August 22, 1899
Sunlight blinked off the rippling surface of Tumbledon Lake and into
Margaret Lounsbury’s eyes. She squinted and adjusted the brim of her
straw hat to shade her view, then took hold of the oar on her side of the sixteen foot
“Are you ready?” Her father, Daniel Lounsbury, dipped his oar into the
water and looked across at Maggie. Pleasant lines fanned out from the corners
of his dark-brown eyes. A reddish-brown beard covered the lower half of his
tanned face, but it couldn’t hide his smile.
“Yes!” She returned his smile and lowered her oar for the first stroke.
“The sun’s bright today, especially out on the water.” Her father looked
across the lake to the rocky shore and lush woodlands beyond. Five years earlier,
he and his team had dammed a section of the Debdon Burn, filling the
small valley with water and creating this beautiful lake in the northernmost
section of the estate. It was just one of his many accomplishments as lead landscape
architect for Sir William Harcourt of Morningside Manor.
“Do you have a special spot in mind for our picnic?” Maggie’s mother,
Abigail Lounsbury, sat in the rear of the boat with Maggie’s younger sister, Violet,
on her lap.
“I found a lovely little glen surrounded by birch trees.” Father turned and
grinned at Maggie’s older sister, Olivia, seated up front. “It will be the perfect
place to celebrate your birthday. It looks like a fairy forest.”
Olivia’s eyes sparkled. “I can’t wait to see it.”
Maggie’s heart lifted, and she pulled her oar through the water, matching
her father’s strong strokes. With the warm sunshine on her shoulders and her
family around her, she couldn’t imagine a happier day.
The breeze picked up and blew a strand of Maggie’s hair across her cheek.
“It looks like rain is coming our way.” Her mother nodded to the west, a
slight crease in her brow. She adjusted her hold on Violet.
Heavy, gray clouds rose above the trees beyond the shoreline, though the
rest of the sky remained mostly clear.
Father lifted his gaze and studied the clouds for a few seconds. “I’m sure
we’ve no cause for concern.” His confident tone eased Maggie’s mind. There
was no one who knew more about plants, animals, and the weather than her
father. If he didn’t believe a storm would threaten their afternoon picnic, there
was no need to worry.
A graceful white egret rose out of the grass on the far side of the lake and
flew across the water toward them. Violet squirmed on her mother’s lap with a
gleeful shriek. She looked as though she would climb over the side of the boat
any moment if Mother didn’t keep a tight hold on her.
Father chuckled. “It seems Violet would like to go swimming.”
Olivia turned toward them. “There’s not much Violet doesn’t like, except
perhaps cooked carrots and going down for a nap.”
Maggie smiled. Olivia was right about that. Violet had started resisting her
naps a few months after she celebrated her first birthday, and she’d never been
fond of carrots.
“No swimming today,” her mother replied in a serious tone, but Maggie
could see the glow of good humor in her eyes.
“Keep up, Maggie,” Father called, stroking his oar through the deep water.
She focused on rowing again and picked up her pace to match Father’s. As
they reached the center of the lake, Maggie heard an odd sloshing sound and
looked down. Water slapped against the side of her shoe. She pulled in a sharp
breath and lifted her foot. “Father, look!”
He followed her gaze, and his eyes flashed wide. He jerked his oar from the
water and scanned the hull of the boat.
Mother straightened. “What is it, Daniel?”
“We seem to have sprung a leak.” His voice remained calm, but the muscles
in his jaw grew taut.
“What?” Olivia shot a startled glance at Maggie.
Mother wrapped her arms more tightly around Violet. “How large a leak?”
“I don’t know.” Father frowned as he continued to search the floor of the
boat, then he grabbed his dripping oar again. “Come on, Maggie, we’ve got to
get back to shore.”
Maggie’s hand trembled as she reached for her oar.
Olivia rose, rocking the boat side to side. “Aren’t we closer to the other
“Olivia, sit down!” Father’s sharp tone startled them all. Olivia sank onto
the bench, and Father plunged his oar into the water.
Maggie’s heartbeat pounded in her ears as she strained to keep up with
Father’s rapid pace. But even if she could match his deep, steady strokes, would
they make it back to the dock before water filled their boat?
What if they couldn’t?
She was a strong swimmer. Father had taught her that skill when she was
only seven. She could make it. But Mother and Olivia had never wanted to
learn how to swim, and Violet was too young.
Maggie clenched her jaw and pulled the oar through the water, her arms
burning from the strain, but their swift pace across the lake only seemed to
bring more water into the boat. It splashed around Maggie’s ankles and the
hem of her dark blue skirt.
“Daniel, it’s too far! We’ll never make it!” Mother’s frantic voice sent tremors
racing down Maggie’s legs.
“Pull, Maggie!” Father grunted and heaved his oar around again.
Maggie gripped her oar and darted a glance toward the shore. Panic
climbed up her throat, stealing her breath. They were only halfway there.
Mother was right. Water sloshed up Maggie’s leg and soaked her skirt. Soon
lake water would pour over the side and the boat would go down.
“Father!” Olivia scooted forward as far as she could, but there was no escaping
the rising water lapping at her legs.
Violet grabbed her mother’s neck and broke into pitiful cries.
Father’s gaze darted from one family member to the next. “We’ll have to
swim. Maggie, you take Violet. I’ll help your mother and Olivia.”
Fear froze Maggie. She blinked and tried to focus on the distant shore. It
was at least half a mile, maybe more. If Violet would calm down, she might be
able to swim with her sister, but how could Father help Mother and Olivia?
Father pulled Violet from Mother’s arms.
“No, Daniel!” Mother reached for her youngest daughter. Her face had
gone pale, and her eyes shimmered with tears.
“Be calm, Abigail. Maggie will take care of Violet.” He passed Violet to
Her hands shook as she grabbed her squirming sister, but she held on tight.
“We’re counting on you, Maggie.” Love and fierce determination radiated
from his eyes. “Safeguard your sister. Don’t turn back for any reason.”
Maggie swallowed hard. “Yes, Father.” She blinked her burning eyes,
wanting to say she loved him and she would do her best, but there was no time.
“Go on now.” He helped her over the side of the boat and into the cold
Kicking to stay afloat, she rolled over onto her back and pulled Violet onto
her chest. Slipping her arms under Violet’s, she pushed off from the side of the
The shock of the cold water and the weight of her skirt and blouse pulled
her down, but she thrust herself through the water, holding tight to Violet and
kicking as hard as she could.
Oh God, have mercy on us! Save my family!
Tears and lake water flooded her eyes, blocking her view of her family and
the boat. Water rushed past her ears, but it couldn’t block out her mother’s fearful
cries, her father’s shouts, or her sister’s heartrending calls for help. But she
pushed on, her promise to her father giving her strength.
Violet whimpered and tossed her head from side to side, then she lay back
on Maggie’s chest, stunned by the cold water and frightening events.
Maggie swam on, listening for her father’s confident call or his strokes in
the water behind her. But all she heard was her own heavy breathing and the
splashing water as she kicked her way closer to shore.
Finally, her feet touched the muddy bottom, and she dragged herself and
Violet out of the water. Her legs trembled and water poured from her clothes,
pulling her down. But she forced herself to stay standing. Turning, she wiped
her face and scanned the water.
Nothing broke the rippling surface of the lake. No boat. Not one member
of her beloved family. Numb with dread, she blinked and stared across the
Where were they? How could they all just disappear?
Violet cried and clung to Maggie’s leg through her soggy skirt. A gust of
wind sent a cold shiver through Maggie, and her teeth chattered hard.
Clouds scuttled across the sky, blocking the sun and casting a gray shadow
over the scene. Heavy raindrops splattered on the ground, and then the heavens
opened and rain poured down on her head and shoulders. Still, Maggie stood,
staring across the lake.
Her father had been wrong. A storm had come. A more terrible storm than
she could’ve ever imagined.
Maggie searched the lake once more, straining to hear the voices of those
she loved, but the only sound was the cry of the egret as it rose from the water’s
edge and flew across the lake toward the eastern shore.
She sank down on the muddy shore and pulled Violet into her arms while
rainwater and tears ran down their faces.