Things are good in Baltimore, Maryland in 1938. A lot better for some than others, but thankfully the worst of the Depression is over for everyone. And since the rumblings of war in Europe are an ocean away, American democracy, equality, and ‘justice for all’ are safe and secure. And on Thanksgiving Day two very different people meet.
Juliana Corbeau is a near perfect example of blue-blood upbringing. She’s a debutant, heiress, and lives in the city’s most prestigious neighborhood. Will Stahl isn’t anything at all like Juliana. He’s a working-class immigrant’s son and lives in a rowhouse. Yet he too is a near perfect example, that of a first-generation American. He’s a scholarship law student who’s idealistic, ambitious, and anxious to make a difference in the world. Neither of them knew it the night they met, but their differences in social class would be the least of their problems.
Their unlikely love story begins when Juliana is assaulted, or so it seemed, and Will rescues her. That chance meeting puts them on a path that shouldn’t have led anywhere, but does, and eventually they must confront not only the class distinctions and prejudices which separate them, but also a tragic miscarriage of justice, danger for family trapped in Nazi Germany, and a fateful Supreme Court decision. When the war finally reaches America at Pearl Harbor everything changes again, forcing them to make impossible choices about love, family, justiceand ultimately their very lives.
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The Rules of Love and Law
By Jeff Russell
Abbott PressCopyright © 2014 Jeff Russell
All rights reserved.
Wyman Park, Baltimore
(Thanksgiving Day, 1938, at Dusk)
It wasn't the rustling from the trees on the hill that made Juliana turn her head, it was the suddenness of movement as the man ran out. He looked across the grassy opening to the trees on the other side, up to the crest of the hill, then down to her at the bottom. She took a startled step backward, away from him, and then another. He called out something she didn't understand and began running her way. Another step back took her off the sidewalk into the softer grass of the Wyman Park Dell. The man was almost to her now.
She realized her danger too late and tried to turn away but the man, a colored man, reached out and took hold of her arms, talking frantically. She screamed, then fell backward. Still holding her arms the man fell too, on top of her, knocking the wind out of her.
At the crest of the hill Will Stahl had just finished helping an elderly woman into her taxi. As it drove away he looked across the street, past the broad steps and Greek columns of the Museum of Art, to the main entrance where the last few patrons were standing in a group. That's when he heard the scream.
Juliana fought for breath while the man, who'd fallen clumsily, tried to untangle his legs from hers. His shoe scraped her silk-stockinged ankle and his cigarette breath filled her face. With his full weight on her she kept trying to breathe, and he kept talking. She saw his mouth moving, his nicotine-stained teeth and wild eyes, but understood nothing he said.
When Will heard the scream he turned, and in the fading twilight saw a man on the ground struggling with a woman under him. He yelled an alarm to the security guard at the door of the museum and took off down the hill. He jumped off the short stone wall that circles that part of the park and sprinted to them, grabbed the man's shoulders, and threw him to the side.
Will took a quick glance at Juliana to see if she was hurt and saw that she was breathing, albeit shallow and fast. Looking back he saw her attacker running away until he jumped the stone wall on the far side of the park, ran past the rope swing Will had often used as a boy, then into the woods. He turned back to Juliana and knelt beside her.
"Are you okay, Miss?" Her eyes were closed, her chest rose and fell, but she was otherwise motionless.
"Can you hear me?" He took her hand in his. "Miss! Squeeze my hand if you can hear me."
He looked her over and saw she was not a woman as he'd first thought, but a girl a few years younger than himself, maybe eighteen or so. Her silk dress was torn at the hem, and below the knee her ankle was bleeding. Her mink jacket was askew and twisted. He reached his free hand under her shoulder, raised her a little from the grass, and held her. After a moment Juliana squeezed his hand, then opened her eyes.
She looked at Will for the first time, and held his eyes for a long moment, looking through the gathering wetness in her own and searching for safety in his.
"Is he gone?"
"Yes. He ran away. He can't hurt you now."
Her eyes relaxed but not so her hand, which tightened on his. Her breathing deepened, and became gulps. Tears reached her cheeks and she struggled to keep her eyes focused on him.
"It's okay, now. You're safe," he told her.
Juliana already felt that way, but was grateful to hear him say it. She pulled her hand, still held within his, onto her chest. "Thank you."
Her eyes, which had seemed light brown to him at first, now seemed more coppery, closer to the color of her hair. She looked as though she wanted to say something else so he leaned closer.
But then he too was grabbed hard from behind, and jerked backward.
"What's all this? What're you doing to her?" The security guard had run to the parking lot and alerted the two policemen who'd been assigned to the invitation-only Thanksgiving Day Matisse exhibit.
"I'm not doing anything. A man attacked her. He ran away." Will pointed where.
"How do I know it wasn't you?" Will's plain brown working-class suit looked ordinary and drab compared to Juliana's tailored silk dress and mink jacket. "A boy like you doesn't have any business with a girl like her." He began to pull Will to his feet.
Juliana hadn't yet realized it was the police and was again afraid, and this time for both of them. She held tight to his hand.
"Are you okay, Miss? Did this boy hurt you?"
Juliana looked past Will's shoulder toward the voice and saw a policeman's hat. "No. He helped me." She looked to Will, then back to the policeman. "Leave him alone."
The policeman, still suspicious, let go reluctantly. "Get up. Go stand over there." He pointed where he wanted Will to go. Will shifted his feet but stayed where he was. The other officer reached out. "Here, Miss. Let me help you up. There's a bench right over there. You can sit and catch your breath." But Juliana looked to Will, and it was he who helped her up.
Both policemen began asking her questions, which she did her best to answer. Will stepped to the side as the four of them headed to the bench. As they walked he saw people at the top of the hill watching the scene unfolding below. The patrons who'd not yet left the exhibit, a taxi driver who'd been hoping for a fare, and the security guard. Also, oddly off to the side, was a group of teen boys.
Will caught the security guard's attention and pantomimed himself pouring a glass of water, then pointed to Juliana. The guard understood and went back to the museum.
"My name is Juliana Corbeau. I came for a walk before Thanksgiving dinner at my grandmother's house, right over there on Charles Street." She pointed to the eastern edge of the park. "Why did he attack me like that? I didn't do anything to him."
"I don't know Miss, but Negroes have no business being in this park, so he was up to no good. But you mark my words, we'll get him. And he'll pay for what he did." Even after she was seated on the bench, her face still pale, both policeman continued asking questions.
"You brought her over here to catch her breath," Will finally blurted out. "Why don't you let her?" Juliana was surprised at the firmness of his voice, but again grateful for his being there. "If you want to know what he looked like," said Will. "Then ask me."
Juliana nodded. "He's right. Please give me a moment to sit here."
One of them asked Will's name, had him spell it while he wrote it down, then asked about the man. Will described him, the clothes he was wearing, and once more said which direction he ran. The two officers looked at each other. "There's a colored section that way, down by the Jones Falls near the railroad tracks. No self-respecting white person would live there. I bet that's where he's headed."
The officer taking notes was careful to write down everything Will told him, occasionally asking him to repeat something or turning to Juliana for more detail. Will also had to explain how he'd been on the scene so quickly, telling them he often did volunteer work for the museum. While this went on Juliana had time to compose herself.
The security guard arrived with the glass of water. Will took it, poured some on his handkerchief, then handed the glass to Juliana. As she took a drink he knelt down and pressed the wet handkerchief against her scraped ankle.
Both policemen began expressing regret on the part of all decent white people that such a thing had happened to a girl like her, and lamenting how her fine clothes had been torn and sullied by a man like that. They assured her they had the information necessary to find him and would see that justice was done. Eventually they suggested driving her the short distance to her Thanksgiving dinner but she declined, preferring to walk rather than arrive in a police car.
By this time night had settled in and the park's lamplights had come on. "I'll go with you," said one of the policemen. "Just to be sure you're safe."
Will checked to see that the bleeding on her ankle had stopped, then stood and put his handkerchief back in his pocket.
Juliana looked up at him with eyes now clear. "Would you come with me, too?"
Her question took him by surprise. "Me?"
"Yes. I'm sure my parents will want to thank you for what you did." She could see he was hesitant. "I would like it very much if you would," she added, looking straight at him as she spoke.
Will looked straight back, and into her eyes, his hesitation now giving way to an interested curiosity. "Okay," he said. "I'll go with you."
One of the officers went to the patrol car to radio in the man's description. Juliana and Will, accompanied by the other officer, walked to the corner of the park nearest to Charles Street and began climbing the steps that lead out of Wyman Park Dell.
"Do you live nearby?" she asked Will.
"Yes. On the other side of the park. Behind the university." Johns Hopkins University stretched north for several long city blocks starting from the Museum of Art, bordered by prestigious Charles Street on one side and picturesque Wyman Park Drive on the other.
"Are you a student there?"
"No. It's where I grew up."
Juliana thought for a moment. "In that neighborhood with all the little brick rowhouses?"
"Yes," he said without elaborating.
By this time they had reached Charles Street with its tree-lined, grassy median, which seemed almost an extension of the park.
"That seems like a nice neighborhood. Do you like it there?"
She watched him turn his eyes across the street to the large, four-story brownstones to which they were heading, but didn't feel he wasn't intimidated by her status. She found that very appealing. He turned back to her. "It's nothing like this neighborhood, but yeah, I like it there a lot."
The policeman, Officer Harris was his name, seemed content to stay out of the conversation. They walked a little farther.
"What sort of work do you do?"
"I'm a college student. Just not at Johns Hopkins."
"Where do you go? Are you home for the holiday?"
"No. I live at home. I go to Loyola College."
"Really? That's expensive there, isn't it?" She'd said that without thinking and immediately regretted it. He turned his face sharply to her, but saw her obvious regret and so said nothing.
"I didn't mean it that way," she said quickly, trying to regain her poise. "It's just that with times being the way they are—I promise you, I meant no offense."
He looked at her again, slower this time, and noting her discomfort he smiled slightly. "No offense taken. I'm on scholarship."
She was pleased he'd been gracious over her gaffe. "Well, Mr. Stahl, besides rescuing girls in the park you're also a scholar? With so much responsibility I would think it hard finding time to study." She added her own small smile.
"I've been a student since I was a boy, Miss Corbeau. But so far you're the only girl I've rescued."
"Please call me Juliana. May I call you Will?"
They turned to cross over Charles Street.
"Will is short for William? It's your nickname?"
"Everything is very formal in my family so I've always just been Juliana. I like it, though. It's comforting, in a way."
"What way would that be?"
"Well, my best girlfriend for example. Her name is Eleanor, though at school she's Elsie. But at home—especially when her mother is angry or cross with her—it's Eleanor Marie. I would find that confusing; as if I were three different people depending on where I was, or in what circumstance. I try to be the same person to everyone at all times, so to me it's a comfort that everyone calls me by the same name."
"You've never been called Julie?"
"No. Although my father did call me his little 'Jewel' when I was quite young. But that was more because he's a jeweler, and not so much as a nickname."
"Your father owns Corbeau Jewelers downtown?"
"That's expensive there, isn't it?"
She looked at him and laughed. "Touché."
"I didn't mean anything by it. I promise." He grinned. "It's just that with times being the way they are."
"I know what you meant, Mr. Stahl. Mr. William Stahl."
The policeman behind them chuckled.
"This is the house," she said and pointed. "Please remember what I said about how formal my family is, okay?"CHAPTER 2
Juliana opened the front door and the three of them stepped into the foyer. "Wait here," she said. "Let me get my parents." A few moments later there was a sudden commotion of voices from within, all talking at the same time, along with the sound of chairs being slid and people moving about. Will couldn't make out the words being spoken, but from the tone of the voices he could hear shock, worry, and anger.
"You'll have to come with me to the precinct," Officer Harris said. "We're going to need a written statement from you."
The voices settled into an ebb and flow which Will thought was everyone asking Juliana questions at once, followed by her single voice answering. This went on for some time.
"Lucky for her you were there," said Officer Harris.
"So, you go to college, huh? What are you studying to be?"
"I want to go into government service."
"That's probably a good idea. Seems to me they want more and more of it in Washington these days."
Will hesitated before saying anything. It didn't feel like a good time or place to debate politics. "That's what some people say."
"More than a few say it, and I'm one of them. Don't get me wrong, Roosevelt and his cronies have done some good things, I know that. But after a while enough is enough I say."
The voices inside had quieted. Officer Harris pulled the front door's curtain aside, looked through the leaded glass window, and saw the other policeman waiting outside in the patrol car. "Now you take Officer McAvoy. If you ask him he'll say—"
A deep voice from the hallway saved Will from hearing Officer McAvoy's views on government.
"Excuse me, gentlemen. Miss Juliana asked that I inform you she will be returning shortly." Will turned and saw a tall, middle aged, dark skinned Negro in a plain black cloth suit, white shirt, and bow tie. "And Mr. Corbeau has asked that you wait for him here, in the foyer. He would like to speak with you."
Will nodded. "Sure thing," said Officer Harris.
The wait wasn't long. First through the doorway from the living room came Mr. Corbeau, followed by Juliana, her mother, a younger girl whom Will figured was Juliana's sister, and lastly Juliana's grandmother. The Negro stayed in the doorway where he was joined by a Negro woman dressed similarly in a plain, black cloth dress, but wearing a white apron.
Juliana introduced her father to Will, and while they were shaking hands she stepped back so that her mother could take her place at the father's side. Will and Mr. Corbeau were the same height so looking directly to one another was natural. Will saw nothing of Juliana's softer eyes in the father, whose eyes were more direct and hard. At that same moment Mrs. Corbeau's eyes were looking at the cuff of Will's shirt, which showed the beginnings of fraying. Juliana's sister was thinking Will was handsome.
"Well, Mr. Stahl, I would say the Corbeau family owes you a debt of gratitude."
"Not at all, sir. It was nothing."
"Nothing, you say? As I understand it from my daughter you were quite the hero."
Will was uncomfortable but resisted the temptation to look over Mr. Corbeau's shoulder to Juliana. Mrs. Corbeau extended her hand. "We are grateful you were there, Mr. Stahl, and for everything you did." Will nodded an acknowledgement and briefly shook her hand.
"Juliana tells us you help out at the museum?"
"Yes, Ma'am. On occasion."
"That's very admirable," Mr. Corbeau said. "For a young man such as yourself." Will was uncertain what he meant by 'a young man such as he.' Juliana had no such uncertainty and Will saw her eyes widen over the comment, then quickly narrow in reproach.
"Are you an artist yourself?" said Mrs. Corbeau.
"No, Mother," answered Juliana. "Mr. Stahl is a student at Loyola College. He's on scholarship there. Aren't you, Will?"
"Well, then," said Mr. Corbeau. "I shall write a letter of commendation to the president of the school. Father Dwyer is a dear friend of many years."
"That's not necessary, sir."
"Nonsense. It's well deserved, young man." He turned his attention to the policeman. "And you are Officer Harris?"
Excerpted from The Rules of Love and Law by Jeff Russell. Copyright © 2014 Jeff Russell. 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a great story that pairs a dual between 1930's societal norms, racial injustice, and a pending war with a sweet, innocent and unlikely love story. Great read!
Anticipation kept me turning the pages. Very clever last names! I didn't expect it to end the way it did!
This novel based in Baltimre in the late 1930's and 1940's was delightful - a love story between an unlikely couple brought together in an unusual way. I love how they grow and define themselves and what their relationship will be; I love the historical elements that surround them and theirs families, not to mention the rest of the world. Well written and with some memorable lines!