Little Town at the Crossroads

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  • Edition: Revised
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2007-08-15
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications
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It's 1846, and Brookfield, Wisconsin, is bustling and growing, and so is Caroline. With her family and friends always around, she can't imagine calling any other place home. But when a letter arrives with troubling news, Caroline fears she and her family might have to leave the little town they love.


Little Town at the Crossroads
The Caroline Years, Book Two

Chapter One

Fifes and Flags

Wait for me, Caroline! I can't walk fast as you!"

Caroline squeezed her little sister's hot, sticky hand and pulled her along. "If we don't hurry, Eliza, we're going to miss everything!"

"I can't go any faster!" four-year-old Eliza whimpered.

"Caroline Lake Quiner," Mother said, "slow down! The Glorious Fourth has barely begun. We'll not miss a moment of the speeches and parade, I daresay, no matter how slowly we walk."

"But Mother, Anna's waiting in town," Caroline protested as she dropped Eliza's hand and slowed her steps. "Oh, why do I always have to mind Eliza? She walks so slow!"

"At least you don't have to watch him!" Martha chimed in as Thomas wrenched his pudgy fingers out of her hand and scurried off in a fit of giggles. Braids flying behind her, Martha hurried after her little brother, grabbed him by one brown suspender, and set him back on course. "By the time he gets all the way to town, it will be time to go back home!" she added crossly.

Swinging a round straw basket in a wide arc, Henry looked over his shoulder and grinned at Martha. "Well, that would mean you'd miss seeing Charlie! Horrors, Miss Martha!"

"Oh you just hush, Henry Quiner!" Martha shot back, her dark brown eyes flashing at her brother. Caroline had seen awful looks like this on her older sister's face before, and she hoped that Martha would hold her tongue, no matter how much Henry teased her. Today was the Fourth, of July, and Caroline didn't want anything to spoil their celebration.

Brookfield was perfectly suited to greet the Glorious Fourth. The bright summer sun inched its way above silvery snips of clouds that hemmed the deep blue sky. Carefree breezes frolicked about, rousing forests of maple leaves and rippling fields of tall grass and wildflowers. White tangles of oxeye daisies, morning glories, and Queen Anne's lace draped the edges of the roads and the meadows beyond the frame houses like delicate drifts of snow. Every road bustled with townsfolk dressed in their Sunday best, heading to the crossroads of town to celebrate Independence Day.

"That's quite enough," Mother said calmly as Henry opened his mouth to tease Martha again. "Caroline and Martha, I need you to keep hold of Eliza and Thomas until we arrive in town and find a place to settle. As for you, Henry-O, watch the way you hold that basket. Swing it any higher, for goodness' sakes, and all the food will tumble right out! I can only hope that you haven't bruised the fruit already."

"I could swap baskets with him," Joseph offered. "I'm only carrying linens in mine and they can't get bruised, no matter how high Henry swings them."

"You needn't worry, Joseph." Grandma smiled knowingly at her oldest grandson. Nodding toward the basket rocking slowly in the crook of her arm, she confided, "I moved all the fruit in here before we left the house."

Zzzsss, pop! Zzzsss, bang!

Grabbing Eliza, Caroline dashed to the side of the road as three sizzling firecrackers wriggled past and popped with a quick flip and tumble on the bumpy road ahead.

"No need to practice your jig 'fore tonight, little Brownbraid." Henry laughed out loud. "Those firecrackers won't hurt anybody."

"All the same, Caroline and Eliza, walk along the edge of the road," Mother cautioned. "You too, Martha. One never knows where a firecracker might explode today." Glancing over at a noisy group of boys snaking their way through the crowd, she shook her head. "Those boys ought to know better."

"Well, amen for slowing down a minute, Charlotte! We've been following you a good while, but Sarah wouldn't let me holler 'cross the road to stop you. I thought we'd never catch you."

"Good morning, Benjamin! Good morning, Sarah!" Mother turned to greet her friends the moment she heard Mr. Carpenter's cheerful, husky voice. Mr. Carpenter was dressed in his finest Sunday suit. A carefully trimmed brown beard covered his cheeks and chin, and unlike most of the other men walking to town, he was holding his hat instead of wearing it. His thick brown hair was neatly combed and smoothed behind his ears, and it hung straight down to the tip of his shoulders.

"Can't recollect a prettier day for the Glorious Fourth. How 'bout you, little Brownbraid?" Mr. Carpenter asked.

"No, sir," Caroline answered honestly. She was only six years old, and she couldn't remember many Fourth of Julys. All she recalled was the cheering and music and noise she'd heard coming from town.

"Mr. Ben! Mr. Ben!" Eliza greeted him, her arms raised for a hug.

"Eliza! Eliza!" Mr. Carpenter laughed, and set his big basket on the dusty road. Pulling Eliza into his arms, he swung her, feet first, toward the sky.

"Benjamin Carpenter, watch how you handle that young lady!" Mrs. Carpenter admonished.

"Forgive me, Sarah. If I had me a girl, I'd know better," Mr. Carpenter joked. Gently he placed Eliza back on her feet and turned to greet Henry and Joseph.

"Hello, girls." Mrs. Carpenter beamed at Caroline, Eliza, and Martha. "You all look very pretty today."

"Thank you, ma'am," Caroline replied bashfully. Standing so close to Mrs. Carpenter, she couldn't help thinking that her own yellow church dress looked anything but pretty. Mrs. Carpenter's long-sleeved dress hugged her waist and ballooned out into a wide, round skirt that swayed from side to side as she walked. Wide tan-and-blue stripes fell from neckline to hem, each column embroidered with a velvety floral brocade. A fancy scarf flowed in a lacy arch over Mrs. Carpenter's head down to the middle of her sleeves, shading her face, hair, and shoulders from the bright sun. Caroline looked up at Mother's simple black dress and silently wished that Mother could wear beautiful dresses and scarves like Mrs. Carpenter's, instead of having to work so hard making such fine dresses for other ladies in Brookfield.

Little Town at the Crossroads
The Caroline Years, Book Two
. Copyright © by Maria Wilkes. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Little Town at the Crossroads by Maria D. Wilkes
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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