Chapter 4: A close-call and a theft

October 9, 1968

More than a week went by since Garfield had his run-in with the Sloans on the Route 83 bus, and he has since further settled into his usual routine at school.

Having had gotten settled in with the school work and continuing to make new friends, Garfield has find himself with more and more people willing to sprung to his defense whenever the Sloans make disparaging remarks about him.

Anyways, that day, he and the school orchestra went on a trip to Almonte to participate in a joint orchestra practice with their counterparts at the Almonte and District High School, which was part of a series of joint practices leading to their upcoming performance in a concert.

Because of the practice at Almonte, Garfield and his classmates in Orchestral Music class were excused from their other classes for the entire day.

After meeting up at Ottawa Union Station at 8:00, the school orchestra boarded the 8:15 Canadian Pacific train bound for Chalk River, later arriving at Almonte at 9:23.

Their practice of Wagner's Symphonic Ring went through like a breeze, and it was only a matter of time before lunch period came.

As the two orchestras break for lunch, the students given permission to head into town, provided that they stay together as a group and return back to school before third period.

Garfield was in the company of two of his friends and another two students from Almonte District High School as they returned back to school after lunch in town, and the five were chatting casually as they crossed the CP Rail tracks on Bridge Street.

"The weather's sure gettin' chilly lately." One of the students from Almonte, whose name is Jack and plays the oboe, remarked as they walked past the town hall.

"Tell me about it." One of Garfield's friends from Glebe, whose name is Rowan and plays the trombone, nodded. "It's only a matter of weeks before it starts snowing."

"Yeah." The second student from Almonte, whose name is Paul and plays the cello, agreed before he turned towards Garfield and asked, "You never had any snow in Taiwan, don't you, Garfield?"

"Being located right on the Tropic of Cancer makes it impossible to snow unless you're in the mountains." Garfield replied. "That said, Taiwanese winters can be humid and cold with a lot of precipitation outdoors, as opposed to the dry cold winter here in Canada."

"True." Jack nodded thoughtfully, but before he could continue, Janet, who is the only girl in the group and plays the flute in the orchestra, gasped in horror.

"What the...?" Rowan trailed off as the boys followed Janet's gaze, where they quickly get a firm grasp of the situation.

Just across the bridge, they saw a little girl about five years of age darting onto the roadway.

A dusty-brown moving van, turning from Union Street onto Bridge Street, was barely a yard away from her. The driver of the van vigorously sounded the horn in warning, and the girl, momentarily confused, ran directly in front of the van.

"Holy moly!" Jack exclaimed, and the group of five quickly rushed across the bridge.

Fortunately, the girl managed to cross the road safely and pull herself up onto a low wall, which formed one side of the bridge.

However, a second later, as the van sped down Bridge Street, the girl lost her balance and toppled off the wall out of sight.

"Oh no." Paul caught his breath as Garfield wordlessly sprinted over to the spot where the girl had toppled off the wall.

Reaching the side of the bridge, Garfield peeked over briefly before he turned towards his schoolmates.

"She landed on the side of the river!" He reported before waving them over and added, "Come on!"

As quick as foxes, the group of five raced down the embankment and approached the girl. The left side of her body was in the water, and she was unresponsive.

"She better be-" Jack began and trailed off, not wanting their worse fears to be confirmed, as Garfield managed to pull the girl out of the river.

After a quick examination, Garfield was relieved to see that the girl was still breathing normally and that no water has entered her mouth or nose. In addition, there was no indication that the girl had suffered from any broken bones.

Immediately, Janet knelt down and gently picked the girl up, and with the help from the boys, the group carried the girl up the embankment.

Just as they returned onto the sidewalk, the front door to the child's house, located at the northwest corner of the intersection between Bridge and Union Streets, flew open and an elderly woman rushed out, crying, "Nicole! Nicole!"

"I'm sure Nicole's all right." Jack said to the woman.

"What happened?" The woman asked.

"She fell off the bridge." Janet said as the others made a brief resume of what had taken place moments earlier.

By that point, a slightly-younger woman hurried from the house and joined them. "What just happened to Nicole?"

As the older woman nodded thoughtfully, Garfield suggested, "She's going to be all right, though perhaps it's best that we bring Nicole into the house and lay her on a couch."

"Yes, yes." The second woman nodded and opened the screen door while the other directed. "This way."

Janet carried the little burden through a hallway and into a small, Victorian-fashioned living room while Garfield and the others followed.

The minute she laid the little girl on the couch, Nicole began to murmur softly and gently turned her head from side to side.

"Looks like she'll come to in a couple minutes." Paul said.

As they watched Nicole intently, the two women promptly introduced themselves as Margaret and Jessica Stephenson, great-aunts of Nicole.

"Nicole and her brother Nicholas, who's at school right now, lives with us." Jessica, the older sister, explained. "We're bringing them up."

Garfield arched his eyebrows briefly before he said, "I suppose it's safe to say that something happened to their parents, eh?"

"Unfortunately." Margaret nodded. "A tragedy took their parents away, may the Lord rest their blessed souls."

The others nodded thoughtfully and were about to say something when Nicole opened her eyes and looked around.

Seeing the strangers accompanying her great-aunts, specifically Janet, the little girl asked, "Who are you?"

"My name is Janet." Janet introduced herself. "And these are my friends Paul, Jack, Rowan and Garfield."

"Did you see me fall?" Nicole asked.

Janet nodded as Margaret explained, "She and her friends rescued you from the river after you fell off the bridge."

Nicole began to cry. "I'll never, never run onto the bridge like that, really I won't!"

"I'm sure you won't." Janet smiled as she patted the little child, and the girl smiled up at her.

There was a consensus among the five students that while Nicole was alright, it would be best for them to stay around to see if they can be of any assistance.

While Janet went to help Margaret in getting Nicole changed into drier clothes, Jessica turned to Garfield and asked, "While Nicole is getting changed, would you come with me to get some medication and wet compresses for the lump on Nicole's forehead, Garfield?"

"Absolutely." Garfield nodded.

"In the meantime, is there anything else you would like us to do to help, Ms. Stephenson?" Rowan offered, gesturing towards Jack and Paul as he spoke.

"I don't think it would be necessary, but thank you." Jessica replied.

"In that case, we should head back to school now." Paul said.

"Then, we'll see you guys there." Garfield nodded.

"Thank you for the help." Jessica added as the three boys took their leaves.

"You're very much welcome, Ms. Stephenson." Jack nodded.

As Garfield followed Jessica into the kitchen for the first-aid cabinet, the older woman said, "It's a good thing you and your friends were nearby when Nicole had her fall, Garfield."

"She and her brother must be very precious to you and Margaret." Garfield offered.

"Indeed." Jessica nodded. "You see, Margaret and I brought up Nicole's mother, who was an only child and was orphaned years ago as a little child. The same thing happened to Nicole and her brother. Their parents were killed in the Altamirano train crash four years ago during their trip in Argentina."

"They must not have any other close relatives from their father's side." Garfield observed.

Jessica nodded again. "Their father Derek was likewise an only child, and his own father was an only child that was orphaned following the Halifax Explosion."

"Holy moly." Garfield remarked. "Given that Nicole looks very healthy and happy for a girl her age, I'm sure that she likes it here."

Jessica smiled. "Margaret and I are doing the best we can with our small income, though it doesn't always suffice, especially when you take into account of having to bring up her and her brother."

Garfield nodded thoughtfully as Jessica continued, "We just sold some old furniture to the two men in a dusty-brown moving van. We don't know who they were, but I suppose the price was all right."

Thinking about the young siblings, Jessica said, "Both of them are young now, so Margaret and I are able to manage for now. It's the future we're worried about. We're dressmakers, but the days in which our fingers are very nimble with the needle are behind us."

"I can see that." Garfield nodded again. "Of course, the Old Age Security and the new Canada Pension Plan benefits can provide you both the relief you need, but I don't see it being sufficient as living costs soar and both of you reaching the retirement age before Nicholas reaches the minimum age for work."

"Indeed." Jessica shook her head. "Fact is, early on we weren't sure if we would be able to take care of the siblings after their parents were killed, but we decided to give it a try, and now we wouldn't part with Nicholas and Nicole for anything in the world, not when they've won our hearts completely."

Garfield nodded thoughtfully as Jessica went on, "Unfortunately, their parents left very little money, though they were very intelligent and both Nicholas and Nicole are going to be like them when they grow up."

"You're thinking they could take up the arts and have a college or even university education." Garfield interjected.

"Yes." Jessica nodded. "Unfortunately, with our small income, I high doubt we would be able to provide them those."

"Not unless they managed to win a scholarship or receive other forms of financial aid." Garfield offered.

Finding Garfield to be a sympathetic listener, Jessica continued, "A cousin of our father's named Bruce Stevenson used to help us. Before he passed couple months ago, may the Lord rest his blessed soul, he would always come to pay us long visits and help us financially."

With a sigh, Jessica continued, "He was a very kind man and was very generous with his money. In fact, I feel a little embarrassed to say that Margaret and I have come to depend on his promise to remember us in his will for our plans for Nicholas and Nicole. Oddly enough, he never followed through with that promise."

Garfield arched his eyebrows but offered no comment. The last remark did give him pause, though. 史蒂文生先生是按怎(為什麼)會改變心意? (What could've possessed Mr. Stevenson in changing his mind?)

"Bruce went to live with some other cousins. After that, things changed." Jessica continued. "He rarely dropped by for a visit, but a few weeks before he passed, he came by here and told us the same thing - that Margaret and I were to inherit some of his sizable fortune from him. It is peculiar for him to always help us and stop suddenly."

Turning towards Garfield, she then added, "Perhaps you're acquainted with our well-to-do cousins that he went to stay with, over in Ottawa. They're the Brian Sloans."

"If they have Denise and Linda as their daughters, then Paul, Janet and I know them alright." Garfield said.

"That's them all right." Jessica nodded, and Garfield detected a hint of coolness in the woman's voice in mention of the Sloans. "I hope a fine young man like you don't make a habit of being around the likes of them, do you?"

Garfield arched his eyebrows briefly before he said, "Well, let's just say that the number of things we don't see eye to eye on has only increased after I figured out that they spent the last weekend of summer in their cottage at Prince Edward County with a clumsy servant and that they were crammed in a rented car for their drive home."

"Oh, is that right?" Jessica drawled. "How did you figure?"

"The same way I figured that you and Margaret decided not to marry after the accident that orphaned Nicholas and Nicole's mother." Garfield replied.

Jessica was surprised, which was when Margaret and Janet returned with Nicole in tow. The little girl had changed into a plain dress and wearing a robe.

Having had overheard the last part of the conversation, Janet said, "Don't worry. Garfield's always like that."

"Like what?" Margaret asked.

"Being able to figure out acute details of people through plain old observation of the clothes and positioning." Janet said. "A gift of his, you could say."

"Yes." Garfield nodded. "Forgive me if I have intruded."

Jessica and Margaret glanced at each other before the older sister waved her hand dismissively and said, "Don't think that would be necessary, you're quite the fine young gentleman."

Garfield nodded slightly. By this time, Jessica had selected a few items from the chest and was making her to the refrigerator for some ice cubes.

While arranging the items on a tray, Jessica continued, "Well, when Cousin Bruce passed, much to our astonishment, Brian Sloan produced a will that made him executor of the Stevenson estate and left all the money to him, his wife and the two girls."

"Yes, a lot of us at school did read about that in the paper." Janet recalled. "I take it that the estate is a sizable one, eh?"

"We understand that there's considerable money and assets in it." Jessica explained. "Some of Bruce's other cousins and relatives say he told them the same thing he told us and they are planning to launch a court challenge about the matter, which would be hopeless."

Garfield studied Jessica's face as he placed his fingers by his chin. "But you both have a feeling that a later will exists, even though no one has presented it as of yet."

"That's pretty much right, Garfield." Margaret nodded.

After watching Margaret apply the cold compresses on the lump on Nicole's head, Garfield and Janet are convinced that the little girl was alright.

"If there's nothing else for us to be of assistance, we need to return back to school now." Janet advised.

"Of course." Jessica nodded.

"Come to see me again soon." Nicole spoke up. "I like you and Garfield, Janet. You both are amazing."

Garfield chuckled as Janet answered, "You can count on it. We like you too. You're a good sport!"

After the little girl's great-aunts profusely thanked Garfield and Janet again for the rescue, the two schoolmates made their way to the front door.

They have barely reached the front door when Margaret suddenly said, "Jessica, where is our silver teapot?"

"Why, right there on the tea table-" Jessica stopped at mid-sentence when her eyes widened, "-oh dear, it's gone!"

Margaret raced into the dining room. "The silver dog statue, candlesticks and teaspoons! They're gone too!"

Startled by the news, Garfield and Janet both stopped at the doorway.

"You mean that the pieces have been stolen?" Janet asked.

"They must have been." Jessica replied. "By those fiends that bought some furniture from us!"

At that remark, Garfield's mind instantly flashed towards the scene he and his friends witnessed the dusty-brown moving van.

GARFIELD'S FLASH VISION - Ten Minutes Ago

As he and his friends watched the moving van make the turn onto Bridge Street, coming close to colliding into Nicole, Garfield noticed the occupants in the cab.

Both men were wearing flat caps, one appeared short and heavy-set while the other, who's behind the wheel, appeared taller and skinnier.

However, it wasn't the panicked look on their faces that caught Garfield's attention. Rather, it was a hint of smirks on their faces as they made the turn from Union Street onto Bridge Street.

END FLASH VISION

"Who were they?" Janet asked.

"Oh, how could we have fall for their racket, Jessica?" Margaret wailed. "We don't know who they were. They just knocked on the door and asked if we have any old furniture that we'd like to sell. Don't think we will get the silver back!"

"You will, which means you need to contact the police." Janet advised.

"We could, if our phone is working." Margaret said.

Garfield turned towards them. "Then, I'll head over to the Town Hall and telephone the Carleton Place detachment. What did they look like?"

"Both were wearing light brown flat caps, one looked short and heavy-set, the other tall and skinnier." Jessica explained.

"Both of them had kind of large noses." Margaret added. "That's all I noticed."

"Same here." Jessica added.

"Then, I better get moving now." Garfield said hastily before he dashed from the house and sprinted across the bridge towards the Almonte Town Hall.


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