Annie pondered Luke’s mysterious remark as they headed for the forest above the mill. The horses climbed until the hill leveled into a clearing. They trotted toward the edge of the forest.
He caught her mount’s bridle and brought both horses to a stop. After he dismounted, he tied the horses to a bush while she climbed out of the saddle.
“Over this way,” he said, nodding toward the trees. He led her into the grove.
“This is where I woke up yesterday,” she said.
“It’s also where we both lost consciousness in our own time.”
Their boots crunched softly over the ground, cushioned with years of pine needles and fallen leaves. Luke stopped when he reached a young pine tree in the middle of the aspen grove. The straight but slender pine reached for the sunlight blocked by the other trees. The lower half had been stripped of branches.
What captured Annie’s attention were the initials carved in the bark.
“Look.” He pointed to the carvings.
“There’s only three pair of initials,” she exclaimed. “Where’s the fourth?”
“I’m guessing he hasn’t been born yet.”
She stepped next to the tree. The carvings were low enough to trace with her fingers. The first initials were the letters P.C. “Paul Crawford,” she whispered. “He was my great-great-grandfather.”
“Is your great-great-grandfather,” Luke corrected.
She looked over at him. “I still can’t believe this is real.”
He shoved his hands in his pockets, his mouth set in a grim line. “Examine the evidence, Annie. I’m a builder. Even I can’t grow a tree overnight.”
“You could have planted it,” she said.
“Why would I go to this much trouble to make you believe in something that can’t be proven?” He walked over and slapped his palm against the trunk. “It’s real and solid. Like everything else in this place.”
As he spoke, Annie’s head spun. The forest seemed to tilt then quickly righted. “How?” she whispered. “And why? I try to get my mind around what has happened and I feel dizzy.”
“I don’t know.” Luke’s voice softened. “I have a theory, like I told you yesterday. But it’s only a theory.”
“You truly believe we’ve traveled to 1891.”
“Now you’re saying we’re stranded here?”
Luke nodded, his face serious.
“Then I am staying with my ancestors.” As unbelievable as it seemed, there was an odd sense of peace amidst the cruel trick time had played. “Paul Crawford carved these initials.”
She faced the tree and traced each letter. “E.S. is for Elizabeth Samson, Paul’s wife. Samson was her maiden name. They must have carved these when they were courting. Look. These aren’t as old.” She pointed at the last set of letters. “L.C. is for Laura Crawford, Paul and Elizabeth’s firstborn...” She stopped and looked at Luke. “There’s no child at the house.”
Luke stepped closer to her. “No.”
“What happened?” Annie asked.
“You don’t know?”
“All my grandfather told me was that I was named for his aunt,” she said. “My first name is Laura. Anne is my middle name. Grandpa always called me Annie.”
“According to Doc Smyth, Laura caught pneumonia last winter and died just before her second birthday.”
Tears welled in Annie’s eyes. “Oh, poor Elizabeth. She must have already been pregnant when she lost her daughter.”
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