My Dearest Liz,
If you are reading this, you found the secret compartment. My parents are sending me to Maine for the summer to spend time with my grandparents and cousins. They say the country air will be good for me. We both know it’s because our families want to keep us apart. You will always be in my heart, no matter how many miles are between us.
All my love forever, Jacob S. June 1, 1863.
The morning she turned eighteen, Elizabeth opened her eyes and zeroed in on the music box on her dresser. The family treasure originally belonged to her great-great grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Pembroke. Elizabeth’s grandfather bequeathed the music box to her when she was born. Every year on her birthday, Elizabeth wound the mechanism and listed to the love song, How Can I Leave Thee?
Elizabeth found the love letter from Jacob S. that morning when the music box fell from the dresser and broke into a dozen pieces. She tried to catch the precious box. She tried to save it, but she wasn’t fast enough.
Heartsick, tears in her eyes, Elizabeth gathered the shattered keepsake, tenderly placing fragments into an old basket. Among the rubble, she found the note and a silver charm of half a heart threaded on a chain.
Elizabeth read the note. Who was Jacob S.? Her great, great-grandmother Liz married Henry Madison Pembroke.
Elizabeth tucked the note and the necklace into her pocket and took the music box to her father, Henry. He could fix anything. Henry brushed the tears from his daughter’s eyes and assured her the music box would be as good as new when he finished.
“Dad, are you aware of anyone in the family named Jacob, someone from a long time ago perhaps?”
“No one comes to mind sweetie. You might want to talk to your Aunt Minnie. She’s the keeper of the family tree. If anyone knows about a Jacob, it would be her.”
Elizabeth spoke to her Aunt Minnie that night after everyone at her party sang Happy Birthday and the candles were blown out.
“I have some questions about our family history. I’m looking for a Jacob S. He would have been a teenager in the 1860’s. He may have been a friend of Grandma Liz. Ever heard of him?”
“I’ve never found a Jacob in my research. Why do you ask?”
Elizabeth read the letter to Minnie but kept the necklace to herself. Curiosity piqued, Minnie raised her eyebrows,
“Want to go on a road trip to Maine this summer? I love a good mystery.”
Always up for an adventure, Elizabeth asked,
“When do we leave?”
* * *
Aunt and niece checked into a bed and breakfast, their home-base in Ellsworth, Maine. They spent days meeting distant relatives, searched through antique stores for old family bibles and looked up marriage, birth, and death records at the county seat. Their search uncovered a Jacob Stein, but found no connection between Jacob and anyone named Liz.
Frustrated and exhausted, the women visited the last antique shop on their list before returning to the Ellsworth Inn to plan the next day’s excursion.
The shop owner looked up as the bells on the door announced new customers.
“Anything specific I can help you find?”
Elizabeth introduced herself, using her full name,
“Elizabeth Madison Pembroke. This is my Aunt Minnie. We’re looking for information about our ancestors.”
Elizabeth set the music box on the counter and unfolded the letter.
“I found a letter in a secret compartment of this box that belonged to my great-great grandmother. We’re hoping you might be able to identify the author.”
The shop owner walked over to a cabinet and set a wooden box next to the one on the counter. It was an exact match.
Unable to speak, Elizabeth’s eyes nearly popped out of her face and her jaw dropped.
“My brother and I are restoring an old family home built by our great-great grandparents. They were married sixty years. Grandma Sarah died first and grandpa followed two months later. Everyone said he died of a broken heart.”
“During the renovation, my brother and I found this box hidden under the floorboards in Grandpa Jacob’s office. It’s filled with love letters from Liz M. to Jacob during the summer of 1863. This charm was also in the box.”
He held up half a heart. The young man threaded his charm on Elizabeth’s necklace. The two pieces fit perfectly. Smiling ear to ear he said,
“My great, great grandfather’s broken heart is healed at last. I’m Jacob Stein, may I call you Liz?”