Editor's note: "Echoes of War" is a six-part, historical fiction story written by Whatcom County history researchers and writers. This is the final chapter.
OUR STORY SO FAR
Martha Arkeson reveals to her husband and son a long-held story about Confederate treasure finding its way to Bellingham after the Civil War. Phinny Arkeson and son Teddy hope a mystery hotel key will reveal more secrets.
Martha stared into the void around her. She hadn't slept since her husband, Phinny, had left the house early that morning. Her bed had been cold and quiet without him.
Phinny and their son, Teddy, had gone to the abandoned Whatcom Hotel, hoping to find the Confederate silver and gold that Henry Brown had presumably hidden there. It was almost dusk, and Martha was worried.
Then Phinny stormed into the parlor and slammed the door behind him. Startled, Martha quickly closed her book without marking her place.
Back from the hotel, Phinny stood before her, seething.
"'The South shall rise again,' Martha?" he growled through clenched teeth.
Anxiety formed a sudden hard pit in Martha's stomach and her heart sank. She looked down at her hands as they gripped her book, knuckles white from strain. She said nothing.
In a slow, steady taunt, Phinny recited the poem he had read countless times in his war journal:
"Fire upon waves
Reflected among clouds
Blood spilled upon shores
For gold, treachery, love
The South shall rise again"
"Your words?" he asked her. "Tell me I'm wrong."
Martha raised her eyes to her husband. Her red cheeks and temples revealed her embarrassment, but still she said nothing.
Phinny hadn't recognized his wife's writing when Mackey had belatedly given him the poem under the pretense that it had been found near the gold and silver on a beach in Georgia during the Civil War. But when Phinny found a letter from Martha hidden in floorboards at the Whatcom Hotel, he immediately remembered the ominous poem and its distinctive script.
The hotel letter, addressed to Henry Brown, gave directions to the treasure's location.
Henry's cousin, Mackey, had told Martha that Henry retrieved the gold and silver after the war, and confessed later to Henry that he had left the tin box of clues with Martha for safekeeping. What Mackey didn't realize was that Martha would use those clues to make her way to the hotel and retrieve the gold and silver for herself.
Henry hadn't known Martha personally, but through family ties he knew that she was a cunning and intelligent woman. He knew she would discover his secret, so he had to use the one thing he could to recover his treasure before someone else did - Martha's family.
Henry wrote a letter warning her of the dire consequences to Phinny and Teddy should she not return the treasure to him.
So under the guise of attending meetings of the women's auxiliary of The Grand Army of the Republic, Martha slowly transferred the gold and silver from the hotel to a locked cabinet in the old brick courthouse. She had hidden the tin box for safe keeping in the floorboards mere feet from the cabinet, only days before her husband found the box.
It seemed like ages since she'd written the poem and given it to Mackey to throw her husband off track.
Henry's brief visit to town a few days earlier had been triggered by a letter from Martha directing him to the treasure's new location. Henry left with the treasure as quickly as he'd come, departing for Canada to disappear for good.
Martha, still staring at her husband, felt a twinge of relief mixed with her embarrassment. No more secrets. She opened her mouth to speak, but Phinny spoke first.
"The gold and silver are gone," he whispered.
Martha's face softened. Phinny could've sworn he saw a smile in her eyes.
He turned on his heel, and as quickly as he had appeared, he vanished from the parlor, doors again slamming in his wake.
Martha returned to her bed, the scene looping in her head. She felt the pit in her stomach start to form again when she heard the echo of the front door closing. She sat up.
Phinny's footsteps made their way up the stairs, his characteristic shuffle mimicking her quickening heartbeat as he strode down the hall to the bedroom.
The door opened. Phinny's face was shadowed, but his eyes were clearly welling.
"Martha ... I'm so sorry," he said as he fell to his knees.
She leapt to his side, hushing him as she swept the hair from his face.
"I found Henry's letters, found everything. His threats," he trailed off. "I'm so very sorry. I should've known you'd be stronger than I was when it came to that treasure."
Phinny's head hung in shame. Martha raised his chin with her forefinger and held his gaze, her eyes full of understanding and relief.
"Now you know."
Sara Holodnick is one half of the Bureau of Historical Investigation (also known as The Good Time Girls). She also blogs at saragalactica.com.