Scattered Pages

Scattered Pages

by Justine O'Keefe
Scattered Pages

Scattered Pages

by Justine O'Keefe


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Amid the turmoil of the Great War, this historical novel explores a young woman’s struggle to discover the truth surrounding her childhood abandonment.

Even after twelve years, Gemma Enman can still remember her amazement and pride at being singled out from among her siblings by her father to travel with him by train from Prince Edward Island all the way to Brookfield, New Hampshire. But seven year old Gemma had no way of knowing how long and tedious a trip it would be or that her father planned to return to their island home without her.

Though she has enjoyed a loving home with her grandparents, she remains deeply wounded by her childhood abandonment and haunted by the fear that a shameful secret surrounded the circumstances of her birth. Now a young woman, Gemma has met and fallen in love with Lionel Maines, a man of honor, integrity, and prospects.

As Gemma and Lionel plan for their future together, Gemma continues to be haunted by her past. She knows that before she can fulfill her pledge to Lionel, she must keep a promise she made to herself.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781458207555
Publisher: Abbott Press
Publication date: 02/04/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 302
File size: 548 KB

Read an Excerpt

Scattered Pages

By Justine O'Keefe

Abbott Press

Copyright © 2013 Justine O'Keefe
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4582-0754-8

Chapter One

The Stage

Clutching the letter, Gemma stood at the crossroads in the bright noonday sun. With her free hand shading her eyes, she peered down the road looking for the cloud of dust that signaled the arrival of the stage. Over the past weeks Gemma had spent a good deal of time mentally composing this particular letter, and last night had labored over its completion long after her grandparents were asleep. Now, having made up her mind to unburden herself to Lionel, she was anxious that the letter get to him before he left for Maine.

She'd been held up at the library where Miss Jessup had just received a new shipment of books. There were several titles the librarian knew would interest Gemma and she was eager to share them with her young friend. Ordinarily, Miss Jessup's description of the latest addition to the library's stacks would have been a high point of Gemma's day, but today she had been far too distracted to be other than irritated by the delay.

Now it looked as though she had missed the stage. If she mailed the letter tomorrow, Lionel would be on the way to Maine before it reached Chester. She thought of mailing it to Lionel's address in Maine, but this was a letter meant to be read and considered in private, not in the company of a table full of Mrs. Anderson's boarders. Heaving a frustrated sigh, she stuffed the letter in her pocket where it weighed more heavily than the pile of books tucked into the crook of her arm. Taking one last look down the empty road she turned toward home.

"Hey there, Gemma, what you waiting for?" called a voice. "The stage's gone by already. I guess old Lionel won't get his love letter today."

Gemma turned to look behind her and saw Lewis Farnum leaning on a broom in front of his father's general store. A white apron was tied around his lanky frame and his thatch of red hair gleamed under the June sun. "You just mind your own business, Lewis," she said. "What makes you think I was waiting for the stage anyway? Can't a body cross the road around here without hearing your two cents on the subject?"

"Ah, come on, Gemma," said Lewis leaning his broom against the building and walking toward her with a broad grin. "Don't be like that. I'm just trying to be friendly."

"You call it friendly to be broadcasting my private affairs to the whole town? Why, you should be ashamed of yourself, Lewis Farnum. What would my grandmother think if she heard what you just said?" Gemma tossed her thick, dark braid over her shoulder and scowled.

Lewis glanced up and down the street and said, "For gosh sakes, Gemma, there's nobody around to hear what I said. This old town's dead as a doornail, you know that."

"That's neither here nor there," she said. "You've no cause to embarrass me right here on the main street of town. I feel bad enough that I missed the stage."

"I'm sorry, Gemma," Lewis said, shoving his hands into the pockets of his trousers. "I didn't mean to give you a hard time. You know I wouldn't hurt your feelings on purpose. I was just trying to have a little fun."

"Well, I accept your apology, Lewis," Gemma said. "I guess Grammy's right; I'm kind of sensitive lately. Anyway, hadn't you better get back to your sweeping?"

"I guess I better." Lewis glanced up the street at the store. "If my pa finds me out here talking to you, I'll never hear the end of it."

"You get on back to work then, Lewis. I've got to get home myself before Gram starts worrying about me." As she gave Lewis a parting wave she saw his father step out of the store and look down the road in their direction. Nodding a greeting to Mr. Farnum, Gemma turned toward home.

As she walked away she heard the shopkeeper say, "I thought you was sweeping, least ways, that's what you're supposed to be doing. And there's shelves to stock, you know. The canned goods just came in and you haven't got to sortin' them nails yet, neither."

Gemma didn't catch Lewis's response, but she heard his father say, "See that you do. And next time, keep your mind on your business instead of stopping to visit with every pretty gal that walks by."

As her boots kicked up dust in the dry road, Gemma thought of her exchange with Lewis Farnum; that boy never missed an opportunity to make a nuisance of himself. Ever since they'd met at the village school shortly after her arrival in Brookfield, Lewis had proved to be a tease and a bother. She felt a little sorry for him though and couldn't stay mad at him for long. Although the elder Mr. Farnum was unfailingly polite to her, Gemma thought he was a bit of a tyrant, free with his criticism of Lewis and stingy with his praise.

As she passed onto the wooded path, her favorite part of the walk, she heard the familiar song of a chickadee and soon spotted him on a nearby branch. Mimicking the bird's song, she watched him turn his black capped head from side to side as though trying to decipher her unintelligible dialect. Laughing, Gemma said, "You are a sweet thing. I'm so glad you've come to keep me company." As if he understood, the little bird flitted along from tree to tree as she made her way down the path.

Before emerging into the blaze of the mid day sun, Gemma tied on the bonnet that had been hanging down her back by its strings. It wouldn't do to arrive home bareheaded; Grammy objected to Gemma's olive complexion and was forever warning her against the sun's darkening rays.

Arriving at the farmhouse, she entered through the summer kitchen. The heat in the room was intense. Several jelly jars of Gram's latest batch of rhubarb sauce stood in a tidy row along the drain board of the big soapstone sink. Gemma walked through to the family kitchen where her grandmother was putting dinner on the table and Gramp was wiping his hands on a feed sack towel. "Well, my girl," he said, "we were wondering where you'd got yourself off to."

"Goodness, child, what makes you so late?" her grandmother asked. "I could have used some help putting this dinner together, you know."

"Sorry, Gram. I was trying to catch the stage and then I got waylaid by Lewis Farnum. You know what a bother he can be." Gemma dropped her pile of books on a nearby chair and pulled her apron off a hook.

"Don't you be too hard on that boy," her grandfather said. "His pa don't let up on him for a minute. Besides, I think he's a little sweet on you." He grinned at Gemma. "Can't say's I blame him, though, pretty girl like you makes a fella want to sow some wild oats."

"Never mind about that," said his wife. "One suitor is one too many as far as I'm concerned. Since Lionel's made his intentions known, I can't get a lick of work out of Gemma. Always mooning around and staying up half the night writing letters, then too tired the next day to be much good at all."

"Oh Grammy, I get my work done, same as I always have." Gemma frowned. "I'm sorry I was gone so long, but I'll make it up this afternoon," she said, her voice softening.

"See that you do," said her grandmother smiling. "I thought you wanted to get the bodice fitted on that dress you're making. I seem to remember something about a dance at the Grange Hall next week when Lionel visits."

Clapping her hands together Gemma kissed her grandmother's wrinkled cheek. "Oh, can we Gram? I do so want it to be ready for when Lionel comes. I know he'll be so proud of me when he sees what I've done."

"You mean what we've done," said her grandmother. "Now, come on over here and sit down before your dinner gets cold."

That evening, under the sloping ceiling of her cramped room, Gemma sat at her writing table. Composing her daily letter to Lionel helped to fill the long, lonely periods between his infrequent visits. Throughout the day, as she went about her routine of chores and errands she mentally compiled fragments of news to share with him. She'd tell how Gramp had praised her latest batch of biscuits or how pleased Grammy had been with the perfect bouquet of violets she had picked for her. She'd complain of having to babysit the unruly Stiles children or write about how she and her friend Annie had tended the handcraft booth at the Heritage Day Festival. There was something about sharing these ordinary occurrences of daily life that made her feel closer to him.

Tonight though, stymied by the letter she had failed to mail, Gemma didn't know what to write. Pulling the envelope from her pocket, she laid it on the table, then impulsively slit it open and removed the several sheets of coarse lined paper.

Brookfield, NH July 7, 1916

My dearest Lionel,

For weeks I have been thinking about writing to you concerning certain questions and feelings that have been troubling me, but I have not been able, until now, to make up my mind to do it. You see, dear, I am afraid that what I have to say may cause you to doubt my affection for you or lead you to think that I am not committed to our future together.

Now, however, I feel I must tell you what has been on my mind and try to decide what to do next. If we are to be engaged soon and someday married, it can only be when I have resolved these questions and feelings.

I am unwilling to put into a letter the things I want to tell you, that must be done face to face, no matter what the consequences , so I want to at least prepare you for what is to come. The next time you visit Brookfield, you and I will take a long walk and I will open my heart to you.

Oh Lionel, I am afraid that this letter will distress you and I am sorry for that, but dear, I cannot continue to disregard the urgings of my very heart and soul. I must be true to myself, so that I can be true to you. Unless we begin our life together in openness and honesty, we can never hope to find the happiness we both desire.

So, my dear, I will close. Please don't worry too much. Trust your darling girl; you know I would never intentionally hurt you. I can only hope that this experience will draw us closer to one another and that our love will be stronger for it.

As always, Love, Gemma

Slowly Gemma refolded the letter and slid it back into the envelope, an inner voice telling her that such a letter was certainly a foolish thing for a girl in love to write. This, of course, was an argument Gemma had often turned over in her mind. She could almost hear Grammy telling her "not to borrow trouble" and wasn't that just what she was doing? If she sent the letter to Lionel there might be no end of consequences for which she was unprepared. Gemma loved Lionel. He was a man of honor and integrity and furthermore, Lionel was a man of prospects. A man Gemma could count on to provide for her and their family and the person to get her off this farm and out of Brookfield.

Resting her elbows on the writing table, she put her head in her hands, the determination of the previous evening giving way to uncertainty. Perhaps it was just as well she had missed the stage. Perhaps she had gotten ahead of herself again. After all, the questions and worries Gemma had were really not to do with Lionel; they were to do with her.

Opening the small drawer of the table she placed the letter between the pages of her journal and slid the drawer closed. Slowly she stood, smoothing the front of her dress and taking a deep breath. It was no good thinking about all of this now; it was late and Gemma had to rise early to be at the Maynard farm by eight.

Chapter Two


Lionel sat erect, his jacket buttoned tightly around his small frame, his stiff collar seeming to support his head above his shoulders. Dark hair combed straight back off a high forehead and a prominent beaked nose gave him the look of an inquisitive bird of prey. Next to his highly polished boots, which barely grazed the floor, his leather sample bag rocked gently as the coach made its way along the winding road.

A man of few words, Lionel was attentive to the conversations of others. On more than one occasion, Gemma had seemed bothered by his quiet ways. She often asked him if something was wrong or offered him a penny for his thoughts. But the truth was Lionel didn't have all that much to say. He was more comfortable listening, taking in what others talked about and keeping his opinions to himself. When someone asked him out right what he thought about a particular subject, he kept his replies short, especially where religion and politics were concerned.

So he sat now, watching the two men across from him share stories of their commercial traveling experiences. One fellow, with round spectacles and a sallow complexion, sold engraved invitations and announcements as well as a selection of embossed stationery in a wide variety of colors and sizes. Florid and portly, his sharply dressed companion was in the men's haberdashery line. As far as Lionel could make out neither man appeared to be listening to the other; each seemed to be delivering his well worn sales pitch to deaf ears.

As the coach bounced along, Lionel thought again of Gemma. He had expected a letter from her and was disappointed that he'd had to leave before it arrived. It never occurred to him that she might not have written; she wrote every day, sometimes more than once. He liked the newsy way Gemma had of filling him in on what she was up to; details that helped him picture her tending to her homely duties. Sometimes though, her letters upset him. She complained of being lonesome, of there being too much time between visits, of his attentions to the Baker sisters. She talked of crying herself to sleep. She hinted that he did not love her as much as she loved him.

Lionel didn't know what else he could do. He had to work, had to travel this route through the eastern part of the state into Maine selling, or trying to sell, the products manufactured in his uncle's soap factory. It was hard for Lionel to get excited about selling soap which while useful was not particularly interesting. What fascinated Lionel was the factory itself. The noise and glitter of the finely tuned machinery, the rooms stacked high with barrels of potash and fat, the belt that conveyed the bars to the men and boys who wrapped and boxed them were infinitely more compelling to Lionel than the aromatic soap stacked in his sample case. He tried to generate enthusiasm among his customers for "Harmon's Scented Soaps," but he didn't have the words to convince them that they needed what he was selling. The fact was Lionel was no salesman; he wasn't cut out for this line of work.

His mother had prevailed upon her brother to find him work in his company and Lionel had been excited by the prospect of learning the soap making trade. But because Lionel had spent a year in business school, his uncle had given him a sales job instead of finding him a place in the factory. If he did well on the road, his uncle would take him into the office to clerk for him. Neither his mother nor his uncle understood that Lionel had no interest in being a bureaucrat. He wanted to work with his hands, to fit pieces together to make something useful. He was good with his hands, but not much good with his words.

Lionel dreaded the week ahead. Walking into his accounts and facing the reaction of the customers took all the courage he could muster. It was strange he mused; he could sit at his piano and play for a large crowd at a Saturday dance, even make a few remarks to the audience and not feel the least bit self-conscious. But his knees turned to jelly when he walked into an establishment and asked for the man in charge.

The last time he'd called on Mr. Farnum, up in Chester Lionel had been so unnerved by the storekeeper's gruff and impatient manner that he'd torn a hole in the order form with his fountain pen. The look of pity that Lewis had given him from behind his father's back served only to add to his humiliation. Lionel knew he was a sorry excuse for a salesman. The question was how long it would take Uncle Henry to figure it out.

It wasn't just the work itself that bothered Lionel; the traveling got to him. He didn't mind staying at Mrs. Anderson's boarding house, but he didn't much like sitting down to dinner with a tableful of salesmen. He found their incessant talk tiresome. The constant bragging about getting the better of the customer seemed to Lionel vaguely immoral. He had a lot more respect for the men in Gemma's family who earned their bread by an honest day's work even if their shoes lacked polish and their fingernails were dirty.

His mother wasn't the only one who wanted Lionel to work in an office. Gemma was proud to have a suitor who dressed in white shirts and pressed trousers. Though she loved and respected her grandfather, Gemma thought a man who "used his brain, not his back" to make a living was somehow a more desirable marriage prospect than the farmers among whom she'd grown up. If he failed to make the grade in sales, Lionel worried that Gemma might think less of him. She might even begin to look more favorably on Lewis Farnum, poised as he was to inherit the family business.


Excerpted from Scattered Pages by Justine O'Keefe Copyright © 2013 by Justine O'Keefe. Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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