Chapter One: I Have a Secret Plan
As soon as my chores were done, I rushed up the narrow stairs to my attic room and ran to the window.
It was only a tiny window. But from it, over the jumble of Seattle rooftops, I could see the waters of Puget Sound.
I spent hours alone here. Sometimes I sat with my pencil and paper, sketching the busy harbor or the snow-tipped mountains in the distance. Mostly, like now, I watched for boats.
Was that a steamship coming in? If only I had a pair of binoculars. I squinted to be sure. Yes, a large steamship was headed for the docks.
I'd have to run down the hill to get there in time.
There was only one problem: Mrs. Tinker.
I tiptoed back down the stairs and into the hall, silent as a cat.
I was glad my shoes were old and worn. There wasn't a chance they'd squeak. The parlor door was closed. Maybe Mrs. Tinker was snoring away in her favorite chair.
At the door I grabbed the handle and turned it. Slowly, slowly, I told myself. My heart pounded like waves on a rock at high tide.
I pulled the door open, letting bright summer sun stream in. I picked up one foot and got ready to run. Almost free!
All at once I heard the click of sharp footsteps. The parlor door flew open.
"Where do you think you're going, kid?" growled Mrs. Tinker, grabbing my shirt with her fingernails.
Mrs. Tinker was tall and skinny. Whenever I looked at her I thought of a pencil -- a sharp one.
My landlady leaned forward, her eyes glittering like tiny beads. "David Hill, why is it lately that every time I turn around, you're gone? Don't you have chores to do?"
I gulped. "I finished already, Mrs. Tinker. I helped Cook clean up after lunch, and I filled the wood bin."
I raised my voice, hoping Cook would hear. "Cook said I should go down to Pioneer Square to look for someone to rent Room Three, now that Mr. Jones is gone."
Mrs. Tinker let go of my shirt. "Humph. Don't you forget, I didn't have to let you stay on here after your mother died. Without me you'd be sleeping on the streets. And the streets of Seattle are rough for a ten-year-old boy."
"I'm eleven now, ma'am," I said in a low voice. "My birthday was last month, June fifteenth."
My birthday. At least Cook had remembered. She'd baked me a special cake with raisins. She'd even bought me a gift: a new pencil and some drawing paper. But it hadn't been the same without Momma.
Poor Momma. She'd been so sure we'd be happy in Seattle. "We'll start a new life here," she'd promised. "Everything is so green and fresh, not like New York."
Papa's death had left us poor, with not much more than our train fare. So Momma was happy to work as a maid for Mrs. Tinker. She cleaned the rooms, helped Cook, and served meals to the boarders. I liked listening to the men's stories of riding the rails across America, or sailing to faraway ports.
Mrs. Tinker had given Momma and me our own room in the attic. It wasn't much, but we were cozy together. Then the winter rains came. Momma caught a cold that wouldn't go away. By the time the doctor came, it was too late.
Just when I thought Mrs. Tinker wouldn't let me go, Cook stuck her head out of the kitchen. If Mrs. Tinker was hard and straight like a pencil, Cook was just the opposite. She reminded me of a soft, puffy biscuit, and she was always covered with flour.
"Oh, begging your pardon, ma'am," she said, wiping her large hands on her apron. "But I asked Davey to run downtown to find a nice gentleman who needs a place to stay. I'd go myself, but my knee pains me awful on the hills."
Cook winked, and I ducked my head to hide my grin.
Mrs. Tinker cuffed my ear. "All right, go on. But I don't want to hear you've gotten into any trouble. This town is full of ruffians, and I won't have one in my rooming house."
"Yes, ma'am," I said.
"And remember, I need this rooming house full to feed an extra mouth like you," she went on, leaning in so close I could smell the onions on her breath. "Don't expect supper if you don't bring back someone to rent Room Three."
I kept my head down. Truth was, I was a little afraid to look into those sharp eyes. I couldn't let Mrs. Tinker guess the real reason I headed downtown every chance I got.
I couldn't let her discover my secret plan.
Text copyright © 2004 by Deborah Hopkinson