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By Rachel Druten
Truly YoursCopyright © 1999 Barbour Publishing, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Emotions still blunted with grief, Sorina Larsen could focus only on that one flicker of hope—her new job as a Harvey Girl in Topeka, Kansas. With singleness of purpose, she rushed across the platform to catch her connecting train, her petite friend, Grace Baum, hurrying three strides behind her.
"Can I help you with that, miss?"
Before she could protest, a rangy young man in a gray cap and coveralls grabbed the rope securing her cheap satchel. But the poorly tied cord separated in his hand, strewing the bag and its contents across the wooden planks.
For a moment Sorina was too surprised to react. Then she was too humiliated to move. She felt a flush rise in her cheeks as she stared down at the scattered garments: a faded lilac dress, a sweater, a cotton chemise, a petticoat ... and three pairs of drawers, threadbare and patched.
If she'd been able to do so, she would have averted her eyes, stepped over the pathetic-looking garments, and walked on—just as the elegant gentlemen and ladies were doing as they hurried to board the train that would carry them away from Chicago.
But she couldn't just walk away; the paltry array was all she owned. The rest of her meager wardrobe was on her back—the simple blue shirtwaist she'd made from scraps gathered at the dress factory where she'd worked, and the gray cloth jacket Tante Astrid had sent from Denmark for her birthday.
"I'm so sorry, ma'am." Clearly distressed and murmuring apologies, the young man knelt at her feet, gathering up her most intimate articles.
Flushed with embarrassment, Sorina grabbed them from him. "Enough you have done already," she said, her Danish accent thickened by chagrin. Desperately aware of the engine's cough and the screech of releasing brakes, she stuffed the items back into her satchel and struggled to retie the knot.
"Aaaall aboard," the conductor called out.
"Hurry, Sorina. You'll miss the train," Grace cried from the Pullman steps, clutching her beige wool shawl around her as she clung to her own small valise.
The whistle gave its final blast.
"All aboard," shouted the conductor again as he lifted the wooden footstool and hopped up the steps into the vestibule.
Impatiently the young man grabbed the cord from Sorina's agitated fingers, tightened the knot, and tossed the satchel up to the conductor. Then, quite indecorously, he lifted her up and hefted her onto the slowly moving train, just before the conductor clanged the steel half-door shut.
The train lurched and Sorina grabbed the metal bar. But her hat, knocked askew in the confusion, went sailing, as pins scattered from her loosened blond braid. With a sinking heart she watched her modest little straw bonnet, the only one to her name, flutter down the track, the young man in hot pursuit.
"No!" she screamed, frantic when she saw him reach down to grab it, sure he would be swept beneath the turning wheels. Flooded with relief, she saw him rise, holding her hat in his hand.
At the last moment he leaped onto the caboose steps, waving the hat like a trophy.
Limp as yesterday's wash fresh hung out to dry, Sorina sagged against the creaking vestibule wall, struggling to keep her footing as the conductor punched her ticket.
"Please follow me, miss." He picked up her luggage and pushed open the door leading into the coach.
But Sorina hung back, anticipating the weight of all those eyes that had been witness to her embarrassment. If only she were small, like Grace, perhaps no one would notice her. But at five feet eight inches, she knew she could hardly be overlooked.
The rotund conductor's mustache twitched.
Sorina sighed. She could see the man's patience was wearing thin as he continued to hold the heavy metal door open. And this wasn't the trolley to Columbia Street; she couldn't make the trip to Topeka standing here in the vestibule.
Taking a deep breath, she stiffened her spine and stepped across the threshold. Her cheeks afire, looking neither to the right nor to the left, she marched down the aisle behind him.
If that young man had only minded his own business. First he spilled her luggage, then he had the indecency to paw through it as if he were her most familiar acquaintance. And finally, he had the audacity to pick her up and thrust her bodily onto the train.
What kind of girl did he think she was?
As she passed down the aisle, she could feel the oblique glances of her fellow travelers, and she was sure they were deliberating that same question—and the sorry state of her most intimate articles of clothing ... without the slightest embellishment of lace.
And she an expert at embroidery, an art taught by her dear bedstemor-her grandmother in Denmark—from the time she was a wee tot. Before her mother had brought them to America.
She sensed the disapproving stare of a large matron in a bird-trimmed hat, sitting near the front.
Why, Sorina might well have attached the lace on that very woman's chemise in the New York shop where she haddone piecework ... or on the petticoats of the other ladies present, who now so pointedly chose to ignore her.
"A Viking beauty in full sail," a gentleman passenger commented, loud enough for her to hear.
Sorina felt her flush deepen. At least not everyone found her appearance wanting.
As the conductor secured her satchel in the luggage compartment above her seat, Sorina self-consciously adjusted the loosened hairpins in the milk-blond braid that circled her head. It had been humiliating enough to have had her poverty exposed, and now she doubted she would ever see her hat again. No respectable lady went without a hat in public!
That awful man!
The conductor moved aside, and she slipped into the seat facing Grace.
"Harvey Girl." Grace's soft, sable eyes sparkled as she bounced lightly on the plush seat. "Isn't it thrilling?"
Realizing her friend was trying to cheer her, Sorina returned a wan smile. "I am sorry I seem not so happy. I am not as long used to the idea."
"You're right. I've been excited ever since I first saw that ad in the paper last year."
Sorina remembered the clipping Grace had shown her: "WANTED—young women, 18 to 30 years of age, of good moral character, attractive and intelligent. . . . Wages $17.50 per month, liberal tips customary.... Experience not necessary."
Compared to what she and Grace had been making at the dress factory, $17.50 a month sounded like a fortune. Especially with room and board.
"Liberal tips customary," had also gotten Sorina's attention.
"I know you're not as excited as I am." Grace squeezed her hand. "But you will be."
"I hope. It just all happen so fast."
Fast, indeed. Two days ago they'd been interviewed in New York. Twenty-four hours later they were boarding the South Pacific train heading for Topeka, Kansas. "That's the 'Harvey way,'" the man who hired them had said.
Sorina had a feeling there was more to the "Harvey way" than met the eye. But she had no reason to stay in New York—no one to keep her there—and a great need of money. Her widowed mother had been buried in a pauper's grave. There hadn't been money enough even for a simple headstone. Her two younger siblings, ten-year-old Anders and little Hanne, just six, had been shipped back to Denmark. When Tante Astrid had forwarded the money, Sorina had no choice. It was not possible to provide for the three of them on her meager wages. Even before her mother died they'd scarcely managed on two salaries.
Fingering the locket at her throat—the locket was the only thing of her dear mother's she possessed that had value—Sorina stared out the window, barely aware of the wheels clacking on the tracks or the landscape flying by along the Illinois River.
From its banks, children waved at the passing train.
Picturing her brave little brother and sister trudging hand in hand up the gangplank to board the ship for Denmark, a familiar pain clutched Sorina's heart.
She did not weep then, nor had she since. No tears were left.
How could a benevolent God have let this happen? How could he have snatched away those she cared for most? First Pater, then her dear mor. Certainly that kind of God could not be counted on to bring back her little engles, Anders and Hanne.
The place in Sorina's heart where He had once been now held only emptiness.
Banked tears stung her blue eyes as she waved at the little urchins playing along the river. I bring Anders and Hanne back. If my last breath it takes!
"Look at this." Grace's sweet, lilting voice was filled with delight as she ran her small hand over the luxurious seat. "First class. Just like the man promised." She sighed happily.
Oh, yes. It was easy enough for Grace to be excited. She had everything to look forward to. With Harvey Houses every hundred miles between Chicago and the Pacific Ocean, Grace would be able to work her way out to her fiancé in California by the time her one-year contract had been satisfied.
Grace had someone she cared about to go to. Her Justin.
"Oh, Sorina, we must be grateful. God has blessed us so." Grace's pixie face shone with devotion as she clasped her hands in a spontaneous gesture of supplication.
"Blessed you." Sorina couldn't keep the bitterness out of her voice.
Grace's smile drooped and her brown eyes saddened. "I know how you must feel, dear." She reached again for her friend's hand. "But still you must not lose your faith."
Sorina felt a twang of remorse. "I am sorry. This I should not say." Grace believed so profoundly in God's goodness that she was incapable of suppressing her gratitude. And Sorina wouldn't hurt her friend's feelings for the world. Why, without Grace, she wondered how she could have survived the months since her mother's death. Nevertheless, she found her friend's platitudes, sincere as they might be, almost unbearable. "Mr. Harvey deserve credit, too," she added lightly, unable to resist a gentle gibe.
Grace shrugged. "A channel for God's blessing."
"You will never opgive—give up—will you?"
"Never!" Grace laughed.
Well, if there was a God—a loving God—He might have sent Grace to comfort her. If nothing else, Sorina would at least try to believe that.
The conductor appeared in the aisle beside them. "We'll be reaching Fort Madison in an hour, ladies. I understand you will be eating in the dining room."
Grace nodded. "Do you, perchance, have a menu we could look at?"
The girls had been told that as first-class passengers they would be served in the Harvey House dining rooms rather than at the lunch counters. Now, looking at the menu, Sorina's eyes grew wide. She had never been offered such delicacies: bluepoint oysters on the half shell, filet of whitefish with Madeira sauce, roast sirloin of beef, pork, duck, veal pie, sugar-cured ham, pickled lamb's tongue ...
"Pickled lamb's tongue!"
"Gracious," Grace exclaimed.
Also on the menu were vegetables, desserts, fruit, cheese, and ...
"French coffee. Whatever is that?"
"Seventy-five cents costs a dinner," Sorina said. "That is much money."
"Lucky we don't have to worry about paying. We're guests of Fred Harvey," Grace said with a giggle.
Maybe the "Harvey way" would be acceptable after all, Sorina thought. "But how we eat so much in half hour?"
"We don't have to eat it all."
"I know this. But how is this much food served in so short time?"
"I guess we'll be learning soon enough," Grace said.
For the first time since her mother's death the sadness lifted, and Sorina began to feel real excitement.
The conductor, who had been circulating throughout the cars, returned. "I wired ahead to the Harvey House to let them know how many passengers to expect," he explained.
When he had gone, Sorina whispered, "I still must see, to believe."
"Excuse me." A man's voice interrupted.
She looked up—way up. Oh, no! It was that tall, offensive young man in the gray coveralls. She glanced around to see if the other passengers had noticed him.
He bowed slightly and tipped his cap, revealing a head of curly black hair. Laugh lines crinkled his teasing dark eyes, and his engaging smile revealed sparkling white teeth that most girls would appreciate. "I think you lost this, miss," he said in a mellifluous baritone that impressed even Sorina.
In his outstretched hand he proffered her simple little straw hat as if he were presenting a princess her tiara.
Almost at once the conductor appeared at his side. "What are you doing here? Get back to baggage where you belong," he commanded.
Seemingly unperturbed, the young man tilted his cap again. "Yes, sir." With a good-natured smile and a wink at the girls, he turned and jogged toward the rear of the train.
"Sorry he bothered you, ladies." The conductor shook his head. "Fresh fellow, but he's a hard worker."
"He returns my hat," Sorina explained. But the man was already lumbering back down the aisle.
"My! He was handsome," Grace said with a twinkle in her eye.
Sorina made a face. "You make fun. I don't like mustaches."
"The baggage man has no mustache."
Dusting off her bonnet, Sorina cast her friend a sidelong smile. "I know."
"They say one of the advantages of being a Harvey Girl is meeting eligible men."
Sorina lifted her chin a mite. "Baggage man I would not choose."
"Why, Sorina." Grace shook her head. "I never thought of you as a snob."
"Think what you want." Sorina sniffed, wounded by the accusation that may have held an element of truth. "My first responsibility to Hanne and Anders. A traveling baggage man not making a good father. I think young man does not take on family ready-made." She shook her head. "No, a husband I not look to find. I depend on me." For emphasis she plopped her hat soundly back into place on top of her head.
They became so engrossed in their chatter and the passing landscape as they sped along the clacking track that Sorina was surprised when the train began to slow. The conductor came striding up the aisle again, announcing that they had arrived at their dinner stop. Sorina and Grace bounced up. Smoothing their wrinkled skirts, they joined the scramble of hungry travelers hurrying toward the exit.
A rush of steam shot from beneath the locomotive as the stout, expensively-dressed matron in the bird-trimmed hat, the one in front who had glared so meanly, pushed Sorina aside in her haste to disembark. Had Sorina not grabbed the handrail, she would have fallen to the depot platform.
Descending the steps behind her, Grace, who had suffered the woman's elbow a moment before, shook her head. "She must really be starved."
"She starved all right. Starved of kindness, and ... and—"
"Courtesy?" Grace suggested.
"Courtesy, for sure." Disgusted, Sorina adjusted her hat.
The self-centered woman, her bustle bouncing, jostled to the head of the line so that she was first behind the porter who, beating a shining brass gong with great flourish, led them all to the Harvey House, adjacent to the depot.
Sorina and Grace looked at each other in disbelief as they paused in the entrance of the immaculate and beautifully appointed dining room. They stared at its burnished floor and hanging chandeliers and the fresh flowers on each table.
"Linen tablecloths," Sorina breathed.
"Linen napkins," Grace added.
"Do you suppose we are having to iron them?"
"No. But you will have to polish the silver."
A young waitress, wearing a starched white apron and a sweet smile on her scrubbed face, directed them to a table set for eight; the two were the last to be seated at the table. The first course, a crisp green salad, was already waiting.
Soon, as their empty salad plates were being removed, a gentleman, the establishment's manager, entered the dining room holding aloft, on the palm of his hand, a huge tray of sizzling meat. He carved from a silver serving cart as the waitresses gathered around him; they hustled the hot, delectable entrees to each of the diners, along with platters of vegetables and potatoes.
As Sorina consumed her delicious entrée of fresh shrimp with noodles au gratin and steamed asparagus, she kept a keen eye on the bustling waitresses. Hard work had never intimidated her, but her heart began to sink as she watched them in their fresh black uniforms and white aprons, their black-shod feet dancing and skirts swishing. "They are so fast, so, so ..." She struggled for the word.
"Efficient," Grace supplied.
Sorina nodded. "You think we learn to do this way?" she murmured, as empty plates were again whisked away, to be replaced by generous slices of lemon meringue pie.
"Of course we can," Grace replied, her tone reflecting more than a bit of bravado.
"Ten minutes until the train leaves," the manager informed them as he circulated through the dining room, giving Sorina and Grace and the other diners time to savor their last bites of the delicious dessert.
Never had either of the girls enjoyed such a meal or been so graciously served. Sorina strolled with Grace into the twilight, satiated with pleasure ... and a lingering touch of trepidation. Having seen "the Harvey way" in action, she found it hard to believe that she would soon be required to perform it herself.
Her thoughts were thus absorbed when she nearly bumped into that same young baggage man as he emerged from the lunchroom next door—almost as if it had been planned.
"Ladies." He tipped his cap.
Excerpted from Rebellious Heart by Rachel Druten. Copyright © 1999 Barbour Publishing, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Truly Yours.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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