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Gettysburg, Pennsylvania May 1867
Keeping to the line of fir trees rippling in the wind, Felicity Gabriel tiptoed to the rear of the dark clump of mourners at the memorial service. There she attempted to hide behind a bulky man. A strong gust tried to snatch away Felicity's Quaker bonnet and lift her gray skirt. She held on to the ribbons tied at her throat and pushed her skirt down. Ahead, she glimpsed the pastor holding on to his hat while reading from the Bible.
Her emotions hopped like crickets within her, distracting her from the familiar scriptures of victory over death. Then the man shielding her moved. She caught sight of the brand-new limestone marker. All that was left to show that Augustus Josiah Mueller had lived. Seeing Gus's cold stone marker with the dates 1846-1865 took her breath. She drew in damp air. Gus.
The war had lured Gus away and then cruelly abandoned him in an unmarked grave somewhere in Virginia. The cannons were all silent now, but when would the consequences of this war end—one generation? Two? More?
"Why are you here?" The voice Felicity had dreaded hearing snapped like the sharp tongue of a whip.
She looked at the mourners and murmured, "I'm here to show my respect to Gus, Agnes Mueller." Felicity lowered her eyes, not wanting to linger on the woman's red-rimmed, hate-filled eyes.
"I'm surprised that you had the gall to show your face here today." Each word was delivered like a blow.
"Agnes, please," Josiah Mueller pleaded, tugging at his wife's elbow.
"Our Gus is gone forever and we are left without consolation. And here you stand!" the woman shrilled, her voicerising.
There was a rustling in the crowd. Felicity knew there was nothing she could say or do that would comfort this woman who'd lost her only child. Or end her groundless grudge against Felicity. So she kept her eyes lowered, staring at the soggy ground wetting her shoes.
The tirade continued until the woman became incoherent and was led away, sobbing. As the mourners followed, many nodded to Felicity or touched her arm. They all knew the truth.
When everyone else had gone, Felicity approached the stone marker. Tears collected in her eyes. She knew it was human foolishness to speak words to a soul at a grave site, but she still whispered, "I'm leaving Pennsylvania, Gus, but I won't forget thee ever." And then removing her glove, she spit on her palm and pressed it—flat and firm against the cold stone.
Altoona, Illinois September 1867
Amid the bustling Mississippi wharf, Ty Hawkins eased down onto the venerable raised chair. The chair was now his daily refuge where he got his shoes shined. Afterwards, he would catch a bite to eat at a nearby café. He rarely felt hungry these days even though he was several pounds lighter than he'd ever been as an adult. He would have liked to go home for lunch, sit on his shaded back porch and cool off. But he couldn't face home so soon again.
I'm home but I'm not home.
This dreadful fact brought a sharp pang around his rib; he rubbed it, trying to relieve the pain. What am I going to do about Camie?
Jack Toomey had shined shoes here as long as Ty had worn them. Ty smiled and returned Jack's friendly good day. The shoeshine man's dark face creased into a grin. "It's going to be another scorcher."
"'Fraid so, Jack."
"When is it going to realize it's fall?" As Jack blackened Ty's shoe, he gave him a long, penetrating look. He lowered his eyes. "Coming home's not easy. Takes time. Patience."
Jack seemed to be one of the few who understood Ty's suffering. The shoeshine man's sympathetic insight wrapped itself around Ty's vocal cords. Jack glanced up. Ty could only nod.
Jack's gaze dropped to Ty's shoes. "It'll get better. It wasn't easy going off to learn how to shoot people and it isn't easy to put down the rifle and come back."
Ty managed to grunt. No one said things like this to him. Everyone seemed to overlook how hard it was not to jump at any loud noise, or to walk out in the open without scanning his surroundings for people who wanted to kill him. Ty wondered for a moment what Jack would advise if Ty told him about Camie's dilemma.
The thought of discussing this private trouble with someone other than family only showed how desperate he was becoming.
Two urchins had come up to a woman on the street begging. She turned from the wagon and stooped down so her face was level with the children's. Through the moving stream of people on the street, Ty watched the unusual woman. The ragged, grimy children—a little girl who held a younger boy by the hand—nodded. "What's she up to?" Ty muttered to Jack.
"She don't look like the kind who would hurt a child," Jack said, looking over his shoulder again as he continued polishing Ty's shoe.
The woman started to help the little girl up onto the wagon.
Then it happened.
A towheaded boy of about ten or eleven ran by the woman. He snatched her purse, throwing her off balance. With a shocked outcry, she let go of the girl's hand and fell to the dirt street. Ty leaped up to go to the lady's aid. He shoved his way through the crowd. As he reached her and offered her his hand, Hal Hogan, a town policeman, appeared from the other direction. Red-faced, Hogan had his beefy hand clamped on the thief's shoulder. The boy cursed and struggled to free himself in vain.
Ty helped the lady up. "Are you all right, miss?"
She ignored his question, turning toward the caught thief. She very obviously studied the child's smudged and angry red face.
Hogan handed her back her purse and said in his gravelly voice, "I usually would have to keep the purse as evidence but since I witnessed the theft that won't be necessary. Would you tell me how much money you are carrying, miss?"
The young woman hesitated, then said, "I think only around five dollars." She looked into the thief's face and asked, "If thee needed money, why didn't thee just ask me? I would have given thee what I could."
The boy sneered at her and made a derisive noise.
Hogan shook the boy, growling, "Show respect, you." His expression and tone became polite as he said to her, "I saw the robbery and can handle this. No need for a lady like you to get involved in such sordid business." Hogan pulled the brim of his hat and dragged the boy away.
"Please wait!" the woman called after him and moved to pursue Hogan.
"Hey, lady!" the wagon driver demanded. "Are we going now or not? I've got other people who are waiting for me to get you delivered and come back to the station."
Ty had watched all this, his jaw tight from witnessing the theft and her fall. He touched the woman's sleeve.
She looked into his face, her large blue eyes worried. How could this woman say so much with only her eyes? This near-theft troubled her. Again, Ty nearly offered his protection, but why? The thief had been caught. He tightened his reserve and asked in a cool, polite tone, "May I help you up into the wagon?"
With one last glance in the direction where Hogan and the miscreant had disappeared, she nodded. "If thee would, please."
Then she gave him a smile that dazzled him. She was a pretty woman—until she smiled. Then she was an extraordinary beauty. Was it merely the high caliber of the smile that made the difference?
After he helped her up onto the buckboard seat, she murmured, "I thank thee." She was barely seated when the drayman slapped the reins over his team and with a jerk, the horses took off.
The lady waved her thanks once more and over her shoulder sent him another sparkling smile. He found himself smiling in return, his heart lighter.
Dalton watched from the shadowy doorway across the busy road. One problem taken care of. That kid wouldn't be making trouble for him anymore. But he didn't like that woman in the gray bonnet. What was she talking to those two little beggars for? He'd been watching them for days, waiting till they were ready. He frowned. No use looking for trouble. As soon as Hogan had appeared and nabbed the kid, the two had disappeared. But they wouldn't go far and soon they'd be ready for the picking. He smiled. The dishonest life was good.
Felicity turned forward, distinctly unsettled. The two hungry children had been frightened away and the boy arrested. This was not how she had envisioned starting out here. Would she be able to find the little pair again? She sighed. Her eyes threatened to shut of their own accord. Traveling by train for miles and days had whittled her down to nothing. She forced her eyes wide open, stiffened her weary back and folded her hands in her lap.
What she needed was a long hot bath, a good night's sleep. But those would be hours away. "Just a few more miles to tote the weary load"—her mind sang the old slave lament. But that was deceiving. In spite of her fatigue, uncertainty and hope tugged at her like impatient children. Here in Illinois, her work, the work God had given her to help the children, would begin, not end. She had planned on arriving a month earlier, but her sister Verity had needed help after the delivery of her first son in Virginia. Felicity smiled, thinking of how proud Verity's husband, Matt, had been of his son.
Then the recent touch of the man's strong hand on her arm intruded on her thoughts, the sensation lingering. She inhaled deeply. The man who'd leapt to her aid was not one to be taken lightly. And the red welt on his cheek could be nothing but the mark of a saber. A veteran like so many others. And with such sad eyes.
The wagon turned the corner. And there were the little girl and boy. The little girl was waving frantically, jumping up and down. "Lady! Lady!"
Felicity grabbed the reins. "Whoa!" The team halted, stomping, snorting and throwing back their heads. The drayman shouted at her for interfering with his driving. Thrilled to find the two so easily, she ignored him. She reached down with both hands and helped the children up. They crowded around her feet. The children were ragged, very thin, tanned by the sun and had tangled dark hair and solemn eyes.
She turned to the burly, whiskered driver and beamed. "I apologize and promise to make thee no more trouble."
The driver looked bemused. He shook his head and slapped the reins, starting off again for Number 14 Madison Boulevard. Madison Boulevard proved to be a long avenue with wide lawns and massive houses, which struck Felicity as mansions. Very soon, the wagon pulled up to a very large, three-story white house on a wide piece of land with oak and fir trees and bushes. Looking through the porte cochere on the side of the house, she glimpsed a carriage house at the back of the estate. The grounds were well tended but the house looked uninhabited with its shades and lace curtains drawn.
"Is this your house?" the little girl asked, sounding impressed and scared at the same time.
Felicity was experiencing the same reaction. She had known that Mildred Barney was a well-to-do woman, but Mildred had always come east for the abolition meetings and work. "Yes, my new house." Felicity tried not to feel intimidated by the home's quiet grandeur. This did not strike her as a neighborhood which would welcome an orphanage. Indeed I have my work cut out for me. "I've just come for the first time. Thee may get down now, children."
Within minutes, the silent driver had unloaded her trunk and valise and had carried both up to the front door. She paid him and tipped him generously for his trouble.
He looked down at his palm. "Unlock the door," he ordered gruffly, "and I'll carry that trunk upstairs for you."
As Felicity turned the large key in the keyhole, she hid her smile. She stepped inside, drawing the children after her. "Please just leave it here in the entryway. I don't know which room I will take as yet."
The drayman did as asked, pulled the brim of his hat politely and left.
Felicity stood a moment, turning on the spot, drinking in the graceful staircase, the gleaming dark oak woodwork, the obviously expensive wallpaper with its lavish design of pink cabbage roses and greenery. Her parents' parlor could have fit into this foyer. In this grand setting, she felt smaller, somehow overwhelmed and humbled. When God blessed one, He didn't stint.
"Miss?" The little girl tugged her skirt. "You said you'd give us food and a place to sleep tonight."
"I did indeed. Come let us find the kitchen." Felicity picked up the covered oak basket that she'd carried on her arm since leaving Gettysburg. In it were the last remnants of her provisions for the trip. She hoped it would be enough for the children.
"Hello," a woman hailed them from the shadowy end of the hall that must lead to the kitchen in the rear. "Who are you, please?"
When the woman came into the light, her appearance reduced Felicity to gawking. She was a tall, slender woman in a blue calico dress with a full white apron and red kerchief tied over her hair. Neat as a brand-new pin. She looked to be in her late twenties and had skin the color of coffee with much cream.