The Truth Revealed (Summer Adventure, Part 4)

It’s time to bid farewell to the Sleepy Hollow Inn, but not before we discover the truth about Hans Schneider’s disappearance. If you haven’t read the first three parts, visit the Friday Fiction section.

Sleep did not come easy for Hannah. She awoke around 6:30—only to find Lauren’s bed empty. It came as no surprise. Lauren had always been an early riser.

Hannah stretched and sat up in bed. She couldn’t stop thinking about the events from last night. John Gregory’s reluctance to tell the story of Hans Schneider. Alex Snider’s statement about leaving things in the past. What was he doing in the woods at two in the morning? Why was Ivan watching him?

And why did it matter to her? Han’s Schneider’s disappearance was an obscure piece of history in a town in which she’d probably never set foot in again. Yet something about the event fascinated her. She reached for her laptop on the bedside table to find a note from Lauren beside it.

Gone for an early morning walk. See you at breakfast.

Hannah smiled. At least I’ll have time to do some more digging about Hans. She opened her web browser.

A half hour of searching provided only a few results—nothing more than she’d learned the night before.

“Oh well,” she said aloud. “If the local residents don’t seem to care, why should I?” She started to close the laptop when it occurred to her she’d only searched for Hans in conjunction with Collinsville. Maybe if I search only his name, I might at least find a genealogy forum.

She found several articles about a man named Hans Schneider who lived in another state. She clicked on the first link and began to read. An hour later, she knew why Hans had to disappear.

***

Hannah went downstairs at eight for breakfast. Unlike dinner, breakfast at Sleepy Hollow was more casual. When she walked into the sunroom, John Gregory sat at a table by himself. Lauren sat at another table near a window.

“Did you have a nice walk?”

“Yes, I did. There’s a beautiful little pond not far from here. The trail is through those woods,” Lauren said, pointing in the direction Hannah saw Alex Snider walk the night before. “Ivan told me about it.”

“Ivan? You mean he talked?”

“He has a speech impediment. He’s sensitive about it, so he doesn’t talk much. By the way, he’s Millie’s son.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Anyway he said visitors often walk to the pond by the light of the moon.”

“Guess that explains…” Hannah stopped when Alex Snider entered the room. He walked to John Gregory’s table.

“It’s time we talked,” Alex said.

“I agree, but this isn’t the place. Are you willing to go to my office in town?”

“I am.”

John got up from the table, and both men left the room.

***

After dinner that evening, Millie suggested the guests gather on the patio for story time. “It’s a lovely time of day,” she said. “Too nice to stay inside.”

John waited until everyone took a seat before he spoke. “Hannah, you asked about the disappearance of Hans Schneider. Tonight, Alex and I will tell the story.”

Alex spoke first. “Hans Schneider was my great-great grandfather. His mysterious disappearance was a source of speculation for my family many years. His son, Eric, couldn’t accept the fact his father walked out. After his mother died, Eric even changed the spelling of his last name.

“I was always intrigued by Hans’s story, yet I only knew what my father and grandfather told me. This past year, I decided to look for more information. Today, with John’s help, I learned the truth.

“As a young man, Hans lived Pennsylvania. One night, there was a skirmish at a local tavern. Hans shot and killed a man named James Adams. He claimed self-defense. There was a trial, and witnesses corroborated his story. However, James’s family vowed revenge and Hans left town.

“He went to Maryland, married, and eventually settled here. I guess he thought living four states away was far enough because he didn’t change his name. He never told his wife about the killing. Hans wasn’t proud of what happened, even though the jury found him innocent.”

“What a terrible thing,” Lauren said. “Wonder if he felt as if he would always look over his shoulder?”

“Perhaps. I’ll let John continue with the story.”

“Hans was well-liked by everyone in Collinsville. My ancestor, Thomas Gregory, was a good friend, as was the sheriff, Homer Garrett. Hans confided to both Homer and Thomas about his past life.

“One night, Homer arrested a man involved in a drunken brawl. He had ridden into town earlier, vowing revenge on ‘the low life that killed my brother.’

“When Hans came into town the day of his disappearance, Homer informed him of the incident. Hans decided it best he left town, but not before he made Homer and Thomas swear they would never tell his wife about his past. They agreed. They also concocted the story about Hans leaving on the train in order to deter his pursuer.

“No one knew what became of Hans. My great-grandmother back to Maryland. She died in 1910, having lived a long life, and never knowing what happened to her husband.”

“Thomas often expressed his guilt at not telling her,” John said. He tried to find the family years later, but was unsuccessful. One day, Thomas received a letter postmarked from Colorado. He didn’t have to open the envelope to know Hans wrote it.”

“Hans lived to be an old man,” Alex said. “After he left Collinsville, he moved around for a while, but ended up in Colorado. He went by the name of Seth Caldwell. He never remarried.

“In his letter, he expressed how he missed his family and often wondered what type of man his son grew up to be. Hans didn’t want them to have the stigma of having a murderer for a husband and father.”

“For years, I wanted to track down his descendants,” John said. Last night I suspected Alex might be one of them.”

“John was kind enough to give me Hans’ letter. Now I don’t have to wonder what type of person my ancestor was. I only wish his son had known. To be honest, I wanted leave last night—afraid of what I might learn. Ivan, however, convinced me to stay.”

Hannah hadn’t noticed Ivan had joined the group. She took a breath of the fresh night air as the sounds of tree frogs filled the air. A full moon rose above the horizon.

Tomorrow she and Lauren would leave for an unknown destination. However, for now, she relaxed, sat back in her chair, and enjoyed her last evening at Sleepy Hollow Inn.

  • I love this story, Joan. I especially love the name “Sleepy Hollow Inn” as well as the Pennsylvania reference and the use of my son’s name (Seth). Looks like we’re sharing thoughts again. Great job.

    • Thank you, Staci. I’m glad you liked the story. (There is a story behind the story, of course.) The house in the photo is in Pennsylvania. I took it on our recent trip to Gettysburg. I had forgotten your son’s name is Seth, but it doesn’t surprise me that we are sharing thoughts. 🙂

  • I enjoyed this story, Joan. I love the family history aspect. It’s amazing what one finds out about one’s ancestors 🙂

    • That’s so true, Catherine. If you don’t want to dig up any skeletons, don’t go searching for your ancestors. Hans’s story was partially inspired by a story I heard about a distant family member (he was married into the family). He was a school teacher, went to work one day, and never came home. The story was that he left because someone had tracked him down for a crime he committed in another state. It happened in the late 1800s or early 1900s.

      • Amazing! I’ve found out a thing or two I wish I didn’t know, but they just might find their way into a story.

  • kathunsworth

    We all have skeletons in our closets Joan, enjoyed the read. True life stories can be stranger than fiction.

    • So true, Kath. The story of Hans was inspired by a story I had from my own family history. And yes, they can be stranger than ficiton.