A NOVEL OF TRAVEL BACK IN TIME
I was glad the object of conversation (and observation) had shifted from me to Mr. Newcomer. At least I hoped it had.
I took a quick glance around the table and everyone was now looking at Mr. Newcomer, except for Daphne Jane Newcomer. She was looking at me as if she would bore a hole through me. I quickly turned and focused on Mr. Newcomer.
Ahab and the black servant lady began to ladle bowls of steamy soup and put them in front of the dinner participants. I made a surreptitious peek around the table to see which of the two spoons on the right side of my plate to utilize. I saw Captain Mosby take the spoon that was farthest from the plate, and I followed suit.
In the meantime, Mr. Newcomer, warming to his tale, leaned back in his chair. Then with a wistful look began his story.
“Well, the man in the painting is my father, and the lady is my mother. Nobody knows how they got here, but the story goes that they arrived in this area around 1798 from New York.
“They sort of appeared out of the blue. One minute they weren’t here, and the next minute they were.
“My father was a genius when it came to making money. He, at first, hired himself out to a local farmer and helped clear trees from land for a crop of corn and wheat. He talked his employer into cutting the oak trees as close to the ground as possible so there were just a minimum of stumps, and then cutting the wood into 8 foot lengths.
“Father then got in touch with several government officials in Washington who were in charge of constructing the armory here in Harpers Ferry in 1799. He was able to get a contract for his employer to provide the wood for the building.
“Father was able to sell wood from the clearing of other areas in the local area also. This was a very enterprising approach at the time. My father’s employer was so amazed at the success of the wood trade that he put my father in charge of the enterprise and increased his pay.
“Father was placed in charge of overseeing the clearing of the land and the selling of all wood products. There always seemed to be a demand for wood down river.”
“Not to be outdone,” Mr. Newcomer continued, “my mother had bought a bolt of cloth and visited the local merchant in Harper’s Ferry. She contracted to make a dress to be displayed in the merchant’s store and, if it sold, she was to get one third of the price.
“Well, her dress sold within two days, and the merchants contracted for more. She ultimately was providing a dress every two weeks for the merchants and, after hiring a local seamstress, she expanded to providing dresses for a Hagerstown merchant, too.
“She always contracted with only one merchant in any town to sell her dresses. That is how they got their start in this area.
“The portraits were painted around 1814. I was born in 1810. My older brother and sister live in Martinsburg, VA and my younger brother and sister live in Sharpsburg, MD.
“The family mystery is what ever happened to them. Around 1835 they just disappeared.”
My head snapped up, and I looked intently at him after his last statement. He had sort of a reminiscing look on his face. For some reason I looked at Daphne. She was gazing right at me with a knowing smile on her face.