Authors: Lea Wait
“I was hooked by this suspenseful and moving story of a fourteen-year-old newsman struggling to publish a newspaper in the first days of the Civil War. Lea Wait's lucid writing and beautifully imagined, deftly plotted tale make 19th century Maine as fresh and vivid as today's headlines.”
âMaryrose Wood, author of
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place
“Inspired by the true stories of several remarkable teens,
transports readers to Wicasset, Maine, just as the Civil War begins. The time and place are beautifully evoked, the characters are complex and appealing, and intriguing plot lines and themes are deftly woven together.
is a vivid reminder that even far from the battlefields, the Civil War changed the lives of children, women, and men forever.”
author Kathleen Ernst
by Lea Wait is the perfect Civil War novel for young adults, so rich with authentic period details and attitudes that the reader feels transported to Wiscasset, Maine, of 1861. Crosscurrents of patriotism, racism, slavery, and spiritualism rend the town and fourteen-year-old Joe Wood, editor of the local newspaper, is at the center of it all fighting to keep his business afloat. This page-turner juggles complex characters and plot twists to leave readers breathless and challenged to draw their own conclusions about a range of ethical issues.”
âKathleen V. Kudlinski, author of forty children's books including
A Story of the Oregon Trail
Harriet Tubman, Freedom's Trailblazer
Other young adult titles from Islandport Press:
Billy Boy: The Sunday Soldier of the 17th Maine
by Jean Flahive
Cooper and Packrat: Mystery on Pine Lake
by Tamra Wight
Mercy: The Last New England Vampire
by Sarah L. Thomson
PO Box 10
Yarmouth, Maine 04096
Copyright Â© 2014 by Eleanor Wait
First Islandport Press edition published April 2014
All Rights Reserved
Library of Congress Control Number: 2013955829
Book jacket design: Karen Hoots / Hoots Design
Book design: Michelle Lunt / Islandport Press
Since my first book for young people was published, I've had the privilege and joy of visiting with enthusiastic students and dedicated teachers, librarians, and parents throughout the country. This book is for all of them, with thanks for the welcome they've given me and my books.
And for Tori, Vanessa, Taylor, Samantha, Drew, AJ, Henry, Maddy, and their parents, whose lives inspire me every day.
And, always, for my husband, Bob Thomas, who makes my life an adventure and a delight.
“The uncertain glory of an April day . . . ”
Two Gentlemen of Verona
(Act I, Scene 3)
Wiscasset, Maine, fifty miles north of Portland
Tuesday, April 9, 1861, late morning
Reverend Merrill, up to the Congregational Church, says God has our lives all planned out for us. And I'll tell you: I'm just Joe Wood, from a little town in Maine. I figger I'm not exactly in a position to question what God has in mind. But between you and me, sometimes those plans of his are pretty hard to make sense of.
Maybe some folks' lives are laid out in nice, straight lines, as easy to see as the trunk of a white mast pine stretching to Heaven. But this rainy April day I felt as though Ma's kittens had grabbed the yarn of my future and left a mess of tangles too knotted to unravel.
Since I can first remember, schoolmasters I've encountered have told me I had a gift for words. I knew from the first I wanted to write 'em down for others to read. Then I learned my numbers helping Ma do accounts at our family's dry goods store. By the time I was old enough to have some sense of the world, it was clear the newspaper business was my destiny. And such was my luck that last year, just four months before my fourteenth birthday, a cousin I hardly knew died and left me a press, and some fonts and rollers and composing sticks. I had all I needed to begin living that future.
I'd already left school, figgering I'd learned pretty much everything a classroom had to teach me. No one was required to attend school, and, after all, classes were seldom full on the best of days. Farmers
often kept their sons and daughters home to prepare fields for planting, or help with birthing sheep or cows, or harvest crops.
But I could tell from the first that publishing a newspaper would be more than I could manage on my own. Too many operations called for at least two sets of hands. So I asked my friend Charlie Farrar to help me.
Charlie's more talk than walk, and has few plans that involve tomorrow, but he's got enough energy for ten. He said newspapering might be exciting, so he was with me. I borrowed $65 from Mr. Shuttersworth at the newspaper over to Bath so I could buy paper and some newer fonts. Shuttersworth gave me six months to pay him back, which at the time I thought fair.
Since then I've worked harder than I thought a person could, aside from those who build ships or farm, jobs neither my body nor my mind ever aspired to do. As a result, without too much bragging, the
's doing better than most folks expected. I might be the youngest newspaper publisher in Maineâmaybe even in all of these United States!âbut I have ninety-eight subscribers, with another twenty-five or so copies selling down at Mr. Johnston's store each week. I've also printed a few jobs for local businesses.
Trouble is, I've only managed to save up $42.27 of that $65.00 I owe Mr. Shuttersworth. I've had to keep buying paper, and I needed headline fonts, and it was incumbent upon me to pay both Charlie and Owen Bascomb, who's an apprentice of sorts to me, a few cents on occasion for their help.
If I don't get that last $22.73 by April 22, thirteen days from now, Mr. Shuttersworth is determined he'll take my press and all my print
ing gear in payment. And that will be the end of the
And my future.
Which explains why my mind's filled with dismal thoughts on this dank April day. I've figgered the numbers every which way I can, but getting those extra dollars seems well-nigh impossible.
The job I was doing now would help, though, so I was pushing as hard as I could to get it finished on time, when the door of my printing shop banged open.
“Where've you been?” I said, turning from the type tray I was filling as Charlie rushed in, slamming the door and leaving muddy footprints on the floor. “Without your help it's taken me nearly three hours to set this type. You promised to be here two hours ago!”
“Godfrey mighty! Keep your shirt buttoned! I'm here now.”
Charlie's a year and a half older than me, but a foot taller, and sprouting in all directions. He shook off the winter jacket he'd already outgrown and dropped it and his hat on top of the mud he'd tramped in.
“I've been down at the telegraph office, waiting for the latest news to come in. You can't wait until Saturday to get the next edition out. If we set a page with what I just heard, we can sell it door-to-door. Tonight!”
“I have to finish this broadside for Horace Allen,” I pointed out. “He's already paid me to get it printed and handed out today.”
“You're not listening! The Southern states stopped all supplies going to Fort Sumter, our fort in Charleston Harbor, down in South Carolina. President Lincoln said he'll send supplies to the soldiers there peaceably if he canâbut forcibly if he must!”
“Stopping supplies was yesterday's news.” I set the last piece of type for the broadside in place. Charlie would think the sky was falling if a squirrel dropped a nut on his head.
In case you hadn't heard, our country's been in a considerable mess since Mr. Lincoln was elected president last year. Seven states have off and left the Union and declared themselves to be what they call the Confederate States of America.
In his speech on becoming president, Mr. Lincoln said he would “hold, occupy and possess” the two federal properties within those Southern states, Fort Pickens in Florida and Fort Sumter in South Carolina. But that holding and occupying is getting harder and more complicated every day.
Charlie grabbed my shoulders roughly and turned me so my face was staring at his chest. “Listen! This morning General Beauregard, head of the Confederate troops in Charleston, demanded that Fort Sumter surrender.”
“Whoa!” I pushed Charlie back a pace. “Simmer down! President Lincoln won't let our soldiers surrender to those traitors.”
“Exactly,” Charlie agreed. “And if neither side backs down . . . we'll be at war!”
That stopped me, I'll fully admit. “How can we be at war with ourselves? The world's gone plumb crazy.”
“It may sound crazy to us in Maine, but those seven states that say they're no longer part of the United States are determined. Down at the telegraph office, Captain Richard Tucker, who makes his money shipping cotton from Charleston to England, is pacing the floor right
now. He keeps muttering that he's ruined, and only God knows what the future of our country is.”
“Captain Tucker's saying that?” Captain Tucker was not only the richest man in town, he was also the calmest. The one folks went to when they needed business help or advice.
“I saw Owen on the street,” Charlie said, rolling up his shirtsleeves. “I told him you could use his help. He'll be here as soon as he takes Gilt-head, that blasted parrot of his, home. He even had it out in the rain. I'll set the type for a special edition of the
about what's happening down in Charleston. You print the broadside. If nothing else happens down south in the next few hours, we can sell the special edition and give out the advertising handbill at the same time.”
“I've never set type and printed two sheets in one day,” I said.
Of course, if we
do that, I'd make more money toward what I owed Mr. Shuttersworth. And, truthfully, when Charlie was here, we could do twice what I could alone.
“We're newspapermen. This is what we do.” Charlie grinned. He tossed an empty composing tray onto the table and reached for a case of type fonts. “Finally, something exciting is happening in this town!”
I could use all the help I could get. If Charlie wanted to be a newsman today, that was fine with me.