Charlie held his breath as he opened the door of the reading room just wide enough to check that the immediate area was empty. Seeing no one, he squeezed his head out; peering past the gas lights to both ends of the hallway. The coast was clear. Easy as pie.
Knowing the door never squeaked once it was partly open, Charlie pushed it wide and headed to the staircase. This part of the building was the original structure and after 26 years, the wood floor was old and worn. But the building had been well-made and a boy could easily walk down the hallway with no detectable noise if he was careful.
“Get off my bed!”
“I can sit here if I want to!”
Charlie smiled at the shouts knowing it was the twins arguing in the dormitory but kept a sharp lookout for the nuns. The noises would help cover his escape. The nine o’clock morning bells had rung for Terse. Normally, the nuns took turns going to prayers in order to monitor the children at all times. He knew Sister Elizabeth always left at first light on Saturday in the orphanage’s horse drawn wagon to pickup supplies in town. Sister Hildegarde would be in her office working and two nuns would be in the chapel. That left only six nuns to patrol both the girls’ and boys’ dormitory wings. Still, Charlie couldn’t afford to lose the opportunity to try to solve a part of the puzzle today.
Charlie reached the staircase and started down the steps. Eight, nine and ten were the tricky ones. They groaned under any weight and Sister Hildegarde’s office extended under the stairs, so any sound would alert her. Charlie lightly pushed off with his left foot. His cotton britches slid easily in the indention of the wooden handrail past the noisy planks. He slid off onto the eleventh one and his small, wiry build landed softly. From there he moved quickly down the last steps.
The back stairs ended near the doorway to the kitchen in one direction, the hallway to Sister Hildegarde’s office in another and a doorway to the garden in the last. Charlie grabbed his straw hat off a peg, thumbed his suspenders back on his shoulder and glanced in all directions. He ran the short distance to the outside door. Without a second glance, Charlie opened it and navigated through the turnips and potato patch. He dashed through the outside wrought iron gate onto the beach.
Charlie looked around and didn’t see anyone. With a three mile walk ahead, he moved briskly forward. Seagulls screamed and fought for the sea’s leavings along the narrow beach. The waves crashed and threw their salty crests high in the air, closer than Charlie remembered for this time of the morning. The swells seemed higher too. The wind blew in hearty gusts and Charlie’s sandy brown hair kept blowing in his blue eyes. He thought it might storm but the sky was a clear blue with no clouds. Anxious to get to town, Charlie half walked, half ran. He needed to talk to Arne and find some answers. Charlie ran the first stanza of the puzzle in his head again:
“One and the same
of each other
but not the same.
The father of those who roam the open spaces
And the father of us all.”
It seemed so simple. Charlie kicked at the sand. He spotted a piece of driftwood that was slender and long. He picked it up and swung it, feeling its weight. Never knew when you might need a sword. Nearing the edge of town, Charlie searched for any sign of Arne. Or Weasel or Wart. The two dockrats seemed to be everywhere he went these days.
Poof! Charlie’s eye caught sight of a small explosion of sand and wind.
Charlie whirled around, swinging his stick. Where had Arne come from?
Smack! Charlie’s sword smacked into Arne’s.
Slash. Bang. Clap. The swords clashed as the boys danced around each other, parrying for a better angle. Slivers of wood flew in the air.
Crack. Charlie’s sword broke in two.
“Do you yield?” Arne shouted.
“No,” said Charlie.
Poof! Charlie heard the sound again. “Look at that,” Charlie said as he pointed behind Arne.
Laughing, Arne said, “I’m not falling for that one.”
“No, really. I saw one earlier. You have to see this.”
Arne frowned for a minute and then half turned to look, keeping one eye on Charlie.
Fascinated, Charlie moved closer to where the wind churned along the top of the sand. A small funnel of swirling sand formed, growing in strength. It spun for a moment and then exploded in a final burst of energy – the sand falling back to the ground. Charlie and Arne looked at each other.
“Have you ever seen anything like that,” Charlie asked.
“It’s like a miniature tornado,” Arne said. “But I didn’t think there was such a thing.”
The boys watched another funnel form and explode. They ran up the beach chasing after a third one forming.
The wind died. “Have you heard from your uncle,” asked Arne.
“Nah. I hope he doesn’t come until after I solve the word puzzle,” said Charlie.
“But isn’t staying at the orphanage awful,” said Arne. ‘Don’t you want a real home?”
“Yeah, but it’s only been ten days so it’s not so bad. I’ll probably have to go back to my grandfather’s. This is my only chance to solve the puzzle. I can’t leave until I solve it. I know my father hid my present before...” Charlie’s voice trailed off. “I’ve just gotta find it.”
“Okay. But I don’t know what else to try,” said Arne.
“Well,” said Charlie, “we know that it’s not a chicken and egg. They are part of each other but not the same. Just like the library and its books – it works but doesn’t seem to be the answer. What’s left?”
“I don’t know,” said Arne. “But there must be other things like that. We just haven’t thought of them yet.”
“And there’s what we do know,” said Charlie. “I think it’s one object that has more than one part.”
“That’s hard,” said Arne. “Why didn’t your father make it easier?”
“I think he thought he’d be here to help. But he’s not. I know he would’ve made it something I would know,” said Charlie. “So it must be something we see or use everyday.”
“What about a house with people?” asked Arne. “That might relate to the father part.”
“No,” said Charlie. “Good idea but I don’t think so. How would we know which house? We must be missing something.”
Charlie’s stomach grumbled. “Your mother didn’t give you a snack for us, did she?”
“Nope,” said Arne. “We could go down to the docks and see if anyone would give us something.”
“Fat chance,” said Charlie. “We’d need money…. Wait a minute. What about coins?”
“What do you mean, we don’t have any coins.”
“No,” said Charlie. “Coins – they have two sides. I saw a half cent once – it has something on both sides. It might be the answer,” he said, hopping from foot to foot. “All we need to do is look at one.”
“But we don’t have any. And my mother will ask why if we ask for one,” said Arne.
“Legs,” the boys said in unison.
“He has all those coins from his trips,” said Charlie.