Elizabeth Miles finds herself in a position no con can help her escape. Her beloved fiancé, Gideon Bates, is awaiting his turn in the draft to fight in the Great War. Elizabeth is finding it hard to think of anything else, but Gideon has thrown himself into his work, preparing wills for soldiers before they ship out. Corporal Tom Preston is part owner of Preston Shoes, a company that is making footwear for the army, so he has a rather large estate. He needs a new will, however, because he has just been secretly married to a woman whom his family would never approve. He wants to make sure she and their unborn child are provided for if he does not return.
When Tom is later reported killed, Elizabeth and Gideon learn that the new will has gone missing after Tom's bride revealed her identity to his family. Unless the new will is found and validated, the original will, which leaves everything to Tom's brother, will prevail and the wife and child will get nothing. If Tom's new bride survives, that is. Some terrible threats have been leveled against her, and Elizabeth and Gideon must figure out a way, legal or not quite, to secure Tom's fortune for his wife and child while saving her life in the process.
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I hate this stupid war!" Elizabeth cried in frustration.
"Shhhh." Gideon glanced anxiously at the parlor door. Fortunately, it was tightly closed, even though it was highly improper for them to be alone in any room, even a perfectly respectable parlor. Gideon's mother thought an engaged couple deserved a little privacy, however, hence the closed door. "Not so loud. Someone might hear you."
"Do you really think your mother would turn me over to the League?" The American Protective League had thousands of civilian volunteers who were informally investigating enemy activities but who usually just reported their neighbors for being "unpatriotic."
"No, but I'm not too sure about the servants. People have been jailed for less, you know."
"I do know, although I'm sure everyone hates the war by now, so how can saying it be unpatriotic?"
"I have no idea, but it's not only unpatriotic. It's illegal, and the League has spies everywhere, so please be careful, my darling. I wouldn't want to spend our honeymoon in prison."
"If we ever even have a honeymoon. I still don't see why we can't go ahead and get married, war or no war."
Gideon sighed. "You know why, darling."
Elizabeth sighed, too, but much more dramatically. "Because you're too honorable to risk leaving me a widow."
"And possibly leaving you with a child you'll have to raise alone."
"You might be sorry for being so honorable, Gideon. The way this war is going, by the time it's over, I'll probably be too old to have children at all, and you'll wish we hadn't waited."
He smiled at that. "I'm sure you have at least a decade of childbearing years left, and the war can't possibly last that long. Now, stop fussing and kiss me before my mother decides we've been in here alone long enough."
A few minutes later, they broke apart at the sound of a discreet knock, and Mrs. Bates joined them, pretending not to notice how breathless they both were.
"Have you seen the newspapers?" Mrs. Bates asked. "They sentenced the suffrage demonstrators in Washington to ten days in the workhouse."
"Not the Occoquan Workhouse," Elizabeth cried in dismay. She and Mrs. Bates had spent time in that horrible place last fall for demonstrating for women's suffrage outside the White House.
"No, a different workhouse, but no better, I'm sure. They were protesting in Lafayette Square this time, right beside the White House. I'm sure the government is justifying it by saying demonstrating for women's rights is bad for civilian morale or some other poppycock."
"Shhhh, someone might hear you," Elizabeth said, jumping up to close the parlor door.
"Do you think the League has spies in our house?" Mrs. Bates asked in disgust.
"The League has members everywhere," Gideon said. "And I don't think they call them spies, Mother, so they might be offended if they heard you call them that."
"Whatever I call them, I hope I'm not harboring any in my own home."
"You never know," Elizabeth said, "and we can't take a chance of demoralizing our beloved doughboys with unpatriotic thoughts."
"I hope they aren't your beloved doughboys," Gideon said. "That's too much competition, even for me."
"Don't be silly. When you're a doughboy, you will be my only beloved one," Elizabeth said.
"I just wish you didn't have to go at all, Gideon," Mrs. Bates said.
"And you don't really have to. You could get yourself appointed as a Dollar-a-Year Man," Elizabeth said slyly.
"David did," Mrs. Bates reminded him, naming Gideon's best friend.
"And David will have to live with his decision, just as I have to live with mine." Gideon gave Elizabeth a disapproving frown. "I can't shirk my duty when so many other men have already paid the ultimate price."
"I suppose your mother and I are just selfish, Gideon," Elizabeth said. "We don't see any reason for you to pay the supreme price."
"If women ruled the world, I suppose there wouldn't be any wars at all."
"Another good reason to give us the vote," Elizabeth said.
"You already have the vote, at least in New York State," Gideon said.
"Yes," his mother said wearily, "and that's lovely, but a state here and there is not enough. All American women must have the vote."
"So you can put an end to this war?" Gideon guessed.
"Or at least elect people who will," she replied.
"I wonder if they really do pay those men a dollar," Elizabeth said to change the subject. Thinking about Gideon going to war was simply too dreadful.
"Who, dear?" Mrs. Bates asked absently.
"The Dollar-a-Year Men. Do they really get a dollar a year?"
"I think that's just an expression," Gideon said. "I don't think they get any salary at all. David would know. Why don't you ask him?" he added with a mischievous grin.
Elizabeth pretended not to notice the grin. "I'm not sure David and I are actually speaking yet."
"Really?" Mrs. Bates said in surprise. "I thought he'd forgiven you for breaking your engagement to him."
"He apparently told Gideon that he was actually relieved that I did." She glanced at Gideon, silently daring him to confirm it, which he knew better than to do. "But I think his pride was a bit bruised, and you know how sensitive men can be about matters of the heart."
"Indeed I do," Mrs. Bates said.
"But apparently, many men have extremely strong stomachs," Gideon said, "which is what I imagine it takes for the Dollar-a-Year Men to give a speech in theaters at intermission and make people feel guilty because they haven't bought enough Liberty Bonds or knitted enough socks or saved enough peach pits for the war effort."
"Don't forget bandages, dear," Mrs. Bates said with only a hint of sarcasm. "Heaven knows, I've rolled miles of them."
"And bandages. David is welcome to serve our country as he sees fit, and I will serve it as I see fit."
Elizabeth didn't dare meet Mrs. Bates's eye. Neither of them could bear the thought of losing Gideon, no matter how honorable it might be.
A few days later, Gideon's law clerk showed a handsome young soldier into his office. His uniform had obviously been tailored to fit him and had been smartly pressed, which was unusual. "Corporal Thomas Preston," Smith announced before leaving, closing the door behind him.
Gideon shook the soldier's hand and invited him to sit. "Where are you from, Corporal Preston?"
"Upstate," he said vaguely. "You're not serving?"
"I was too old for the earlier drafts, but they'll get me this time. I'm just waiting to be called up."
Preston nodded. "Raising the age limit to forty-five will get a lot of fellows."
"Indeed it will. I hear General Pershing wants a million more men over there."
"That should put an end to the Boche pretty quick."
Gideon shook his head. "Nothing about this war has been quick, but let's hope you're right. Now, what can I do for you, Corporal?" he asked, although he was pretty sure he already knew.
"The army tells me I need to make a will before I ship out."
Most of the boys didn't really need one, but Preston looked as if he might. "I know that's what they're advising, and you probably also know our firm is preparing wills free of charge for the boys. It's our contribution to the war effort."
"I heard that, which is why I chose your firm, even though I can easily afford to pay for your services."
Which explained the tailored uniform and confirmed Gideon's suspicions. "That isn't necessary."
"In my case, it probably is. My will must be a little complicated because my situation is complicated, and I don't want any misunderstandings later if I . . . well, if I don't return."
Gideon nodded his understanding. "What do you mean by 'complicated'?"
"First of all, because of the war, I am a man of means."
"Why 'because of the war'?"
"My family owns Preston Shoe Manufacturing. We were doing quite well for the past twenty-five years or so, and when my father passed away about five years ago, he left me a third of the company."
"Who owns the rest?"
"My older brother, Fred, and my stepmother, Delia, each have a third. Fred is the president of the company, and Delia and I just collect our quarterly dividends."
"You aren't involved in the company at all?"
"I suppose that was my family's expectation, but I was still in school when my father passed. Then I turned twenty-one last winter, so I was eligible for the draft this past June, right after I graduated from Cornell, so I haven't had a chance to go to work yet." Working in an industry essential to the war effort could have provided a deferment. Why hadn't Fred offered his brother that opportunity? Or maybe Tom was too honorable to take it.
"I see. So you're a college man. I'm surprised you didn't go to officers' training."
"They wanted me to, but . . ."
Gideon waited, knowing how people detested silence and would often fill it with information they wouldn't ordinarily reveal.
After a moment, Preston said, "I didn't think a man as young as I am should be ordering men to their deaths."
Gideon nodded, understanding completely. "They made you a corporal, though."
"I went to a training camp in the summer of nineteen fifteen. One for college men."
"Ah, yes, the preparedness movement." As soon as the war started in Europe, several retired American generals had seen a future need for officers if America entered the war. They started a series of private summer training camps for college men and others for businessmen. "Did they teach you to be a leader?"
Preston chuckled at that. "They mostly just taught us to march. Did you go to a Business Men's Camp?"
"A Tired Business Men's Camp, you mean?" Gideon replied, giving it the sarcastic moniker the public had bestowed. "No, I didn't."
"You'll probably want to go in as an officer, anyway. Most of the older fellows do. I hear they're opening some new training schools because they need so many new officers."
To replace the ones being killed by the score, but Gideon didn't say that to this innocent young man who might still think war was mostly honor, glory and parades. "I'll probably just do what they tell me to do. Now, explain to me why your will must be complicated. Your situation sounds pretty straightforward."
"It would be ordinarily, I suppose. Did I mention that Preston Shoes has a contract with the army now?"
"No, you didn't, but I'd guessed as much since you said you were newly wealthy."
"Fred worked really hard and probably bribed a few politicians to get the job, and he's made a fortune. Although . . ."
Gideon clamped his lips together and waited again.
Preston glanced at the door as if to make sure it was still closed. "Now that I'm in the army, I've heard things."
"Things about what?"
"The shoes. The ones issued to the soldiers. They . . . The soldiers call them 'chicken skins.' Because they fall apart so easily."
"They're poor quality, you mean?"
"That's putting it mildly. I know the shoes I was issued were awful."
"I'm sure the army has contracts with many different shoe companies," Gideon tried. "Maybe the pair you got was made by a different one."
"You're probably right, and I would hate to think . . . Well, anyway, Fred is running the company, and there's nothing I can do about it now. When the war is over . . ."
Gideon let that pass. A lot of things would or wouldn't happen when this cursed war was over. "So you are now a wealthy man, courtesy of the U.S. Army. I'm assuming you want to leave someone your share of the company as well as the money you've made. Your brother?"
Preston smiled, but the expression held no mirth. "I already have a will that does that. Fred took me to have it drawn up the minute he realized I'd be drafted."
"And you've changed your mind?"
"Not exactly. I've gotten married."
"Married?" Gideon echoed in surprise and then managed to say, "Congratulations."
"Thank you. I know. You're thinking I'm crazy to get married just before shipping out but . . ." The color rose in his beardless face, and he dropped his gaze. "Well, there's a baby, you see."
Gideon nodded knowingly. "I do see. Then you've done the right thing."
Preston smiled his mirthless smile again. "I don't think Fred or Delia would agree. She's not . . . well, she's not the sort of girl they would approve of."
"What sort of girl is she?" Gideon asked, carefully keeping all hint of judgment from his tone.
Preston's entire face seemed to light up at that. "She's wonderful. Not like anyone I've ever known. She doesn't care what other people think, and she always tells the truth, no matter how unpleasant it might be."
Gideon ostentatiously moved a pad of paper from the side of his desk to the center and unscrewed the top of his fountain pen. "And what is her name?"
"Rose O'Dell," he said proudly, instantly revealing why Preston's family would not have approved. She was Irish and probably Catholic into the bargain. Either of those would make her socially unacceptable to the Prestons. "Well, Rose Preston now. I have the marriage certificate if you need to see it."
Preston reached into his uniform jacket pocket, but Gideon shook his head. "No, I'll take your word, Corporal. If there's ever a question, your marriage is registered, I'm sure."
"Of course it is."
"Good. Then all I need to know is how you would like your estate to be distributed in the event of your death."
"That's just it. I don't want it distributed at all. I want it all to go to Rosie. And the baby, of course, except I don't think you can leave money to a baby, can you?"
"You can, but it's not a good idea. Presumably your wife would use her inheritance to support herself and your child, so leaving it all to her would ensure your child's welfare. Is that what you want?"
"Yes, that's exactly what I want. Fred won't like it. He won't like any of it, but I'm married now, and there's nothing he can do to change that."
"Does he want to change it?" Gideon asked uneasily.
Preston flinched just a little. "He doesn't actually know. That I'm married, that is. I'm shipping out in a few weeks and with the baby . . . We didn't have much time, and I didn't want Fred interfering."
"I see. Does Fred know your wife?"
"Oh no. How could he? She's from the city, after all, and Fred hardly ever comes to New York."