Chapter OneYou can't IMAGINE what it was like!"
the tour guide said in a voice that echoed
over the James River like a cranky old aunt.
Huh, thought Sophie. Maybe YOU can't imagine it, Mister Mouth-but
Sophie LaCroix pulled her black wool cape around her-the one
Mama had made her just for this sightseeing trip-and tried to bunch her
long, not-quite-blonde-not-quite-brown hair into
the hood to muffle Mr. Mouth's voice. How
was she supposed to concentrate on the
delicious realness of Jamestown Island,
with this guy barging into the quiet,
telling her that she, Sophie LaCroix, "couldn't
Imagining is my specialty, she
wanted to inform him. Have YOU
ever imagined YOURself back in the eighteenth century, acted it out,
and made a film of it? Sophie sniffed. Probably NOT.
She edged away from the guide and gazed across the river. In the
film they'd just watched in the Visitors' Center-well, SHE and
Mama had actually watched it while her thirteen-year-old sister
Lacie and Aunt Bailey had made fun of the narrator talking like
he had a chip bag clip on his nose-the narrator's voice had
described the river as "a salty brine at high tide and a blend of
slime and filth at low." Sophie wanted to repeat this to her best
friend, Fiona, back at school, and maybe they could start saying
that about the Poquoson River in THEIR town. It would sound
so cool. So would "the drear dark sky"-which did stretch over
the river on that day-after-Thanksgiving and slowly soak them
with drizzle. Mama had wanted her to put on a plastic poncho,
but that would totally ruin the effect of the cape.
Besides, Sophie thought, I'm sure Captain John Smith didn't
have a plastic raincoat back in 1607. No, this experience had to be
as real as she could make it-so she and Fiona and Kitty could
develop their next movie about it.
Because, of course, that's what they-the Corn Flakes-would have
to do as soon as Thanksgiving vacation was over. A "cheerless sky"
and the possibility of cruel diseases "such as swellings, fluxes, and
burning fevers" like the film had described: that stuff was too good to
waste. Sophie stretched out her hands to the river.
Antoinette called silently to God to help her know the secrets that
lay at the slimy, filthy river bottom. Antoinette's heart began to pound
as she found herself at the brink of some new mission-some fascinating
adventure-some brilliant endeavor that would make Papa
see once and for all that she was worthy of his honor and respect-
"Soph-what are you doing?"
Sophie felt a heavy hand on her shoulder, and she had to scurry back
from Antoinette's world to focus up at her father. He was towering
over her, and nobody could tower like way-tall Daddy with his broad,
I-used-to-be-a-football-star shoulders and his sharp blue eyes, so
unlike Sophie's soft brown ones. In fact, Sophie always thought that
if somebody lined up a dozen fathers and asked a stranger to pick
out which one was hers, they'd never get the right one.
"We're all headed up to the fort," Daddy said.
"Can't I just stay and look at the river for a couple more minutes?"
Daddy shook his big dark head. "No, because next thing I
know you'll be in it. We're working as a team today."
Sophie muttered an "okay" and tried to wriggle her shoulder
out of his hand, but he had the Daddy Grip on it.
"No way, Soph," he said. "I don't want a repeat of that
Sophie didn't remind him that she had grown WAY up since
THAT happened back in September. What would be the point? she
thought as she broke into a jog to keep up with him. He thinks I'm the
biggest ditz in the universe and he always will. And it's SO not fair!
"I wish you would've let me bring my video camera," she said.
Daddy gave a grunt. "Uh-huh-then I'd have to keep you on a
leash." He stopped about six feet from a statue where Mama, her little
brother Zeke, Lacie, and Aunt Bailey and Uncle Preston were gathered.
Wonderful, Sophie thought. He's going to give me a lecture right here
where they can all hear. She wished she'd never asked the question.
At least Daddy squatted down in front of her, so his voice wouldn't
boom down to her tiny height, but he still didn't let go of her shoulder.
It was all she could do not to squirm.
"Look, we've had this discussion before," he said.
Yeah, about sixty bajillion times, Sophie thought.
"Everything is not always all about you," he went on.
It NEVER is!
"We're here to do what Aunt Bailey and Uncle Preston want to
do, because they're our guests. I don't think that includes standing
there watching you stare at the river for an hour, dreaming up
Sophie straightened her thin shoulders under Daddy's hand.
"I was starting an idea for our next film."
"Well, take notes or something." Daddy stood up. "Are you
going to stay with the team, or do I have to hold your hand like
a little kid? That would be pretty embarrassing for an eleven-year-old."
That was actually a tough question. Sophie did NOT want to
be on any kind of "team" with her own sister, much less her aunt
and uncle. But the thought of trailing behind her father all day
was worse. She gave a sigh from her heels that blew the little wisps
of hair on her forehead. It wasn't wasted on Daddy.
"Don't be a drama queen about it," he said, his eyes narrowed.
"Just think of it as taking a hit for the team." He nodded toward the
statue. "Let's go."
Sophie waited until he finally let go of her shoulder, and then she
squared herself off again and headed toward the "team."
Antoinette tossed back her long, luxurious hair and put on a smile.
She couldn't let Papa take away the chance to pay her respects to her
ancestor, Captain John Smith. He wasn't French like she was, of course,
but she thought of him as her forefather because he, like her, had been
a pioneer, a taker of risks, a person who stood up against things more
evil than good-
"Oh wow-he was a total BABE!"
Sophie glared at Lacie.
"I mean, look at that BODY," Lacie said. She was gaping up at
Aunt Bailey sidled up next to Lacie. "That's what I'M talkin' about."
Five-year-old Zeke furrowed his little dark brows at Aunt Bailey.
"WHAT are you talkin' about?" he said.
Mama cocked her head, all curly with frosted hair, and gave
Sophie's aunt a hard look. "Thank you, Bailey," she said.
Aunt Bailey covered her very-red lips with her hand-with its
nails all squared off and white at the tips-and giggled in Lacie's
direction. Although Aunt Bailey was OLD, like probably thirty,
Sophie thought she acted like she was Lacie's age.
"That's John Smith, Z," Daddy said to Zeke. "You remember
him from Pocahontas?"
"Oh, yeah," Zeke said. He cocked his head just the way Mama
did, though his hair was dark like Daddy's, and it stood straight
up in coarse, little spikes on his head. "Did they get married?"
"Nah," Daddy said. "They might have gone out a few times, but
she married somebody else."
"She married John Rolfe, Daddy," Sophie said. "And I'm SURE
she never went on a date with Captain John Smith."
Uncle Preston gave Daddy a nudge with his elbow. "Silly you," he
said to him.
Then Daddy gave one of those only-one-side-of-his-mouth-going-up
smiles that made Sophie want to punch something. He might as
well just come right out and SAY I'm a little know-it-all, Sophie
thought. Because that's what he thinks.
"Watch your tone, Sophie," Daddy said.
WHAT tone? Sophie thought. I was just sharing information!
"All right, folks, now if you'll just follow me," Mr. Mouth was saying.
"I'm going to take you to the 1607 James Fort site. I think you'll
be fascinated by what I have to tell you." He puffed up his chest.
"Now, the question many folks ask me is why do we need to
dig up remnants of a civilization that no longer exists?"
"That would be MY question," Lacie muttered to Aunt Bailey.
They rolled their eyes in unison.
"Here is the best answer I can give you," Mr. Mouth went on.
"The present is better understood when viewed through the lenses
of the past-"
Sophie jerked her head around, so that her face was sideways
in the hood. Even before she could straighten it out, her mind was
The lenses of the past! she thought. The lenses of my camera-that's
what they are: "the lenses of the past."
She really did wish she could take notes-although she was
pretty sure she would remember a gem like THAT. Fiona was
going to be so impressed.
Sophie stood on a low concrete wall so she could get a better of
view of Mr. Mouth. He was now shouting like Lacie's soccer coach,
but at least he was finally saying something she wanted to hear.
"That's why it's so significant for archaeologists here at
Jamestown to find, for instance, the remains of the fort, " he said,
"because it was the center of their life, and this is where they set the
precedents for our representative government and legal code."
Sophie didn't know what "precedents" were, but she was sure Fiona
would. She stood on her tiptoes to see where Mr. Mouth was now
pointing. There were several men wearing hard hats and very dirty
clothes, down on their hands and knees, making tiny digs in the dirt
with pointed instruments that looked like pens.
"You can see how precise the techniques are," Mr. Mouth said. "But
this is the way they discovered the rest of the palisade of the fort. It's
called a trenching technique. They're following the white blocks in
the ground where they think the palisades were."
"Whatever," Lacie mumbled. Aunt Bailey, of course, nodded.
Sophie moved a few more inches away from them on top of the low
wall and craned her neck to see the map Mr. Mouth was holding.
"We know where to dig for PHYSICAL evidence-such as building
ruins and artifacts-by using the DOCUMENTARY evidence
we find. This is a map left by one of the secretaries of the first General
Assembly, giving the measurements!"
Mr. Mouth was so delighted with THAT piece of information,
he sprayed the people who were standing directly in front of him
with enthusiastic spit.
"Gross me out," Lacie whispered to Aunt Bailey.
"We might need those plastic ponchos after all," Aunt Bailey
Mama turned and gave Lacie a don't-be-disrespectful look.
Sophie would have taken a minute to enjoy that if she hadn't
wanted to hear every word Mr. Mouth was saying. She decided
to call him Mr. Messenger instead.
He's like a messenger of knowledge from the past, she thought.
She KNEW Fiona would be impressed with THAT.
"These archaeologists have uncovered over 350 thousand artifacts
dating to the first half of the seventeenth century," Mr. Messenger
said. "They have even excavated two large trash pits."
"They dug through the garbage?" Lacie said.
This time it didn't come out in a whisper, and Mr. Messenger turned
to her with wide eyes, as if he were overjoyed that she'd asked that
"Yes, young lady!" he said. "You would be amazed what we can
learn about a society from its refuse. In fact, well-preserved trash is a
Sophie made a mental note of that. Lacie turned to Aunt Bailey and
wrinkled her nose.
"I don't think I'd want to know THAT bad," she murmured.
"As you can see," Mr. Messenger said, "they are still working.
Where I'm going to take you next, they are excavating what may
have been a graveyard."
"This just keeps getting better and better," Aunt Bailey whispered.
"First old garbage, now dead bodies."
"And then we'll watch the further excavation of a well," Mr.
Messenger continued. "They've already found a metal armor
"Now THAT's a bra," Aunt Bailey said behind her hand to
Lacie. "Speaking of bras, we need to go shopping. I know you're
wearing the wrong size right now."
Sophie could feel her face going crimson. She checked out her
parents to see if they were hearing all this, but Mama was deep
in conversation with one of the archaeologists, and Daddy was
watching Mama, his arms folded and his head bent toward
"What do you want to bet Lynda is at this moment giving that
guy directions to our home?" Sophie heard Daddy say. "The
woman never meets a stranger."
Mr. Messenger was winding up his explanation before they
moved on, and Sophie was now having a harder time focusing on
him with all those other conversations going on around her. She
leaned out just a tiny bit more.
"When we go into the tent where the archaeologists are working on
the well site," Mr. Messenger said, "you will see them using very small
trowels to scrape one eighth of an inch of earth at a time and then sweep
it into five gallon buckets. All that dirt goes through a screen-"
"Uh-oh," Daddy said to Uncle Preston. "There go all my buckets.
Lynda will be down here tomorrow with ten of them and a half a
dozen gardening shovels."
Daddy! Sophie wanted to shout at him. I can't concentrate!
She leaned out just a little more-and suddenly she was on the
ground, tumbling down the incline toward the river.
She tried to grab onto something to stop herself, but she was
tangled up in her cape, and half the hood was covering her face.
Arms flailing, she knew she had to be within inches of the water, and all
she could think was, If I fall in, I'm going to be in SO much trouble!
And then something stopped her, and Sophie clung to it with
both cape-entangled arms. With a jerk of her neck, she got the hood
off her face and found herself looking up at Mr. Messenger. She
was hanging onto his legs.
It was the closest she had been to him, and now she could see
that his eyes were twinkling.
"No swimming allowed, missy," he said.
He gave her a grin and a hand to haul herself up with. She
dusted off her cape, and then she curtsied.
"Thank you, kind sir," she said.
He dipped into a deep bow. "You are quite welcome, m'lady."
Behind her, Sophie could hear Lacie wailing, "She did NOT just
curtsy to that guy!"
And she could hear Zeke yelling, "Mama! Sophie almost fell in
But all she really LISTENED to were the words of Mr. Messenger
as he smiled down at her.
"You are a student of history, aren't you?" he said.
"I am. I make my own historical films-well, with my friends."
"And I imagine they are spectacular. How would you like to take a
peek under these tarps here and see the chimney foundation and the
floorboards of a house they've found?"
Sophie looked over at an area as big as their garage at home that was
covered with a sheet of thick green plastic, and her heart started to pound.
"Oh, yes, sir, please!" Antoinette cried.