Echoes of War: Mystery of a missing Confederate treasure in Whatcom County, Chapter 2

Troy Luginbill deepens the story in "Echoes of War" in the second chapter of the six-part serial work of historical fiction set in Whatcom County. Luginbill is director and curator of Lynden Pioneer Museum.
Troy Luginbill deepens the story in "Echoes of War" in the second chapter of the six-part serial work of historical fiction set in Whatcom County. Luginbill is director and curator of Lynden Pioneer Museum. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Editor's note: "Echoes of War" is a six-part, historical fiction story written by Whatcom County history researchers and writers. This is the second chapter.


Phineus James "Phinny" Arkeson found a tin box in the old brick courthouse near Bellingham Bay. Inside the box he found several papers and a brass key. What is their secret?


"Teddy," the son of Phineus James "Phinny" Arkeson and his wife, Martha, flashed his best smile at the young lady. Dr. Lyon's Tooth Powder had been doing wonders for Teddy's tobacco stains and coffee breath.

Teddy focused on the girl. What was her name? Melissa? Margaret? Oh well, it didn't matter much. She was a couple of years older than him and although he considered himself a dashing fellow, he was well aware that older girls wouldn't appreciate his high school career.

He was a great catcher on Bellingham High School's baseball team, but only the gals in his class looked at him fondly. Still, it never hurt to practice his charm.

He was only a half year away from graduation and then off to explore, like Theodore Roosevelt. The president's African expedition last March had left an impression on him. Teddy had never preferred his nickname until Roosevelt became president; now there was nothing quite like a president with your name to impress the girls.

Teddy will still gazing at the girl when he saw his mother return to the parlor and approach Mayor deMattos. His father must be home. Where had dad wandered on a chilly night like this? He had to know he would only anger his mother, who had spent so much time planning the party.

Teddy uttered a small laugh at what the girl had just said and decided to see what his dad was up to.

"Arlissa, please excuse me, I must see to the kitchen for mother. I promised I would make sure the cook had the fire high tonight. She often lets it low when cooking."

The girl's sour face told him he had gotten her name wrong, but, really, did it matter? Teddy excused himself with another smile and his quick wink that made girls at his school giggle.

He ducked out of the parlor when his mother wasn't looking. In the front hall he smelled and felt the cold, clear night air.

Quickly and quietly, as he had as a child, he mounted the steps along the wall, being sure to avoid the squeaky third step from the top. Just in case. Teddy was good at "just in case." It had allowed him much fun, with little trouble. And access to no few secrets.

Teddy peered into his father's office. Nothing. He moved silently across the hallway's new oriental rugs and looked into the bedroom. Nothing. He wondered where his dad could have gone. His father should be getting ready for the party.

Then Teddy heard a creak in the ceiling boards above him. The attic? Why the attic?

Again he practiced his footpad skills up the attic stairs. At the top he peered from the shadows at the light at the far end and saw his father hunched over the old school desk in front of the circular window.

Teddy had often seen his father retire there with a glass of whiskey and his war journal to stare at the sunset and have a quiet cry while he remembered the friends he had lost during the war between the states.

The war journal fascinated Teddy. How many times had he crept into his father's study to read it? Most of it was indecipherable, with simple notes in his father's shorthand and a personal code that reduced names to initials and places to abbreviations.

Teddy had tried to ask his dad about his memories to decipher the journal. But his taciturn father always refused, saying it was "a time passed," and "we Americans now belong to the future and industry that make this nation great."

Teddy had even tried asking that simpleton Mackey Brown, who had come out West with his dad, about their Ohio militia. Brown had taken a blow to the head during battle and keeping him focused was difficult.

Still, Teddy tried. He read and reread the journal, studying what he could of the battles of the Civil War to link places and faces to the journal's pages. But little of it matched up.

As Teddy watched from the shadows, he saw his father busy himself with a metal box on the desk and with some papers and a large brass key.

As he began to back down the stairs, Teddy wondered if the key had anything to do with the last page in the journal, a loose page he had memorized because it seemed full of pirates, spy masters and women, and these words ...

Fire upon waves

Reflected among clouds

Blood spilled upon shores

For gold, treachery, love

The South shall rise again

Below those words, written not in the hand of his father but in the script of an obviously well-bred lady, was a sketch of a key.

A key remarkably similar to the one in his father's hand.

Troy Luginbill is the director and curator of Lynden Pioneer Museum. On weekends he travels back in time to the jungles of the Pacific with his 1943 truck, Mabel.