Editor's note: "Echoes of War" is a six-part, historical fiction story written by Whatcom County history researchers and writers. This is the fifth chapter.
OUR STORY SO FAR
Henry Brown, a long-lost relative of people close to the Arkeson family in Bellingham, suddenly shows up in Whatcom County talking about a hotel key, a tin box and a stash of Confederate gold and silver. Just as suddenly, Brown leaves for Canada before anyone can drill him for details.
On the way home, Teddy thought about Dave Berg's greeting to his mother. She and Dad had never mentioned knowing the Berg family of Everson.
More puzzling was the relationship between Stephen Brown and his cousins Henry and Mackey. Why did Henry, thought to be dead, return to little Everson, and why did he leave so quickly without visiting friends in Bellingham? None of this made sense.
That evening, Teddy told his parents about his interesting discoveries. They were open-mouthed to learn that Henry had come and gone.
Teddy added, "Oh, yes, Mother, Dave Berg sent greetings from the Everson Templars."
Martha blushed like a schoolgirl. Phinny, her husband, frowned at her.
"I didn't know you knew the Bergs," he said. "Didn't the Browns have some connections in Everson, too?" He wondered why his wife seemed so flustered.
"Well, yes," admitted Martha, sheepishly, "a big family. The Browns were early pioneers. I grew up with Mackey, one of the older boys. He and Samuel Berg were buddies.
"I have to confess, Phinny, that I had crush on Mackey when I was 15," she continued. "He often came around to see me, but my father tried to stop him. He said he was a Union man, even though some of the other Browns were Confederates, in Georgia, I think."
Phinny abruptly sat up. "I can't believe it. You never told me this, Martha. I supposed that Henry was a sympathizer, but I think the family never told their cousin Stephen."
Phinny was both jealous and aggravated at Martha for never telling him about Mackey, but then, why would she, since Phinny had courted Martha after her family moved to Bellingham.
Teddy just listened. To him, his mother had just been his mother, not a pretty girl. Gee whiz, she was an old woman, more than 40 years old. Romance? Nah, couldn't be. Romance would be cuddling up to Arlissa, or Alicia, or whatever her name was. Teddy's heart beat faster.
Later, though, he pondered the Mackey Brown connection. He didn't remember his mother taking sides about the Civil War. She was just proud of her Union husband, that's all.
Something bothered him, though. "Dad, didn't Grandfather and Grandmother Johnson originally come from Missouri? Wasn't Missouri one of the Southern states?"
"Not exactly," Phinny replied. "Missouri was sort of split in its loyalties. A group called Johnson's Raiders was a sort of guerilla group favoring the South. They did a lot of damage to Union posts."
Teddy exclaimed, "That was not my grandpa's family, was it, Dad?"
"Well, son, Johnson is a very common name," Phinny said. "Surely your mother would have told me if they were."
Privately, he began to wonder what else Martha might not have mentioned.
Meanwhile, Teddy enlisted Alicia to research the ship Andron that had sunk in Bellingham Bay near the Nooksack River outlet. After digging through old newspapers at The Herald, they were electrified to learn the ship had been carrying a cache of gold and silver, which had disappeared from the sunken vessel.
Teddy and Alicia both screamed out loud. Henry Brown could have salvaged the loot, hauled it up the Nooksack to Everson and hidden it.
Teddy and Alicia rushed home to tell Phinny and Martha about their theory.
Phinny was trying to digest their startling idea when Martha chimed in. Trembling like a leaf, she confessed.
"I just can't stand it any more," she began. "I have kept a terrible secret all these years. Remember I told you about Mackey being my friend? Well, he found out about Henry. Henry told Mackey he would have more than a bump on his head if he told anyone, but he told me.
"In Civil War days, Henry managed to give the gold and silver to the Southern rebels, the same ones discovered by Phinny's unit in Georgia. After the war, Calhoun Benham and Henry got control of the money and hid it again."
One could have heard a pin drop as Phinny, Teddy and Alicia listened to Martha's astonishing confession. Finally, Phinny said, "B-b-but Martha, how did you get involved with this tin box and key?"
"It was Mackey," she answered. "We met one day in Whatcom. He told me he had stayed in the same room Henry used at the old hotel and found that tin box with clues to what happened to that old Andron cache. Because I had a key to the old brick courthouse, to which few people ever came, I agreed to hide the box. Then you, dear Phinny, stumbled on it one day."
Forgetting their many unanswered questions, the Arkesons and Alicia looked at each other. Then Phinny said what was on all of their minds.
"I'll bet the key unlocks something in that old Whatcom Hotel. Let's look around, before wreckers demolish it."
JoAnn Roe of Bellingham is a lifetime magazine journalist and the author of 17 books, including the much-loved children's series: "Castaway Cat," "Fisherman Cat," "Alaska Cat" and "Samurai Cat." Her most recent books are "The Columbia River: An Historical Travel Guide" and "The San Juan Islands: Into the 21st Century."