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Peril at King's Creek

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Peril at King's Creek is a Historical Character Mystery that is part of Felicity's books.

Characters

From the Central Series

Introduced

  • Mr. Haskall

Chapter By Chapter Summary

Chapter One: An Interesting Guest

Felicity heads to the stables of her family's plantation. She finds the weather to be extremely hot for early June, and while there are usually cool river breezes, the air is as stiff as it can be.

When Felicity reaches the padlocks, she climbs up and sits on the fence's railing, watching the mares graze. Felicity still can't believe Penny is truly hers, having freed her from Jiggy Nye and Grandfather purchasing Penny from Mr. Wentworth the previous year. Felicity becomes sad upon thinking about Grandfather, and tries to concentrate on the good memories she had with him, like finding out Penny was going to have a foal. As Felicity looks at Penny's foal, Patriot, running amongst other foals, she can't help but smile.

Felicity whistles for Penny, and Penny whickers for Patriot to come to her side. Felicity holds out the sugar lumps in her fist for Penny to sniff, before giving the sugar to her. Once Penny's eaten her treat, Felicity slips a rope loop over Penny and leads the horses to the stables. She tells Patriot to wait for Penny and that later in the afternoon she and Nan will play with him. Felicity leads Penny out the stables, leaving Patriot behind.

Once Felicity is on Penny's back, the two run off into the pasture. As they head into the woods, Felicity remembers she was supposed to meet with Mother and her guests, the Wentworths, for dinner around one o'clock. Felicity is not looking forward to dining with the Wentworths, and tries to delay returning to the plantation as long as possible.

When Felicity returns to the stables, she sees the Wentworths' carriage outside the plantation and realizes she had been gone much longer than she thought. She hopes she's not late, unsaddles Penny, and heads into the house via the servants' stairway to hastily prepare for dinner. She hears the clock chime one and though she made it back in time, she has no time to change gowns. Hurrying down the stairs, she becomes jealous of her younger siblings as they're too young to join Mother for dinner. Felicity thinks it's hard being the oldest child and can't wait for Nan to turn eight, when she'll be old enough to accompany both Felicity and Mother at dinner whenever they received guests. Felicity enters the dining hall so fast she nearly slips on the polished floor. She can see Mother and the Wentworths already seated at the dining table, along with an unfamiliar man. Felicity suddenly remembers the Wentworths had mentioned they were bringing a houseguest from Philadelphia.

Felicity moves behind her chair and waits to be introduced by Mother, who introduces the unfamiliar man as Mr. Haskall. Felicity thinks Mr. Haskall looks familiar as she sits down next to Mrs. Wentworth. Mrs. Wentworth detects the scent of horses on Felicity and nearly raises a fuss with everyone else. Mrs. Wentworth tries to steer the course of conversation, saying that the mutton may be bad, which leads Mother to raise an eyebrow over the issue. Mrs. Wentworth focuses the attention on Mr. Haskall as to not draw any more attention to herself. As they prepare to eat, Mr. Haskall casts a quick glance in Felicity's direction. Felicity is now sure she's seen Mr. Haskall before, but is unsure as to where she's seen him.

Chapter Two: Disturbing News

As everyone begins to eat, Felicity tries to remember where she had seen Mr. Haskall before. She listens to the conversation between the adults, with Mrs. Wentworth talking about Mr. Haskall, originally from Philadelphia and traveling to Charles Town, South Carolina, to visit his sister. A mutual friend between Mr. Haskall and the Wentworths had suggested that Mr. Haskall stop by the Wentworths' plantation on the way. Mother asks if the colony is to Mr. Haskall's liking as she passes the gravy boat, and Mr. Haskall says he's charmed, having never gone south of Baltimore. Felicity comes to the conclusion she must have met someone who resembled Mr. Haskall.

The conversation turns to the plantations around the southern colonies, with Mr. Haskall requesting a tour of King's Creek. Mother accepts the request, and after dessert, Mother, Felicity, and the overseer, Mr. Tate, take Mr. Haskall on a tour of King's Creek while the Wentworths remained behind at the parlor, due to the heat. They stroll through the various gardens, with Mr. Haskall pointing out the fields and pastures. Once the garden tour is over, Mr. Haskall asks to see the stable and mentions a conversation with Mr. Wentworth about the Merrimans' horses, especially about Penny.

Felicity leads the way to the stables and points out Penny and Patriot at the paddock, mentioning Penny's speed and her role with Father's commissary work in the Patriot Army. She pauses herself, wondering if it was a wise thing to disclose Father's involvement with the Patriots. Felicity looks to Mother and finds no disapproval from her. Additionally, Felicity believes Mr. Haskall is too busy admiring Penny and Patriot to pay attention to what Felicity had said about Father's work. He compliments Felicity on owning such fine horses.

The tour picks back up with Mr. Haskall asking Mother and Mr. Tate about the plantation's workings and lands. As they return to the house, Mr. Haskall spots a plant by the fence and gives a preliminary identification as a Virginia snakeroot, asking Mother to confirm the plant specimen. Mother says Grandfather would have known what the plant was, along with the various wildlife around the woods, and asks Mr. Haskall about his interests. Mr. Haskall explains his interest as an amateur naturalist, collecting plant specimens outside his native area. He asks Mother for permission to access the plantation's lands to collect plants, and Mother allows it.

When everyone returns to the house, there is another guest with the Wentworths at the parlor, Mr. Peabody, the owner of Rock Springs Farm. The parlor is Felicity's favorite room, but as it is the fanciest room of the house, she is only allowed to be inside when there is company. The gentlemen stand up when Mother enters the parlor, and Mr. Peabody exchange greetings with Felicity and Mr. Haskall. Mr. Peabody notes he hasn't seen Mr. Haskall around and assumes he has collected all the plants from Rock Springs Farm. Mr. Haskall confirms Mr. Peabody's thoughts, causing Felicity to think Mr. Haskall would talk about his discoveries. Instead, Mr. Haskall tells Mr. Peabody how it was an honor to ride Midnight, Mr. Peabody's prized thoroughbred mare, in addition to allowing him to explore Rock Springs Farms.

Mr. Haskall's comment prompts Mother to remark about Grandfather attempting to purchase Midnight on many occasions, and Mr. Peabody's repeated refusals to sell her. However, Midnight has disappeared, and Mr. Peabody fears someone may have stolen her. Mother wonders what could cause Mr. Peabody to think Midnight has been stolen. Mr. Peabody says he cannot account for Midnight's disappearance any other way, since no fences or gates were left open and none of his other horses are missing while he was away in Yorktown. Mr. Haskall suggests Midnight may have wandered away by jumping a fence. Mr. Peabody says Midnight would not have gone far on her own, and no trace of Midnight has been found.

Mrs. Wentworth jumps to the conclusion it must be a thief, and tells Mr. Wentworth they should go back to their plantation and check on their horses. Mr. Wentworth tells his wife to calm herself, and asks Mr. Peabody about signs of a possible intruder. Although there were no signs of intrusion, the sheriff has told Mr. Peabody Patriot soldiers may have taken Midnight, and there has been recent trouble in the area. Mr. Wentworth comments if Patriots are responsible for taking Midnight, both the thief and horse are probably no longer in the area, and Mr. Peabody agrees wearily.

The theft of Midnight is not the only thing weighing heavily on Mr. Peabody's mind. He is hesitant about needlessly worrying the Merrimans, since it is just Mother and the children at King's Creek without Father, about recent activities south of Yorktown. Mother asks Mr. Peabody to tell them. Mr. Peabody begins, mentioning that while he was in Yorktown, reports have come in that Governor Dunmore's troops have raided plantations along the James River, burning stables and barns along the way. Mrs. Wentworth believes the reports are hateful rumors, and takes Felicity's invitation to the Governor's Palace the winter before last as evidence the reports are false.

Mr. Peabody disagrees, saying much has changed since those days, and Felicity agrees silently. Relations between the governor and the colonists have deteriorated since war broke out between King George III and the Patriots, culminating in the Dunmores's flight from Williamsburg, Governor Dunmore having transferred the seat of government to the HMS Fowey at Yorktown's harbor, and his family back in England. Mr. Wentworth finds it hard to believe of Governor Dunmore taking arms against his subjects, but Mr. Peabody says the reports are true. He had talked to a tobacco planter, Mr. Trevallian, whose crops and buildings had been burned, along with other planters along the James River targeted in the raids. Mother becomes alarmed that farms and plantations have been singled out in these raids, and Mr. Peabody confirms, saying every plantation targeted so far have all belonged to Patriots.

Chapter Three: An Uncommon Horse

Felicity becomes alarmed upon hearing that Patriot farms and plantations have been singled out in the raids. Even though Grandfather had been a Loyalist, ever since the Merrimans inherited King's Creek, the plantation is now considered a Patriot plantation and could be a potential target. Felicity looks to Mother and wonders if she could be thinking the same thing.

Mrs. Wentworth believes Mr. Trevallian is a traitorous Patriot, trying to stir up trouble against the king. Felicity becomes angry at Mrs. Wentworth's words, but she bites her tongue to hold back her opinion. There is an uncomfortable silence after Mrs. Wentworth's outburst. Mr. Wentworth becomes embarrassed at his wife's words and reminds her that some of their neighbors have Patriot leanings, glancing at Mother and Mr. Peabody. Mrs. Wentworth gives an attempted apology, telling Mother and Mr. Peabody she did not mean to offend them. Mother and Mr. Peabody both politely nod.

Mr. Haskall speaks up, saying that while he has little knowledge among the politics in the southern colonies, he does wonder if Governor Dunmore, as the King's representative, truly feels the Patriot planters are harming the king's interests somehow. Mr. Wentworth agrees, saying Governor Dunmore would not take action against law-abiding colonists. Mr. Peabody becomes angry, arguing how honoring the king's interests would involve the destruction of his subjects' lands. Mr. Wentworth argues back, pointing out how Patriots destroying property of the East India Tea Company in the Boston Tea Party somehow helped the Patriot cause.

Felicity notices the growing anger between the two men. Mother tries to defuse the situation, calmly but firmly, telling the men the issues at hand could be discussed at another time. Mr. Peabody apologizes to Mother for bringing politics into the conversation, as does Mr. Wentworth. Mr. Peabody adds that he will take his leave and head to Lancaster Manor to warn the Lancasters about the raids. Felicity wonders how the Lancasters will react to the news since Richard Lancaster, the oldest son, is enlisted and fighting with the Patriot Army. Mr. Peabody tells Mr. Haskall to visit his farm again, and tells Mother how Grandfather will be missed by all. During the next few days, Felicity encounters Mr. Haskall exploring and gathering specimens on various occasions at King's Creek, carrying a large sack and a notebook to document his findings. Felicity likes it when Mr. Haskall would stop his work to talk or show the Merriman children interesting plants he had found.

A week after Mr. Peabody's visit, Felicity takes Penny out on an early morning ride along a path running near the pasture. She lets Penny have her way, running and galloping over a large, fallen tree to an open field. Felicity spots Mr. Haskall along the pasture fence, and as she and Penny run past him, he applauds and tells Felicity it was a good show. Felicity grins, always pleased to hear people praise Penny.

When Felicity and Penny return to the stable, Felicity finds Mr. Haskall following them, asking for a word with Felicity. He tells Felicity he was impressed with watching Penny jump over the fallen tree and even with her morning run, Penny's barely winded. Mr. Haskall believes Penny is an extraordinary horse, and Felicity agrees as she dismounts Penny. He holds out his hand for Penny to sniff before rubbing her nose and scratching her neck. Felicity says Penny likes Mr. Haskall, and Mr. Haskall tells Felicity most people do not realize horses have to like their scent before accepting them. He asks Felicity if he may accompany her to the stable, and Felicity accepts the request.

As they return to the stables, Felicity talks about how she came to acquire Penny and how she has been trying to train Penny to trust other people. Felicity mentions about a special technique she uses to call Penny to her side. Mr. Haskall becomes intrigued, but Felicity is reluctant to reveal her technique as she learned it from Ben back in Williamsburg and not considered very ladylike. Mr. Haskall swears to keep Felicity's secret to himself. Felicity mentions she whistles a certain way to call Penny, as Penny will know Felicity will have a treat for her. Mr. Haskall takes off his hat and bows to Felicity and Penny, telling her he is amazed at an uncommon horse and her uncommon mistress.

Chapter Four: Trouble at the Creek

The next day the Merriman children go fishing at the riverbanks. William gives up on fishing and wades to the other side of the bank to sail a pine-bark boat. Nan and Felicity are lost in their thoughts as they fish. Felicity notices Nan hasn't scolded her for removing her stockings and smiles, enjoying the bond between the two of them this summer. Felicity asks Nan if she'd like to help halter-train Patriot. Nan beams at the suggestion, and wants to know when they'll start the training.

Felicity is interrupted by Mr. Haskall, emerging from the woods. He tells the girls about his amazement regarding the plants he's found in and around King's Creek. Mr. Haskall asks if he may join the children at the creek, and Felicity accepts. Mr. Haskall comments on Virginia's hot climate as he sits down beside the girls. He looks at William splashing in the water, and remarks about wanting to plunge into the stream, shoes and all. Nan exclaims he'll ruin his silver, jewel-encrusted shoe buckles, and Mr. Haskall jokingly says if he could, he would trade his shoe buckles for a return to his childhood days, eliciting laughs from the girls.

Mr. Haskall then lets out a cry that startles the girls, exclaiming about a flower cluster on a watercress plant. He takes out his sketchbook and pencil and begins to sketch the flower, with the children looking on. William tells Mr. Haskall he likes to draw, before wandering off again. Felicity apologizes for William's behavior, and Mr. Haskall is sympathetic, saying he was once a boy himself. Felicity marvels at the likeness of the flower as Mr. Haskall sketches, and when he's finished, he brings out a notebook and pen to document the location of the watercress. He tells Felicity about the various plants he's found at King's Creek, flipping the pages of his notebook. Mr. Haskall compares King's Creek to Midas's wealth, pointing out the various uses of the plants and trees from food to medicine.

Felicity thinks about Mr. Haskall's interest in nature and how similar he seemed to Grandfather. She tells Mr. Haskall about Grandfather's life in the woods as a youth, how he would point out useful plants during their rides, and making a healing salve from a plant to treat Penny's leg. Mr. Haskall marvels at the natural world and tells Felicity about the plants he has found at Rock Springs Farm as well as his anticipation of exploring Lancaster Manor's grounds once he's finished with King's Creek. Felicity asks about the Wentworths, and Mr. Haskall tells her the Wentworths have provided an outbuilding for his work. He offers an invitation for Felicity to visit him the next day when he starts preserving the plants found on King's Creek.

Everyone is interrupted when William begins screaming downstream. The girls realize William's being stung by hornets, and Mr. Haskall rushes to William's aid, carrying and taking him back to Felicity. Felicity asks William if he's alright while Nan chastises him, telling him to be more careful. William complains his hands hurt, and the girls see large welts on his fingers and hands. Mr. Haskall examines William's hands, then goes off to an area of the creek bank and returns with a stalk of dog fennel, tearing the leaves and rubbing the juice on William's wounds. He advises William not to scratch at the welts, and asks the girls if they would like to inform Mother about William. Felicity says it won't be necessary and thanks him, adding that she's sorry Mr. Haskall has ruined his shoes in the creek. Mr. Haskall brushes Felicity's comment off, saying they needed a good wash anyway. He offers his invitation to Felicity again, and Felicity accepts. Nan asks if she may come along as well, and Mr. Haskall agrees if Mother will allow it.

Chapter Five: The Old Laundry

Mother forbids Nan from going with Felicity to Mr. Haskall's workshop. Felicity makes a promise to Nan that she will be able to come with her once she's finished with her riding lessons. Felicity and Robert, a stableboy, ride to the Wentworths' plantation, Oak Hill. She leaves Penny with Robert and heads for the old laundry, where Mr. Haskall greets Felicity upon her arrival.

Felicity notes the old laundry makes an excellent workroom for a naturalist, such as a fireplace to dry plants, shelves and bins to hold pots, jugs, bottles, and books, and eaves to hang dried flowers. There are also tables stacked with more books and plant presses, and a writing desk and shelf in an alcove. Felicity asks about the notebooks in the alcove's shelf, and Mr. Haskall, preoccupied with his work, explains he has dedicated a notebook for each plantation he has explored, documenting the location of found plants. He picks up a twig and wonders if it could be pop ash, before asking Felicity if she's ever kept a journal. Felicity says Miss Manderly gave each of her students a blank book to use as a journal to practice handwriting, although Felicity admits she has not been faithful in writing it every day. Mr. Haskall comments that Felicity should write in her journal as it would give a record of her age for her to read and enjoy later in life. Mr. Haskall continues to examine the twig before giving up, speculating it could also be American turkey oak. He turns his attention to a leaf and begins examining it under a magnifying glass.

While Mr. Haskall concentrates on his work, Felicity only sees notebooks for three named farms and plantations, Rock Springs Farm, Cedardale, and Marsden Grove. She asks Mr. Haskall about his notebooks for King's Creek and Oak Hill. Mr. Haskall puts down his magnifying glass and walks over to the bookcase, explaining that he has completed his documentation and findings for the aforementioned farms. As he has only begun exploring King's Creek, he hasn't shelved his findings just yet, and he doesn't have a notebook for Oak Hill. Felicity assumes Oak Hill will be his last plantation to explore as he is staying with the Wentworths.

Mr. Haskall asks Felicity if she's got any more questions about his notebooks, and Felicity asks what he will do with all his information once he's finished. Mr. Haskall hopes to publish his findings and eventually write a book, as John and William Bartram, noted naturalists he admired, have done. Felicity asks if King's Creek will be included and Mr. Haskall affirms.

Mr. Haskall then shows Felicity a large wooden case, compartmentalized and filled with leaves, flowers, bark, and twigs, and begins to discuss the various specimens found on King's Creek. He explains to Felicity he has done extensive reading of the Bartrams' exploration in the southern colonies. Mr. Haskall proceeds to show Felicity his plant presses and their function in plant preservation. Felicity marvels at how the pressed flowers have maintained their color, and Mr. Haskall performs a plant-pressing demonstration for Felicity. Mr. Haskall explains that he and his sister grew up on a Pennsylvania farm where wildflowers were abundant in the fields and forests, and after gathering various wildflowers and pressing them, he would document and catalog his findings in scrapbooks, and his sister would used the pressed flowers to decorate foolscap and write poems or letters. He asks Felicity if she might enjoy the same activities his sister did, and Felicity says yes. Mr. Haskall offers to give Felicity one of his presses, and asks a favor from her.

Mr. Haskall needs to go to Yorktown to send some of his plant samples to an apothecary in Philadelphia, but it will take a full day for him to make the trip and it will take time away from his explorations. He has been told there is a shortcut somewhere on King's Creek that leads directly to Yorktown and asks Felicity if she might know the way. Felicity agrees to the favor and tells him they could meet the next day at sunrise, and Mr. Haskall suggests they meet at the stables so they can talk more about Grandfather's horses. Felicity asks if he has heard any news or information about Midnight; to Mr. Haskall's knowledge, Midnight remains missing.

Felicity is disappointed to hear the news, and Mr. Haskall agrees. He believes certain horses instantly bond with certain people and thinks one such bond might have been formed between him and Midnight. Felicity agrees, saying it was the same situation with her and Penny, when Penny was still under Jiggy Nye's ownership. She wonders about Mr. Haskall's choice of words regarding Midnight, though, as if Mr. Haskall felt Midnight would be gone forever. Mr. Haskall says he did not intend his words to imply Midnight would gone forever, and hopes that she will eventually be found. Felicity feels there is a certain hollowness to Mr. Haskall's words, as if he did not believe the words he said, and thinks he may have commented in a way to reassure her. Felicity cannot fathom the thought of losing Penny and never seeing her again.

Chapter Six: The Path to Yorktown

Chapter Seven: Intruder in the Stable

Chapter Eight: Mr. Haskall's Secret

Chapter Nine: Maps

Chapter Ten: Rendezvous

Chapter Eleven: Felicity's Plan

Chapter Twelve: Pursuit

Chapter Thirteen: Betrayal

Looking Back

Discusses the American Revolutionary War and its effects on the colonists. Topics discussed:

  • Tension between Patriots and Loyalists
  • Governor Dunmore's orders for British troops to raid or destroy Patriot farms and plantations
  • Williamsburg as a target for British spies
  • The Virginia Conventions which led to the Declaration of Independence
  • The role women played in fighting back against the British, such as torching their crops as Catherine Schuyler did
  • How women also served as spies for the Patriots
  • Sybil Ludington's role in rallying Patriot soldiers and alerting them of British troops at Danbury, Connecticut, on the night of April 26, 1777
  • How women fighting in the Revolutionary War laid the groundwork for women to fight for equal rights

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