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The Lady of Bolton Hill
By Elizabeth Camden
Bethany House PublishersCopyright © 2011 Elizabeth Camden
All right reserved.
PrologueBaltimore, Maryland, 1867
"Come on, boy. Your dad needs you."
Daniel looked up from his exam in disbelief, certain his father would never pull him out of this test. But a grim-faced Joe Manzetti stood in the doorway of the classroom, trails of perspiration streaking through the soot on his face. Being summoned to fix the aging equipment at the steel mill was a regular occurrence for Daniel, but it wasn't going to happen today.
"I'll be there in an hour," Daniel said as he glanced around the classroom, noting the glares of resentment among the other students competing for the same scholarship. They all had the advantage of decent schools and private tutors, while Daniel's only knowledge of engineering came from tinkering with the equipment in the steel mills of Baltimore's east end.
"There's been an accident and your dad is trapped," Manzetti said. "You need to come right away." The blood drained from Daniel's face. Everyone at the steel mill knew what this test meant to him and would not have summoned him for anything short of a life-and-death catastrophe. He threw his pencil down and shot up from his seat, not even glancing at the proctor as he bolted from the room.
"It was a boiler explosion," Manzetti told him as they left the school and ran across Currior Street. "They've put out the fire, but your dad was trapped by the tank that got blown off its base. He's still pinned beneath it."
Daniel broke out into a sweat. There would have been tons of steam if the boiler tank had been blown out of its brick encasement, and his father's entire body would have been scalded. "How badly was he burned?"
"It's not good, boy. We can't get the canister off him until the fire tubes are disabled. The boiler was mangled in the blast, so we need to do some quick work before the pressure makes it blow again."
And that was why they'd summoned Daniel. Anyone could operate those boilers under normal circumstances, but when the equipment broke down they relied on Daniel to figure out what was to be done. He was only nineteen years old, but he'd always had a knack for tinkering with machines to make them work better or do something different.
His legs were trembling after sprinting the two miles to the mill, a stitch clawed at his side, and his lungs were barely able to fill, but the workers parted as he and Manzetti entered the boiler room. Clouds of steam and soot still hung in the air, bricks were strewn everywhere, and on the concrete floor, crumpled beneath a massive copper boiler, Daniel's father lay sprawled like a broken doll.
His father's eyelids flickered. "Fire tubes still attached," the words rasped from his father's throat. "Be careful, lad."
Daniel glanced at the twisted fire tubes and the ruined boiler. Soldering the tubes closed would work, but it would take hours. He had to think of another way to disengage the tubes before they could lift the boiler from his father, or there would be another explosion.
"I need a sledgehammer and a steel pin," Daniel said. "Get a couple of valve clamps and some leather gloves," he added, his gaze fixed on the white-hot fire tubes. A wave of murmurs passed through the workers who circled the site of the accident, but a few of them ran to get the tools. There was no time to explain the unconventional solution that was taking shape in his head. He wasn't even sure it would work, but trying to disable those fire tubes directly would be suicide. "And I'll need a lot of water ... just in case." Stupid to worry about it, since he and his father would both be killed instantly if this didn't work.
The men brought the equipment to him, and the assembled workers began pulling back to a safe distance. A tremor ran through his father. "You know what you're doing, laddie?"
Daniel didn't meet his father's eyes, just placed the steel pin against the first of the mangled fire tubes, the heat so fierce it penetrated his thick leather gloves. "Yup," he said with more confidence than he felt. "Just like pricking the crust on one of Mom's pies to let the steam out," he said as he positioned the sledgehammer atop the pin. The first whack did nothing other than send a shrill ping through the air. Neither did the second, but the third blow pierced the pipe, and the escaping steam sent out a high-pitched whistle. Daniel reared away from the burning steam. "Clamp down the safety valve," he yelled over the noise. Two workers moved in, arm muscles bulging as they wrenched the equipment into place. It took a minute, but the pipe lost pressure, and the whistle lowered in pitch and then fell silent. The fire tube was disabled.
A smattering of applause came from behind him, but Daniel didn't tear his gaze from the ruined mass of the boiler. There was still one more pipe to disable. Sweat rolled into his eyes and he brushed it away with a grimy forearm before he set the next pin into place.
"Want you to know ... proud of you, boy," his father said.
Daniel kept his eyes fastened on the fire tube. He wished his father wouldn't talk like that, like this might be the end. "Yeah, okay," he said, keeping his gaze steady on the task before him. He struck the first blow at the remaining fire tube. It was a good, solid blow, as was the second. On the third blow the high-pitched whine began.
An instant later the pressure burst in the tube and shot the pin free and straight into Daniel's face. He was hurled backward and crashed to the ground, blood pouring from a cut across his brow. The roars of approval from the men signaled he had succeeded in disabling the fire tube.
Daniel grinned as he pushed into a sitting position, barely able to see through the sting of blood in his eyes. A dozen men were pushing bricks out of the way, lifting the copper boiler up a few feet. He couldn't see his dad because of the cluster of workers surrounding him.
Then a worker with a soot-stained face walked over and squatted down to look directly at Daniel. A hand clamped him on the shoulder. "I'm sorry, boy. Your dad is dead."
* * *
This is probably the prettiest place I've ever seen, Daniel thought as his gaze drifted past the cemetery walls to roam over the tree-shaded lawn and a church that looked like a medieval castle. Clara's father was the minister of this church, which was the only reason Daniel's father could be buried in a nice neighborhood like Bolton Hill. Daniel didn't know how much it cost to bury a person, but he gathered it was expensive, and he should be grateful that Reverend Endicott was letting his father be put to rest in such a fancy place for free.
Daniel turned his head so he could see Clara from his one good eye. She was standing on the other side of his father's grave, and her heart-shaped face winced every time she looked at him. Daniel cursed the patch covering his bad eye. He might end up being blind in that eye, but the swelling was still so bad the doctor had not been able to get a good look at it yet. Anyway, he knew his face looked horrible and it bothered Clara. She was only sixteen, and this sort of thing really ripped her up.
As they lowered his father's casket into the freshly dug hole, Daniel tightened his arm around his mother's narrow shoulders and wished her weeping would stop. He and his mother shared the same black hair and gray eyes, but that was where the resemblance ended. For three days his mother had done nothing but alternate between despondent stares and gut-wrenching sobs, whereas Daniel had been too busy taking care of the girls to let grief catch up to him. At least he could sometimes cheer up his sisters, but he had been a complete failure at trying to ease his mother's hollow-eyed pain. He would have to figure out what to do about that, although all he could concentrate on now was how badly he wanted to see Clara. Guilt tore at his insides for even thinking such a thing, but just for a blessed few hours he needed to be with Clara.
When the ceremony came to an end, people began to wander away from the grave site. If he didn't catch Clara, she would go back to her father's house and he wouldn't see her again for another week. Clara was his best friend, but running off to see her when his family needed him was shameful.
And the real reason he wanted to see her was even worse.
The day before the accident, Clara sent him a message saying she was learning a piece by Frederic Chopin, the Polish composer they both idolized. If it weren't for their mutual love of Chopin, Daniel would never have met a person like Clara Endicott. He lived in Baltimore's grubby east side, while she came from the privileged world of Bolton Hill, an enclave of manicured lawns, clean air, and old money. They came from entirely different worlds, but they bought music at the same shop in Merchant's Square. Every Tuesday a shipment of sheet music arrived from Paris, and he always raced to the store after his shift to see if there was anything by Chopin he didn't already have. Five years ago, just after his fourteenth birthday, he had arrived at the shop to learn that an entire batch of newly delivered Chopin scores had been sold to a young lady. He finagled Clara's name out of the clerk and paid a call to her house that very evening.
It didn't seem odd to him, seeking out a fellow enthusiast of the great Chopin. What could be more natural than wanting to meet someone else who shared his immense passion for the composer? It wasn't until he saw Clara's house, an imposing mansion set back an acre from the street, that he realized he was stepping into a very different world. Nevertheless, he straightened his shoulders, knocked on the door, and asked to see Miss Clara Endicott. He was surprised to see that Clara was merely a girl, not even twelve years old. She was a skinny little thing with hair like spun gold and wearing a frilly dress so white it made his eyes hurt just to look at it. Still, she adored Chopin, so that meant there must be something worthwhile underneath all those ridiculous hair ribbons.
"Hello, my name is Daniel Tremain. I hear you like Frederic Chopin, and I think we should meet."
"You like Chopin, too?" The joy that lit her face was as though Santa Claus had stepped onto her front porch.
From that day on, they had been inseparable. Over the next five years Daniel spent every moment he was not at the steel mill beside Clara as they worked through the various Chopin ballades, études, and sonatas. Before meeting Clara, the only piano Daniel had access to was the out-of-tune upright in the public school. He was entirely self-taught, but Clara had the benefit of private lessons and had helped him improve his technique. Even better, Clara had access to the instruments in the Music Conservatory across the street from her father's church, and Daniel became proficient on the cello, as well.
He looked across the stretch of cemetery to see Clara being pulled by her brother, Clyde, toward a waiting carriage. Daniel gritted his teeth in frustration. He needed to see Clara, and her brother could be so irritating. Ever since he became friends with Clara, Daniel had been hearing about Clyde's accomplishments. Clyde went to Harvard, Clyde won an award from the Smithsonian ... on and on it went. Clyde had the best education money could buy, while Daniel was stuck shoveling coal into a furnace.
Daniel sprinted across the lawn toward Clara, reaching her just before she stepped up into the carriage. "Clara, wait!"
She whirled around. Her face was a mask of concern and her lower lip was trembling. "Daniel, I'm so sorry about your father," she said as she laid a hand on his arm.
"Never mind that. I need to speak with you."
And he didn't need an audience. He tugged Clara a few feet away, but like a watchdog, Clyde's eyes narrowed and he raised his chin. "Not too far, Tremain," he warned.
Daniel threw an annoyed glare at Clara's brother. It should not be a surprise that Clara's family was starting to become suspicious of him. For years he had been hanging around their house so much they had practically accepted him into their family, but Clara was starting to come of age. He pulled her a few feet away from the carriage.
"Do you have sheet music for the nocturne?" he asked in a low voice. He ought to be roasted alive for even thinking about music at a time like this, but for the life of him, he just wanted to get his hands on that Chopin nocturne so he could forget about steel mills and funerals and his mother's shattered face. Music could do that, create a magical oasis where nothing else mattered except hearing the next line of the score.
Clara looked hesitant. "I've got it, but my father is hosting a political conference all week. They will be using the Music Conservatory for meeting rooms, so we won't be able to play."
Being shut away from music for another week was unacceptable. This had been the worst few days of his life and he needed to escape. Daniel glanced over his shoulder. His mother was waiting for him with that desperate look of anxiety. In another moment she was going to break down again.
"Meet me at the Music Conservatory tonight," he whispered to Clara. "I'll figure out a way to get us in and we can play there."
Clara looked as though he'd asked her to set a house on fire. "We can't break into the Conservatory. It's against the law!" But the way she bit her lip and clasped her hands let him know that she wanted to do it, even if she couldn't muster the courage.
"Don't be such a rule follower," he said. "Meet me at midnight outside the Conservatory. And don't forget the sheet music."
Without a backward glance, he dashed back to his mother, knowing Clara would not let him down. His mother's thin frame stood before him, and along with her came years of responsibilities. Even if he was lucky enough to someday have another shot at a college scholarship, there was no way he could leave his family without income. He'd have to figure out how to pay the crushing weight of bills that would accumulate quickly now that his father was dead, and do his best to support what was left of his family. For a while he had dreamed of a chance for college and a better future, but that was over. Now his life was going to be lived inside the stark brick walls of a steel mill.
But for a few hours tonight, he would escape into a magical world of music, and that was enough to keep him going for now.
* * *
Clara clutched the sheet music to her chest, her eyes fastened on the ground before her feet as she scurried toward the Music Conservatory at the top of the hill. The glow from the moon made it easy to see as she cut through the backyards of her neighborhood. She hated to admit it, but she was still a tiny bit afraid of the dark. Sneaking around like this was simply awful, but it would be worse to abandon her best friend when he needed her.
Clara reached the end of the street and could see the Conservatory plainly in the moonlight. The Music Conservatory, a rambling gothic monstrosity of a building with a few practice rooms and an oversized auditorium for performances, belonged to the city. She and Daniel used the practice rooms every chance they got, and her fondest memories were here while they played Beethoven and Chopin and sometimes even their own fledgling compositions. Normally the Conservatory was a haven for her, but tonight it loomed like a ghostly fortress in the moonlight. She had no idea how they would get into the locked Conservatory but knew Daniel would find a way. He could do anything.
She dashed across the street, her heart pounding and her palms sweaty. She would feel better once Daniel got here and told her to quit being such a sissy.
She heard a low chuckle behind her. "The way you're hunched over that sheet music, you'd think an army of Pinkerton's agents were hot on your trail." She whirled around to see Daniel step from behind the sycamore trees, radiating that supreme sense of confidence he seemed to effortlessly possess. A smile broke across her face. Only seconds ago she had been scared to pieces, but Daniel could always ease her pathetic worries.
"I already popped the lock on the back door," Daniel said. "Let's go."
He must have been here for a while, because Daniel had already set up the cello beside the piano. "Do you want to play Chopin or try composing something?" Clara asked. For the past few months they had been writing their own music, Daniel on the cello and Clara on the piano.
"Let's play Chopin. I don't want to have to think too much tonight."
She was afraid he was going to say that. "Well, there's a problem with the cello part," she said. "It's written in a different key than the piano."
Daniel took the cello score from her and made quick work scanning the lines. "Not to worry. I can transpose it to the higher key as we play."
Excerpted from The Lady of Bolton Hill by Elizabeth Camden Copyright © 2011 by Elizabeth Camden. Excerpted by permission of Bethany House Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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