Whitaker House (June 8, 2009)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Born and raised in west Michigan, Sharlene MacLaren graduated from Spring Arbor University, married her husband Cecil, and raised two daughters. She worked as a school teacher for over 30 years, then upon retirement began writing fiction, and now has six successful novels under her belt. The acclaimed Through Every Storm was Shar's first novel to be published by Whitaker House; in 2007, the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) named it a finalist for Book of the Year. The beloved Little Hickman Creek series consisted of Loving Liza Jane; Sarah, My Beloved; and Courting Emma. Faith, Hope, and Love, the Inspirational Outreach Chapter of Romance Writers of America, announced Sarah, My Beloved as a finalist in its 2008 Inspirational Reader's Choice Contest in the category of long historical fiction. Her other books include Long Journey Home, and Hannah Grace, the first in her Daughters of Jacob Kane series.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 429 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (June 8, 2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Maggie Rose Kane settled her temple against the smudged window, blinked hard, and fought back another wave of nausea as the smoke from her seatmate's cigar formed cloud-like ringlets before her eyes and floated past her nose. Why, her lungs fairly burned from the stench of it, as if she'd been the one chain-smoking the stogies for the past five hours instead of the bulbous, gray-haired giant next to her. Even as he was dozing this afternoon, slumped with one shoulder sagging against her petite frame, the vile object hung out the side of his mouth as if permanently attached. She couldn't even count the number of times she'd wanted to snatch it from him and snuff it out with the sole of her black patent leather shoe.
"Next stop, Albany," announced the train conductor, making his way up the aisle.
With a quick intake of air, Maggie lifted a finger and leaned forward. "Excuse me, sir."
The conductor stopped, turned, and tipped his hat to her in a formal manner. "Yes?"
"Is this where I should disembark in order to change over to the New York Central?"
Tilting his head to one side and slanting a reddish eyebrow, he released a mild sigh that conveyed slight annoyance. "If that's what your ticket says. You're goin' to New York, aren't you?"
She gave a hasty shake of her head and adjusted the plume hat that had barely moved in all these many hours. Surely, by now, the slight wave in her hair, as well as the tight little bun at the back of her head, would be flatter than a well-done pancake. "Someone's to meet me at Grand Central," she explained.
He nodded curtly. "Get off here then and go to the red line, then put yourself on the 442." This he said with a matter-of-fact tone, as if anyone with a scrap of common sense ought to know about the 442.
Sweaty fingers clutched the satchel in her lap as she peered up at him, debating whether or not to admit her ignorance. "Oh, the 442." She might have asked him at least to point her in the right direction once she disembarked, but he hurried down the aisle and pushed through the back door that led to the next car before giving her a chance. The train whistle blew another ear-splitting shriek, either indicating that the train was approaching an intersection or announcing its scheduled stopover in Albany.
"What's a pretty little miss like you doin' going to the big city all by yourself?" asked the man beside her. Not wanting to invite conversation with the galoot, especially for all the smoke he'd blow in her face, she had maintained silence for the duration of the trip. Still, it was her Christian duty to show him respect, so she pulled back her slender shoulders and tried to appear pleasant?and confident. After all, it wouldn't do to let on how the combination of her taut nerves and his rancid cigar smoke had stirred up bile at the back of her throat. For the twentieth time since her departure on the five a.m. that very morning?when her entire family, including her new brother-in-law and adopted nephew, had bid her a tearful farewell?she asked herself, and the Lord Himself, if she hadn't misinterpreted His divine call.
"I've accepted a position at the Sheltering Arms Refuge," she replied with a steady voice. "I'm to assist in the home, and also to work as a placing-out agent whenever trips are arranged."
He quirked a questioning brow and blew a cloud of smoke directly at her. She waved her arm to ward off the worst of it. "It's a charitable organization for homeless children. Using the U.S. railway system, we stop in various parts of the Middle West and place children in decent families and homes, mostly farms. Surely you've heard announcements about trains of orphans coming through?"
He looked slightly put out. "'Course I heard of 'em, miss, just haven't never run across anyone actually involved in the process of cartin' them wild little hooligans clear across the country." He took another long drag and, fortunate for Maggie Rose, blew it out the other side of his mouth so that, this time, it drifted into the face of the man across the aisle. Apparently unruffled, he merely lifted his newspaper higher to shield his face.
"Where you from, anyways?"
"Sandy Shores, Michigan." Just saying the name of the blessed lakeshore town made her miss her home and family more than she'd imagined possible. Goodness, she'd left only this morning. If she was feeling homesick already, what depths of loneliness would the next several months bring?
"Ah, that near Benton Harbor?"
"Quite a ways north of it, sir."
He seemed to ponder that thought only briefly. "What made you leave? You got home problems?"
"Certainly not!" she replied with extra fervor, offended he should think so. In fact, she might have chosen to stay behind and continued life as usual, helping her dear father and beloved sisters at Kane's Whatnot, the family's general store. But God's poignant tug on her heart would not allow her to stay. I sincerely doubt Mr.?Mr. Smokestack?would follow such reasoning, though, so why waste my breath explaining? she thought.
"Well, you can see why I asked, cain't you? It's not every day some young thing like yourself up and moves to a big place like New York, specially when she don't even know her way around."
"I'm sure I'll learn quickly enough," she said, trying to put confidence in her tone. "I hear there's to be a big subway system opening soon, which should help in moving folks around the city at great speeds."
He nodded and took another long drag from his dwindling cheroot. "Sometime in the next month or two, is what I hear," he said, blowing out a ring of smoke. "That'll be somethin', all right. Before you know it, there'll be no need for any four-legged creatures." He chuckled to himself, although the sound held no mirth.
As they approached the station, the train's brakes squawked and sputtered, and the mighty whistle blew one last time. Outside, steam was rising from the tracks, and Maggie Rose noticed a couple of scrawny dogs picking through a pile of garbage. Folks stood in clusters, perhaps anxious to welcome home loved ones or to usher in long-awaited guests. A tiny pang of worry nestled in her chest at the sight of such unfamiliar surroundings.
When the train came to a screeching halt, the passengers scrambled for their belongings, holding onto their hats as they snatched up satchels and crates bound in twine. Some of them were dressed formally; others looked shoddy, at best, like her seatmate with his week-old beard and soiled attire. Another puff of smoke circled the air above her, and it was all she could do to keep from giving him a piece of her mind?until the Lord reminded her of a verse she'd read the night before in the book of Proverbs: "He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker: but he that honoureth him hath mercy on the poor" (Proverbs 14:31).
Was she not traveling to New York out of a sense of great compassion for the city's poor, lost children? And if so, what made her think the Lord exempted her from caring for people of all ages? Moreover, why had she spent the better share of the past several hours judging this man about whom she knew so little?
My child, you are tempted to look on his countenance and stature, whereas I look on the heart. The verse from 1 Samuel came to mind?oh, how the truth of it struck her to the core. Without ado, she looked directly at her seatmate, smoke and all. "And where might you be headed, sir?"
"Me?" A look of surprise washed over him. "My sister just passed. I'm goin' to her funeral in Philly."
A gasp escaped. "Oh, my, I'm?I'm sorry to hear that." Silently, she prayed, Lord, give me the proper words, and forgive me all these many hours I might have had the chance to speak comfort to this poor soul.
He dropped what remained of his cigar on the floor and ground it out with his heel, stood to his feet, and retrieved his duffle from under the seat with a loud sniff. "Yeah, well, we weren't that close. She quit speakin' to me after I married my wife, her bein' a Protestant and us Catholics." He followed that up with a snort. "My brother died last year, and she still refused to acknowledge me at his funeral, even though my wife passed on three years ago."
Blended odors of sweat, tobacco, and acrid breath nearly knocked her over as she stood up and hefted the strap of her heavy leather satchel over one shoulder, but newfound compassion welled up in her heart, lending her fortitude. The line of people in the aisle was moving at a snail's pace, and she decided to make use of their extra seconds together.
"But you're going to her funeral anyway?"
He nodded halfheartedly. "It's my duty to pay my respects. She won't know it, but I will."
"Yes, and you'll feel better afterward for doing so." Suddenly, she had more to say to the man, but the line of anxious passengers was picking up speed, and he squeezed into the tight line. She followed in his wake, doing her best to keep her footing as folks shoved and jabbed. My, such an impetuous, peevish lot, she thought, then quickly acknowledged her own impatience.
"Watch your step, ladies and gentlemen," the conductor said. One by one, folks stepped down from the train. Her fellow rider took the stairs with ease, then turned abruptly and offered her his hand. Another time, she might have pretended not to notice and used the steel hand railing instead. Now, however, she smiled and accepted his grimy, calloused palm.
Drooping eyes looked down at her. "New York, eh? You sure you don't want to purchase your ticket back home? Ticket booth's right over there." He hooked a thumb over his shoulder, and for the first time, she sensed that he was toying with her.
"Absolutely not!" Pulling back her shoulders, she gave her head a hard shake, losing a feather from her hat in the process. She watched it float away, carried by the breeze of passengers rushing by. "When the Lord tells a body to do something, you best do it, if you want to know true peace," she said, lifting her eyes to meet his. "This is something He told me to do?to come to New York and see what I can do about helping the deprived, dispossessed children, just as I'm sure He prompted you to attend your sister's funeral."
Surprisingly, he chuckled and bobbed his head a couple of times. "Can't say for sure it was the Good Lord Hisself or Father Carlson, but one of 'em convinced me to come, and now that I think on it, I'm glad."
Out the corner of her eye, Maggie Rose sought to read the myriad signs pointing this way and that, hoping to find one to point her in the right direction. Slight queasiness churned in her stomach. Dear Lord, please erase my worries about finding my next train, she prayed silently. The man ran four grimy fingers through his greasy hair. Absently, she wondered if he intended to clean himself up before attending his sister's burial service.
"You take care of yourself, little lady. It's a mighty big world out there for one so fine and dainty as you."
A smile formed on her lips. Fine and dainty. Had he made a similar remark to one of her sisters, Hannah Grace or Abbie Ann, an indignant look would have been his return. She extended her hand. "I'll do my best, Mr.?."
He clasped her hand and gave it a gentle shake. "Dempsey. Mort Dempsey. And you are?"
"Maggie Rose Kane."
He gave a thoughtful nod. "Has a nice ring to it." Then, tipping his head to one side, he scratched his temple and raised his bushy brows. "At first glimpse, you look a bit fragile, but I'd guess you got some spunk under that feathery hat o' yours."
Now she laughed outright. "I suppose that's the Kane blood running through me.
We Kane sisters are known for our stubborn streak. It runs clear to our bones."
Several seconds ticked by. Mr. Dempsey glanced around. "You got any more baggage, miss?"
"My trunk's due to arrive at the children's home the day after tomorrow." She gave her black satchel a pat. "I'll make do with what I have till then."
In the next silent pause that passed between them, a pigeon swept down to steal a crumb, a stray dog loped past, and in the distance, a mother hushed her crying babe. Mr. Dempsey removed his pocket watch. "Well, listen, little lady, my train for Philly don't leave for another hour yet. What say I take you over to the red line? Number 442, was it?"
"Oh, but you needn't?."
He'd already looped his arm for her to take. The man's stench remained strong, yes, but Maggie Rose found that, somehow, in the course of the past few minutes, her nose had miraculously adjusted.
My, but the Lord did work in wondrously mysterious ways! Why, just this very morning, Jacob Kane, her dear father, had prayed that God might send His angels of protection to lead and guide her on her way, and now look: Mort Dempsey was taking her to her next connection.
Imagine that?Mort Dempsey, God's appointed "angel."
They parted ways at the Albany platform where she could board Number 442.
When she arrived at New York City's Grand Central Terminal, Maggie Rose saw a confusing mass of railroad lines converged in a place that also contained more people than she thought inhabited the earth.
Mr. Dempsey may have been an unlikely angel, but her next escort fit the bill with utmost perfection. She scanned the crowd and saw a pleasant-looking man, probably not much older than she, standing to one side and holding up a hand-printed sign that read: "Miss M. Kane." Dressed in an evening suit, a bowler cap, and a bright-red bow tie that was almost blinding, he was searching the crowd with expectant eyes. When their gazes met, a broad smile formed on his face.
"Miss Kane?" he asked, greeting her with the warmth of a clear summer morning.
"Yes!" She had to tell her feet to walk in ladylike strides, even though her travel-worn body wanted to slump into the nearest bench with relief. They shook hands, and he introduced himself as Stanley Barrett, an employee?but more of a lifelong resident?at the children's home. The Binghams had welcomed him through their doors many years ago when he'd lost both his parents in a fire.
"You must be tired," he said, freeing her of her satchel without a moment's hesitation, which suited her just fine. As it was, her shoulder ached from the weight of the bag, which held important papers, several personal possessions, some toiletry items, and the changes of clothing she would need until her trunk arrived.
Dusk had settled on New York City, so, without ado, Mr. Barrett led her like a pro through the throngs and straight to their carriage, waiting with numerous sets of nearly identical horses and black carriages lined up in long rows outside the terminal. Such efficiency impressed Maggie Rose, and she told him so. "I grew up here, so getting around is easy for me," he explained, helping her onto the carriage. "You'll catch on, especially once the subway station opens. But don't worry; we usually travel in pairs or larger groups, anyway."
Driving the carriage, he kept up his constant prattle as he dodged fast-moving streetcars, stray dogs, scurrying pedestrians, and the occasional motorcar. Even at this late hour, the city buzzed with activity such as Maggie had never seen. Why, in Sandy Shores, everything closes up tighter than a drum at five-thirty, she thought?that is, everything but the several saloons and restaurants. Here, though, people of all genders, races, sizes, and ages roamed the streets. Some were selling wares, others begging for quarters; some were huddled on street corners, others sitting on crates or boxes, perhaps looking for a place to lay their heads for the night.
"I can imagine what you're thinking," Stanley said as he maneuvered the carriage onto Park Avenue, heading north, and clicked his horse into a slow trot. "You've probably never seen anything like this place. Mrs. Bingham says you hail from some little town in Michigan. What part?"
"The west side, smack on the shores of beautiful Lake Michigan, about halfway up the state. The town is small, yes, but thriving. We have one main street running east and west?Water Street?with lots of little stores and businesses on either side. Don't be running your horse too fast going west, though, or you'll fall into the harbor," she joked. "'Course, the railroad docks and barges would stop you first, I suppose."
He chuckled, and she decided she liked the smooth tenor of his quiet laughter. "Of all the orphanages in the city, how'd you decide on the Sheltering Arms Refuge?" he asked. "We're a lot smaller than the Foundling Hospital and the Children's Aid Society."
"Someone seeking financial support for your fine organization spoke at our church more than a year ago. I believe his name was Mr. Wiley."
"That'd be Uncle Herbie?Mrs. Bingham's brother."
"He showed us a few pictures and talked a great deal about the destitute children wandering the city?'street Arabs,' he called them. Ever since then, the Lord has kept up His constant nudging, so after much correspondence back and forth, not to mention the process of convincing my father to let me loose, I've finally arrived!"
Stanley glanced casually in both directions before urging his horse through the intersection at East 50th and Park Streets, crossing streetcar tracks and skirting a good-sized pothole. Their amiable conversation continued, but she had to concentrate to drown out all the commotion going on around her, not to mention the smells?a blend of fried food, gasoline, manure, and rancid garbage. And the sounds! Why, the very streets seemed to reverberate with the clamor of loud conversations, tinny barroom music, thudding horses' hooves, barking dogs, and the occasional baby's cry from some upstairs flat.
Stanley Barrett veered the carriage onto East 65th Street, crossed Lexington, 3rd, and 2nd, and made a right on Dover, driving another couple of blocks before directing the horse up a long drive to a stately three-story brick structure. Maggie's very senses seemed to stand on end. "Is this it?" she asked, feasting her eyes on the edifice, which appeared bigger than what she'd imagined from looking at the few photos she'd received.
Stanley guided his horse to a stop, breathed a sigh, and tossed the reins over the brake handle, turning to her with a smile. She decided he had a pleasant one, tainted only partially by a set of crooked teeth. "This is it. What do you think?"
She gazed at her surroundings?a brick house situated on a sprawling plot of land and surrounded by numerous trees, a stable, and several outbuildings. Who would believe that just blocks from this serene setting lay a whole different world? "I think?it's beautiful." Unexpected emotion clogged her throat. She looked up to see a head poke through the curtains of one of the upstairs windows. One of the orphans?
"Beautiful? Well, it's old, I'll give you that. Ginny, er, Mrs. Bingham inherited the historic place from her wealthy grandfather back in the 1880s. She and the Mr. have been operating it as an orphanage for the past seventeen or so years. In fact, I was one of their first residents. But I'm sure you'll get the whole story, if you haven't already, when you're more rested." He winked, gave another low chuckle, and jumped from the rig with ease. "Come on, I'll help you down."
With his assistance, her feet soon landed on solid ground. She lifted her long skirts and stepped away from the carriage, eyes fastened on the three-story structure and the aging brick fence that surrounded the property's borders and was covered by lush blankets of ivy.
Stanley allowed her a moment's peace as she stood before her new "home" and tried to picture its interior. Suddenly, the front door swung open. In its glow stood a portly woman with an apron tied about her waist; grayish hair hung haphazardly about her oval face, and a smile stretched from cheek to cheek as she lifted her hand to wave.
"Well, glory be, come and look who's here, Henry. It's the little miss from Michigan!"