The House on Malcolm Street: A Novel

The House on Malcolm Street: A Novel

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by Leisha Kelly

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It is the autumn of 1920 and Leah Breckenridge is desperate to find a way to provide for her young daughter. After losing her husband and infant son in an accident, she is angry at God and fearful about the future. Finding refuge in a boardinghouse run by her late husband's aunt, Leah's heart begins the slow process of mending. Is it the people who surround her--or


It is the autumn of 1920 and Leah Breckenridge is desperate to find a way to provide for her young daughter. After losing her husband and infant son in an accident, she is angry at God and fearful about the future. Finding refuge in a boardinghouse run by her late husband's aunt, Leah's heart begins the slow process of mending. Is it the people who surround her--or perhaps this very house--that reach into her heart with healing?

Delightful, realistic characters and skilled writing make The House on Malcolm Street a treasure. Leisha Kelly's fans and new readers alike will find this simple story about the complexities of life an engrossing read.

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the House on Malcolm Street


Baker Publishing Group

Copyright © 2010 Leisha Kelly
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8007-3328-5

Chapter One

Leah Wiskirk Breckenridge

September 1920

I plopped Mother's old carpetbag next to the railing and grabbed for Eliza's thin glove. "Don't step too close, please. The train is almost here."

"I won't, Mommy," little Eliza promised, her rounded cheeks flushed pink with excitement. "I just want to see."

Our other bag, still slung over my shoulder, was weighting me terribly, and I tried to shift it. Here we were on the wide oak platform, though I would have preferred to run the other way and never come near this or any other train station. My feet hurt, I'd grown hot despite the coolness of the day, and though I'd tried to fix my hair as best I could out-of-doors this morning, such a long walk in the breeze surely had it looking disheveled again. I would have liked to be almost anywhere else, at least to have some other option. But despite all my fretful efforts, I could think of none.

Six-year-old Eliza, whom I sometimes called Ellie, was just as eager in this new experience as I was wary. Her rag doll dangled limply in her free hand as she strained forward in an effort to see the approaching locomotive through the press of the crowd gathering around us.

"How big is it, Mommy? Is it really, really big?"

"Yes. Terribly. You'll see soon enough."

The train whistle blared, painful and shrill, piercing right through me. Clouds of steam and dust rolled toward the platform, and my heart fluttered violently in my throat. As the locomotive roared to a stop, I tightened my grip on my daughter's hand but then clutched as well at the iron rail to squelch the urge to snatch her up and flee. Little Eliza would not have been so thrilled with the prospect of a train ride, nor even with the sight of the awful thing, if she knew everything that I knew about trains.

"Mommy, Mommy! Can't we go closer?"

"No! We must wait till it is stopped completely!"

The huge black locomotive slid nearer, churning out plumes of smoke, steam, and choking dust. For a moment it seemed to be coming straight for me, and I could scarcely breathe. The whine of the great wheels grinding to a halt jarred me to the core of my being. It was utter foolishness to come to this train station, even for the hope of a fresh start. How could I go through with it?

"When can we get on?" Eliza persisted.

I froze, trying to regain composure. My grip on the rail was painful now but my knees were so weak and my head so unsteady I was afraid to loosen it.

How had John felt when he'd stood here on this platform? I could hardly think of him without tears filling my eyes, but in this place it was even harder. Why did it have to happen? We'd had so little time together!

"Mommy, don't squeeze me so tight." Eliza squirmed uncomfortably.

"I'm sorry." I relaxed my grip, took a deep breath. John would always do what he had to do. No matter how hard it was. He would never let fear stand in his way. Especially foolish, irrational fear like mine.

Eliza stared up at me. "Are we really going to ride?"

I nodded, mustering all the courage I could. "Yes. We are going to Aunt Marigold's in Illinois."

"Marigold is a lovely name," she mused.

I sighed. My dear daughter had always been quick with bright and cheerful observations. I could only hope Marigold McSweeney's disposition matched Ellie's enthusiasm.

All the women in my husband's family had been named for flowers, including his long-deceased mother, Azalea. There was a Daisy. Petunia. Violet. Even Zinnia. That John and I had given our little girl "Rose" for a middle name might not be good enough among such folk. Marigold had written a letter recommending the name "Peony" before Eliza was even born.

I had no idea what to expect at Marigold's, but we couldn't stay here in St. Louis. After John's death I'd tried to find work, but it was next to impossible with no one to care for my children. And then the influenza that had killed so many in 1918 and 1919 took another dreadful sweep through our neighborhood. I became gravely ill, and late in January little Johnny James had died. If I'd not had Eliza, I would have wanted to die too.

The landlord had been patient for a while, but we lost our home when a businessman offered him more for it than he was willing to turn down. I'd already been selling our furniture and household items for the money to live on. We barely had anything left. Not enough to find another home on our own, not even for the first thirty days. Aunt Marigold did not know all of that. And yet she'd invited us months ago to the large home where she took in boarders. She'd offered to let us stay until we could get a fresh start. It had seemed like such a strange proposition when I first got the letter last winter. I'd never met Marigold face-to-face, had never been any farther into Illinois than Alton. But now, what option did we have? I couldn't move in with my father. I absolutely could not put Ellie or myself through that, ever.

The station platform grew more crowded now that the train had stopped. Where had all these people come from? I knelt beside Ellie and drew her close, just to be sure of her in the press. City crowds still made me nervous, despite my years in St. Louis. If there was one thing positive about having to start over in Illinois, it was that I'd be in a small town again, no bigger than the one nearest the farm where I grew up.

"Are all of these people going to ride the train with us?" Eliza asked.

"No. Some are surely here to greet people just arriving, or to say good-bye to their loved ones going away."

She looked around uncertainly. "Did anyone come to tell us good-bye?"

"No." There was nothing else to tell her. Who would come? We'd already said good-bye to Anna Butler, our former neighbor, days ago. Father didn't know we were leaving, and we had no other family.

We watched and waited as people began to exit the train. I had already been told that this train would not linger long. Soon there was a general press toward it and then a shouted announcement for passengers traveling east.

I picked up the carpetbag that along with my heavy shoulder bag held what little remained of our belongings.

We're destitute. Relying on the mercies of John's relative. Where is God in all of this? Where was he when we needed him so badly?

Maybe a couple of deep breaths would help calm my nerves. It would be wrong to cry in front of these strangers, and especially in front of my daughter right now. Somehow I needed to find a way to be strong and not look afraid. "Come on," I told Eliza as cheerfully as I could. "They're beginning to board."

It was not easy to step so near what I'd always thought of as a horrid, belching, man-eating monster. I'd heard people speak of their admiration and even gratitude for trains. But to me, from my earliest days, they'd been quite literally the stuff of nightmares, to be avoided as much as possible.

My hands shook ever so slightly, and I fought with all the strength I could muster against the threat of tears as I led Eliza through a swirl of leaves to the line where a conductor had begun calling passengers to board. I could not let myself be stopped. If we did not leave St. Louis for Marigold's boardinghouse, if we did not get on this train, where would we spend another night? In the park again, among the birds and beasts, and who knew what else, wandering the city after dark? I could not do that to my daughter. Nights would be so much colder soon. I had to find a way for her, even if it was with a strange woman in an unfamiliar town.

Eliza bounced up and down as though we were in line for a carnival ride. She was a boisterous little girl, despite our sorrows less than a year ago. I couldn't help thinking of her father and his death on a day not unlike this one, clear and beautiful with a flurry of dancing leaves. It had been a freakish accident, the result of his short train ride to Florissant to investigate a job opportunity. And as soon as I knew something had happened, I'd prayed. I'd begged God for John to come home to us safe and sound as always. But my prayers had been useless. John had died needlessly, because trains and train tracks were horrid, unpredictable places where metal and steam rule like tyrants over human life.

My heart thundered as this train blew its whistle again, as if taunting me. I tried to lay such thoughts aside when it came our turn to board. But I still found myself shaking as we climbed the metal step and moved to find a seat in the narrow railcar.

"Mommy," Ellie begged. "I want to be by the window so I can look out the whole way!"

"Just sit down wherever you find a place and hold on," I whispered. She looked at me and dropped to a passenger chair in an empty row but then slid over until she could look out easily.

We didn't start moving. Not yet. I sat beside her, stiff and uncomfortable, wishing the ride would start so it could just be over. A ghastly scene flashed into my mind of blood, a mangled leg. Trains were killers, pure and simple. How could I possibly endure riding miles in the belly of one with such memories assaulting me?

It's just too soon. That's the problem. Ten months is not enough time to feel normal again after losing my precious husband. And then our only son.

I sniffed, at the same time arranging our bags near my feet and hoping Eliza did not notice the trouble I was having. I could not imagine being happy about a train ride when I was six. At that age, giant locomotives had pursued me in my dreams, and even in my waking hours the sound of their whistle had given me chills.

But I was grown now. Despite the circumstances of John's death, it was time to block such things out of my mind. I opened one of our bags and pulled out a comb to fix my hair and Eliza's. Hopefully, we wouldn't arrive at Aunt Marigold's looking like vagabonds.

We certainly didn't have much baggage to speak of. The conductor had offered to place it in a baggage car for me, but I wanted to keep everything by my side. We had so little left in this world. Clothes. A few pictures and personal items, nothing more. I'd had to sell what little else we'd had in order to purchase the train tickets.

Hopefully the two nights we'd spent without shelter would be our only ones in such condition. We had no money for a return trip, but what was there to come back to? A park bench? Our first night on one of those had been horrid. I'd felt so empty and hopeless. I'd hardly slept, struggling to make up my mind what to do. The second night was just as unnerving because of a man I'd seen watching us from a distance. But he went away and I found some peace in my decision to leave Missouri and show up on Aunt Marigold's doorstep. She'd offered. And I'd have to be brave and humble enough to accept the offer. If I'd only known to arrive at the station for the early train in the wee hours of morning, we could have been there by now.

Eliza was more aware than I wanted her to be of my quiet thoughtfulness. And despite her excitement to be taking this trip, she was probably nervous as well. She leaned into my shoulder and gently stroked my hand. "Are you sad today, Mommy?"

"A little." I sighed. I really hated to admit such a thing, but there was no point denying it when she seemed to read me so easily.

"You wish Daddy and baby Johnny were here?"

Sometimes my daughter's directness was more than a little unnerving. She seemed terribly grown-up in moments like this, and I knew she wanted me to be honest. So I nodded and tried to sound as positive as I could. "I'm sure it'll be wonderful for us in Illinois. But in a way I feel that we're leaving them behind."

"Anna told me they're always with us," she said softly and turned her eyes to the window where we could easily see over the heads of the people remaining on the platform outside.

I sat in silence. How could I possibly respond? Despite Anna's words, John and the baby were not with us and would never be with us again. Nothing would ever be the same, or feel right again.

I leaned back and closed my eyes, holding Eliza in my arms as the train began its slow crawl forward. Maybe if we sat very still and were both very quiet as the train began its acceleration, I wouldn't get too anxious, nauseous, or upset. Soon we'd be rushing out of the city and into the countryside, leaving St. Louis and its memories forever behind us.

"Will we sleep on the train tonight?" Ellie whispered.

"Not all night," I answered, hoping my little girl would be satisfied with the vague reply. I simply couldn't discuss things more. Not yet. I had to regain my equilibrium, my composure, first. We were riding in a ten-ton monster. Maybe even the very one that had killed John. There was no way to know for sure.

Ellie continued her words at a whisper. "I think it will be lovely to sleep on the train, even if it's just for a little while." She squeezed my hand. "But I wasn't scared to sleep in the park. Not one bit. That was a good adventure too."

Adventure. Of course that was the way a six-year-old would see the state our lives were in right now. Lovely. I smoothed her brown muslin skirt and glanced at the heads of the couple in the seat in front of us, hoping that no one had heard her speak of sleeping in a park. Before we reached Andersonville, I must tell her not to mention a word of such things to Aunt Marigold. That we were destitute and coming so suddenly to share her roof was shameful enough.

I'd thought that Eliza would be tired and ready for a nap once the train got going. She'd been up far too early this morning and couldn't possibly have slept well overnight on the wrought-iron bench I'd chosen to keep her up off the ground. It had been a tiring day too, walking all the way to the mission church where I knew breakfast would be served, past the memorial garden where John and the baby were buried, and then across the city to the train station.

But she was far too interested in the view out the window to consider closing her eyes for even a moment. Did she remember being anywhere other than the city? Maybe not. She'd only been two the last time we'd ridden out to Sugar Creek, where I grew up.

It seemed like only yesterday. A beautiful April morning. John had driven the shiny Ford coupe he'd gotten from his best friend, trying not to be edgy about taking us out to see my parents for only the second time in our marriage. And I'd been far more nervous than he. Of course I'd longed to see Mother, but I'd never had a good relationship with Father. Walter Wiskirk had despised my choice of a husband from the beginning, and he made no effort to hide it. He'd scoffed when we chose to name our girl Eliza, after my mother, but he'd been even more spiteful when we'd named our second child John James. He scarcely knew how to be civil to anyone.

Life and death were so cruel. I needed my mother. I would have loved to have her at my side right now. And Ellie would have loved it too. Why would God take her away, two years ago this very month? Why would he not have taken my father instead, who never bothered with a kind word, never tried to be a decent father or grandfather? He had always been red-faced and yelling from my earliest memories of him. It was good to be putting distance between us.

"Mommy, look!" Eliza cried suddenly, pointing to the wide expanse of river the train was about to cross. The mighty Mississippi. I took a quick glance and then averted my eyes so I'd catch no real glimpse of the narrow bridge that would be supporting the train's weight over the rushing current.

I need to be strong. I must be strong. I must not let fear stand in my way.

John had understood the fears that troubled me, though they'd never been as bad when he was around. He'd been patient, gentle, in praying for me and helping with so many things. But trains were absolutely the worst. They'd always been the worst.


Excerpted from the House on Malcolm Street by LEISHA KELLY Copyright © 2010 by Leisha Kelly . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Prior to her untimely death in 2011, Leisha Kelly was the author of several bestselling historical fiction books, including Julia's Hope, Emma's Gift, and Katie's Dream. She served many years on her local library board and was active in the ministries of her church.
L. A. Kelly is better known to her historical fiction fans as Leisha Kelly. Prior to her untimely death in 2011, Leisha was the author of several bestselling historical fiction books, including Julia's Hope, Emma's Gift, and Katie's Dream. She served many years on her local library board and was active in the ministries of her church.

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House on Malcolm Street 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Phebelou More than 1 year ago
This is a warm-hearted story about Leah, her daughter, and what tragic events happen to them where they end up living with an aunt of Leah's husband. It has sadness, history, and love. I have read other books by this author and I enjoyed everyone of them. A great read! Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
GreenIDMama More than 1 year ago
The House on Malcolm Street By Leisha Kelly I started to read this book but was distracted by my kids twice. But I though I had the whole book fireguard out. Boy was I wrong! I only had the book half figured out. A lot more happened to the charters then I could imagine, plus the ending wasn't what I thought would happen. This story of Leah was one of sadness, the loss of her family had caused a chain of things to come. It caused her to move, meet new people.Do these people become friends? Do these people help her find forgiveness? Do they help her find a new home? Do they fall in love? These are all questions to keep in the back of your mind while reading this store. The story does have a few bible versus. As does it have someone finding God. All in all this was a good book worth the read
DNunley More than 1 year ago
Great story, well written. Will read novel from this author again!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved authors writing style. Well written. 1st book by author. Will read more. Wanted questions answered at end is all that would have made it a smidge better for me. Wish that this was a series with these characters. So sad that author had now passed and cannot do this.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
kittycrochettwo More than 1 year ago
It's the fall of 1920 and Leah Breckenridge's life has changed so much the last year that she is basically lost. Her husband was killed in an accident, and then her baby son dies from the influenza. If that isn't enough to overwhelm her she couldn't pay the rent, and has found herself along with her six yr old daughter Eliza, also called Ellie, homeless. She can't go back home to her parents, her mother is dead, and her dad had never really made her feel welcome. The only option she has is to go to Illinois to stay with her husbands Aunt Marigold who runs a boardinghouse.The only issue is Leah has a terrible fear of trains, and that is the only way for her to travel, so she must put her fears aside and do whats best for her daughter. Upon arriving in Ill. she meets Josiah who offers to take her to the boarding house only to find out that he actually lives there with Marigold. Turns out he was a childhood friend of Leah's husband and a distant relative of Marigolds. Leah and Josiah don't hit it off at all, she gets the feeling he doesn't want her there, but unknown to her is the fact that he is dealing with his own grief. Will Leah find refuge at the House On Malcolm Street, and can she find her way back to God? This was an amazing story, Leisha Kelly really knows how to draw you into a story and hold your attention until the end.She tells this story from the perspective of two people Leah and Josiah. In telling the story this way you get swept away with both characters feelings,their pain and grief literally jump off the page. The nightmares and the fear of trains that had plagued Leah most of her life draws us in with a bit of mystery which isn't resolved until the end of the story. The characters develop very well in this book and you quickly become immersed in their stories. Leah had lost so much, even her faith in God, but her daughter had enough faith for both of them, and when they get to Marigold's house and we see what a kind, compassionate woman she is I was relieved that they might find a home. I also liked Marigold's ministry and how she could get people around her to help, allowing them to feel good about doing for others, the relationship with her neighbor was also another aspect of the book that I really enjoyed. The only downside to this book was that it ended. I wanted to keep on reading about these characters, I can easily see how there could be a sequel to this book, I really hope that's the case because I want to read more about the people on Malcolm Street. I would easily rate this book a 5/5 Even though I was provided a copy of this book by Revell, thanks Ms. Hausler, it in no way influenced my opinion of this book.
LovenGod More than 1 year ago
Marigold McSweeney runs a boarding house. It isn't a prosperous boarding house since she only has one paying boarder, but it is not about making money for Marigold, it is about helping to heal broken hearts, broken people and broken lives. When her young husband died Leah Breckenridge is desperate, kicked out of her home for not paying the rent, she and her young daughter have slept on the streets a couple of nights, when she faces her fears and boards a train for Andersonville, Illinois. Her husband's aunt has invited them to come visit for a while, and Leah hope they can stay there, she knows she can never take her daughter to live at her father's farm. His unfeeling and coarse attitude would be detrimental to a child, just as it had been to Leah, when she was a child. Upon arriving, she finds that the horrible nightmares she had about trains, have worsened since her husband passed away after being struck by a train. Josiah Walsh was a distant relative of Marigold's husband and had been a buddy of Leah's husband as kids. Now he is dealing with his own private torment. Driving while under the influence of alcohol he has crashed the car and he wife and unborn child die as a result of the crash. Only God keeps Josiah from going over the deep end. God and Aunt Marigold. A wonderful story of God's amazing grace, and Marigold's strong faith and her ministering spirit, you will not want to miss The House on Malcolm Street. This is the first book I have read from this author but I hope it will not be the last, I truly enjoyed this book. 345 pages US $14.99 4 stars. This book was provided for review purposes only by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. This book is available September 2010 where your favorite Revell books are sold.
ChristysBookBlog More than 1 year ago
The House on Malcolm Street by Leisha Kelly is a thoughtful and moving historical novel. Leah Breckenridge has had a terrible year; first her mother died, then her husband, John, was killed in a tragic train accident, and finally her infant son Johnny died in the flu epidemic. Leah and daughter Eliza are left alone, homeless and broke, and because of a abusive relationship with her father she cannot stay with him, so she hesitantly accepts an invitation from John's aunt Marigold to stay with her in her boarding house. Eliza thrives with Aunt Mari's faith filling the house, but Leah is still angry with God for taking away those she loved. Aunt Mari's other border is Josiah Walsh, a childhood friend of John's who also lost his wife and their unborn child in a tragic accident. Mari hopes that the two can help heal the other's wounds, but both are too caught up in their own grief to reach out. Kelly's novel isn't exactly a romance, but it is poignant and heart-felt. Readers will ache for both Leah's and Josiah's loss, and while Leah's secret may be obvious to readers, it's revelation is still profound. There are several storylines loose at the end of the novel, will Saul and Mari's relationship last the prejudice of their neighbors? Will Josiah and Leah move forward to love? I hope that Kelly gives readers a sequel answering these questions and giving another look at the Kurcher family as well.
AAR More than 1 year ago
THE HOUSE ON MALCOLM STREET by Leisha Kelly is a historical fiction set in 1920 Illoinois. It is written in first person, is well written with details and depth. It has faimly drama, tragedy, lost, faith, secrets, moving on with your life, finding the truth,railroads,death, sadness, hopeless,lost of family,trust, healing your heart,finding good friends and moving toward the future. The characters are interesting, caring, believable, and will capture your heart.This book will make you think, reflect on the people you have helped and cared for. I would recommend this book especially if you enjoy a get to your heart story that will hold your attention. This book was received for review from the publisher and details can be found at Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group and and My Book Addiction and More.
pencildancerEB More than 1 year ago
The House on Malcolm Street by Leisha Kelly This isn't a feel good book or a quick read. It's a book that makes you sit back in your chair and realize you've been there in some way at some time with your faith. The House on Malcolm Street will have you reflecting on people who have helped you or maybe you helped in the past, or even better who can you help now? It's 1920 and Leah Breckenridge is widowed with a young daughter and no way to support her. She leaves St. Louis and heads across the river to Illinois where her late husband's aunt has a boarding house. There Leah along with a few others begin healing their hearts and opening them to others. The House on Malcolm Street is not a fast page tuner, but it is one that I will pull off my shelf again to read. There is a lot to be learned from the characters in this book. Back cover: It is the autumn of 1920, and Leah Breckenridge is desperate to find a way to provide for her young daughter. After losing her husband and infant son, she is angry at God and fearful about the days ahead. Finding refuge in a boardinghouse run by her late husband's aunt, Leah begins the slow process of mending her heart. Is it the people who surround her-or perhaps this very house-that reaches into her heart with healing? As Leah finds peace tending to an abandoned garden, can she find a way to trust God with her future? book provided for author review, I can write what I want about it.