The nation is on the brink of Civil War, and in Branson Mills, most people favor the South. But Joseph's new stepfather, Henry Byers, is an abolitionist, and his stand against slavery causes trouble for Joseph. His beloved father owned slaves, but even that doesn't keep him from being an outcast at school.
As the tensions in Branson Mills grow, Joseph finds it harder to deny the rightness of his stepfather's views. Finally he is forced to choose which side he's on. This gripping page-turner, set during one of the most turbulent times in our nation's history, makes for a powerful American Adventure.
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The moment Joseph put his foot on the steep riverbank, he knew he's made a mistake. Although the sun was shinning, it had rained for the last three days. The rains had been heavy, a deluge that caused the river to overflow its banks and flood the town and left the bank a slippery mass of thick mud. Below him the usually shallow river churned with debris from the recent flood. Brush, logs, and even an old rocking chair went rushing past.
A smooth piece of driftwood caught his eye just a few feet below. It would be perfect for mounting the eagle he had just finished carving. Something that would be sure to win first prize at the fair next summer. Joseph took a step and felt the mud slide under his feet. Suddenly he was sliding helplessly toward the swirling water. Then his fall was stopped short when one of his feet sank into the mud over his ankle. landing with his head toward the raging river, he struggled and finally managed to pull himself up to a sitting position.
His new school coat was splattered with thick, gooey mud. His stepfather was going to be angry. He wished he had listened to that sensible part of himself that had wanted to go straight home after school. That very morning his stepfather had warned him to stay away from the river. But he'd let his curiosity get the best of him. Now here he was, stuck, and with his clothes ruined.
Joseph struggled to free his foot and turn himself into position to climb back up the bank.A small sapling clung to the slope only a few feet away. He grabbed at it, hoping it would be strong enough to help him pull himself up. But it was justout of reach and his fingers closed on thin air. His struggles had served only to bury his other arm, nearly to the elbow.
He forced himself to sit quietly while he thought of what to do. Although the main street of Branson Mills crossed the river on a sturdy stone bridge, it was several hundred yards away and around a bend. There was no chance anyone would hear his cries. At any rate, most people would be busy cleaning up the dirt and debris from the floodwa-ters that had swept through the town. In his step-father's window sash and door factory, the water had been more than two feet deep. The waters had come up so fast there had been no time to save any of the wood.
"Soaked through," he had told Joseph's mother at dinner the night before. "Even the new shipment of lumber. It will warp when it dries," he added with a worried frown.
Joseph had listened to his stepfather's news with interest, but not sympathy. Mr. Byers had married his mother just a month before. After his father died, his mother had been forced to rent two rooms above the millinery shop, and the wages she earned as a seamstress barely fed them. Mr. Byers had met Joseph's mother when he hired her to sew a dress as a gift for his sister who lived in New York. Two months later they had married.