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The Lawrence Children: Chapter 6

Ann Finds Answers

Robert and Miles Richter stood up front, lecturing the class on the wilds of the Americas. Ann sat erect in her seat, as she should. But she couldn't get a nagging feeling to leave her thoughts.
She sent a furtive glance around the room. Noah and Fred-O were both entranced with what David's uncles were saying. All the boys were. Barbara sat next to Ann and seemed to be in a daydream over their stories. Yes, every girl except herself was entranced.
Ann shook herself.
Their words about Alex Norris were disturbing.
“We came here first with our fathers and Mr Norris back in the late 1860's. Norris became acquainted with our father soon after we moved – we didn't know each other well, but Robert and I called him Uncle. The men all held enough respect and trust to know such an endeavor they were undertaking was worth the effort.”
They knew Alex Norris?
Ann was interested now.
Robert spoke as Miles took a break, “Yes, Mr Norris was a very nice man. It was a pleasure to know him. Sadly, we had to leave just a few years after everything was booming. The town was growing too large too quickly for our liking.”
Mr Farrows stood up, “It still is growing thanks to our gold mines.”
“Gold has always been an attractive friend to the adventurous,” Robert said. “And it was a very good friend to Norris – made the man quite wealthy.”
Ann thought to herself that this man didn't seem that poor off either. David was part of one of the richest families in town.
Mr Farrows asked, “Can you tell of more of Alex Norris and the early beginnings of our town? It's not often that we meet people who are personally conscious of our heritage.”
Miles and Robert smiled, nodding. “Of course,” they said.
“There really isn't that much to tell,” Miles said. “It was during a time when people were trying to escape the war and build up a new life – this was fertile ground, though one wouldn't have thought so at first glance due to the short growing seasons, vivid winds, and rocky mountain land. No – Montana's fertility lay deeper than her soil, in her very inwards. It was a great time for Montana – mines of all sorts were being discovered all over.
“In this area we had Norris and Sterling – and there is Red Bluff. And all of Madison county was as it still is, a thriving community.”
Robert took up the story, “Gold – who doesn't see progress marked all over this word? It was the master of every good thing to this town – the railway, the businesses, the people, the homes. Civilization came and we can give much thanks to Alex Norris, who sacrificed so much.”
“What happened to Mr Norris?” Mr Farrows asked. “I don't recall hearing much about him.”
Ann perked up. Of course Mr Farrows wouldn't know – he hadn't lived in Norris long.
“He died a sudden death, sadly. He was in his late life – yet he always seemed much younger. It upset many – the details. But what matters is the application of his deeds – what he did for this town to make it great.”
“Why?” Mr Farrows raised an eye.
“There was much conspiracy to his death,” Robert wouldn't say anything else.
A sudden suspicion came over Ann as she heard Miles next words.
“It was a sad thing – we were forced, Robert and I, to leave Norris just shortly after he died. The grief was too much for a time.”
Forced? Before they had put an emphasis on how they had a thirst for adventure. But now she wasn't so sure, especially with their next words...
“Our fathers were sad to leave the county-”
“You all left?” Mr Farrows interrupted, a practice he often asked his students to stay away from.
“Yes – all of us Richters left. Except our baby brother – he was married to a fine woman that had a good standing with the people of Norris. And even if he hadn't, he has always been much different than us two older brothers,” Robert laughed winking toward his nephew David.
David laughed, too.
Ann didn't hear any more words of theirs – she was convinced of one thing. Somehow in some way these men were involved in the murder of Alex Norris.

“How was school today?” Lucy asked as she served out bowls of stew for each of her siblings.
Ann shrugged, accepting her bowl. Her mind was too full to speak just yet. Julie sat next to her, eating her soup and quietly humming a song.
“The Richter brothers came today – David's uncles that are mining at the Boaz,” Noah said.
“Yes, I think I know who they are,” Lucy said.
“They were very funny,” Fred-O said. “I'd like to be like them – traveling all over the wild and seeing all kinds of things.”
Vern laughed, “It wouldn't be half as exciting as they make it sound most the time.”
“Why?” Fred-O asked.
“Because – mostly you would be walking and starving and walking some more. And scenery would change slowly – it would become very tiresome.”
Fred-O wrinkled his face together, “I think it would still be a little fun.”
“During lunch all the girls went to the hot springs. They invited Ann to go but she wouldn't go,” Noah said.
Ann glared at Noah. He was such a rat at times.
“Why not?” Lucy asked.
“I didn't feel like it. And the water is dirty water miners bathe in.”
Lucy laughed, “That never stopped you from going before.”
“She never plays or talks to any of the girls. I saw them invite her to play hockey and she wouldn't go,” Noah added. “She'll just groan – invent some excuse about why she can't go. We all know she's making it up.”
“That's a stupid game – they don't even know how to play it correctly.” Ann felt Lucy's worried look resting on her. How she wanted to strangle Noah. She might very well do it.
“And she just sits by herself during recess, reading,”
“Noah, shut up,” Ann loudly said, looking him directly in the eyes. “And that's not true. I play with you boys lots.”
Ann regretted her words almost as soon as she said it knowing Lucy wouldn't like that she chose to play with the boys over her own friends.
“I didn't know you liked reading?” Vern asked, sounding puzzled.
“Neither did I,” Lucy added. But Ann heard a difference in Lucy's voice – different than Vern's. He just seemed interested in a bored way. Lucy sounded surprised and worried.
She didn't want Lucy worrying over her.
“Is there a reason you are staying by yourself?” Lucy asked.
“No – I'm just tired of their ridiculous chatter and games,” Ann said. She wouldn't add how she felt more of an outcast when with them. The other girls were not courteous – only occasionally pretended to be so when they felt a duty to show pity. “And the school library has a better selection of new titles.”
She wanted none of that. And though she still despised books, they were a safer remedy to her problems.
“You used to be an expert on silly chatter,” Noah teased.
Ann sent him another glare.
“That's enough, Noah,” Lucy said. “Eat your food and leave Ann alone.”
But Ann did not feel rescued with Lucy's words. Only caged.
“I wasn't bothering her,” Noah pouted.
“Just listen,” Vern said. He sounded distracted still – like his thoughts were completely buried and left in the ore of the mine. He rose and left the table, “Think you and Fred-O can handle chores while I try to catch make with a book Mr Farrows and Lucy think I must read?” Vern asked of Noah.
Noah slowly nodded, “Yeah.”
Vern cleared away his dishes and brought back a large book.
Everyone else kept eating.
“Ann, maybe we should talk?” Lucy said as she sat down with her own bowl of stew.
Ann shook her head, “I don't think there's anything to talk about.”
Ann didn't like Lucy's troubled look. People weren't supposed to worry about her – what was so wrong with not wanting to associate with silliness? “Ann -”
“I don't see why you are pestering her,” Vern said. Ann looked to her older brother in surprise. “She doesn't want friends and you can't compel her to have them.”
“Vern.” Lucy sounded frustrated. “That's not what this is about.”
“It isn't?” He looked so confused. Poor Vern had too much on his mind – books weren't for him anymore. Yet Mother would be happy to see him reading something educational.
“No, this is about her pulling into herself. We don't want Ann shutting out the world, but living in it.”
“She kinda is still living in it,” Vern said.
“You know what I mean,” Lucy blew hard into her stew.
“I just think you are making a big deal out of nothing,” Vern said. He turned back down to his book.
Ann agreed with Vern's last words wholeheartedly.
It was no big deal. She had never been close to any one anyways – and now she was just doing more productive things with her time than gossiping.
Why was gossip even considered that sophisticated of a thing?
She decided to share her thoughts, to take the focus off her. And maybe help solve this mystery. “I think the Richter brothers know something about Alex Norris' death.”
“Of course they do,” Noah said. “I heard them tell us all about it today.”
“No, silly,” Ann said, giving a little smile. “I mean I think they more than know – might even be partially responsible.”
Vern looked up from his book, “That's a huge accusation, Ann.”
“Oh, I know. I wasn't saying we report them or anything. Just something to keep in mind.”
Ann could tell Lucy hadn't completely forgotten about her. And that this story wasn't helping her case, but actually making it worse. In fact Lucy was probably only waiting until a better time, when they were alone. And then Ann would receive a long lecture for so many things.
Which was OK. She didn't have to listen to Lucy.
Lucy played along with the topic change, “If the brothers are much like David I wouldn't want to suspect them.”
“They aren't like David at all,” Fred-O said. “They are like wild men.”
Noah laughed, “David can be wild – just the other day he was shouting and whooping like an Indian.”
“I mean woodsman wild – and real wild.”
“Not fake wild?” Noah teased.
Ann brushed past the boys' comments and issued her information, “Their father knew Alex Norris well – helped start this town. Yet when he died they were forced to leave Norris. Only David's family stayed. I guess they were a pretty well respected family, above the Richter father and two older sons.”
“That is interesting,” Vern said, closing his book but keeping his finger inside for a marker. “But not enough evidence to prove they were murderers.”
“Very true,” Lucy said.
“It's still good information to remember,” Ann said. “Just in case we need it.”
“Why are we talking about a murder? I'd rather find the lost treasure than who killed somebody twenty years ago,” Noah said.
Ann finished up her stew, “Because this was something important to Grandpa.”
Lucy offered her more stew and Ann accepted. She watched Lucy serve more stew to everyone except Vern. He had finally turned back to his book, and it looked like he wouldn't allow himself to be distracted anymore.
Julie squirmed next to Ann.
Ann smiled down at her baby sister even as Julie smiled back, her face filled with affection. She seemed to be dancing on the bench, little hips and upper body twisting back and forth.
“We need music,” Ann said. “that way Julie has a tune to dance to.”
Everyone looked to Julie and laughed.
“I'll learn the fiddle – Mr Farrows has one and told me once I might learn. Then we can all dance as I play,” Noah said.
“I don't want to dance,” Fred-O said.
“You don't have to,” Ann smiled mischievously at her little brother. “You can do the chores while we party.”
Fred-O stuck his tongue out at Ann. “I can sing about Fred-O and Julie can dance to that music.”
Noah laughed, “You don't dance to that song. Maybe fall over dead – but not dance.”
Fred-O started singing, drowning out Noah's teasing.
Ann smiled into her warm stew.
It didn't matter what the girls at school thought. Or what Lucy suspected. Ann knew she was fine. She just didn't want to deal with any silliness, but discover the truth behind some secrets.
Right now she felt happy.
And that's all that mattered – not what others thought.
Noah and Fred-O rose from the table at last, bundled up, and still bickering as they left to do the chores.
Lucy took Julie from her spot and put the little girl in bed in Mother and Father's old room.
Vern continued to read.
Ann still had her homework to finish up. But first there were dishes – she stood up and added her bowl to the pan of dirty dishes. Lucy had put water on the stove and it was boiling – she poured the steaming liquid over her pile of dishes, adding some cold water from the pail of melted snow, then with a bar of lye soap she started her evening chore.
“Vern,” She asked as she set the wet bowl into another empty pan.
“Yeah?” He didn't look up from his books.
“Do you think we can visit Grandpa’s cabin on Sunday? I know it's too cold to treasure hunt. I just want to see it.”
“Yeah, I think that should work.” Ann turned to watch Vern reading intently.
She turned back to her dishes.
The warm water felt good on her fingers. But she couldn't take too long if she wanted to finish her studies in a decent time.

Make sure to return the second Monday of next month for the next installment of the Lawrence Children! 

Father Tells a Story posted 10/9/17
No More Good-nights posted 11/13/17
Lucy Learns to Live posted 12/11/17
Never Know, Noah posted 1/8/18
Grandpa's Mystery  posted 2/12/18
Ann Finds Answers posted 3/12/18
Vern Lead's An Adventure posted 4/9/18
A Friendly Visit posted 5/14/18
A Real Clue? posted 6/11/18
Fred-O is Frightened  posted 7/9/18
Good Job, Julie! posted 8/13/18
Hello, Life posted 9/10/18


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