Chapter One

[Chapter Title] 

“I want a sword,” cried Ricky Hollister. The red-headed boy, who was seven, immediately ran for the table in the back of Miss Nelson’s classroom. It was covered with an array of interesting props, from a couple of inflatable swords to tiny arrowheads. Miss Nelson had promised each student they could hold onto one prop during the after-school meeting about the upcoming History Fair at Lincoln School. “I’ll pretend to be a real soldier!”

But as Ricky lunged for a sword, someone shoved him out of the way. Ricky was knocked right into Miss Nelson’s desk. A picture frame on the edge of her desk teetered dangerously, but Ricky grabbed at it before it could fall to the ground and shatter.

“Swell catch, Ricky!” said Pete Hollister. He was a handsome and sturdy boy of twelve with crew-cut blond hair and blue eyes.

“I suppose,” Ricky said glumly. He looked toward the prop table. The person who had pushed Ricky who none other than Joey Brill, a bully who often tried to thwart the Hollisters’ fun. Joey and his friend Will Wilson had made it to the prop table before Ricky and had already grabbed the inflatable swords.

“It’s okay,” added Pam Hollister, who walked into the classroom followed by her six-year old sister, Holly. “That picture is of Miss Nelson’s brother who lives in Canada. She would have been really sad if it broke.”

“And there are still so many props to choose from,” said Holly, excitedly spinning one of her brown pigtails.

The Hollister children looked over the remaining choices on the table. Ricky ended up choosing a replica of a Native American arrowhead. Pam and Holly both picked up small glass vials filled with murky water, while Pete selected a small golden coin.

“None of that is as cool as a sword,” jeered Joey. “What are you going to do what that water—splash with me with it?” He and Will both laughed, smacking each other with the swords.

“I bet it’s from the fountain of youth in Florida,” said Holly. She clutched carefully at the bottle in her hands.

“That’s not a real thing,” said Joey.

“We’ll learn today when Miss Nelson teaches us more about the ancient cities that we’ll be learning about in the History Fair,” said Pam, taking a seat near the front of the classroom.

As the children took their seats—all except Joey and Will, who were still roughhousing with their swords—Miss Nelson came back into the classroom. “It looks like you’re all excited to learn about the nation’s oldest cities,” she said. “Joey, Will, please take a seat.”

Once the boys had settled down, Miss Nelson cleared her throat. “The focus of this year’s History Fair at Lincoln School will be ancient cities in the United States. Does anyone know what the oldest city is?”

“Jamestown,” blurted out Joey. “I went there last year during spring break and learned all about it.”

“Is it somewhere in Massachusetts?” offered Holly.

“Or New York?” guessed Ricky.

“What do you think, Pam?” asked Miss Nelson, noticing that the blonde girl was the only who was raised her hand.

“I think the oldest city is St. Augustine in Florida,” said Pam.

“That’s right,” said Miss Nelson. She explained that while Jamestown, Massachusetts, and New York were all great guesses, St. Augustine was actually the oldest of them all. It was founded by Spanish explorers in 1565, making it the oldest settlement within the United States.

“Yikes,” said Ricky. “That’s a really old city!”

“Jamestown is still better,” muttered Joey.

When the Hollisters asked to hear more about St. Augustine, Miss Nelson happily obliged. She told them the ancient city served as the capital of Spanish Florida for over 200 years and was the capital of the Florida Territory once the United States gained ownership of the land. The boys, even Joey and Will, gasped excitedly when Miss Nelson said that the city had been ransacked by pirates multiple times over the years. Everyone was also interested in learning about the magnificent Ponce de Leon Hotel, which was a popular destination for wealthy tourists in the 1880s.

“If you visit the city today, you’ll still see many historic landmarks,” explained Miss Nelson. “The Ponce de Leon Hotel is still there and is now a student dormitory at Flagler College. There is also a lighthouse and an old Spanish fort called the Castillo de San Marcos. And the city is even said to be home to the fountain of youth, a mythical spring which is said to bring eternal youth to anyone who drinks it.”

Holly grinned triumphantly.

“It’s still not a real thing,” said Joey.

“I wish we could visit St. Augustine over spring break,” said Ricky wistfully. “I want to see the old fort!” The Hollister family went on lots of trips and had made many friends—and even solved some spooky mysteries—throughout their travels. A vacation to St. Augustine sounded like it could be the most fantastic trip of all.

“Maybe someday,” Pam told her. “But for now, we can at least learn more about it. Miss Nelson, could we please focus on St. Augustine for our presentation at the History Fair?”

When she said they could, the Hollisters cheered.

Joey and Will offered to do their presentation on Jamestown, though they looked suddenly jealous of the Hollisters. “I want to do my presentation on pirates and soldiers,” Joey said under his breath.

“Since it’s spring break, I hope you’ll all have plenty of time to research your city and start working on your presentations,” said Miss Nelson. “Remember, the History Fair is the weekend after we return to school after the break.”

Once the meeting was over, Pete, Pam, Ricky, and Holly returned their props to Miss Nelson and hurried home. They couldn’t wait to tell their mother and their youngest sister, Sue, about their presentation for the History Fair. Spring break had barely begun, and it was already off to a great start!

The Hollister home was a large, three-story house with a sprawling lawn and a lake in the back of the property, where the children often enjoyed boating and fishing. Part of the garage had been converted to a stall for their pet donkey, Domingo.

Inside, they found Mrs. Hollister and Sue in the kitchen. Their pretty blonde mother was watching dark-haired Sue finish up a page in her new coloring book.

“I want to see Marco’s sand castle,” said Sue once her siblings had finished telling her and Mrs. Hollister about St. Augustine.

“It’s called the Castillo de San Marcos,” Pete corrected her, and the others laughed. Sue was always curious and loved to join her family in their adventures, but she was only four and often confused her phrases. “But I’d like to see it, too.”

“Oh no,” said Holly suddenly. “We forgot to ask Miss Nelson about the fountain of youth! I wanted to know if it was real.”

“I wish I had some water from the fountain of youth,” Mrs. Hollister said, a playful twinkle in her eyes. “I’d have more energy for all these chores! I’m going to feed the cats and check on the laundry. Would you children please take care of feeding Zip and Domingo?” She headed to the basement where White Nose lived with her five adorable kittens, Midnight, Snowball, Tutti-Frutti, Smoky, and Cuddly. Pete and Ricky ran out to the garage to feed Domingo. Pam stepped to the back door and called for their playful collie dog, who could usually be found chasing frogs by the lake.

When the others were gone, Holly clapped her hands. She took a chair from the kitchen table and dragged it over to the cabinets above the sink, where Mrs. Hollister kept her nice glassware.

“What are you doing, Holly?” asked Pam.

“Mother said she wanted some water from the fountain of youth,” said Holly, climbing up onto the chair. “I want to get one of her fancy glasses down so I can give her some water and pretend it’s from the fountain of youth.”

“Oh, Holly, be careful,” Pam said nervously as Holly reached for a pretty teacup from the far back of the shelf.

At that moment, Zip pushed through the dog door and zoomed around the dining room in wild circles.

“Zip, calm down!” cried Pam. While he loved all the children, the collie was particularly fond of animal-loving Pam, who had rescued him as a puppy. He was usually very well behaved, but now he was too hungry to listen to her. When he heard the sound of the can opener, his ears perked up, and he barreled toward the tasty treat—right into the chair Holly was balancing on.

The pig-tailed girl teetered precariously. She lost her grip on the dainty cup and it fell to the floor with a crash!

Photo Credit: E. Kennedy