I looked and saw water rushing in from Galveston Bay on one side and from the gulf on the other. The two seas met in the middle of Broadway, swirling over the wooden paving blocks, and I couldn't help but shudder at the sight. All of Galveston appeared to be under water.
Galveston, Texas, may be the booming city of the brand-new twentieth century, but to Seth, it is the end of a dream. He longs to be a carpenter like his father, but his family has moved to Galveston so he can go to a good school. Still, the last few weeks of summer might not be so bad. Seth has a real job as a builder and the beach is within walking distance. Things seem to be looking up, until a storm warning is raised one sweltering afternoon. No one could have imagined anything like this. Giant walls of water crash in from the sea. Shingles and bricks are deadly missiles flying through the air. People not hit by flying debris are swept away by rushing water. Forget the future, Seth and his family will be lucky to survive the next twenty-four hours.
Dark Water Rising is a 2007 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.
About the Author
Marian Hale is the author of acclaimed historical novels for young adults, including The Truth About Sparrows and The Goodbye Season. She lives with her husband, daughter, and grandbabies on the Texas Coast.
Read an Excerpt
Dark Water Rising
By Marian Hale
MacmillanCopyright © 2006 Marian Hale
All rights reserved.
The train clicked on its rails, rumbling past cow pastures and summer-parched fields of grain and hay. Open windows funneled dust and straw into my face, and all around me, sweaty children whined their discomfort. Mamas dug into bundles for crackers and cheese, bread and jam — anything to distract their little varmints from the sticky heat. I glanced around the crowded train car. You'd think every dang person from Lampasas to Houston wanted to go to Galveston this hot August day.
Everyone but me.
I shifted under the sleeping weight of four-year-old Kate, limp and sweaty in my lap, and dark curls fell across her face. Seems I couldn't breathe twice anymore without Mama saying, "Seth, would you button Kate's shoes for me?" or "Quick, Seth! Wipe that runny nose." And every blasted time Mama's hands were white with flour, she'd holler, "Seth, you'll have to take Kate to the outhouse for me while I finish the bread." Just thinking of it got my dander up. Why God couldn't have sent that child just one big sister instead of three brothers was beyond my understanding.
Across from me, Matt's heat-red face puckered in a deep frown. He elbowed Lucas for more room, and when he didn't get it, he delivered a swift boot to the leg. I returned the kick before Lucas could even open his mouth to complain.
"You're twelve years old," I hissed at Matt. "Act like it."
He glanced across the aisle at Mama and Papa, making sure they hadn't seen, then turned back to me with a sneer. "Where's your apron, Seth?" he whispered. "If you're gonna sound like Mama, you oughta look like her, too." He nudged Lucas again. "Besides, you can take it, can't ya, Big Luke?"
Lucas shrugged. He rarely let Matt pull him into disagreements, but recently things had changed. He'd shot up so much this summer, it was impossible to tell who was taller. At just ten, his new height had become a sore spot with Matt, sparking some ornery mischief. Most of the time I ignored it, but today was different.
The train sped toward a spindly trestle strung across Galveston Bay and rumbled onto a fragile network of pilings and rails. Mama stiffened and reached for Papa's hand. I glanced out the windows at the green water all around and felt a bit like a kite flying too close to the waves, dragged toward the long, narrow island that was sure to be my undoing. And it was all my uncle's fault.
"Galveston is fast becoming the New York City of Texas," Uncle Nate had told Papa just two short weeks ago. "It's the third richest city in the country by population. We have electric lights, electric streetcars, local and long-distance telephone service, and three big concert halls."
I peered at the miles of wharves ahead, crowded with steamships, schooners, and fishing boats, and beyond the forest of masts, I saw three tremendous grain elevators.
"Twelve hundred ships load and unload cargo there every year," Uncle Nate had been quick to add. More proof, I supposed, that Galveston was the booming city of the new twentieth century.
It was true my uncle's lumber business had done well, but Uncle Nate thought Galveston could improve his younger brother's lot in life, too. I'd watched him that day through the porch windows, spouting his case for moving like some highfalutin Philadelphia lawyer.
"The 1900 census is projected to be better than thirty-seven thousand," he'd said, punctuating his words with a chewed cigar, "and all those people need houses, stores, and offices. There's big money to be made there, Thomas. That foreman job could open the door to your own contracting business."
At that point, Papa hadn't said a word, nor had his eyes registered an opinion either way, which had given me hope. He was a good carpenter, one of the best at Calloway and Sons, a company I planned to apprentice with as soon as my schooling was out of the way.
"Remember," Uncle Nate had continued, "Seth is almost seventeen. Time to settle his future."
I waited for Papa's answer, but he'd always been slow to share his mind and slower still to change it. As the seconds ticked away, Uncle Nate's face took on color. He flushed deep red and let loose with "Hellfire, Thomas!"
I jumped, almost giving away my position on the porch.
"The first medical college in Texas is right there in Galveston!" he bellowed. "Take the bloody position and send all your boys to college!"
That last statement set up a fierce flutter inside me. Papa already knew that working under a blue sky, shaping raw lumber into walls and doors, roofs and staircases, was all I'd ever wanted. But he'd also been clear about what he wanted for his sons. If he thought Galveston could ensure any of us a profession in medicine, we'd be on the next train out of Lampasas for sure.
I'd likely end up spending years poring over books and cadavers, and the rest of my life shut up inside a small white room, patching up boils and broken arms. The probability of that happening squirmed inside me like a bellyful of grub worms.
Uncle Nate poked his cigar between his teeth and gave Papa a lopsided grin. "I can get you a nice furnished rental close to the beach. You know how much Eliza and the kids would love that."
Mama would love that. I held my breath while the vacant expression on Papa's weathered face shifted. I saw a small glimmer of excitement, but it was the hunger in his eyes that finally made me clench my teeth with dread, the same kind of hunger that had always sharpened his words and defined his face when he talked about his sons' futures. If I didn't think of something fast, my Calloway apprenticeship would be good as gone.
I was no great shakes at arguing a point with Papa, and thanks to my uncle, it might've been easier to empty the Lampasas River with a bucket than change his mind about my taking on more schooling. By the time Uncle Nate left, Papa was convinced that Galveston could provide enough money to see all three of his sons through college, and he was running full chisel to make sure we had that chance. Still, I had to try.
I waited till I caught him sitting alone on the porch to remind him of how much he'd already taught me about woodworking, and how more than anything I wanted to be a builder, just like he was. He let me talk, but I could see it wasn't doing much good. I finally threw up my hands. "I just ain't got what it takes to be a doctor, Papa."
"Haven't, Seth. The correct verb is haven't."
I blew out a frustrated breath. My whole life had just gone to blazes, and he was correcting my grammar.
I knew Papa had never had a chance at much formal schooling, but I'd seen him study every book and paper we brought into the house. There wasn't much he didn't know, and little he'd tolerate when it came to incorrect language or bad manners. He'd been known to rap a grown man's knuckles with a knife handle just for reaching across the table for the salt instead of asking for it. Later, Mama told him he'd been lucky the man was good-natured enough to not lay him flat.
I knew early on how much Papa valued education. That was why I'd stuck with school when all my friends had gone on to find paying jobs. I'd promised him I'd graduate before I applied for a carpenter's apprenticeship at Calloway, more for his peace of mind than mine. It was a promise I planned to keep, but I sure didn't want to put my life on hold for longer than that.
"If you don't like medicine," he said, "then we'll look into law, or maybe engineering."
"But, Papa, it's not what I want. You know that."
His jaw tightened, and his leathery face took on a hard, whittled look. "You're too young to know what you want," he said, and the discussion was over.
Far ahead, the engine belched steam and the train slowed. Kate blinked, roused by the scuffle of passengers putting away leftover food, gathering bundles, and straightening hats. She raised her head, and wet curls stuck to her heat-flushed cheek. I pushed her off my lap and onto the seat beside me, but she scrambled right back up again. She leaned across my shoulder, peering out the window for a better look at what was ahead.
"Is that Galveston out there, Seth?"
"Yeah, that's Galveston. Sit down."
"Where's Uncle Nate?"
"Don't worry; he'll be there. Now sit down like I told you."
"But I can't see him. Where is he?"
Matt, always quick to show his impatience, rolled his eyes and let out a groan.
I glared at him, sitting there like he was the biggest toad in the puddle. What did he have to complain about? I was the one who always had to watch out for Kate. I was the one who was expected to answer all her fool questions.
"He's waiting for us at the train station," I said, which seemed to satisfy her for the moment.
She slid onto the seat, but it wasn't long before she was tugging at my damp sleeve. "Seth?" she asked in that baby voice of hers. "Can I sit with Mama?"
I gladly shooed her across the aisle, where she squeezed past Papa and climbed onto Mama's lap.
We left the bay and trestle behind, along with the breezy heat that pumped through the windows, and pulled into Union Passenger Station. The air inside the car turned sluggish and stifling, driving everyone toward the doors like cattle to water troughs, but there was little relief. The close, noisy throng mingled around the station platform, blocking the breeze that swept in from the Gulf of Mexico, making it all but impossible to find Uncle Nate.
I caught the scent of fresh-cut wood and turned to get a quick look down the harbor. Lumber, grain, and mountains of canvas-covered cotton bales sat waiting to be loaded onto great coal-burning ships headed to foreign ports. Farther down the wharf, I saw crates with black lettering — tea, beet sugar — and big bundles of sisal for rope. Dark men, shining with sweat, worked at hauling them into the long tin-roofed sheds lining the docks.
Matt climbed onto a bench, searching across a sea of bowlers, straw hats, and bonnets piled high with ribbons and feathers. "I think I see him, Papa," he said, pointing toward the street. "He brought a buggy. Looks like he brought a dray, too, for the trunks."
Mama slipped up beside me and pushed Kate's hand into mine. I groaned but felt an immediate sense of guilt. Mama looked pale and wilted in her heavy gray traveling suit. Papa had tried to get her to wear something cooler, but she'd refused.
"First impressions are important, Thomas," she'd argued, pointing her finger at him. "And you should wear your Sunday best, as well."
While Papa waited for Mama to pass Kate on to me, he ran a finger around his tight collar, clearly uncomfortable in his only suit. Served him right, I thought. He sure didn't mind sentencing me to a life of starched collars.
"Take her for me, Seth," Mama said, "just till I can catch my breath."
She applied an embroidered handkerchief to the sweat bubbling on her forehead and upper lip, patted my shoulder with a gloved hand, and headed toward the carriage with Papa. Matt and Lucas ran after them, leaving me to pull Kate through the noisy crowd alone.
By the time I got to the street, Mama and Papa had finished their greetings and Uncle Nate was instructing his hired man, Ezra, to help them into the carriage. When they were seated, the old man lifted Kate and set her down beside Mama with a "There you be, little missy."
She stared into his watery eyes with that wide-eyed look all kids seem to have for anyone different. It made me realize how few colored men she'd seen in her short four years, and none of them had ever been close enough to lift her into a buggy.
Ezra walked a few steps behind us to finish loading our trunks on the flatbed dray, and Kate said, "Papa, that man is black as ashes. Did he get burned?"
Papa laughed. "Dogs and horses come in different colors, don't they, little Kate?"
"But he's not a horse, is he, Papa?"
"No, he's not a horse." He patted her on the head. "But colored folk aren't much different."
I stared at him. I hadn't been around many coloreds, either, but I'd never heard Papa say anything unkind about them. Others, maybe, but not Papa. I watched him smile at Kate and felt his words sour inside me. I tossed a quick glance at Ezra. He'd surely heard, but the man never blinked an eye.
I squeezed into the carriage next to Matt, and Uncle Nate called out to Archer, urging the horse south down Rosenberg, right into the gulf breeze. The scent of sweaty animals gave way to sweet salt air, and the clop of hooves on the wooden paving blocks set up a rhythm that made me feel like I was still on the train.
We crossed Strand Avenue. "The greatest banking and finance center between New Orleans and San Francisco," Uncle Nate boasted. Then we passed Ship's Mechanic Row, Market, Post Office, and Church streets. I quickly found myself in the midst of the largest architectural display I'd ever seen. For a brief time, I forgot all about college and my cursed fate. While my uncle pointed out markets and dry-goods stores, churches and opera houses, I was taking in the ornate cast-iron storefronts.
I saw tapestries of raised and recessed bricks, and stucco surfaces that sculpted the island's strong sun into light-and-shadow effects I'd never seen the likes of before. Then I noticed that all the buildings had slate roofs and asked Uncle Nate why.
"Because of the Great Conflagration of 1885," he said. "That fire left forty blocks of the city in ashes and destroyed more than four hundred homes. After that, Galveston outlawed wood shingles. Slate has worked pretty well so far."
Ahead of us, in the middle of Rosenberg and Broadway, stood the new Texas Heroes Monument that had been erected just four months ago. The tall bronze statue of Victory pointed toward the bay and beyond, to the San Jacinto battlegrounds on the mainland. "A reminder," Uncle Nate said, "of all the men who fought and died in the Texas Revolution."
We turned west at the monument, down an esplanade of palms and oleanders, live oak and Mexican dagger. Broadway was considered the spine of the island, the highest point between the gulf on the south and the bay on the north, and all of it appeared to be a show-place for the wealthy. Palacelike homes draped in vines sat as much as three stories high atop raised basements. Behind trimmed jungles of fig, orange, and magnolia trees, I saw bay windows and cupolas, scrolled and spindled trim, wraparound porches and decorative iron gates, and all of it beat inside me like my own heart.
I could tell Papa felt it, too. He sat up straight, eyes wide, taking in every detail, too excited to keep still. His jaw twitched, his knee bounced, his fingers drummed against his leg, and it was right then I knew.
I couldn't give up on what I wanted any more than he could.CHAPTER 2
We turned south onto Thirty-fifth Street, and our wheels crunched along a sun-dazzled oyster-shell road. A breeze swept in from the gulf, and I had to grab my hat to keep it from blowing away. Uncle Nate reined Archer in front of a two-story Victorian, and Ezra pulled Deuce and the dray up beside the raised brick basement.
"You can rest here tonight," Uncle Nate said, "and tackle the unpacking at the rental in the morning."
I jumped down, already taking in the house, the large veranda draped in vines, and the barn out back. With the dray, the buggy, and the hired man, it appeared Uncle Nate had done well for himself here in Galveston. This was far grander than what we'd had in Lampasas, and when I looked at Mama, her eyes shimmered with excitement.
Aunt Julia waved at us from the top step while ten-month-old Elliott squirmed in her arms. His older brothers, Andy and Will, dropped to the ground from a tall ash tree in the front yard and headed straight for the buggy.
The four boys were stair-stepped in age — Matt and Lucas, twelve and ten; Andy and Will, eleven and nine. From behind, they looked pretty much the same, like cookies cut from the same dough, but face-on it was another story. We'd all inherited the Braeden dark hair, but Andy and Will had gotten a double dose of Aunt Julia's freckles, making my two younger cousins look a bit like speckled hens. I grinned at the thought. I didn't know the boys all that well, but if they were anything at all like Matt and Lucas, they wouldn't cotton well to hearing themselves compared to chickens.
Excerpted from Dark Water Rising by Marian Hale. Copyright © 2006 Marian Hale. Excerpted by permission of Macmillan.
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