THE OTHER ELIZABETH

cover of The Other Elizabeth by Karleen Bradford
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Summary ~ Reviews ~ Excerpt ~ Trailer

SUMMARY

It happened one hundred years ago…it happened today…

It was a lovely day in June. Elizabeth was enjoying a visit to Upper Canada Village with her Grade Seven class when a strange compulsion urged her toward Cook’s Tavern. Curious, she walked into the old building, and stepped into the past!

A fire burns in the fireplace... men in buckskins sit around the tables... she is wearing a long dress of grey homespun...

“Why, it’s young Elizabeth Frobisher,” said one of the men.

“But I’m not,” Elizabeth wanted to say, “I’m not Elizabeth Frobisher! I’m Elizabeth Duncan!”

A story to fascinate readers of all ages - rich in historical detail - but above all, a good adventure tale, beautifully told.

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REVIEWS

Globe & Mail

“...a time-shift story in which...the transition is handled with remarkable skill...”

CM Magazine

“exciting and enlightening”

EXCERPT from THE OTHER ELIZABETH

CHAPTER ONE
The Other Elizabeth Takes Over

Oh, Elizabeth, not another mouldy old building—I’m dead! Come on, let’s get an ice-cream cone.” Jenny hung back as her friend pulled her eagerly towards a square, red brick building standing beside the dusty road. A stagecoach drawn by a team of sturdy black horses pulled up just as she was speaking, sending yet another cloud of dust into the air. She choked and turned her head away in disgust.

“Just one more,” Elizabeth insisted, looking at a small map she held in her hand. “This is Cook’s Tavern and it’s supposed to be standing just about on the exact spot where the original Cook’s Tavern stood.”

“I couldn’t care less, Elizabeth. I’ve had it.”

“Well, I want to see it,” Elizabeth said stubbornly. “You go ahead and I’ll catch up to you in a minute.” Her grade seven class had been touring Upper Canada Village—a restoration of a typical Canadian pioneer settlement on the banks of the St. Lawrence River—but even though she was as tired and as hot as the rest of them, as soon as Elizabeth had caught sight of the old tavern she had felt herself irresistibly drawn to it.

Jenny shook her head. “You’re crazy,” she said. Then, seeing that Elizabeth was determined to go in, Jenny shrugged and turned to follow the others. “Don’t be too long,” she called back, but Elizabeth had already run up the steps of the porch.

The veranda was crowded with people watching the stagecoach come in and waiting for a ride on it. Elizabeth threaded her way through them and stepped inside. Immediately in front of her, in the middle of a large hall, was a big, black, old-fashioned stove with a round stovepipe that disappeared into the ceiling above. To her disappointment the rooms were all chained off and she had to content herself with looking into them from the hallway.

On her right was a small dining room. She glanced into it curiously. There was a long table running down one side of the room and a smaller table in front of the fireplace. Both were covered with clean white cloths, set as if ready for company at any moment. It had the same musty smell that so many of the other houses in the village had. She backed away through the crowd and crossed the hall to the other side. The room on that side was larger, with a counter running across one end of it. On the counter sat a round, brown barrel with a spigot, and she wondered if there was anything in it. Probably not, she decided. The walls of this room were painted blood red with a drab green trim on the woodwork—she didn’t think much of that colour combination. The fireplace was clean and swept out; the tables placed around it were bare and scrubbed-looking.

Elizabeth turned away, vaguely dissatisfied. She felt as if she had been expecting something else, but she couldn’t imagine what. A young girl in a long, flowered dress was standing at the foot of the stairs, telling the group of people clustered around her about the history of the tavern.

“Of course the original building was probably constructed of squared timbers,” the girl was saying.

As Elizabeth moved toward her in order to hear better, the hallway began to shimmer. The walls seemed to be dissolving and closing in upon her at the same time. She closed her eyes and reached out to the doorframe to steady herself. The girl’s voice and the chatter of the people around her grew fainter until they faded away altogether. Elizabeth shook her head, trying to clear it, and opened her eyes.

Instead of the smooth, painted walls there were rough boards, heavily coated with whitewash. A fire roared in the fireplace and a plump, motherly woman in a long grey homespun dress bent over it. Gone was the dusty, unused smell. Instead, the aroma of cooking meat came wafting out to envelop her. The tables around were crowded with men, all dressed in the same rough material as the woman or in buckskins. They were laughing, talking, and arguing at the top of their voices. The air was thick with smoke from their pipes and from the fireplace.

As Elizabeth stood there, staring at them all, the woman looked up from the fire and saw her in the doorway.

“Why, Elizabeth,” she said in an astonished voice, “whatever are you doing here so late in the evening? Did your mother send you for something?”

Elizabeth looked behind her but there was no one else there. Was the woman talking to her? She knew her name—but how could she? And what did the woman mean, had her mother sent her for something? What had happened?

“Elizabeth, are you all right, child? You look deathly pale.” The woman wiped her hands hastily on her apron and came over to her.

“It’s young Elizabeth Frobisher,” she heard one of the men mutter. They had all stopped talking and turned to look at her. “They do say she’s not been quite right since she was so sick this past autumn. Near died, she did.”

“Oh, hush, Jedediah,” the woman chided. “You’re the worst gossip on the river. You must be cold,” she went on to Elizabeth. “Come and sit by the fire while I see if Adam has unhitched the horse yet. He’ll take you back home. It’s much too far for you to be going by yourself this late in the day.”

“But I’m not . . .” Elizabeth finally managed to say. “I’m not Elizabeth . . .”

“Now you just sit and rest, child,” the woman commanded firmly. “Of course you’re Elizabeth, and we’ll get you home straightaway. Your poor mother must be frantic.”

I’m not Elizabeth Frobisher, I’m Elizabeth Duncan, she had been going to say, but the woman bustled away before she could get the words out. Couldn’t the woman see that she wasn’t that other Elizabeth? She must look different. And she certainly was dressed differently. She looked down at herself, expecting to see the familiar washed-out jeans, but saw, to her bewilderment, that she was dressed in exactly the same thick, grey homespun cloth as most of the others in the room. She stuck out one foot from beneath the long, voluminous skirt, then tucked it quickly back. Instead of her name-brand trainers, it was shod in a neat buckskin moccasin.

“Poor thing doesn’t even know who she is,” she heard a voice whisper. By this time all the faces were turned toward her. She cringed back on her stool, feeling the rough stone of the fireplace hard against her back, and closed her eyes again. This couldn’t be happening!

“I got to Adam just in time; by great good fortune he hadn’t unhitched yet.”

The woman bustled back up to her, carrying a woollen shawl. “Here now, you just wrap this around you to keep you warm. There’s a nasty wind blowing tonight. Rain coming, too, I declare,” she added as she hurried Elizabeth toward the door. “The cat slept with its nose in the air all night and that’s a sure sign.”

“But I can’t . . .” Elizabeth started to protest as she stepped out of the door, then stopped. Gone were the dirt streets of Upper Canada Village and the throngs of people licking ice-cream cones and snapping pictures. Instead of cheerful noise and bustle, there was an almost complete silence, broken only by the keening of the wind in the trees. In front of her a narrow track led across a grassy field, and beyond it the wide St. Lawrence River glittered ominously. Instead of the bright, sunny day she had left, clouds hung low. It was cold, damp, and almost dark.

A cart pulled up from behind the tavern and a man jumped down from it. “Well, Elizabeth,” he said kindly, “gone a-wanderin’, have you?” Before she realized what he was going to do or could make a move to protest, he put both hands around her waist and lifted her up onto the seat. Then he climbed in beside her and clucked to the horse, giving the reins a flip as he did so.

“No!”

Elizabeth’s protest was drowned out by the voice of the woman. “Get her home right smartly now, Adam,” she called. “It’s a nasty night and she’ll be getting sick again if we’re not careful.”

“Don’t you worry, Mrs. Cook,” he answered, “I’ll have her home in a trice.”

The horse plodded off. The wagon jolted up the track onto a narrow dirt road that followed the edge of the river. Elizabeth twisted around in her seat, tensing herself to jump out and run back, but the imposing red brick tavern she had walked into so curiously just a few moments ago wasn’t there. A much smaller, square-timbered house stood all alone behind them in the gathering dusk, smoke rising up out of the chimney. Mrs. Cook stood looking after them under a sign that was blowing in the wind and creaking noisily. The sign had “Cook’s Tavern” lettered crudely on it. Elizabeth caught her breath with a sob and turned back, hunching herself into her corner of the seat. She clutched the borrowed shawl around her. It didn’t make sense! Nothing made sense!

“Are you warm enough?” the big man beside her asked. “It’s cold for this time of year.”

It took Elizabeth a moment to realize he was talking to her, and another moment to understand what he had said. He was looking down at her with a worried frown.

“Warm enough? Oh—yes. Thank you,” she managed to get out. It wasn’t the cold that was making her shake. Then a thought broke through her confusion and she looked back up at him. “What . . . what is the time of year?” she asked.

“Why, it’s October,” he answered in surprise. His frown deepened.

“Oh! Oh—yes, of course,” she stuttered again.

October! It had been June when she had gone into the tavern. It was the wrong month. And it was most certainly the wrong year as well. Elizabeth looked around her at the dark woods that were pressing in upon them now on one side. The river ran along the other side, but not level with the banks as it had done at Upper Canada Village in her time; now there was a steep drop down to the water’s edge. What year was it, then?

“October of the year 1813,” Adam continued, answering her unspoken question.

“And the war drags on and on,” he added grimly.

War? What war? Elizabeth felt a jolt—almost of fear—run through her as she searched her mind frantically. When had there ever been a war around this part of Ontario? Then she began to remember. Their teacher, Mrs. Brown, had been telling them something about a war while they were on the bus coming down from Ottawa. The War of 1812, that was it. Against the United States of America. And she’d mentioned something about a famous battle that had taken place right where Upper Canada Village was situated. What was the name of it? Oh, why hadn’t she paid more attention! At the time she and Jenny had been deeply involved in a discussion as to whether Jenny’s shirt looked better with a belt or without it, and they had hardly been listening at all.

Elizabeth tossed her head in frustration and clenched her hands so tightly her fingers hurt.

What does it matter, anyway, she thought desperately. This whole thing just isn’t happening. It can’t be. Any minute now I’ll wake up and find I’m back in my own bed at home. It’s a dream, that’s all. It has to be.

But it seemed much too real for a dream. Adam had lapsed into silence beside her, but she could hear the snuffling of the horse pulling them, hear the creak of the leather harness, and see the plumes of the horse’s warm breath puffing out into the cold air. The seat on which she sat was hard, and the material of the long skirt felt scratchy and unfamiliar against her legs. She burrowed down into the shawl, smelling the wool smell of it mixed with some pungent, unknown herb.

Gradually the dusk turned into darkness. She could no longer see the river beside them, only a black void, but she could hear the waves dashing against the shore. The man called Adam didn’t speak again until they turned off the road onto a track that ran through the trees.

“Here we are, then,” he said finally as they trotted out of the trees into a clearing and pulled up in front of a log house. He jumped down and reached up for her.

She was beyond making any resistance and let herself be helped down just as the door of the house opened. A thin, stoop-shouldered man stood in the doorway, framed by the flickering light of a fire inside.

“I’ve brought back your wandering lass, Matthew,” Adam called.

“Thank the good Lord,” the man answered. “Edward and I have been looking all over for her. We were just getting ready to go for help.”

“She appeared at the Cooks’,” Adam answered, leading her over to the house, “and we thought we’d best get her back to you as quickly as possible. She’s a mite confused, I think,” he added quietly.

A “mite confused” couldn’t begin to describe how Elizabeth felt as the man put an affectionate hand on her shoulder and drew her close to him. And then it seemed as if a whole herd of little children squeezed out from behind him and began tugging on her skirt and jumping around her.

“Where have you been, Elizabeth?” they cried, all shouting at once. “Where have you been?”

“Mama was worried so about you that she only gave us slices of cold porridge and bread for supper,” a very aggrieved voice said. Elizabeth looked down to see a boy of about six looking up at her with big, accusing dark eyes.

“That’s enough, Benjy. Leave her alone, girls,” said a stern voice from within the cabin. “Come in, Elizabeth, and sit by the fire. I’ll get you some supper directly.”

Elizabeth only had time to see a thin woman with brown hair skinned back into a bun, and a tired, worried face before the children were pulling and pushing her into the room.

“Come in, Adam,” she heard the man behind her say. “Sit for a while and have something to revive you before you set out again. I’ll just go and tell Edward she’s found.”

“Thank you all the same, Matthew, but it’s late and I’d best be heading back,” Adam answered.

Elizabeth heard the man say “thank you,” and a few low words which she couldn’t catch, then the door closed behind her.

“Sarah! Catherine! I said to leave Elizabeth alone,” the mother said sharply to the children who were still dancing around Elizabeth. Elizabeth could see now that there were only three of them, although with all the noise they were making it seemed like more. “Up with you all now and get ready for bed.”

“Oh, Mama, it’s early yet,” wheedled one of the girls. She had surprisingly fair hair and dark, blue-grey eyes, very much like Elizabeth’s own. Elizabeth was startled to see that the two girls looked exactly alike. They must be twins, she thought, and about three or four years older than the boy, Benjy.

“Get your nightclothes on, then, and you can come back down for a while if you promise not to bother your sister.”

The three scampered up a ladder at one end of the room, to what Elizabeth supposed must be a loft above. She looked around her at the room in which she found herself. It was lit only by the fire, which burned brightly with many sparks and sputters in a huge stone fireplace at the opposite end of the room from the ladder. A big, wooden chair was set on one side of it and a rocking chair on the other. A brightly coloured rag rug covered the roughly planked floor between them. A long table, with benches along either side, took up most of the rest of the room. Along the front wall was a kind of counter with a basin of water and a stack of plates on it. Against the back wall was another bench that looked as if it were used for a bed. Blankets were folded on it neatly and a bearskin was thrown over them. At the far end of the room, beyond the ladder going up into the loft, was another room. Elizabeth could just make out a big bed built into one corner.

Hanging all around the fireplace were strings of dried apple rings, squashes, and chunks of what looked like smoked meat. The blazing light from the fire cast deep shadows on the walls and rafters. From the rafters hung all sorts of guns, fishing rods, paddles, models of canoes and small river boats, Indian bows and arrows, skins of small furry animals, and even the head of a deer. There was a crude stone mantelpiece over the fireplace on which Elizabeth could see bits and pieces of what looked like broken pottery and stones. A black metal crane with hooks hung in the fireplace over the fire. Elizabeth knew that the hooks were for holding pots and kettles. She had seen many of them in other pioneer houses that she had visited.

“Don’t just stand there staring as if you’d never seen your own home before, Elizabeth,” the mother said firmly. “Come over to the fire while your supper’s cooking.”

Elizabeth walked over to a stool in front of the fireplace and sank down in a daze. Beside her was an old rocking chair and a small wooden cradle. The hood had been sawn off the end of the cradle.

That was when the twins were babies, she thought. Papa had sawn it off so that Mama could put them both in at once, with their heads at either end and their feet all tangled up in the middle. They had looked funny, lying like that, she remembered with a weak smile.

Then she sat up with a jolt as she realized what she was thinking. She couldn’t be remembering that! How could she even know about it? With a frightened cry of protest she leaped to her feet, bumping roughly into the cradle as she did so. A tiny howl immediately started up from inside.

The mother looked up quickly from the fire. “Elizabeth, what ails you?” she asked crossly. “Now see what you’ve done. Rock baby Charity back to sleep while I dish up your porridge and pork.”

Elizabeth looked down into the cradle. Only one baby there now. One very annoyed baby with her mouth wide open and the howls getting louder. Very awkwardly, Elizabeth knelt down and started to rock. She’d never done that before. She didn’t have any brothers or sisters and, having no desire whatever for babysitting, she’d never even come this close to a baby before. Much to her surprise the baby stopped crying, stuck a round, pink thumb into her mouth, and went back to sleep.

“That’s a mercy,” the mother said, and dished out the steaming hot food onto a large, earthenware plate. “Come and eat now and you can tell us what happened.”

Just then the door opened and the man came back in, followed by an older boy. The boy was almost as tall as his father, but much more sturdily built. Like his father, he wore buckskin breeches and vest and a rough cotton shirt. When he saw Elizabeth he frowned.

“A fine lot of trouble you’ve caused us, Lizzie, you dolt,” he said.

“Well, nobody asked you to go out looking for me,” Elizabeth was astonished to hear herself say in a voice that was just as annoyed as his. “I can take care of myself perfectly well. And don’t call me Lizzie,” she added.

“Hah. I suppose that’s why Adam had to bring you back from the Cooks’ place, then,” he retorted.

Elizabeth opened her mouth to answer, although she had no idea what she was going to say, but the mother spoke first.

“Hush, Edward. You know Elizabeth’s still not well. Don’t fret her.”

The boy stomped over to the table and sat down. His father crossed to the chair by the fireplace and sat down as well. Elizabeth noticed that he walked with a limp. He hadn’t spoken since he had come in, but now he reached down to pick up a pipe that had been lying by the fireplace and said slowly, “What did happen, Elizabeth? You surely didn’t get lost, did you?”

Elizabeth looked down at the food in front of her. There was a wooden spoon beside the plate. She picked it up and pushed at the chunks of meat. Then, suddenly, all the confusion and the impossibilities of the last few hours washed over her like a wave. She dropped the spoon and covered her face with her hands, choking.

“I don’t know what happened!” she cried. “I don’t know what’s happened at all!”