrote of them as "fae and fearsom" and Josette asked whether the truce had held between them. Ailee and Elsie exchanged techniques for working hooked stitches that I took as crochet in thickly spun yarn. I'd made copies each time crochet was mentioned to give to Laurinda to see if she could make sense of it.
But why was I dreaming of the island? I wasn't writing about it. In my story, Ailee had just arrived at Grahame's aunt's farm. I knew the island was in her future, but I hadn't begun researching it yet, not with all the details on farm life in colonial times to focus on.
Perhaps it was time to find the island at last.
Did Adelaide know where it was? I couldn't ask her yet. I should set the idea aside and focus on the story I was writing, but the image had gripped me. I couldn't let it go. I had to try to find the island.
I had two references to guide me: the port of Norfolk, Virginia, and the bears on the island. That wasn't much to go on. Norfolk was a thriving port town even in the 1720s, serving as a crossroad between the Chesapeake Bay and the James River to places like Jamestown. Ailee and Grahame could have hired a ship to go from Philadelphia to Norfolk and from there gone anywhere along the eastern coast. Islands abounded, the barrier islands fronting the coastline from Maryland to Georgia. I'd been to one myself, years ago, spending the day with my two best friends watching the wild ponies of Assateague island and then camping through a mosquito-infested night. It was one of the best weekends of my life.
And so I began by researching the barrier islands to learn their history. And oh, what a history I discovered. I already knew the story of how the wild ponies came to Assateague; legend had it that they were from a Spanish ship that wrecked near the island in the 1600s. What I didn’t know was that the lost colony of Roanoke settled on a barrier island called Roanoke Island in 1585. Or that pirates used the islands quite frequently, and Blackbeard died near Ocracoke Island off the coast of North Carolina just a couple of years before Ailee came to the New World.
As fascinating as all this was, it didn’t help me track down Ailee’s island. I began with those islands closest to Norfolk and worked my way north and south, looking for any hint that might catch my eye and suggest it was Ailee’s island of bears.
And then I found this in an article from 1903 about Hog Island:
Next to Jamestown, the first settlement made in Virginia, the most interesting spot in that State to the antiquarian is Hog Island, on the Atlantic coast.
It was redoubtable John Smith who first discovered this place. . . .
He named the island upon which he landed Shooting Bears Island; as the small species of bruin which to this day abound in the cane-brakes of the Dismal Swamp were numerous on the new found isle. . . .
I nearly leapt out of my chair with excitement. Could this be the place?
The more I read, the more chills ran down my back. Settlers came to the island in the late 1600s only to vanish. No one knew where they had gone, much in the way of the Roanoke colony. Everyone accounted it to conflicts with a local tribe, who called the place Machipongo Island and claimed it as a hunting ground.
Word of inhabitants doesn’t come again until after the Revolutionary War, where a community grew and flourished until the 1930s when the island was abandoned because the sea was eroding too much of it away. Today, the place where the town once stood is now underwater.
Not all the facts quite fit what I knew, but it was too close to be ignored. There was nothing more I could do except see if any other islands fit what I knew about Ailee’s life better while I waited for Adelaide to return.
But in my heart, I knew I had found Ailee’s island. And I intended to learn as much about it as I could.
(to be continued)