The Homeplace

PART ONE

The Venture

CH A P T E R 1

A wedge of pale sunlight slanted through the window to Lanie’s left, touching her auburn hair and bringing out a slight golden tint. She bent over the Warm Morning cookstove, opened the firebox, then with quick, economical movements removed the gray ashes with a small shovel, dumping them into a five-gallon can. She reached down into an old apple crate filled with what her dad called “rich pine”— fragments of pine knots so soaked with sap that when lit with a match they would burn like a torch.

Piling several knots onto the grate of the firebox, Lanie took a kitchen match from a box that rested on a shelf and struck the match on the rough strip on the side. She leaned down and held the flame against the wood until the rich pine caught. Quickly she pulled small pieces of pine kindling from a box and put them on top of the blaze. She crisscrossed three smaller sticks of white oak firewood, arranging them expertly so that a draft was formed, causing them to burn evenly. She shut the firebox door and opened the draft on the stovepipe, then paused, listening to the crackle of the flames and the rush of air up the chimney. Satisfied, she turned the knob for the damper partway to slow down the fire.

Lanie Belle Freeman paused, listening to the fire. She tucked a rebellious curl from her forehead behind her ear. At fourteen, Lanie had reached that stage when adolescence gives way to young womanhood. She was thoughtful in most things—cautious and sometimes slow to decide, but moved quickly once she made up her mind. Her faded green dress with a white-flower print revealed the curves of an emerging woman. Her arms suggested a strength unusual for one her age. Sunlight highlighted the curves of her cheeks. Her eyes were large and gray with a hint of green. They were well-shaped, widely spaced, and contemplative, but at times could flash with temper. Her lips were full and expressive, and when she smiled, a dimple appeared on her right cheek.

She moved to a tall wooden kitchen cabinet with a gray-speckled porcelain countertop and pulled open the flour bin. “Plenty of flour,” she murmured. A thought came to her and she picked up a Big Chief notebook on the counter and crossed to a table set against the far wall just beside the icebox. As she picked up a pen and sat down at the table in a cane-bottomed chair, a smile turned up the corners of her mouth. Opening the book to a blank page, she began to write. Her handwriting was smooth, even, and neatly executed:

April the 12th, 1928

Lanie Belle Freeman

600 Jefferson Davis Avenue

Fairhope

Stone County

Arkansas

America

North America

Earth

Solar System

Milky Way Galaxy

Lanie studied what she had put down. A quizzical look touched her eyes and she smiled. “There’s just one more place to go after that, I reckon.” At the bottom of the list she added “Universe,” then studied what she had written.

She smiled, then laughed out loud. “Now I reckon I know right where I am.”

Closing the book abruptly, she pushed it to the back of the table and put the pen beside it. Suddenly she took a deep breath. “Ice!” she said. Whirling, she walked to the oak icebox and opened the ice compartment. All that was left was a small lump of ice. She shut the door and bent down to check the drip pan. It was almost full. She dashed out of the kitchen and down the long hall that led to the front porch,