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Authors: Frances Devine

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BOOK: A Girl Like That
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Sam tossed the newspaper on the floor and leaned his head back against the high back of the chair. A slight breeze drifted through the open window, cooling his damp face. He closed his eyes and drifted.

A crow cawed loudly, bringing him back from a near doze. He twisted, trying to find a comfortable position. His pain had diminished, although his ribs were still sore and he could only hobble on his ankle. But the inactivity was driving him crazy.

He turned, leaned forward, and peered out the window. He’d lost count of how many times he’d looked, hopeful, out that window in the week since he’d sent the message to Katie. Why hadn’t she come or at least inquired about him? Had he only imagined she returned his affection? No, he was sure she felt the same way he did.

Frustrated, Sam picked up the small bell on the side table and gave it a furious shake.

A moment later, Nancy tapped and opened the door. “You rang, Mr. Nelson?”

“Yes, come here, please.”

The girl stepped lightly across the floor and stood in front of Sam. “What do you need, sir?”

“I know I’ve asked you before, but are you absolutely certain you sent the message I gave you last week?”

Consternation filled the girl’s eyes. “Yes, sir, I’m sure. Just like I said before.”

Sam sighed. He shouldn’t be badgering the poor maid, but he couldn’t believe Katie could be so unconcerned. “All right. Let’s run through this step-by-step. You left the room with the letter.”

She nodded, her curls bobbing below her mop cap.

“You called the messenger boy?”

Another emphatic nod.”

“You placed it in his hands and watched him carry it away.”

A flicker of something crossed her face, and she hesitated before answering. “Well, sir, not exactly.”

At her worried look, Sam groaned. Something had gone wrong.

“Tell me exactly what happened, please.”

“I took the letter downstairs and sent for a messenger boy, just like you said. Then, you see, Cook called me to take a fresh pitcher of lemonade to Mrs. Nelson and her friends, so I gave the letter to Franklin and asked him to give it to the messenger.”

Sam frowned. Okay, this detailed account was a little bit different. Still. . . “Thank you, Nancy. Will you tell Franklin I’d like to see him at his convenience?”

“Yes, sir. Right away.” She curtsied and walked away, turning at the door. “Did I do something wrong, sir?”

“No, no. Not a thing.”

Sam leaned back in his chair. Franklin had been the Nelsons’ butler since Sam was ten. He was extremely loyal to the family and very efficient. He’d have made sure the message was delivered.

The door opened. Sam turned, expecting to see Franklin, but his father walked toward him instead.

“Well, well. And how are you feeling this afternoon, son?” His father, always uncomfortable around convalescents, said the exact same words every time he entered Sam’s room.

“Much better, thank you. Any news for me?”

The older man lowered himself into a chair across from Sam and shook his head. “Nothing yet. These things take time.”

“Did you meet with Flannigan?” After meeting Chauncey and his family the night of Sam’s attack, his father had decided he might have been wrong about the Irishman.

“No, I thought you might like to be in on that. After all, he is your friend.”

Funny he’d say that. In spite of the fact that he’d only spoken with Flannigan a few times, Sam had found himself thinking of the man as a friend. He nodded. “Perhaps you could send someone to inquire when it would be convenient for us to go there.”

“Yes, I’ll do that.”

“Father, I’d like to talk to you about Katie.”

A guarded look shaded his father’s eyes. “Not now, please, son. I’ve things that require my attention this afternoon. Perhaps later.”

Disappointment surged in Sam’s chest. He’d hoped to change his father’s mind about meeting Katie. Sam suspected he was deliberately avoiding the subject.

“Wait,” Sam called as his father walked to the door. “Will you see if you can find a crutch for me? I have to get out of this room and at least walk around the house.”

“Yes, I’ll get one from Dr. Tyler. But if you’d like, I can help you downstairs now. Perhaps you’d like to sit on the porch for a while. Get some fresh air.”

“At this moment, there’s not much I’d like better.”

Leaning on his father’s arm, Sam hobbled down the stairs.

“Eugene. What are you doing? Be careful with him.” Sam’s mother stood at the bottom of the stairs, her hands on her cheeks and distress in her voice. “Where are you taking him?”

“I’m fine, Mother.” Sam struggled to speak after the difficult walk downstairs. “I simply need to get out of my room for a while. I’m going to sit on the veranda.”

“Well, I don’t suppose that will do any harm.” She followed them out on the porch.

Sam sighed with relief as his father helped him settle onto one of the cushioned chairs on the wraparound porch.

The slight breeze that had drifted through his window earlier had disappeared. But though the air was still, the foliage of tall oaks and sugar maples, assisted by a curlicue overhang, shaded the porch.

“There. You should be comfortable enough here.” Sam’s father took his gold watch out and looked at the time. “I need to get back to the office. I’ll send word to Flannigan, as you suggested.” He kissed his wife and, with obvious relief, walked to the curb where Fred and his carriage waited.

“Would you like for me to read to you?”

Sam smiled at his mother as she patted him on the shoulder. “Thank you, Mother, but I believe I’ll just sit here and watch the people go by.” Although no one seemed to be braving the hot sun this afternoon. “However, if you’d send Nancy with a cold glass of lemonade, I’d be in your debt forever.”

As Sam sat on the veranda drinking his lemonade, thoughts of Katie bombarded him. Had something happened to her? Or had her father forbidden her to contact him?

Franklin stepped out the door. “You wanted to see me, sir?”

“Yes, thanks. I wonder if you can straighten a matter out for me.”

“I’ll try, sir.” Franklin’s face was stiff. Sam could count on his fingers the times he’d seen the stately butler smile.

“Do you recall Nancy giving you a letter last week to pass on to a messenger boy?”

Something flickered for an instant in the butler’s eyes, a muscle next to his mouth jumped, then his face straightened as though he’d suddenly donned a mask. “I’m sorry, sir. I can’t recall. We have so many messages going to and fro.”

Surprised, Sam stared. He had never known an incident involving the family in any way to have slipped the ever efficient butler’s memory. He nodded, and Franklin turned and went back into the house.

Sam, puzzled, sat and stared across the lawn. What was this all about? Why would Franklin lie? Sam hated his suspicion of the elderly servant. Could it be that he truly had forgotten the incident? After all, he wasn’t getting any younger.

Why hadn’t he contacted her? Katie peered out into the darkened theater. She’d hoped against hope he’d be in his seat as good as new with that quirky smile and a sparkle in his eyes. It had been nearly a week since Bridget had stumbled into her room with the terrible news of the assault.

Katie took a deep breath and sang her ballad for the second time that day. After her encore bow, she changed into her street clothes and slipped out the door. If she hurried, she could be back before the show was over. Father would never know she’d gone out on her own this time of night.

She stood outside the theater, considering the best way to get to Sam’s house. If she used Harrigan’s carriage, Father would find out. The trolley didn’t go that far, and there might not be a cab available at the end of the line.

She bit her lip and eyed the carriage for hire standing nearby. She hated to spend the money, but with resolution, she hurried down the sidewalk, her heels tapping against the planks. Nodding to the driver, she gave him the address and got inside.

The carriage lurched, and Katie grabbed the side of the seat. Leaving the theater district, they passed the business district, bounced past cafés and boardinghouses then small, modest, private homes. They started up a slight incline, and the lighted windows of the larger homes revealed a more affluent lifestyle. Finally, they turned down a tree-lined street, with stone roads and sidewalks. How in the world did the residents keep their grass so green?

At the end of the street, a huge three-story brick house stood in royal splendor. The carriage turned into a circular drive and stopped in front of a wraparound porch. Light streamed out from nearly all of the windows, welcoming, inviting.

“Here ye be, miss. Do ye want me to wait for ye?”

Katie sat, unable to speak. Sam lived here? In this mansion? Her throat seemed to close up, and she swallowed with difficulty. What was she thinking? How could she believe a prince who lived in a house like this could be serious about her?

“Miss, I say we’re here. And do ye want me to wait for ye?”

Perspiration popped out along the entire surface of Katie’s face. She took a deep breath and stiffened her back. She’d come this far. She might as well complete her mission.

She stepped from the carriage. “Yes, please wait. I won’t be long.”
Unless of course, Sam opens the door and brings me in to meet his parents.

She walked up the broad steps and across the porch to the heavy oak door. Lifting the knocker, she tapped it once and then once more against the smooth, rich wood.

The door swung open. A tall, well-dressed elderly man stood stiff and regal against the light of the hallway.

“Yes, miss, may I help you?”

Katie lifted her chin. “Is Mr. Sam Nelson at home? I heard he was injured.”

The man looked at her in some surprise. Then an amused look crossed his face. “Young Mr. Nelson has been ill. He’s much better now but is not receiving callers. However, if you’d like, you may leave a message.”

Katie licked her lips. Her fingers tingled, and her legs felt as though they’d fold up any minute. “Yes, please tell him Miss O’Shannon inquired about his health.”

She heard the door shut before she got to the carriage.

“Katie, you’ve got to stop your mopin’ around like this.” Rosie, hands on hips, stood in the open doorway of Katie’s bedroom.

“I can’t help it. Why doesn’t he contact me? Doesn’t he know I’m worried?” A sob caught in Katie’s throat. “Or maybe he’s deathly sick and can’t send word.”

Rosie walked in and stood by the chair where Katie sat with tears streaming from her eyes. “Now, stop it. All this frettin’ isn’t helpin’ a bit. And your father is beside himself with worrying about you.”

“You don’t understand. I can’t help it, Rosie. What can I do?”

Rosie stood, a tender look on her face. She reached over and smoothed a curl back from Katie’s eyes. “Sweet girl, have ya thought of talking to the Lord about it?”

Surprised, Katie stared at the older woman. Rosie went to church every chance she got. But Katie had never heard her talking about God before.

“You mean pray?”

“That’s it. God loves you, whether you know it or not. And He cares about that young man of yours as well. Talk to Him, Katie girl.” With another tender glance, she left the room, her steps light on the wooden floor.

Talk to Him?
Was it really that simple? Just as Grandma used to say?

Katie slipped off the bed and knelt. “God? Are You there?”


Katie’s heels clacked on the boardwalk as she rushed down the street to the soup kitchen. The line seemed longer than usual, if that was possible. Gasping, she attempted to get a clear lungful of air. She wheezed and then coughed as she breathed in the acrid air. The short reprieve had ended, and fire after fire had thickened the air once more.

“Miss O’Shannon, thank the good Lord you’re here. We have our hands full today. More families have lost everything.”

Grabbing an apron and tying it over her dress, Katie took her place between Mrs. Carter and Sally Sloan, another volunteer, and started ladling soup into bowls. “Do we have enough to go around?”

“Yes, thankfully, I got word in time to cook extra.” The director handed a chunk of bread to a little boy who walked away balancing a bowl in one hand and the bread in another.

Katie’s heart lurched. The children broke her heart. She needed to do more to help them. But what? Her hours were already full, and she was pouring nearly every extra cent into the child care house at the Patch.

At least her busy schedule kept her from thinking about Sam. A deep peace about him descended on her after she’d knelt before God last Sunday, enveloping her like a warm blanket. She’d never felt like this before. As though God Himself walked with her all through the day. And although she didn’t totally understand, she gratefully accepted His presence in her life.

“Eighteen of ’em so far this week.” The old man’s voice carried up the line, and Katie started.

“Yeah, I heard that, too. The fire department can’t hardly keep up with ’em.” His statement was interrupted by coughing, and it was a moment before he continued. “The whole city’s liable to burn down if we don’t get some rain soon.”

A little girl, her brown eyes filled with fear, glanced up at Katie as she waited for her food. “Are we gonna burn up?”

Katie winced at the panic in the child’s voice. Why couldn’t people keep their mouths shut around the little ones? She summoned her most reassuring smile. “Of course not, sweetheart. They’re just being silly because they have nothing better to talk about.”

The little girl giggled and followed her mother and another child to an empty place at one of the long tables.

God, please let what I just said be true. Send us rain. Please send us rain.
She’d read this morning about the prophet, Elijah, praying for rain six or seven times before he saw a cloud in the sky. A shiver ran through her body. Had anyone in Chicago been praying for rain?

By the time the long line had been served and Katie had helped with cleanup, she had to rush to get back in time for her afternoon solo. Almost faint from the heat and the pain that now clutched at her side, she stumbled the last few steps to Harrigan’s. Maybe she should drop out of the show. After all, there was so much work to be done at the kitchen, and there were other organizations that could use her help.

She walked through the back door of the theater, and her heart clenched. Another good reason to quit. As long as she was busy, she hardly had more than a passing thought of Sam. But the moment she walked through the theater door, a vision of his beloved face arose before her. The peace that she’d relied on for days suddenly lifted, and pain shot through her heart.

Oh, Sam, where are you?

The familiar odor of sewer and cabbage assaulted Sam when he and his father stepped from the carriage in front of Flannigan’s. He didn’t like the idea of his father being at the Patch after dark, but it couldn’t be helped if the workingmen were to be present. Slowly, he walked to the house where Flannigan stood in the open doorway.

“You’re lookin’ much better than the last time I saw ya. Glad to see ya on your feet. Come in. Come in.” The Irishman shook their hands then stood aside.

At least two dozen men stood in the crowded room.

“Make way, so these gentlemen can sit down. Sarah, bring cold water. I’m thinking Mr. Nelson’s needing it.”

With effort, Sam smiled. Just the short walk to and from the carriage had sapped his strength. “I’ll admit I’ve felt better, but I’m getting stronger every day.”

The crowd parted so that Sam and his father could get to the chairs against the wall. Gratefully, Sam sank down onto the cane-bottom chair.

Flannigan handed glasses of water to Sam and his father. “I know ya got hurt because ya were seekin’ the truth about my injuries. And I thank ya for that.”

“Is anyone else coming?” Sam’s father asked.

“No, sir. I think all are here who want to be.”

The men dragged chairs in from the backyard. Apparently, they’d brought their own and stashed them outside while they were waiting.

When everyone was seated, Sam’s father stood. “My name is Eugene Nelson. Some of you know my son, Sam. I believe most of you are aware of the fact that our firm has been retained to represent Jeremiah Howard in the matter concerning compensation for Mr. Flannigan’s injuries.”

He paused as a murmur passed through the crowd then continued. “Several incidents have recently occurred that cause me to question Howard’s words as well as his business practices. Especially concerning safety in his warehouse and lumberyard. I understand a number of you work for him at one place or another.”

Again murmurs. Relief washed over Sam that this time they were murmurs of agreement, and the expressions on the men’s faces, while not especially friendly, were at least not hostile.

His father continued. “I’ve asked Flannigan to relate what happened to him. When he’s finished, if anyone has anything to contribute, I’d be more than happy to listen.”

The room quieted as Flannigan stood and looked around the room. He told about the day of his injury and how he’d come straight home and fallen into bed, the pain in his head so intense he couldn’t feel his other injuries. He told about his trip to the hospital and his treatment there, sharing the details of his injuries. Then he sat down.

One by one, others stood and told of their experiences as Howard’s employees. Some had been injured on the job, although none as severely as Flannigan, but not one had received any sort of compensation. Several spoke of being cheated out of wages.

Sam’s father nodded at him, and he stood. “If I can get enough evidence against Howard, my father has agreed to drop him as a client. In such a case, legally I won’t be able to represent Mr. Flannigan. However, I will do what I can to bring the truth to light. I know an attorney who will take the case. It may not be possible to gain evidence for your past mistreatment, but testimony from witnesses such as yourselves could make a difference in the question of justice for your neighbor, although I’ve warned him there is no guarantee. But if enough of these incidents are presented before the court, it will almost force Howard to change his unjust and illegal practices in the future.”

“So you want us to go to court and tell about our own experiences?”

Sam looked at the man in the back of the room who’d spoken. “If you will, it could help. We also need those of you who are willing to stand up for Mr. Flannigan’s character.”

“What if we lose our jobs? We’ve got families to support,” a big man with a red beard and tight red curls called out.

Sam looked at his father. How could he answer a cry like this? What was it like to be trapped in a low-paying job with no way out? What did it feel like to know your small paycheck was all that stood between your children and hunger?

He listened as his father told the men he didn’t expect anyone to do what he felt he couldn’t do. Each would have to follow his own conscience. And no one would think less of those who refused to testify.

Sam and his father left and headed home. Home where Sam had enjoyed wealth and safety all his life. Where wonderful aromas of good food drifted from the kitchen and the smell of spices and perfumes wafted through the house. Where light shone into every corner and beauty filled every room.

“How do we help them, Father?”

“One case at a time. One step at a time. That’s all we can do.”

“That’s what Katie said.”

His father gave him a startled look, and some other expression crossed his face. But Sam was too tired to question him about it.

Sam leaned back into the soft, velvety cushions of the carriage seat. Now he understood why Katie worked tirelessly, trying to help the poor. Once she’d said, “We can’t help them all, Sam. But we can help the ones before our eyes. The ones we know about. Little by little, we can make life better for some.”

He had to see her. He was stronger now. Tomorrow he’d go to Ma Casey’s. He’d find out why she hadn’t answered his letter. He’d know, once and for all, if she still cared for him.

Katie walked out of the theater with Bridget, and they trailed after the others so they could talk on the way to Ma Casey’s.

“Tell me again why Sam and his father were coming to the Patch tonight?”

Bridget had gone home during the afternoon break to take some things to her mother for the child care house. She’d bounced into the theater bubbling over with her news about Sam. “Like I told you before, Mr. Nelson and his father were supposed to go to Flannigan’s tonight to talk to some of the men about Howard. I think they must have seen the light. I can’t wait to talk to my mother and find out all about it.”

“That’s wonderful, Bridget.” And it was. She’d longed for Sam to see the people of the Patch as they really were. But her heart ached, just the same. Sam was up and around, and he hadn’t been to see her. The only explanation had to be that he didn’t care for her anymore. If he ever truly had.

As they walked on, she listened to Bridget’s excited and hopeful chatter about how the Nelsons could help the employment condition. Irritated, Katie bit her lip. To listen to Bridget, one would think Sam and his father were miracle workers.

Bitterness bit at her, and anger rose in her heart. All this time, she’d been picturing Sam at death’s door, lying in bed, calling her name, only to discover he’d been at a meeting. How dare he trifle with her?

As soon as they arrived at Ma Casey’s, she pleaded a
headache and went to her room, her body stiff and tight. Flinging herself across her bed, she burst into tears. When the barrage ended, she sat up and rubbed her hand across her eyes. Shame flooded over her.
I’m just selfish. I never knew I was selfish. Oh, but Sam, I thought you loved me.

She had to stop thinking of him. It was over.

A beam of moonlight caught her attention, and her eyes rested on the small white Bible on the table by her bed. She’d dug it out from her trunk the day after she’d turned her heart over to God. She’d carried it to church during the four years at Grandma and Grandpa’s. But she couldn’t remember ever opening it outside the church walls until last Monday.

Katie lit the lamp by her bed and picked up the Bible.
Opening it to Psalm 1, her eyes scanned the words. She turned the page and devoured psalm after psalm. At the end, she started through Proverbs and read until her eyes were heavy and would no longer focus on the small letters. Yawning, she returned the book to the table and changed into her nightgown. As she sank into the feather bed, the words she’d just read flowed through her.

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

All right, heavenly Father, I’ll trust You to lead me in the way You want me to go.

Her eyes closed, and she drifted off into sweet, peaceful sleep.

BOOK: A Girl Like That
8.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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