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Authors: Joan Lowery Nixon

Tags: #Orphan trains, #Orphans

Circle of Love

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A Note from the Author

During the years from 1854 to 1929, the Children's Aid Society, founded by Charles Loring Brace, sent more than 100,000 children on orphan trains from the slums of New York City to new homes in the West This placing-out program was so successful that other groups, such as the New York Foundling Hospital, followed the example.

The Orphan Train Adventures were inspired by the true stories of these children; but the characters in the series, their adventures, and the dates of their arrival are entirely fictional. We chose St. Joseph, Missouri, between the years 1860 and 1880 as our setting in order to place our characters in one of the most exciting periods of American history. As for the historical figures who enter these stories—they very well could have been at the places described at the proper times to touch the lives of the children who came west on the orphan trains.

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A number of the CHILDREN brought from KEW YORK are still without homes.

CAl^ AND SEB THEM.

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MERCHANTS, FARMERS

AND FRIENDS GENERALLY \ A re requeated to give publicity to the above

knn Mrcii.oaMOB,

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H. .^iBJEDGEN, Agent

Jennifer Collins settled into the plump cushions that lined her wicker chair as Grandma Briley began to read from Frances Mary Kelly's faded blue journal.

Jennifer's brother, Jeff, who had been lying on the floor, propped himself up, chin resting on his hands, and interrupted Grandma "Wait a minute. You just said that the date of this story was July 1866. Was the Civil War over then?"

"Officially." Grandma brushed a damp strand of gray hair back from her face and took a sip of iced tea. "General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant in -^ril of 1865. That brought an end to the War Between the States."

Jennifer did some quick mental arithmetic. "Frances was thirteen when the Kelly children were sent

1

west by the Children's Aid Society. That was in 1860. So in July 1866, Frances Mary would have been nineteen."

"That's right."

Jennifer sighed "I remember that when you first began to read Frances's entries, she said her dearest love had given her this journal and told her to write her stories in it."

"If this is a love story, I don't want to hear it," Jeff said, and made a face.

Grandma's eyes twinkled. 'There's been love in every story Frances Mary has told. There are many kinds of love! I'm going to read about love, and then you're going to hear a surprising story of adventure and danger. I just said that the war was officially over. It had a terrible effect upon some people's hearts and minds. The wounds took a long time to heal."

"Whose hearts and minds?" Jeff asked.

"Oh, be quiet, Jeff," Jennifer said impatiently. "Let Grandma read so we can hear what happened."

Grandma snuled and began with Frances Mary's own words:

Early this morning^ I brushed my hair in pale sunlight. As I tucked two silver-edged combs into my hair, I remembered my nineteenth birthday, when Johnny MuMler gave them to me.

And gave me this journal.

**Write the stories you have been carrying in your heart/* he said. ''Begin with your family. Begin when you were very young in New York. Begin with your oum story. "

/ did. I wrote about my parents and my brothers and my sisters, who meant so mux^h to me.

The words and tears and love spilled out together, capturing our stories forever on these pa^es.

By this time I should have written about the one I love most of all — Johnny, I should have written about our wedding day — a day of dreams come true. Sadly, though, there has been no wedding,

Fm sure that I loved Johnny from the moment I first met him, when I came to Kansas on an orphan train, I have always knovm that Johnny loved me. During the war I kept up my spirits by reminding myself that as soon as Johnny returned from his service with the Union Army, we'd marry. But Johnny's one-year internment in a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp took its toU on his health.

Under the strong Kansas sunlight hisfaee has regained most of its color, and his cough no longer shakes his entire body. But the farmwork he once did with strength and ease exhausts him, and the dark depths of his eyes seem to mirror horrors that haunt him like demons.

Since Fm a woman, it would be unseemingly of me to propose marriage, but I have hinted at it in many ways. Eoeh time, Johnny's mouth tightens. He absolutely refuses to talk about marriage.

Over and over I have asked myself: Can't he see what a good wife Fd make? Doesn't he want to know the joys of raising a family together?

It has been a week since I laid down my pen. Tears came to my eyes as I reread what I wrote about Johnny and the questions I asked myself If I had known the answers, perhaps I would never

have let my temper run away toith m^. Johnny and I vxruldn't have had such a terrible argument on our way to town, and I wouldn't have plunged into a sudden course of action that changed my entire life.

Frances Mary Kelly rode on the front seat of the Muellers' wagon next to Johnny. Hot July air from the Kansas prairie, fragrant with the sharp scent of newly cut grasses and freshly turned earth, swirled around them. Plowed ridges lay to their right, grazing land to their left In the distance a snaking line of scrubby trees marked the presence of a stream, and close to the stream stood a house.

The door opened and Frances caught a flash of blue. She knew the woman who wore the blue dress—Elvira Reading.

"El-mer! Come right this minute!*' The high and low notes in the woman's voice carried through the stillness, as did the voice of the child who answered, "Coming, Ma!"

Frances held a hand to her chest, pressing against

a growing ache. That is what I want for Johnny and me, she thought. Marriage^ a home, children. Why can't it be?

She slid a little closer to Johnny on the wagon seat, glancing at hi3 broad shoulders, at the way his sun-bleached half curled under the snug leather band of his hat, and at his hands firm on the reins.

Frances had met Johnny on the day the Cum-mingses had brought her to Kansas. The Mueller family, along with other near neighbors, had come to share the Cummingses' joy at having adopted two orphan train children. That night, while she thought the other children were sleeping—all of them on pallets in front of the fireplace—FYances had given in to a desperate loneliness for her mother and brothers and sisters and cried.

Johnny had been awake and had heard her, but he hadn't teased. Keeping his voice low so as not to wake the others, he'd whispered, "Ma said you had to leave your other brothers and sisters. If I had to leave Matt and Karl and even old fiDggy FYed over there, I'd cry, too." Maybe—just maybe, Frances'thought, she had begun to fall in love with Johnny's good humor and kindness and understanding at that moment

Aware of her gaze, Johnny looked down at Frances. Their eyes met

"I see that the Readings have finished their new house," Frances said. ^They've moved out of the soddy."

Johnny looked back at the road without answering, but Frances plunged on. "Elvira worked on that house along with her husband. She could pound a nail and use a saw as well as Harry could. Elvira told me that—"

"Harry didn't serve in the army," Johnny said. "He wasn't in a Confederate prison."

"What has that got to do with—?"

"He wasn't iiyured. He wasn't starved. He's perfectly fit for a man's work, yet he chooses to accept a woman's help. It's not something I would do."

Frances choked down the anger that rose in her throat and slid a little farther away from Johnny. "Perhaps Harry sees a husband and wife as a team, willing to work together at whatever job needs to be done. Perhaps he isn't as . . . as . . . stubborn as you." The word was out before she could stop it.

"You think I'm stubborn, do you?" Johnny gave a quick flick to the reins, and the plodding horses picked up their pace. "Oh, Frances, I know it's hard for you to understand, but it was that stubbornness— as you put it—^that kept me alive in the Confederate prison. I refused to give in to the maggots crawling through the food, to the freezing rain that soaked to the bone, and to the stench of illness and death around me. I refused to give up and die with so many members of my company." He hesitated. "Although I . . ."

"You have to stop feeling guilty about their deaths," Frances said. "You were not to blame. Your company was outnumbered and captured."

"But my friends died, and I was spared. Why? Tell me why." Before she could speak he shook his head and said, "I have searched for an answer, and there is none."

Frances took a long, steadying breath. "I know it was hard, Johnny. I prayed for you. I ached for you. I cried for you. And when you came home to your parents, I did everything I could to help you."

"I know, and Tm grateful,*' Johnny said. He took Frances's hand and held it gently. "I understood that I couldn't have survived without yoit"

Frances was determined to continue. "But that horrible time in your life is over now, Johnny. Your body is healing,vyet you refuse to put your year in prison out of mind." Tears burned her eyes as she remembered Johnny's ready smile and eager laughter, which she'd rarely seen or heard since his return.

"It's impossible to put it out of mind. FU never forget Never."

"Please don't dwell on the past," Frances said. "Look forward. Think of the happiness that lies ahead. Think of the happiness we can share."

Johnny sighed, and for a moment his broad shoulders sagged. "I'm sorry, Frances. I don't want to talk about marriage. It's not time to even think of marriage."

Her spine stiffened, and she flung her words at him. "Why? Because you didn't come back from the war the same as when you left home? Do you think that would make me love you any the less?"

Rising on the horizon ahead of them Frances could see the row of one- and two-story wooden buildings that made up the town of Maxville. Could she convince Johnny before they arrived?

"You don't understand," Johnny mumbled.

"I do understand."

For just a moment Johnny's face softened as he turned to her. "Frances, someday you and I . . . and our children ..."

"Someday?" Frances asked. "Why not nowT

She raised one hand, reaching out to him, but

Johnny's jaw clenched and the closed, stubborn look came into his eyes again. "Not until I'm able to work my land again without help."

"We can work together."

"I will not have my wife add to her chores by having to do my job."

Frustration turned to anger as Frances blurted out, "Wtfe? What wife? If you insist on waiting for everything in the whole worid to be perfect, you'll never have a wife!"

Johnny groaned. "Frances, why are you doing this to us?"

"Me? You're blaming me?"

"Of course I'm blaming you. If you could just try to be patient—"

Furious at Johnny and at the Irish temper that had got the best of her, Frances snapped, "I'm sorry, but Fm fresh out of patience. You either love me as I am, the way I love you, or look elsewhere for a suitable wife."

"Frances . . ."

"There's nothing more to say." Choking back tears, Frances turned away from him.

As soon as they reached the main street of Maxville and Johnny had pulled the horses up beside the uneven wooden sidewalk, Frances jumped down fix)m the wagon.

"Buy the supplies you need, but leave them with Mr. Nash. When I finish my business at the bank, I'll come to the general store and load them into the wagon," Johnny told her.

Frances didn't answer. Silently fuming, she strode down the sidewalk toward the general store.

Ahead, near the store's entrance, she saw Mrs.

Garrett and Mrs. St John—^two of the liveliest gossips in the area They had to have noted her arrival in town with Johnny.

Frances realized that her cheeks were flushed and hot and her breathing was rapid. She couldn't greet the women with angry smoke practically pouring out of her ears. Who knew what wild rumors might start?

Frances stopped outside the meeting hall, trying to calm down while she pretended to be very much interested in the poster outside the open doorway.

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