SONNY TELLS THE REAL HISTORY
As soon as Chris departed to find Abby’s father, Sonny said, “Abby, I’m sorry to rush this conversation, but we haven’t much time. You’re a leader in this group now. You’ve been hiding from it, but don’t try that with me! You won’t get back here often, so make good use of me now.”
Abby sat in silence for a moment, and finally said, “Yes, there are things I need to know… Pastor Banks said that the real challenge is not the closing of the bridge, but the pressure from the governor to abandon Rivergate altogether, this push to make us all ‘relocate’.”
Sonny’s eyes gleamed. “Aha! I see you’re coming to the point.” They were completely alone. “Of course you’re aware,” he began, “that a big organization backed by unbelievable wealth wants to mine and control dreamstone. We’ve recently learned that a Morphy shell company, Arma Resources, has quietly applied for mining rights in the forest preserve, and is lobbying full force in our state government. We have a mole in the middle of these secreet negotiations, and have found out many things.” His voice had fallen to a whisper.
“We now have the full text of the treaty made between the state government and our ancestors over two hundred years ago, giving us full title to all the land currently in the forest preserve and the wetland preserve, as well as parts of Ridgewood, and all of Middletown and Half Moon, stretching as far north as the Maywood River. In other words, most of the western river valley region.” Abby stared in amazement.
“We know that land was illegally sold to the Georgi family fifty years later, and they in turn sold off parts of it to the Owens family, who apparently swindled them out of most of the rest. Our people were then forced off the land, as you know, and forced to walk hundreds of miles to a barren countyside.”
Sonny looked out the windows, and went on: “But of course a remnant of us remained in Hidden Valley, the forest and the marsh. For many generations we worked quite well with the Georgi family, who were willing to learn. I’m sure you’re more familiar with this than I am, as Wendy and Chi Chi are part Georgi on their mother’s side. But then the tragedy of 1939 intervened – what we call the great disaster – with the burning of the dwellings in Hidden valley and the death of many. Those who escaped went into hiding, or fled to Rivergate and the West Isle… Okay, that’s all background, nothing new to you, but here’s the part you should consider very carefully.” Sonny paused to capture Abby’s full attention.
“Naturally the people of the river valley and the government bureaucracies had a problem on their hands. How could they justify such a crime, and make adjustments for the future? The Georgi family, believed by many to be witches, had all apparently burned to death. Incredible rumors and hysteria spread through the countryside. So the state absorbed Hidden Valley and the surrounding Georgi land into the forest preserve, and made Rivergate and the West Isle into a separate county. The powers-that-be spread a story of a tragic, accidental fire. Many people in all walks of life wanted to offer aid to the victims and make arrangements for the refugees. Now, the people of Hidden Valley were used to growing their own food. It was midsummer and the orchards and gardens were mostly unharmed. The government didn’t want the people to starve, so they made a hidden compromise. They gave all the residents of Rivergate County the right to harvest food from the former Georgi property. And here’s the most important point: We now know for sure that this right to harvest has no time limit. It was not given for a year or two but permanently. Only a handful of people have ever heard of this arrangement, and the rules have never been tested in court. No one has yet dared to expose the crimes of the past to a close examination, and thus we have been able to assume that the right to harvest includes the right to plant and cultivate, and a few of us have always resided in Hidden Valley, though that has always been a secret.”
Sonny leaned toward Abby and looked her in the eye. “But we are vulnerable to one potential catastrophe,” he said. “If we abandon Rivergate – if Rivergate County no longer has any residents – then our rights to Hidden Valley and the forest are gone, and all obstacles to selling mining rights to a Morphy company for a huge sum are cleared away.”
Abby was speechless. Sonny turned his head and listened. “I hear footsteps,” he said.
“Abby! Abby!” called her father. He was walking up the path from the river, carrying a long object like a pole wrapped in cloth. “Abby!” he shouted, and in a moment embraced her.