Throne of Grace by Cecily Wolfe

Josie stopped once again to watch the seagulls circle above her, smiling as they cried together in a symphony of praise. She would be late for work if she kept this up, but the temptation to soak in the beauty of the ocean and all that surrounded her was overpowering. Although she had spent her whole life in Newport, it never ceased to impress her with such simple yet exquisite details. God was truly an artist, indeed, and the daily morning journey she took along the Cliff Walk to Conte de Fée, the Davenport mansion, always reminded her of this.
Throne of Grace
Throne of Grace by Cecily Wolfe
“Morning, miss.” She was lost in her silent praise and visibly jumped when the masculine voice came from beside her. When her mouth opened to return the greeting, no words came out. This man was certainly above her station, and she had no idea why he would be addressing her. “Sir,” she nodded slightly, feeling her face flush with heat. She was not used to her betters noticing her beyond the usual, and generally polite, work commands. Socially, she did not exist for them, and this was merely the way it had always been; she never took it as a slight when a member of the Davenport set saw her in town and ignored her. The man was beautiful, almost pretty, and most likely close to her age. She had never seen him before, but his dark tailored wool suit told the story of his privilege. Yes, his valet had seen that he was well turned-out this morning, but truly the most gorgeous thing about him was that smile. He almost glowed at her, as if she were something of notice, something precious, something worthy. She could not help returning that smile, if on a much smaller and more reserved scale. “The water is stunning in the morning, isn’t it? And those gulls, I saw you watching them just now. Your face was like a mirror of their happiness.” Oh, my. He fancied himself a poet, and she was unsure how to respond. It was a beautiful thing, though, what he said to her, and he seemed to mean it sincerely. She allowed her expression to soften, her smile to widen. “Yes, sir. I can’t imagine anything prettier than Newport in the morning.” He looked so pleased at her response she wondered if he had been searching for company. Was he alone? How could a man of his class not have companions? Perhaps he was merely out for a morning stroll. “Arthur Davenport, at your service, Miss . . . ?” She bit her lip. A Davenport, oh my goodness. “Josette, sir. Josette Warren.” He made a slight bow while his eyes stayed on hers. “Miss Warren, pleased to make your acquaintance. Do you take the Cliff Walk often of a morning?” She knew she was chewing on her bottom lip but could not stop herself. “Yes, sir, I mean, Mr. Davenport, every morning, on the way to work, you see.” His brow knitted as he watched her tuck a stray golden lock of hair behind her ear. “Work? What sort of work do you do, Miss Warren, if you don’t mind my asking?” She shook her head, annoyed now that her hair, always unruly, was coming loose from the string she used to tie it back at the nape of her neck. She pushed it back over her shoulder. “Household work, sir.” His smile softened and he stood aside, gesturing with his hand ahead of them. “I believe I am keeping you from your duties, am I not?” She nodded and could not help but return his smile, noticing that his eyes were a soft, gray blue like the morning surf. My, how romantic my thoughts turn, she almost shook herself. Such ideas would not do. “Thank you, Mr. Davenport, sir.” She bent her head and stepped by him, more aware of his presence, his nearness, than she had been aware of anyone in her life until now. She felt his gaze as she walked away. “Until next time, Miss Warren. Pleasant meeting you.” She admonished herself for fussing over her hair as she walked briskly towards the Davenport residence. Vanity is a sin of pride, her mother always said, especially when someone noted her own simple beauty or that of her daughter. A pretty face doesn’t last, but a pretty action does. Josie remembered her own childhood confusion over the idea of a ‘pretty action.’ Anything that would please God, her mother said, which did not help much at first, but as she grew older and understood more of what she heard at church, more of what her mother and then she herself read in the Bible, she found a multitude of ways to be beautiful in the eyes of her Lord. It seemed easy at first, for such things as sharing her bread and cheese with another student at school who had none for her midday meal came naturally to her, as her mother had helped those less fortunate than they as much as possible in their own tight circumstances. Being polite and respectful to her elders, well, that had been a second nature until she began to work for the New Yorkers who had been building their cottages along the coast, some of whom were rude and the men, sometimes familiar, especially when they had been drinking. She had felt the urge to smack more than one older gentleman at the end of a dinner party after he had patted her bottom, smiling at her as he did it as if it should be perfectly acceptable for him to touch her so intimately. She knew that Mrs. Davenport would never approve of such behavior, but complaining to her employer would be disruptive and she did not want to lose her position; her mother counted on her income and she was certainly old enough to earn her keep. It was not always easy to act prettily as she grew older, especially if she did not keep to herself, and heard the tales of other girls in town who shared their secret adventures with some of the cottage dwellers. Her mother had told her, warned her, that some men felt they owned a woman when she worked for them, and might attempt to take liberties with her person, but she had not understood this until she had experienced the dinner party pats of drunk old men and heard stories shared at the grocer’s or worse, after church when much socialization took place as friends walked and mingled together for a chat in the churchyard. Girls she had known all her life began to behave strangely, giggling over handsome men, worrying about the fit of their clothes, the curl of their hair. Some talked openly about private moments with men, some merely town boys grown up and others, rich city folk, fathers and sons alike. The talk of hand holding, kissing, cuddling - it was not exactly repulsive, for Josie knew that these were things one did with a husband, with a man who would be a father to her children, but it made her uncomfortable to hear such activities spoken of so dismissively, as if there were no true meaning to such affection. She knew the Lord had made her to carry out his wishes to love and to serve others, and in this way to be an example of faith to those who might be unsure of Him and His love. This did not mean she was incapable of appreciating an attractive man, for she knew in her heart that part of God’s plan was for her to marry and become a mother, but she had always believed that she was somehow above concerning herself with any one of them in particular, unlike some of the girls in town. This is what her mother meant when she said that pride goes before a fall, she thought as she rubbed a hand over her eyes. Why did I imagine I was better than the other girls? She wondered at her own self-satisfaction. Not that she would behave as those girls did, but now, feeling a flush of heat come up to her face, she understood why they might be tempted to be close to someone who made them feel like she did just now. He had been walking north in the opposite direction from her, so she did not expect to see him at the Davenport cottage, but still, if he was a Davenport, she would most likely see him again sooner than later, so she needed to steel herself against that smile and those eyes. He seemed genuinely polite and kind to her, but still, she knew it was not appropriate for her to think about him in any way. She shook herself slightly as she stepped up the block stairs and opened the back door to the Davenport home. She had been working for the Davenports since she was fifteen, for nearly three years now, and Mrs. Davenport had been a fair but strict employer. She did not tolerate tardiness or laziness, and fortunately, Josie was not inclined towards either. She watched other girls lose their positions on their first day for taking time to sit for a rest on one of the soft pink gilded chairs in the parlor, or giggling together while folding sheets. It was almost easier for Josie to abide by these rules; she did not have to socialize with anyone and was under no pressure to gossip or pretend interest in the folly of others. With the New York set in town, there was always something happening, a ball or a bathing party, such excitements that inevitably led to drunken brawls or romantic interludes. She was uncomfortable hearing about such things, although before she served at one of the events she had been thrilled by the description of Mrs. Haverdeen’s Magical Sea ball over a year ago. Her neighbor, Sarah, worked for the Haverdeens until she married just a few weeks ago, and she had come home from the ball with a fantastic story full of music, dancing, and delicious treats Josie had never imagined. When it was her turn to begin serving at such events, Mrs. Davenport was wise enough to keep her in the front kitchen, out of the midst of the party, which really was a beautiful sight to behold before the drinking and carousing began. Some of the guests left before this started, as if they knew it would happen and wanted no part of it, but others, well, they certainly took advantage of the Davenport wine and more, along with private corners in some rooms of the house. It was shameful, and she could not imagine behaving in such a way. Mrs. Davenport did not approve, but there were some guests, some of those guilty of these actions, whom she could not exclude from a guest list without being ostracized from local and New York society, so her hands were tied, as she murmured after the last of them had left and she retired to her chambers with her husband, who was a bit tipsy and affectionate himself, but only with his wife. As she pulled an apron off the peg on the inside of the cupboard door, she overheard Mrs. Davenport speaking with the housekeeper. “He’s rather bookish, and he’s very sensitive about his reading materials. When you dust his room, be sure to replace the books and papers exactly as you find them, mind you. He’s actually very neat, so the room won’t need too much of a fuss.” She turned to find Mrs. Davenport behind her, smiling tightly as she did with all of her servants. “Josette, I was just explaining to Madeline that my son Arthur has only just returned from a tour in Europe, and he is very particular about his books. If you see any of them about, be sure to clean around them and replace them carefully as you find them. He is usually very careful in his personal habits and does not necessarily leave items about the house, but in case he does, you are not to interfere with the position of the material.” Josie bobbed her head forward slightly. “Yes, ma’am.” She was rewarded with another small smile before Mrs. Davenport and Maddie turned and walked away, the older woman still chattering to the younger girl. She was still for a moment, wondering how she could avoid Arthur Davenport, but took a deep breath and remembered that her walk was with God, and He would lead her as He would, she only had to follow His commands and all would be well. She tipped her chin down and said a silent prayer of thanks and gave her concern over these newfound feelings over to Him. She had a large basket of clean sheets to fold and iron, as she did every morning, so she set her hands and thoughts to work. Mornings were the toughest part of the day; the sheets seemed endless, heavy, and the iron was steaming. She took her ten minute break for lunch and sat at the back kitchen servant’s table with the bit of bread and cheese Mrs. Davenport allowed each employee every day, patting at her forehead with her handkerchief. Every morning was the same, but it pleased her because after lunch, the work became easier and actually interesting. She learned so much about this world apart, this world of constant recreation; not that she was moved by the attention these people had from every direction. She imagined it would be awful to have her every move scrutinized and tattled about, even if she wasn’t doing anything wrong. She valued the privacy she and her mother had. It was the unique qualities of the items she cleaned and dusted in the numerous rooms at the cottage that fascinated her, wondering as she held each one how it came to be, how someone had contrived the idea and method to make such things. Mrs. Davenport had a variety of glass birds of all shapes, sizes, and colors in her sitting room, scattered on the fireplace mantel, window sills, and the small tables about the room; these never ceased to hold Josie’s interest. She held each one up to the sunlight, wiping them carefully with the dusting rag and watching the rays highlight the swirls of color inside the glass. They were so beautiful and so lovingly made. She always smiled to herself when she handled them, making sure she did not take too much time to engage in her appreciation of them, and considered that God took care with each of His children in the same manner that the artist did with these smooth sculptures. Not everyone, she knew, believed that, including many of her neighbors and the New Yorkers who had suddenly appeared on the coast with their noses turned up and their thoughts on material things. She did not care what they thought of her; if they needed to feel superior to those, like her, who did not have money or influence, that was a sad thing, and she did feel sorry for them, but she never felt as if she were less in the eyes of God because she had so little. She and her mother had enough, and she was blessed with this position and the good health to work as some were not. The birds, however, did make her smile, and she did not feel as if she were wrong to appreciate their beauty. She hoped she would be assigned to the sitting room today, and when she heard the quick little steps that signaled her employer's approach from the hall, brushed the last crumbs of bread from her apron and stood at attention. When the door banged open it was not Mrs. Davenport who stood in the room but the young man she had encountered on the Cliff Walk earlier. Her mouth fell open and she sat back down quickly. He was heated and angry; it was so clear and visible that no one could have mistaken the look on his face. He was facing the sink and window opposite the door and did not notice she was in the room as he stalked by the table and leaned over the sink, his weight heavy on his arms and hands as he looked out the window. She couldn’t help but watch him, as it was fascinating to see the change in his character that had occurred in just a few short hours. She kept herself completely still, however, for fear of being discovered. Whatever was upsetting him was obviously important and most likely private; surely, he would not appreciate an audience. Suddenly, he turned his gaze from the window towards her, as if just realizing that he was not alone, although she was certain that she had made no move or noise to disturb him. His face was red and mottled but when he saw her, his expression softened and he smiled at her. “What a happy surprise, Miss Warren.” She was genuinely speechless. He had seemed so fierce when he barged in only a few moments earlier and now, he was looking at her as if nothing in the world pleased him more. “Oh, I need to get back to work, Mr. Davenport.” She stood up and caught herself as her hands moved to straighten her hair. Vanity, she reminded herself. She did brush a bit at her apron to smooth it down and was aware that the young man watched her every move with interest. “I am so sorry to have disrupted your break, please forgive me. You must take another minute or so to make up for the bother.” He took a chair, pulling it out and sitting down in one smooth motion, gesturing for her to follow, but she did not. “You mentioned that you were a household worker but not that you worked here. What a happy circumstance.” He smiled gently at her and while she believed he meant no harm, her hands twisted together in front of her apron with anxiety. She knew she was naïve, and that the stories told of advantages taken by employers were rampant in town. She did not want to think badly of him without true cause, however; in the past it had been clear to her which men had impure thoughts and assumed liberties, and it seemed to her that Arthur Davenport was not one of those men. He frowned at her and she was immediately sorry she had not returned his smile or greeting. “What is it? Are you afraid of me, or is it my mother? Is she that strict that you must end your break right now?” She shook her head slightly and willed herself to respond. It wasn’t fair to worry him when he was really just being nice; every man wasn’t like those who dallied with servants, or the men at parties who tried to touch her. Talking to this one was not a crime and should not get her into any trouble, and besides, he did seem genuinely concerned. “No, I’m not afraid, sir, it’s only that there is a lot of work to do. I wouldn’t want to disappoint Mrs. Davenport in any way.” He laughed softly, derisively. “Ah, disappoint Mrs. Davenport. Well, I don’t think you could possibly do that any better than I have.” He sighed as he stood up, then shook his head and looked down, tucking his hands in his pants pockets and rocking back on the heels of his polished black shoes. Most likely Maddie had done that polishing, Josie considered as she glanced from his shoes back up to his face and caught him looking at her with a half smile on his face. “Is it because I am rich? Your nervousness, that is. Do you think that makes me different?” He wasn’t mocking her, or her hesitation, she could see he was looking for an honest answer, and so, she gave him one. “Well, yes, sir, doesn’t it? I mean, we are people, both the same in the eyes of God, but you are a step up socially because of your situation. It has ever been this way, hasn’t it?” She had answered his question but offered up one of her own, and this time, she took the liberty of gazing back at him as he considered her answer. “I suppose it has, yes, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it. There is something about you, Miss Warren, that I like, and what I don’t like is this barrier between us that makes it difficult for us to even talk together. I think if we meet someone we feel comfortable with, we should be able to be friends with them regardless of money, station, situation, whatever you choose to call it. Don’t you agree?” It was quite a speech and she hoped his mother was not within earshot. What an idea, truly, but one she did in fact agree with, and she felt brave, or perhaps it was stupid, enough to admit it. “I do, Mr. Davenport. I do.” They held each others gaze for a few moments before she turned away and left to take Maddie’s direction for the rest of the day’s work, knowing that he was watching her as she left, and feeling in her heart that it was not because of the gold in her hair or the green of her eyes. She closed her eyes and silently prayed for guidance; she was in new waters, now, and she wasn’t sure she could trust her own judgment. After her father died of influenza years ago, Josie’s mother had taken in children to mind as their parents worked. Most of her neighbors did work, although some of the women took in washing or mending and were able to stay home and keep their own children, but as more New Yorkers built on the cliffs, more opportunities to work presented themselves and most locals took advantage of that to improve their circumstances or save in the event of illness or disaster. She grew up with multitudes of little ones to play with, and as she became older, to care for along with her mother when she was not at school or working herself. It was a gift she had, her mother, for patience, firmness, wisdom - she was able to handle the children and offer support and advice to many parents who were frustrated or did not understand their own child’s behavior at times. Josie was sure, though, that talking to her mother about Arthur - Mr. Davenport - would be difficult and might actually cause her to worry that her daughter was headed in the wrong direction. Everything her mother said seemed so simple, almost easy, and until now, she supposed, she had never been tempted otherwise in her walk of faith. Her mother had said many times that she should come to her with any concerns she had; after all, that is what mothers are for, she would laugh, and Josie would join in, but she had never really had anything she felt worth troubling her mother about. Neighborhood gossip, wandering hands at fancy parties, these were small situations that were annoying but within her ability to manage. None of it had made her question her own response, her own feelings - she seemed unable to change her train of thought as she straightened up the sitting rooms for the Davenport girls, both of whom were at a bathing party at the beach with the Hartley twins, who were, like the Davenports, one of the more reserved New York families. She had yet to hear of any scandal touching either family, which was why she felt comfortable working for one of them. She lifted Miss Catherine’s porcelain doll from the gilded shelf on which the doll sat and gently fluffed the smocked dress about the figure, swiping the shelf before returning the item back to its resting place. Her mother was in no hurry to marry her off, in fact, she would like to imagine that Josie was still little, still interested in dolls like Miss Catherine’s. Of course the doll was beautiful, but it had been many years since she had cuddled a doll like the children her mother watched often did. She picked the doll up again and cradled it against her. One day, she supposed, she would be a mother herself, with babies of her own to hold and love, but that would require a husband, and she could not see herself married to any of the men she knew. Perhaps it was just her age that was making her think on these things, she nodded briefly to herself. When it was time, she knew, God would lead the right man to her and she would make a life with him. She would be a wife like her mother had been, supportive, loving, but with her own mind and ideas to help her husband and her children; she was not one of those wives who sat back and watched her husband gamble away money or drink his earnings down to nothing. When there was a difficulty, she had solutions; she remembered hearing her parents talk at the dinner table after they both thought that she was asleep. Her father spoke with her mother as if they were equals, as if he valued her opinion, and he did. He treasured her beauty, her thrift, and her wisdom. Josie knew that she would be unable to settle for a man who did anything less on her account, and she knew that her mother supported her in that. She set the doll back on the shelf and arranged the dress so that it draped over the edge a bit. When she turned away from the wall she was startled by a figure in the door. “Really, I don’t mean to keep disturbing you.” He looked almost like a large child, not quite a man, sheepish, apologetic. “That’s alright. I must have been daydreaming, I usually don’t.” Arthur smiled, and seemed relieved at her revelation. “You did seem a bit dreamy this morning, though - but I admit the ocean does that to me as well.” She couldn’t help but return his smile. She knew she should continue her work, so she moved about the room, picking up items and brushing at them with her feather duster. She didn’t want to be rude to him, and truth be told, she was enjoying their brief moments together that seemed to keep occurring, but if Mrs. Davenport should walk by and see her idle . . . Arthur stepped into the room and she could feel his gaze on her as she kept at her work. “I only just arrived, I’ve been traveling for the past three years, and this is the first I’ve seen of this house, this town. This stunning ocean, the cliffs . . . my parents think I’m very silly to be so infatuated with the scenery.” Josie paused in her work but did not turn to look at him. “Oh, but we are called to appreciate what is beautiful in nature - it is God’s work.” Suddenly he was beside her, his hand on her elbow. She nearly jumped out of her skin, and she did, slightly move away, if only a bit. “God’s work?” He smiled, and looked as if he might actually laugh out loud. “Yes, you are so right, Miss Warren.” She briefly wondered if he was laughing at her, but the shine in his eyes, almost as if they would fill with tears, assured her he was not. “No one else here thinks like that, honestly. I have such difficulty . . . well, you don’t need to hear about any of that. But I am pleased to find a kindred spirit in my appreciation of God’s work, as you put it. Very well put, I must say.” He seemed so sincere, his eyes bright and wide, and she felt for a moment as if she could see into his soul. She saw his loneliness, his true joy at finding another who felt as he did about God’s presence in the world around him, and allowed herself to accept that their paths had crossed for just this very reason. “Arthur, dear, you can’t avoid me forever, you know. We must speak of your marriage and it must be now.” Mrs. Davenport appeared in the doorway immediately after her words rang in Josie’s ears, stunning her as she froze in her employer’s sight. The older woman’s eyebrows rose to seemingly painful heights before her eyes narrowed at the two of them, Arthur’s hand dangerously close to Josie’s elbow. Chapter Two “I see I have interrupted something, and just so. You will return to your work for the day, Josette, and I do not expect to see you fraternizing with my son again. It is unseemly and if it happens again you will be dismissed.” Josie blinked, slowly returning to an awareness of how the two of them must have looked to his mother, who was very strict and Josie always thought, right to be so. She could only find it in herself to bob her head quickly and turn back to her dusting. She could hear Arthur sigh resignedly behind her, still very close to her and yet, still so impossibly far. When she heard his footsteps reach the door as he followed his mother, her voice chastising him as she walked down the hall, she knew he had paused in his movement and couldn’t help turning her head to see why he had stopped. He offered her a sweet, sad smile that begged for her forgiveness, and she returned it, in spite of the sudden ache in her chest at the memory of the word ‘marriage.’ It certainly wasn’t proper for him to be speaking to her so intimately if a marriage was pending, but she was sure from his expression that the arrangement was not of his doing. Marriages were settled by families all the time, and in fact, many couples were happier for the better judgment of their elders, but Josie did not believe that one’s adamant objections to a match should be overlooked. It was definitely a revolutionary idea, especially for a woman, but she could not imagine that God would want her, or anyone for that matter, to be unhappy in a lifelong commitment with someone who would share one’s life in every detail. She finished dusting the girl’s room with her mind on Arthur, shaking her head as she considered that only hours ago she didn’t even know the man, and now she was worried about his happiness. He had started their acquaintance by taking care to notice her happiness that morning, though, hadn’t he, for she never would have approached him on her own. He was looking for reassurance, she could tell, reassurance of his beliefs, perhaps, and almost definitely regarding his feelings about this marriage. She would not ask him about it, however; she couldn’t possibly pry, but she knew that if he came to her to ask for her opinion she would offer it, whether it coincided with his own or not. She felt a certainty that they would be likeminded, and felt impatient as to when she might see him again. She knew she had to be careful about his mother, though, and hoped he would be more discreet than to approach her while Mrs. Davenport was around. She shook her head at her thoughts. Worrying about being discovered as if they were doing something wrong, when they were only just becoming friends. Unfortunately, gossip about what was untrue or negative was the only gossip that interested anyone, and losing one’s job over a few short conversations was a high price to pay for an offer of friendship and support. Josie knew Arthur needed a friend. Arthur was spoiled. He knew this and was ashamed, but being ashamed did not change one’s behavior, he reminded himself. He looked back on his twenty years and saw nothing but waste, interspersed with the occasional good deed thrown in for good measure and with plenty of witnesses to report on his supposed kindness. His travels to Europe however, and awakened him to realities he had not truly seen in New York, seen perhaps with his eyes but not with his heart. The naked, begging children with their hands outstretched at any and every one, in several of the outlying areas of the big cities, was devastating. They were infants, without supervision, without comfort, when they should have been petted, cuddled, protected. He had seen the little ragged girls downtown at home, of course, selling flowers or mushy fruit, calling out to passersby, but he had always been preoccupied with his plans and needs to pay them much attention. The bare poverty was quite literal in Europe, and while the local residents accepted the beggars and assisted as much as they could, they did not seem troubled by the physical sight of the children. He began to have nightmares. They had nothing to do with losing his own material goods, as he might have expected, but losing something far greater, something he was sure that had been offered him his whole life and he had disregarded and taken for granted. His weekly attendance at church with his family as a child had never been a subject of conversation at home or with friends and was merely a social expectation. The words were meaningless to him, but he knew enough facts to begin to piece together what he had been missing. He began to think of Christ as a real person who had spent time among people, only to offer himself to atone for the mistakes those like Arthur himself had or would commit. On purpose, he thought, I have behaved so selfishly on purpose, when there are children without food and care. The facts were upsetting enough, but when he found himself thinking of God and silently speaking to Him as if He were a real person in front of him, his emotions took over in a very troublesome way. His eyes filled with tears as he walked down cobbled streets, the beauty of the old world rich and vibrant despite its years, and he thanked God for allowing him the privilege of viewing these gifts. He gave of his money to the poor children and hunched down on his heels to hold their hands and speak to them, their broken-toothed smiles a small but meaningful reward for his time and efforts. He purchased a Bible and began to read, taking his time and drinking in the stories, the people, the situations, the messages. He was stunned at the wonder and grace of God and the love of His son and ultimately fell to his knees asking for forgiveness, which he knew was ever offered, ever present, and at that moment, the tie that bound him as a loved and saved child of God. He dreaded the return to his family, knowing that their expectations would be as all society families were and as his were before his trip. The tour was the usual pre-adulthood excursion meant to allow him to sow his wild oats, so to speak, and prepare himself for his future role as husband and in his case, work alongside his father in the railroad business. He realized that he had never been interested enough in his own parent to even listen to his father’s explanations of the career with which he spent so much time and made so much money, money Arthur had squandered as effectively as his sisters without any concern for how and when more would be provided. He had been disrespectful of his father’s efforts and care of the family, and honestly had no clue what was in store for him if he accompanied his father to his Manhattan office building and became one of the many immersed in financial concerns that seemed to make the world go ‘round. He did know that he wanted no part of it, of the work, of his father’s money, instead wishing to learn a trade and provide for himself as any able bodied man should. It would be difficult, though, to extract himself from the family business, since the recent stock market crash and the emphasis placed by his parents on his father’s need for Arthur’s support. God helps those who help themselves, he recalled his mother chiding him as a youngster when he railed against tutors and the waste of time he believed his education was, for he would inherit and have no use for history, languages, science. He did not understand what she meant when she said this, as it made as much sense as the material he was meant to master with hours of study and effort. Only now could he grasp the necessity of working towards one’s potential, of fulfilling God’s wishes for one to develop talents He had provided, and in turn using them to assist others who needed help. Not everyone had had the benefit of his upbringing, his privileges, and he meant to use his intelligence and abilities to better the lives of those who needed assistance in order to provide for themselves, for it was a matter of pride and honor, he realized, for them as well as him, to be able to make their own way in the world. Some people, he knew, just needed an extra hand now and then, or a smile from a stranger, a penny for a loaf of bread to make the day’s labors easier for not having been hungry during hours of work. His mother attended church, he knew, but he did not know how she actually felt about God and the words that were spoken as she looked about her at the other ladies, as they all inspected each other’s wardrobe and behavior. He did not want to judge her but found it difficult not to find her as shallow and obsessed with appearances and money as the rest of society was. Still, she was more conservative than many of the other parents and did not allow her children to drink or attend and give parties where inappropriate behavior was often the norm. Somehow the financial prosperity of some of their neighbors had appeared to make them abdicate their parental responsibility, or in some cases, encourage their offspring to make a make a match with a wealthier or more influential family in a rather primitive way. He had been thinking of how he might help lead others the way those poor children had led him, but wondered what he, a coddled rich boy with no particular skills, could do. He only knew, at this point, that he would not be able to serve God by amassing a fortune along with his father. He didn’t know how he could break this news to his parents without seeming disrespectful or ungrateful for their time and attention, for their endless allowance for all matter of childishness and selfishness even up to his present age. They had been patient and indulgent, which ultimately led to his understanding of Christ’s sacrifice and the need to share his experience with others so that they might find joy in the light of Christ. He did not feel joyful as he followed his mother down the stairs like a dog. He thought of the look on Miss Warren’s face when his mother had spoken with disdain upon seeing the two of them conversing, as if the girl would soil him in some way. His mother was strict with the household help, which was no crime, to be sure, but she sometimes forgot, if she even considered it in the first place, that they were human beings with thoughts and feelings just as her family was, and deserved some courtesy, especially when Miss Warren had done nothing wrong. Most of society did not approve of mingling with staff and his family certainly was in agreement with that sentiment. Arthur meant to right this wrong immediately by explaining that he had engaged the girl in conversation and she was merely being polite by entertaining him. That would not be enough, he knew, to change anything, but for now it might be all he could do as he set about finding the best way to explain his future plans to his parents. “Really, Arthur, you must not mope about the house when you could be socializing with influential gentlemen who will be happy to assist you when you begin work with your father. I have spoken to so many of our friends who are eager to see you after such a long excursion, anxious to meet you since you’ve grown and perhaps, explore the possibilities of marriage. One young lady in particular, in fact, has quite fond memories of attending parties wherein the two of you played well together.” Oh, honestly. He was becoming exasperated already and she had hardly opened her mouth. Marriage based on the agreeable play of infants. Is this the marriage she had spoken of in his sister’s bedroom only moments before as if it were an engagement of long standing? Did she have no regard for his thoughts on the matter? He almost laughed at himself for entertaining such a silly question. “Oh, it is nice to see you smile, dear. I knew you would be pleased that your old friends are waiting to engage you in some social activities. Mind you, nothing without chaperones, and no drinking. I will have to make some calls and arrangements . . .” She sat in one of the gilded high-backed, velvet cushioned chairs. He followed suit. They were most uncomfortable but he knew he had to allow his mother to have her due in her arena before he could hope to express his own thoughts and concerns about his future, a future that did not involve investments and railroads. Such activity did not speak to his heart, and he knew it was because it held no promise to serve others and make their lives better on a very basic level. “Are you tired, dear? You don’t seem to be paying attention to me. Really, don’t you think some social activities would make you feel a bit better, more at home? You certainly don’t need to feel lonely enough to seek the company of housemaids.” She tittered like a girl right out of the school room and he had a flash of a very disrespectful desire to slap her. Miss Warren was not just a maid. She had, he was sure, a life that already was an understood walk with Christ, something he was searching for and struggling with. He knew that his ease in speaking with her was directly related to her obvious Christian nature. He wondered how long she had believed, and what kept her faithful. His interest in her, while he could acknowledge that she was very pretty in a simple, clean manner that many society girls could not match with their adornments, stemmed from that rapturous look on her face that morning, solely brought on by the glory of God in nature. He longed to have such moments of serenity as he saw shining through her eyes at that moment. “ . . . and the Harland girl, well, she is a bit pudgy but her dark blue eyes keep one’s attention on her face rather than her more than adequate padding. Not the smartest child in the neighborhood but she should be biddable. She has five brothers. Just think, with a mother than can produce so many heirs, you would be certain to have a houseful of little Davenports within a very short time.” Arthur shot up out of his chair as if reporting for military duty. “Catherine Harland is a person, Mother, not a farm animal.” His mother blinked up at him. “Excuse me?” She was absolutely astonished and he considered that his behavior might have overpowered his words. “The girl you speak of, like a brood mare, she is person with hopes and dreams of her own, regardless of how she looks or how intelligent she is. I am sure she would not appreciate being considered as one would look at an animal at a local fair.” He rocked back on his heels, decidedly uncomfortable standing in front of his mother, her gaze unsure and astonished as she looked up at him. “Well, I don’t know what to say. Of course I didn’t mean to imply that she was, as you so crudely put it, a brood mare, only stating that she is suitable for the purposes of marriage. I was unaware of your sudden interest in her feelings, and I must say, it is a bit distressing.” He did not want to sit back down so he turned on a heel and began to pace as he spoke. “I have been meaning to talk to you about such things, Mother, and with Father, too.” Her expression changed into one of interest and hope. “Oh, I do hope you met a nice young countess or duchess in Europe and have designs on her. What a thought – nobility! It is all the rage amongst the girls, you know, but for one of our boys to marry into European nobility, what a coup!” She was so excited he dreaded his next revelation even more than he had already. “No, I am sorry to disappoint you, but I have no wish to marry at present, nor do I intend to join Father in his business. I have other ideas, and I hope the two of you will be supportive of them.” Her lip curled in distaste. She had aged rather well and was quite attractive; a reflection of her youthful beauty, but the look on her face marred it. “That will not do. I know I speak for your father as well as myself when I say that whatever foolishness you have played about in Europe stops now. You have had your fun and it is now time to settle down and grow up.” He stopped his pacing and turned in one swift movement to face her. “I am not asking permission, Mother. I would very much like your blessing, but I am prepared to move forward on my own without it.” His mother pressed her hand to her heart, her mouth open in surprise, and promptly swooned forward and fell to the floor. Josie was mortified at the attention that had been drawn to her that day, first by the very sweet Arthur, who meant no harm and seemed like something of a lost soul, and then his mother. He seemed lonely, which was strange, and she was flattered by his attention. He also seemed to need some sort of validation of . . . what? His words about God, his interest in her appreciation of small pleasures in nature, seemed so out of place in the Davenport world. Perhaps that was the problem, he just didn’t fit in. She wondered if this had always been the case, or if it was something new. When she arrived home after a breezy stroll along the Cliff Walk, the salty air clinging to the damp skin on her face, her mother still had a pair of very young children in her care. Josie sat in their wooden rocking chair and gestured for them to come and climb into her lap. Her mother smiled appreciatively and approvingly, her flushed face speaking of the labors of the day. She adored children but they often had her weary by late afternoon. She was thankful that Josie gave her a respite to sit at the kitchen table and complete kitchen chores such as peeling potatoes that allowed her to get off her feet after chasing little ones all day. “Have you kept Nanny busy today, dollies?” Josie cuddled the little girls close to her, their baby fine hair damp like hers under her hands. She wondered if it were in her future to be a mother and her thoughts drifted to Arthur Davenport. She was ashamed that her mind operated in such a fashion; she had only just met him that very day. Of all things . . . but upon quick reflection she recognized that it was his sweet smile and the reassuring gleam in his eyes that spoke of patience and interest, qualities that would make him a good father who was engaged with his children. A father who made certain his children knew he loved them and would always be there for them. She smiled to herself and her daydreaming was interrupted by Dinah, the little blonde girl, as she pulled at Josie’s ponytailed hair, which had escaped its string in several sections. Josie laughed, distracted from her thoughts, and focused on singing to the girls as she rocked them until their mothers arrived to collect them after their work was done. “You’re awfully quiet, dear,” her mother noted as the two of them sat down to their small evening meal of bread and stew. Josie had been lost in thought, it was true, but she hadn’t realized it was noticeable. She nodded and took a deep breath before deciding to confide in her mother. “I met someone today,” she began. Her mother raised her eyebrows and set down her spoon. “Someone like a young man?” Josie bit her lower lip and nodded, almost imperceptibly. Her mother sucked in her breath and pursed her lips. “Now, Josie, you’re still quite young and there’s plenty of time for that sort of thing.” Josie nodded again, this time more definitely and in agreement with her mother. She knew her mother would not be pleased but she did not like to keep secrets from her, and while there really was nothing to tell, her heart told her that her feelings and confusion over Arthur would be a secret if kept from her mother, and might be relieved by her mother’s wisdom. If only her mother would let her speak and allow her to explain, and not be judgmental. “Yes, I know, and I agree. But this man, he is . . . “ What? Sweet, kind? He has a beautiful smile? No, there was more to him, to her feelings, than that. “Lost.” The word came out of her mouth before she knew what she was saying, as if someone had put the word there. She sighed as she realized that God must have intervened and found the perfect word for Arthur, in the context of what she was trying to express to her mother. “Like a kitten? A lost dog? A grown man? Did he need directions?” Her mother’s blatant sarcasm made Josie laugh out loud. Her mother heaved a sigh and relaxed a bit as she eyed Josie carefully. “Okay. Tell me about this lost man of yours.” It was all Josie could do not to stumble over her words as she described her first encounter with Arthur, his kind smile, the light in his eyes when she spoke of God, the calm she felt with him, the awareness that he was not meeting his family’s approval, and her suspicion that it was his faith, whether long standing or new, that was causing this rift. Her mother was quiet for a few moments, staring down in to her bowl of stew, and then looked at her only child with a new acceptance for the fact that her little girl was now a young woman, and while she dreaded losing her company on a daily basis, eventually she would meet a man and marry. Her brows dipped and a crease showed on her forehead, though, as she worried about the difference in stations between her daughter and this very privileged boy. “One must take these things slowly. A friendship with one of his class can be troublesome for the both of you, as you have already discovered. I would not discourage you from speaking with him if you feel comfortable, but it is best if you aren’t alone, and there should be no touching. If you feel so strongly about him after seeing him only today, you will be tempted to allow familiarities such as hand holding, but that leads to kissing, and that is a slippery slope.” Josie looked into her lap. Her cheeks burned, she knew, and she felt guilty, but she knew she had done nothing wrong. It was right to tell her mother, but she felt as if she were being scolded like a young child. Didn’t her mother trust her? She knew how to behave with men and if her mother only knew how she had had to manage those drunken men at Mrs. Davenport’s parties . . . well, she would be impressed and surprised at her daughter’s ability to handle such situations, but she also would insist on Josie’s leaving employment at a home that allowed such actions. It would be too complicated to try to explain without problems, so Josie decided to accept the patronizing tone and tried to focus on her mother’s concern, rather than her chiding. It was natural for her mother to worry, she told herself, and she shouldn’t be so sensitive. She looked across the small wooden table, worn to several shades of brown and smooth from years of use, at the stress on her mother’s face. “Of course. Everything will work out as it should, as you always say. I promise to be careful, and to be aware, and you will not be ashamed of me.” Her mother looked relieved and picked up her spoon, digging into her stew and bringing a mouthful of potatoes and carrots in a thin broth up just above the bowl. “I know you won’t, dear. You’re a good girl.” The good girl smiled back and mirrored her mother’s movements, thinking of Arthur and wondering how his interview with his own mother went, sure that it did not go as well as hers with her own did. She sent up a silent prayer for Arthur and his family, that their love would reconcile them despite their differences. Chapter Three Mrs. Davenport had begged Arthur to give his father, and the business, a chance before throwing away his future, as she so dramatically put it, and also not to speak a word of his thoughts so as not to upset the older man. His father would be shocked to say the least, so Arthur agreed to her requests, although he felt as if the continued failure to reveal his true feelings was a lie. The sooner everyone knew, the sooner he, and they, could move forward with acceptance. They loved him, he was sure of it, but they would be disappointed and would need time to adjust. He wanted very much to see Miss Warren, knowing that just a glimpse of her sweet but sensible smile would give him strength. He needed a friend, and while she was young, she clearly had a strong work ethic and determination, both traits he himself would need to cultivate further, and on a very basic level. He felt reassured of his new faith in her presence. He knew that God did not mean for man – and woman – to walk alone; finding friends in faith and bringing others to Christ was part of what being Christian was about. The tenderness he felt for Miss Warren was beside the point, although it was at the front of his thoughts as he left early the next morning with his father, wishing he could have taken a stroll out to the Cliff Walk to exchange a friendly greeting with her before embarking on what he felt was a trip of false hope. His father would believe he was interested in the family business when he wasn’t. It seemed dishonest and unfair but he did not want to disrespect his mother’s wish. They would be traveling a great deal of the day and staying for two afterwards before returning. He wondered if Miss Warren would wonder at his whereabouts, or if she would miss him. Silly, he shook his head as he thought to himself, smiling. They had only just met and he was flattering himself that she might feel kindly towards him, as he did towards her. His father took in his smile, and chuckled along. “Excited about your new adventure, eh, Arthur?” Arthur was stirred from his musings and nearly stuttered. “After a fashion, sir, I believe. Honestly, I don’t know if I have the aptitude for such work. I really think my best use would be in helping others in some way, person to person.” He hoped his prodding would trigger some questions from his father, but it only increased his father’s interest in finding him a place with his firm. “Oh, improving the travel experiences of others is quite helpful, and they are indeed very grateful. On occasion we do see them in person, but really, it is much easier not to deal with the masses on that level. Quite uncomfortable, that.” Arthur sighed. This would not be easy. He planned to continue finding ways to communicate with his father during the trip but the man was so literal and so unaware of anything outside his own interests. He was not unkind; Arthur knew his father was proud of him, loved him, but he also knew that he was very narrow-minded and would not understand his desire to do something so financially unrewarding. He had to find some way to explain the other rewards involved with helping others without monetary gain. His father appreciated giving a penny to the less fortunate, but most certainly did not understand the lives the poor led and how small actions on his part might help improve their lives considerably. Arthur wanted to stomp his foot in frustration. If only he could talk this out with Miss Warren; she was so level-headed, she was certain to find a solution for him. Honestly, though, he knew this was a battle he must work through himself; having her advice would be wonderful, but it was he and he alone who needed to have that all-important conversation with his father that might damage their relationship forever. He was quiet for most of the trip, as his father read a stack of newspapers and reports his assistant had provided for him before setting forth. He took the time to watch the scenery change, and appreciated the time to reflect on the beautiful world God had made and given to everyone, praying that he might find strength in God’s grace and that Miss Warren, never far from his thoughts, would have a day that offered her moments of peace and time with God as well. No matter what happened in New York, when he returned, he would make a point of seeking her out and spending a few moments with her. Josie was disappointed when she arrived at the Davenport home after her usual walk along the cliffs. She chided herself for feeling that way, for she knew that it was because of Arthur, and it was silly to expect to see him again just because they met on the Cliff Walk yesterday. She must have been scowling at her thoughts when she arrived, for when she stepped into the back door and into the kitchen Mrs. Davenport was there looking out of the window and turned immediately, facing her with a frown of her own. “And what sort of expression is that to wear so early in the morning, Josette? A young person like you doesn’t have anything to be negative about.” Josie blinked, surprised at the familiarity in her employer’s speech and hardly aware of how to respond. She bobbed her head slightly. “Yes, ma’am, as you say.” She took down her apron and pulled it over her head, smoothing it down the front and reaching behind to tie it in the back. She was aware of the older woman’s stare as she prepared herself for her regular duties. “I wish to speak to you before you begin, Josette.” She looked up at her employer. Mrs. Davenport was very authoritative, both in looks, which were still attractive but rather austere, and demeanor, and in this way she was sure to be respected and never defied. She was quick to judge sometimes, however, and was not likely to admit a mistake. One had to be very careful around her; she did not mean to be unfair, but her refusal to see any point of view but her own made it difficult at times to work for her. So far Josie had had no trouble but had seen others at the punishing end of a situation that was not truly their fault, but who would believe a servant over a woman of her position in society? Josie felt the few moments’ pause an eternity, her heart beating fast in her chest as she bit her bottom lip to keep it from trembling. “Yes, ma’am, as you wish.” Mrs. Davenport gestured towards the kitchen chairs. “Please sit, dear.” Dear? Where did that come from? Josie was distracted by the unexpected endearment and completely taken off guard as she sat, totally unprepared for the woman’s next words. “Stay away from my son.” Josie knew her mouth had fallen open but she could only blink in confusion. “Ma’am?” She held her hands together in her lap but they still shook as Mrs. Davenport pointed a finger at her and let loose a stream of warnings that Josie later understood, after considerable thought, had been prompted by protective feelings for her son, for they were not like her at all in tone and force. Josie knew that she had not really done anything wrong, but her employer’s harsh tone and seething words made her feel guilty to the bone. “We all have our place in this world, and my son’s place and your place are in very different areas. You will not interact with him on any but a cursory and necessary level while you are in my employ. Do you understand?” She felt the tears rise behind her eyes and struggled to maintain her composure. Crying or arguing would not do her, or Arthur, any good. His mother was determined to have her way, as she must be accustomed, and Josie did not want to disrespect her by raising her ire further, even if she was certain she was not at fault. Except, of course, for speaking to her betters when it really just wasn’t done. She nodded meekly, but felt as she did it that she would not be true to whatever promise that action gave. If Arthur spoke to her again, she would be unable, and unwilling, to ignore him. It would be rude, and to be honest, she didn’t want to ignore him. She had only known him for one day and she already felt as if they shared something valuable, if only an appreciation for God’s work in the world. There was no ‘if only’ about it – that was plenty to have in common, and if God was not a basis for a friendship, who or what was? “Well, then, back to work. No shilly-shallying.” Josie held back a scowl as she rose from the chair, feeling the heat that flushed to her cheeks. She had never ‘shilly-shallied’ one moment that she had worked in that house, and it took all of her self-control to keep her lips shut from speaking that aloud as she turned and walked from the room, the door closing behind her before she released the breath she had been holding. The rest of the day was a blur of rags and dust and the steaming of bedclothes as her fury mounted. It was all she could do to save the most childish but natural impulse of all, to stomp her feet, until she had left the house and was halfway home. She stomped. And stomped. And flailed her arms and huffed loudly like a child in a tantrum. It was absurd but she had to have some physical release from the humiliation of the morning. Of all the nerve . . . talking to her like she had done something bad or worse, seductive, regarding Arthur. She continued walking as she gathered herself into some reasonable semblance of composure, wanting to keep her feelings from her mother while at the same time wishing she could confide in her. She didn’t want her to worry, though, for the loss of this job would make their lives difficult and the refusal of Mrs. Davenport to provide a positive reference would make it impossible for her to find new employment. Even if that refusal was dishonest and wrong. She had not seen Arthur or heard his voice all day, so he had not been home, and she hadn’t heard anything spoken of him, either. She didn’t know where he was, but she had a feeling his mother would have had something to do with his removal. When she had been upstairs she had taken a quick peek into his room and found the dishevelment of a lived in bedroom obvious, as the valet had not cleared away anything from the morning, perhaps by design. She remembered from yesterday Mrs. Davenport’s instruction to the housekeeper that Arthur was very particular about his things – no, his books, specifically – so maybe he did not want any of the help mucking around in his room to straighten it up. It had been a relief to see that he had not been sent packing, and he was, really, of an age where he should have a say in such a thing, although she knew that with parents as persuasive – and emotionally threatening – as his, that might have been difficult. She thought, though, that there was a strength within him that would help him stand up to them if and when he needed to. She knew that his whereabouts were none of her business, but she was curious and wondered if he would tell her where he had been today when next they met. When she arrived home, the children had all been retrieved by their tired mothers and her own was warming slices of bread with thin slivers of cheese over the stove. One of her favorites, toasted cheese, as her mother well knew. It was a comfort food for her, which she knew her mother was preparing for exactly that reason. She couldn’t help but smile. “Nothing eventful today, I hope.” Her mother kept her eyes on the meal as she spoke, a sort of false cheer in her voice. Josie laughed and walked towards her to enter her field of vision. “My favorite, thank you.” The older woman glanced at her quickly and took in the warmth of the girl’s cheeks and the sheen on her brow. “Getting warm out, is it, or did you have some extra work today?” It was silly for Josie to have expected her mother to miss any trace of upset in her expression or appearance, but she was determined to keep today’s embarrassment and anger from her. There was no point in pulling her into it, and besides, she was her own woman now, grown and responsible for her actions and her life. She sighed. “Well, it was a bit stuffy and there was an overabundance of bedclothes. I think they reproduce in the laundry baskets.” She shook her head in mock disbelief and watched the tension slide a bit from her mother’s brow. There was nothing for either of them to worry about, at least not at that very moment. The future would be left to God, and Josie’s actions, if a true reflection of God’s direction, would keep her on the right path. If Arthur happened to be on that same path, there was no harm, in God’s eyes, in their walking side by side. It was a comforting thought and as she turned and pulled two plates from the small stack on the counter to offer her mother, who held one of the toasted cheese slices out on a fork for her to catch, she thanked God silently for giving her that image of the two of them, safe in His hands. Arthur had not been successful in speaking honestly with his father during their time together, which only spoke to his cowardice, he admitted to himself when they arrived home. He had spent most of the time following his father around the office, shaking hands when introduced to his father’s partners and business acquaintances, and nodding his head in agreement with anything that anyone said. It was easier to play along, while he found his mind wandering back to their summer home and to the girl who gave him a reason to want to return. “You’re very quiet. Much to consider, isn’t there?” He looked up at his father, who was staring at him intently as the train hobbled through the countryside. It was difficult to keep his eyes on his father when they wanted to stray towards the window and the landscape instead. No more running, he thought to himself. He swallowed before opening his mouth to speak but his father stopped him with a hand, which he waved back and forth in front of Arthur as if he were washing a window. Arthur almost laughed. His father washing a window. That would be a sight to see. “Now, now, plenty of time for discussion later. I must say you fit right in with the firm. They loved you. Such a well-spoken, agreeable young man, everyone said, and I couldn’t be more proud. A chip off the old block, Manfred Hillis told me. A chip off the old block.” The grin on his father’s face spoke volumes beyond pleasure in that last comment. How badly he wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. But why? Was it just a desire to perpetuate the family business, or pride in his own work that was making it so important that Arthur continued after him? He couldn’t stop himself from asking. “Why do you want me to work with you, Father?” It came out before he had taken a moment to consider how it would sound. His father was clearly surprised as his brow furrowed, and he blinked several times before working his lips a bit before responding. “What sort of a question is that? All fathers want their sons to follow in their footsteps. It’s a matter of pride and tradition. Now, really, of all things to ask.” He chuckled, but there was a hint of nervousness in his laugh that opened the door for Arthur to continue. God, give me strength, he thought, very clearly, very purposefully, as if he had spoken the words aloud to someone who was right there with them. And He was. Arthur was certain of it, suddenly and absolutely as soon as he had asked for His help. “I am sure that fathers who are out of work and struggling to feed their families want better for their sons, for all their children, than begging for work or food, or shelter.” It was an extraordinary thing to say. Arthur knew this and his father did as well. One did not speak of those less fortunate. One would donate money at church or at a special collection during emergencies but it was not discussed. Not the particulars. Mr. Davenport was very uncomfortable and Arthur realized that his unsettled state was the best chance he had of catching him off guard and possibly open to his thoughts and plans. “Those people, those unemployed fathers, hungry children, desperate wives . . . I would like to help them.” His father grunted but Arthur continued without letting him interrupt. “As my work. My own employment. I want to own and operate a building, a place where these families can come and have a meal, have someone to talk to, someone to mind their children while they look for work, and help them be matched to positions of employment. I know I can make a difference in their lives. I hope you and Mother will give me your blessing, but I am determined to forge ahead even if you don’t approve. I can’t see why you wouldn’t; you are both very generous in giving to the less fortunate.” His father would not be still a moment longer. “Giving money to someone to pass along to these people is one thing, my boy, but interacting with them yourself? What can you be thinking? You can donate all the funds you would like to whatever cause you like when you work with me. Your salary would be so substantial that you could throw the money into the streets for the poor children to chase after every day when you leave the building. It certainly isn’t necessary to spend time with them. What difference does that make when there are others who are trained to do such a thing?” Arthur watched his father grow more and more flustered as he continued to speak. Yes, he had succeeded in upsetting him, as he expected, but he had to turn this around, and quickly before his father was too far gone in his thinking to be brought back to Arthur’s plans. “There’s a girl.” Oh, honestly, of all the things to come out of his mouth. It did stop his father in his tracks, that was sure, and the older man broke out into a wide grin of delight. “Ah, there it is. This girl, some European beauty who likes to help the poor? Is this where all of these notions come from? Wooing her, then, is the real purpose to these ideas, am I right? Of course I am. Now tell me, where does she live? Does her father have a title? Does your mother know?” It was awful. To see his father’s joy in this hypothetical girl was almost physically painful. “No, no, Father. She is a local girl. That is, local to Newport.” His father blinked a few times, thinking. “One of the Martindale twins? That darker haired one, what is her name? Miranda? Matilda? Melissa? Very charming child. Or maybe the VanAllen girl? She seems a biddable creature . . . “ Oh, it was coming. He had to do it. There was no other way. “None of the society girls. And she is a Christian girl, who I am certain will be agreeable to work alongside me on this venture. We are only just becoming friends, and yet I am sure she will find my plans acceptable and will be happy to offer her help.” The older man was quiet. He turned his head and looked out the window, almost as if he were a pouting child, and sighed loudly. “I don’t understand. I don’t understand you, and I don’t understand what you mean. I think we had best let this rest until we get home and have some time to think on it. I hope you will reconsider the situation and come to your senses. Any girl would be happy to have you as my son, working alongside me in my business, and she could do some charity work while you are gone, before she begins to give you heirs, of course. The other . . . well, it makes no sense. Foolishness.” He shuddered and stretched his head out from his shoulders, wiggling it around a bit to ease the stress. Arthur knew that he had overdone it, and didn’t know why he had brought Miss Warren up at all. His mind had been on her since they had met, that was why, and he knew that he wouldn’t be satisfied until he had spoken with her again. He wondered how inappropriate it would be to ask if she would listen to his troubles, to give her honest opinion of the situation, and would have laughed out loud if he thought his father wouldn’t smack him for crossing a final line. Of course it was inappropriate and unconventional but he just didn’t care anymore. He knew in his heart that she would understand. On the second day of Arthur’s absence from the house, Josie began to wonder how he was getting along. She had very little interaction with the older Mr. Davenport, but knew from servant’s gossip that while he was not quite as formidable as his wife he was still a force to be reckoned with. If Arthur was not inclined to be a part of his father’s future plans for him, particularly that involving business, he would be having some trouble convincing his father that it was not a level of insanity that had driven him to the decision. While she worked in silence that first day of his trip, after having been set down firmly by his mother as if she was some sort of seductress or fortune hunter, it had taken no time at all to overhear others in the midst of putting the house to rights that the two gentlemen of the house were off on business and oh, my, wasn’t the young master quite nice to look at? She smiled to herself upon hearing that one. He was indeed an attractive man but it was his smile, and the light in his eyes, the interest in her speech when she spoke of God that unveiled an inner beauty. She wondered if anyone had discovered this before her, and for a moment was sad, because she was fairly certain she was the first. Imagine having an entire family, neighbors, childhood friends, who knew so little of your true self. She had shaken her head at the idea. Well, they could be friends, and hold their faith in common. There was nothing shameful in that. Her daily work and time with her mother, during which they shared chores and spoke of the mothers and children her mother assisted, did not take so much of her time that she did not pause to reflect on her situation and the blessings she had been given. It was not an easy life, but she had a safe home with a loving parent, a beautiful town in which to live, and employment that was fairly compensated and not back-breaking. She did not need more and should not want more, but she did look upon the many children who passed through their front door and hope that someday she would have children of her own. She expected she would be happy without them if that is how her life turned out to be, if she was not meant to be a mother or a wife, but it saddened her to think that it was a possibility. There was no hurry, as her mother had said, and it was better to be safe than sorry, to wait for a godly man who would appreciate her and value her as a partner in his life, one who would be faithful and a provider and protector of his wife and children. It wasn’t hard to predict a man’s future actions; she questioned her mother, wondering how on earth such a thing was possible. Surely women did not marry men who were incapable of behaving in responsible ways; for some reason, the husbands must have changed after the marriage, if this was the case? Her mother had shrugged and said that some women were drawn to men they could mother or fix, believing they could make him a better person once they were wed. It was a dangerous path that often led to misery not only for the wife but for any children who came out of the union as well. Josie had not understood why a woman would do such a thing, but then, love was a mysterious realm that she had understood just as much. She knew that God loved unconditionally and that she and her mother loved each other in such a way, and that she should only marry a man she could love as well, and expect that in return. How would she know if he did? Flattery and gifts did not necessarily reflect one’s character, but she could see the temptation and the ease of acceptance. Her only worry was that she would not be able to discern the difference between romantic love and the love of friendship. It was true that many a marriage was based on friendship alone, but she felt certain that God wanted something more between married people than what they could share without that relationship. Her thoughts turned to Arthur yet again one morning in the beginning of the week following her first meeting with him. As she passed the newly built mansions, their backyards facing the Walk with flowers carefully tended by gardeners, she wondered at the startling contrast of colors that made the yards so vivid and striking. “Miss Warren, oh, Miss Warren!” Her thoughts were interrupted by the man himself, calling out to her, ahead of her on the Cliff Walk. She couldn’t help but laugh out loud. What a spectacle he was making of himself. He certainly didn’t care who saw or heard him, waving like a child with one hand holding his straw hat firmly on his head. She knew in her heart that anyone who displayed that sort of attention to a servant in public must be completely unconcerned about his reputation, although his mother would when word reached her about it. Not too many residents of the Bellevue cottages were out and about this early in the morning, but everyone seemed to be a gossip nowadays and whoever saw would definitely tell. It didn’t matter though, for at that moment she was suffused with an inexplicable joy that she had never felt with another person before. He was out of breath and yet exhilarated when he reached her, smiling a boyish grin that spoke of excitement and happiness. He must have had a wonderful time with his father, she considered, but before she could ask he spoke, and as if reading her mind, answered her thought. “What an awful few days I have spent. Complete waste of time.” And yet, he seemed so pleased at that moment, and she hoped, prayed that it was on her account, then caught herself. She mustn’t think such romantic things; it was foolish and impossible. “My father won’t listen to me. I have so many ideas, and he just doesn’t understand.” This was the man she had spent only a few minutes with days ago, and he was opening himself to her like a child bursting with a secret to tell. He was absolutely charming and she found herself unable to resist. “Do tell. I might not understand but you certainly have me curious.” His smile dimmed a fraction as he looked at her carefully. “Oh, I am so sorry, I’m such a terrible bore. You must think I’m crazy.” He laughed softly but nervously and his hands brushed down the front of his shirt. She fought the sudden urge to take his hands in her own in an attempt to reassure him. “Not at all, please don’t say that.” She hoped she wasn’t being too forward, and was reassured when his smile brightened again. He stepped up, closer to her but not too close as to make her feel uncomfortable. He turned around so he was beside her, both of them facing the path towards his house. “I hope you had a pleasant trip.” He raised his eyebrows. “How did you know about that?” She had to laugh at his naïveté. “Everyone knows. Some people thrive on talking about others, whether the information is good or bad. I am sure you know what I mean. As soon as you left the maids were talking.” He nodded and didn’t seem to mind that he had been the topic of the servants’ conversations in his absence. “Well, the short of it is I am expected to follow in my father’s footsteps, but I have no aptitude or interest in railroads or investments or whatever it is he does. I spent the last several days at his firm, going to social events with his partners, following at his heels, and I still have no idea what it is that goes on there.” She sighed. “I would find that sort of work very stressful and worrisome.” He stopped abruptly and she thought for a moment that she had spoken too plainly and he was offended by her candor. His astonishment was evident, but it had nothing to do with her honesty. “Why, Miss Warren, you are exactly of my opinion. Honestly, I don’t want to do whatever it is that he does. I have other ideas, ideas that might allow me to be helpful to others, those in need of my time and attention.” It was her turn to look amazed and impressed, her eyes locked on his as she slowly smiled. “Help others? In what way?” The relief he felt at being able to speak with someone who wanted to hear what he had to say was a physical release, a lifting of a weight he had not realized he carried. This girl, his new friend, was a blessing. He felt selfish taking her time but she seemed truly interested and he was so in need to share his thoughts and plans with someone who wanted to listen. “You don’t mind?” She laughed. It was so wonderful to hear her laugh so much, especially after the last time they had spoken and his mother had been so harsh with her. He had worried that perhaps the experience had made her want to avoid him for fear of further unpleasant encounters with the older woman, but she seemed very comfortable with him and her interest was a boost to his ego. “I wouldn’t ask if I did. I make a point of being honest, unless it would hurt someone. Then I just keep my thoughts to myself. But I wish you wouldn’t keep yours a secret. Helping others is always something to share with those who want to listen. You never know if the desire to help might be catching. Sometimes the best part of being helpful is being a good example to others who might need some encouragement to join in.” So many words, all at once, but she couldn’t help herself. Her own thoughts and feelings had been kept silent as well, and they both sensed a kindred spirit by their sides. He knew his parents would not approve of his social interaction with a servant, and she knew her mother would be wary of a friendly, rich boy wanting to walk with her to work. None of that mattered; they had a common interest and wasn’t friendship based on that rather than social standing, and from Josie’s perspective, his failure to take advantage of their relative solitude in any physical way spoke volumes for his integrity as a gentleman. He could easily have grabbed her or attempted to kiss her, but did nothing of the sort. Besides, something about those eyes . . . there was a clarity that spoke of his honesty when she looked into them, and while she might be young and inexperienced, she hoped she could trust her instincts. She had prayed to be able to do so, and his desire to share his dreams for his future with her as well as ask for her opinions seemed to be an answer to those prayers. “Oh, well, I hadn’t thought about that, but I think you’re right. In some ways doing good for others seems to be selfish, only satisfying a need to do so, because it does feel so very good to know that I can make a difference in their lives, even in some small way, but encouraging others to follow my example will lead them to the same satisfaction as well, along with assisting more of the needy.” She took a moment to consider the idea that helping was selfish. True, that good feeling one had after helping someone was wonderful, but she didn’t think it was selfish and told him so. “No, that isn’t selfish. I think God gives us that feeling, as a gift, part of the grace he offers us from his throne in heaven. I imagine him watching us and smiling with approval when we do something that assists another of his children. After all, it is the second commandment, to love others as he loves us.” She hoped she didn’t sound preachy, since she really didn’t intend to. The words came out before she really had a chance to consider them, which was not a very thoughtful way to speak, but she did not regret or disagree with what she had told him. It was true, the satisfaction achieved was a sort of reward, and maybe it kept people on the right path, but there was no sin in being happy to serve God in whatever way one was called. “You are very wise for such a young lady, Miss Warren.” He looked at her very thoughtfully and seriously, as if he were studying her. It should have made her uneasy but it didn’t. She had nothing to hide, and she was sure, nothing to fear from him. He offered his hand. “I wish you would call me Arthur, if you might find it comfortable to do so.” She looked at his hand for a moment before extending her own, which he took and shook very lightly, as if he was afraid he would frighten her away. “And you must call me Josie. I don’t think it is wise for me to call you by your first name at your house. If the other servants should hear they would make something of it for sure. And your mother, well . . . ” “Oh, my mother . . .” he shook his head, released her hand, and the two of them walked the rest of the way to his house as he began to share his experience in Europe and the change it had made on his outlook on life and his relationship with God. Chapter Four Josie could have whistled all day wearing a smile on her face after the time spent speaking with and listening to Arthur. He was so full of excitement, like one of her mother’s young charges. She considered her mother’s warnings about men and truly could not see any insincerity in his behavior. He had not behaved untowardly and honestly, the way to most women’s hearts, especially in his social circle, was not to proclaim to refuse the life of ease and riches his father had offered and work alongside the poor. She almost giggled at the idea. Fancy ladies like his sisters offering bowls of soup to ragged, dirty children who most likely would be too frightened to thank them for their kindness. She almost jumped when Mrs. Davenport walked in on her folding the warm, clean sheets, the older woman’s glare fierce and hard. “You will remember our conversation, I trust, Josette. My son is home and I’ll not have any negative influences his way.” Her hands were on her hips and Josie could hardly keep herself from a defense. A negative influence? “Yes, ma’am.” Her voice was low and deep and nearly a growl, but there it was, and she could hardly get it out from having to bite her lip to keep from exclaiming her innocence. How could the woman think she would do anything to cause Arthur trouble? He had told her that his mother did not approve of his desire to serve, but as far as Josie was concerned, there had been nothing said of anything specific she had done to deserve such judgment. She wished Mrs. Davenport would walk out of the room so she could set her mind back to her work and away from the temptation to ask what was so awful about speaking with Arthur. She knew what the woman would say; only that it wasn’t appropriate for servants and employers to socialize, but there seemed to be something more to it. She needed to keep her position, so she kept her mouth shut and her eyes cast down. Thankfully, her employer left and she breathed a sigh of relief, looking heavenward with a soft prayer of thanks for the gift of silence. She wondered what Arthur was doing, and if he would be able to find a moment to catch up with her and say hello. They both knew it was asking for trouble, but with a careful eye on his mother, a brief greeting should be able to be managed, if nothing more. Just then, the back door opened and there he was, flushed from the bright sun and smiling radiantly. She started to laugh but caught herself and brought her finger to her lips. “Is she near?” She nodded her reply and the two of them stood quietly for a few minutes, looking into each others’ eyes and trying to control the grins on their faces. It was deceptive, she knew, but harmless, and yet somehow she did feel guilty for disobeying Mrs. Davenport. “What time do you leave today?” he asked in a loud whisper, leaning towards her. Her smile faltered. He was so close, and she wanted to put her hand to the side of his face, to let her fingers stray to his hair to feel the warmth of the sun captured in it. “Are you alright?” He looked concerned; his brow creased and eyes blinking as he watched her. He took her by the elbow and led her to one of the chairs. “It’s this heat, its treacherous. May I get you a glass of water?” She was horrified and embarrassed at her lapse, which she couldn’t even explain, and shook her head to clear it and also to answer his offer. “I am so sorry. I’m fine, really, thank you.” “Well, then, do you mind if I walk home with you today? I can bore you further with my tales of homeless shelters and soup kitchens.” She was infatuated, that was it. She knew it. He was so handsome, clever, selfless . . . but she hardly knew him, really, and must be wary of letting her imagination and feelings get the better of her. She trusted him, but she didn’t want to frighten him away and ruin the chance of their friendship growing. There was nothing more between them than that, nor could there ever be. It was folly to entertain any other ideas. She would have to be firm with herself on the matter. “Of course, if you don’t think it would bring you trouble from your parents. And your ideas are not boring. I think you are very kind to want to help the less fortunate, and very brave to go against the wishes of your parents. I don’t agree with dishonoring one’s parents, but this is a difficult situation. I hope they will come around to your point of view.” He took her hand in his as his smile dimmed. He looked down at the floor and nodded. “Pray for me, Josie, please?” Arthur had spent a great deal of time thinking and knew that it was time to plan. He needed concrete facts and figures to present to his parents, most particularly to his father. He was going to ask him for a grant of start-up money to rent an empty corner store, where he would offer free lunch in the manner of soup and cold sandwiches, along with coffee and clean water, but most importantly, help finding steady employment, which might mean job training and advice. He was also concerned about finding a place to temporarily house families in need, but was unsure how to go about handling that. His work would be to gather the information in one place for them, with assistance from churches and social services groups, and handle the financial aspects of maintaining the building as well as the food. He wanted very much to share his own story with others, and believed that this was an opportunity to serve as a witness to God’s presence in his own life, his offering of grace from a throne on high, that was able to change lives for the better. It would be a mission, but a small, local one that was best served by the intimacy it could offer, the one on one attention and interest he and the staff he would collect, that would make it unique. He wondered if it was too much to take on and dismissed the thought immediately. He did not have time for doubts; there would always be something to worry about, something that might go wrong, but at this point there was no turning back and he would take things as they came. If he made mistakes, he would correct them. Only a week ago he was unsure as to how to execute this vague future of his, only knowing that he wanted to serve those in need, but the unexpected blessing of Josie in his life made all the difference. She hardly knew him and yet she was confident in his desire and ability, and, to be honest with himself, she was incredibly sweet, which made him long to hold her hand and spend all day talking with her. She was a keen listener and her own thoughts were intelligent and careful, honest and encouraging. His mother would be shocked that one of her servants had an intellectual capacity that extended beyond the proper method of starching his father’s shirts. As he sat at his desk in his room like a schoolboy, he took his pen and set it to paper. Help me, Lord, he prayed. Help me devise a plan that will serve you best. As the ideas unfurled in his mind, so the words became visible on the sheet. He smiled and considered how much he had to share with Josie that afternoon. Josie felt as if her work had become lighter, easier than her usual days, perhaps because she had something – or rather, someone – exciting to look forward to right afterwards. She was never bored or unhappy at her employer’s and realized how much better of a position she had than some girls, and she always was happy to return home to her mother, but today was different. She hoped she would not begin to hum or sing as her mother often did, without knowing it, for if she did, the other servants would know something was afoot and would either tease her or tattle to Mrs. Davenport, or probably both. She didn’t care about being teased but she didn’t want to get Arthur into trouble or to be dismissed from her post. They were doing nothing wrong by talking with each other, but she did feel a twinge of guilt for keeping it a secret. When she had finished with her last bit of work, she walked into the kitchen and untied her apron. As she pulled it over her head she heard a low hissing sound coming from the window. She shook her ponytail free from the apron loop as she stepped over to the window and peeked out, only to see Arthur crouched beneath the sill, looking up at her and smiling. He was almost always smiling, and she couldn’t help but smile back. She looked quickly around, hung up her apron behind the door, and went out, walking down the steps before finding him standing before her. She covered her mouth with her hand to keep her laughter at bay; the trouble he took to hide would be of no use if she started giggling and drawing attention to the two of them. They walked through the backyard and down to the steps to the Cliff Walk. They were quiet as they moved past the huge back lawns of the fortunate few, like Arthur, who had the luxury of a grand mansion on the coast along with their townhomes in the city, with the surf bubbling close enough to touch, roaring gently in the night like a lullaby, one Josie had never tired of hearing from her own open windows. “How long have you lived in Newport?” Arthur’s question woke her from her reverie. It was not what she expected him to say, as it had nothing to do with his project, and she was pleasantly surprised by the personal question. She kept her eyes on the path ahead of her as she answered. “My whole life. My parents grew up here as well. Townies, is what your people would call us.” She glanced up at him and was dismayed by his frown. What had she said? “My people? You mean rich people?” She shook her head and made herself more clear. “Summer folks. Vacationers. Anyone who doesn’t live here year round. Sometimes it is someone who comes here to work for the season, and yes, other times it is rich people. But that isn’t what I meant, I only meant visiting people.” He seemed softened by her explanation, then grew more serious again. “Do you mind us being here? Coming and building and lording it about, I mean. Do you resent the imposition at all?” She sighed and considered that for a moment. No one had ever bothered to ask anyone that question, she was sure. “If you weren’t here, I wouldn’t have a job. I think that’s your answer.” He shook his head. “No, no, beyond that. I am sure you would have another position elsewhere if not with my family.” She bit her lip. “I wouldn’t be so sure. Work isn’t in abundance here, especially during the winter. I am grateful to have the chance to work.” “But besides that . . . to have us here, walking about with our noses in the air, when you’ve been here for ages. It doesn’t bother you at all?” She shrugged. “Well, it’s annoying when anyone behaves like that, summer person or townie. I know that I’m just as important in God’s eyes as anyone else, no matter where they come from or how much money they have, so it is of no matter to me. Sometimes I feel sorry for people who act like that.” “What? Why?” “There must be a reason for them to be so high and mighty. If they felt equal to others they wouldn’t have to behave as if they were better than everyone else. They must feel lower for some reason, and have to act in ways that put others down to make up for it. Sort of like a child misbehaving to get his mother’s attention.” He looked away from her and down at his feet as they stepped forward. “I think I see what you mean. If someone is happy with themselves and what they are doing, they wouldn’t need to put others in a position lower than them in order to feel better. Even if that lower position is merely a creation of the person who needs that boost.” She smiled and nodded. “I think people need to worry less about bettering themselves in the eyes of others and more about bettering themselves in the eyes of God.” He very gently and quietly laid the palm of his hand up against hers, his touch as light as the wings of a butterfly. “May I?” She said nothing, but took his hand in hers. They walked in silence the rest of the way to her house. He knew it had been very forward of him to hold her hand back at his house, and it was beyond daring to ask her for more now, only hours later. She didn’t seem to mind, although he knew in his heart she wasn’t the sort of girl who took such actions lightly. Their hands together felt perfectly right, an easy fit just like their conversation, and he hoped that the impulse to be close to her wouldn’t make her think he had anything other than friendship on his mind. He was so happy to have a friend, the first true friend he had ever had in his life, and he didn’t want to ruin it by wanting more. It was true, she was pretty, smart, patient, and had an honest Christian heart . . . she would make some lucky man a fine wife some day. “Here we are.” Her voice interrupted his thoughts and at the same time, her hand let go of his and he felt the loss of her warmth, and his courage seemed to drain from his body. She made him feel stronger, stronger in his beliefs in Christ and in himself. The sudden realization of her growing importance to him was frightening, and it was happening at a very bad time. He wanted to make a good impression on her mother, and meeting her as a dazed, bumbling idiot was not the way to go about it. He had to pull himself together, and quick. Josie was a few steps ahead of him in front of her home when she turned and gave him a sweet, almost teasing smile. “Well?” she asked. He nodded and joined her as they stepped up to the front door. “Well, indeed.” Josie’s mother was tending to one of the last children of the day, a small boy called Joseph. He was old enough to have been walking for months now but limped along as if his right leg was partially lame, dragging it sideways as he attempted to keep up with the other children. By the end of the afternoon, he was exhausted and his eyes were ready to close. As soon as Josie saw him curled up on the small but comfortable sofa, her mother leaning over him to drape a thin blanket over his tiny frame, she smiled and rushed over, putting her hand on her mother’s shoulder. “How is his leg?” Her mother kept her gaze on the boy as she answered. “Still some trouble for him. I don’t think there is anything to be done. Even a doctor would say that perhaps all that could help would be a brace, but there’s none of us who could help his mother with that expense.” She shook her head before continuing. “He’ll grow used to it. We all have our weaknesses and it only serves to make the rest stronger. His weakness is just more visible than most of ours.” She put her hand on her daughter’s and Josie offered her other hand to help her stand up. Carrying and cuddling infants and lifting children off and on all day was a strain on the older woman’s back. Her mother brushed down her apron before looking up and noticing the young man at her front door. Josie heard her suck in a breath, and she looked from the man back to Josie with a disapproving look. “And who might this be?” Arthur stepped forward and made an elegant bow. “Arthur Davenport, at your service, ma’am.” Her mother pursed her lips together and Josie could see her struggle to maintain a polite expression. “I am sorry to say that I am not prepared for guests and have nothing to offer but tea at the moment.” Arthur shook his head and laughed. Josie could tell he was nervous, it was in the wavering of his laugh and the gaze of his eyes, which slipped over to hers every few seconds for reassurance. She answered for him. “I’m sure he would love a cup, I’ll just go put the kettle on now. Mother, Arthur was kind enough to walk me home.” “Indeed he was, I’m sure,” her mother muttered as Josie walked past, nearly stumbling as she heard her. Her mother was immune to a man’s charms as any woman could be; she would be able to sense if there was some trouble about him, although Josie was certain he was honest and good-hearted. She had to admit to her inexperience and youth, and while walking her home had been Arthur’s idea, and certainly not one for the purpose of having her mother test him in any way, she did value her mother’s opinion and hoped she would find no fault with him at their first acquaintance. When she returned from setting the water to boil at the stove, Arthur was standing over Joseph and her mother was talking in hushed tones to him, very seriously and animatedly. Arthur had his arms crossed and he looked from her mother to the child, but his gaze mostly stayed on the boy, as if he longed to touch or hold him. When Josie approached the pair of them, they both looked at her, his eyes distracted, thoughtful, her mother’s excited and anxious. “Arthur believes that we might be able to purchase a brace for Joseph at a much lower cost than I imagined it would be.” She looked from her mother to Arthur and raised her eyebrows. “I am sorry to have overheard your earlier conversation, but I couldn’t help it. I believe our local physician has a contact in medical supplies, specifically orthotics. I am certain I can obtain one with a proper fit for Joseph. He would have to be measured, of course, and the correct size matched, but I am sure Dr. Colt, as a kindness to the boy, would be able to obtain it at an affordable price.” The look on her mother’s face was stunning. She was alive with joy, with the prospect of giving the child the opportunity to grow in a way that would allow him to walk more normally rather than cause him pain and difficulty. When Josie looked at Arthur, his eyes back on the sleeping child, she wanted to throw her arms about him. He was almost too good – if he hadn’t told her about his lifestyle before his trip to Europe and his realization that he was needed for God’s work, she would have though him a paragon of virtue. The reality was that he would be the first to admit that he was no such thing, but rather a sinful man trying to stay on the path with Christ. It was humbling to watch him offer this assistance to her mother, which in turn was offering it to Joseph and his family, who were struggling with several children and a father out of work for the season. “You can let me know when you speak with his mother and wish to move forward, ma’am, and meanwhile, I can look into the price.” Arthur took her mother’s hand and patted it with his other hand. Her mother looked awestruck, a vision Josie had never seen before. “His mother and father won’t be able to pay any amount towards it, that’s for sure,” she explained, nodding her head for emphasis. “We can take up a collection from the neighborhood. I’m sure we can gather enough to cover the cost, if it is indeed as reasonable as Mr. Davenport says.” Josie regretted her statement as soon as Arthur looked her way. “Do you doubt me?” It was softly asked, his eyes questioning as much as his words, the disappointment clear. She shook her head immediately. “No, no, I only mean that you need to check on the price. I am sure you can’t be certain, as prices do change on occasion. Once you find out, you can let me know and then we will have some understanding of the amount we would be dealing with.” He sighed as if relieved, and smiled at her conspiratorially, as if her mother were not in front of him, her hand captured between both of his. “And what would a manageable price be, for family and friends to work together to raise?” Her mother blinked at him as if she hadn’t understood the question, but the reality of it dawned on Josie like the orange streaks of the summer sunrise over the ocean waves. He meant to pay the difference himself. He wanted to buy the brace for Joseph, but knew somehow that the family, that her mother, would be too proud to accept his charity, so he made up a story about having access to one at a discount. If he knew how much they could reasonably collect, he would pay what was left to have the boy fit with a brace. It was unbelievable. He didn’t even know the child and he was willing to go to such lengths to change his young life forever. He looked back at Joseph and shook his head. “Someday I’d like to be a father to a boy of my own . . . a boy, a girl, as many of each as God wills me to have. I’ll want them to have a good start in the world, and I’m sure Joseph’s parents want the same for him. Having access to the help he needs is a small gift I hope might be returned to one of my own children someday.” That was it. Her mother was smitten. The kettle whistled and as Josie went to the kitchen to attend to their tea, she realized that she was in love. Chapter Five When Arthur left, after tea and some conversation about his travels in Europe, his feelings about the poor, his belief in God, and his interest in Josie’s advice in his efforts for an establishment in Newport, Josie’s mother shut the door gently behind him and went to the window to watch him walk down the path and towards the Cliff Walk. Josie clasped her hands together to keep from wringing them as she waited for her mother to pronounce her opinion of him. She was fairly certain that there could be nothing negative stated about Arthur based on the time he had spent with them that evening. Joseph was collected by his mother at the back door, as she was rather grubby from her work in the gardens at one of smaller hotels and felt inadequate to be calling at the front. Josie and her mother had admonished her on several occasions for that habit, but as she was more comfortable at the back door, they finally let it go and mentioned it no more. Josie was relieved on this day for it, as it kept prying eyes from their visitor and gossip from spreading. What would anyone say about the Warren ladies having a fancy man over for tea? A walk home, concluded at the front door would cause considerable talk, Josie expected, but the length of time he had spent inside was worth quite a conversation that could be passed along again and again. “Well,” her mother began when she turned from the window, Arthur having left her field of vision a good minute or two earlier. Josie watched her mother’s face. “I don’t suppose anyone could be that good, Jo, but we shall see.” Her mother walked into the kitchen and took a wet rag from the sink, wiping down the counters and then the table, as she did when she was thinking hard about something. It was a mindless activity, and as Josie was well aware, those were the best for allowing the mind to wander. It made her nervous, her mother’s words as well as her actions. What could he have done wrong? She had been sure her mother was thrilled with him, but she knew that sometimes her mother surprised her. She was unpredictable and often kept her own counsel. It felt as if this might be one of those times, but then her mother turned and faced her, one hand on her hip, the other gripping the rag. If it had been alive, it would have been strangled by now. She pointed at Josie with an index finger and admonished her sternly, as if she were still a child. “That man might mean well, but he’s as charming as a prince and that is a dangerous thing. I can see how you look at him. And him, well, he couldn’t take his eyes off your pretty face. It won’t do. Like should stay with like, or there’ll be trouble in it for the both of you. Friendship is a fine thing, but he doesn’t have friendship in his eyes when he’s staring at you, and I know you feel something more than a friendly affection for him as well.” Josie was shocked, so much so that she pulled out a chair and sat down, holding her hands in her lap to keep them from trembling. “Now, now, I don’t mean to scare you but this is a serious business. I won’t have romantic notions getting in the way of your making a decent match when the time is right.” Her mother brushed a strand of loose hair back from Josie’s face and Josie fought the urge to slap at her mother’s hand. “But he’s wonderful. Look what he means to do for Joseph and his family. He’s done nothing disrespectful towards me, and I don’t think he will.” Her mother sighed and walked to the kitchen window. She looked out, watching the sun as it slipped into the horizon, the pink and yellow and purple blending into a rainbow river that slid ever more sideways as she kept her focus on it. “Just be careful. Not just with your actions, but with your heart.” Josie was confused. As she washed up for bed that night, she was overwhelmed by the variety of thoughts and feelings that pulled at her attention, but trying to make sense of them all didn’t help. It only muddled it further. Her first thought was how much she wanted to speak with Arthur and ask him directly what he thought, but that was ridiculous. He was so sensible, though, and she wished she could speak to the friend in him about the one she liked so much. She smiled at the thought. Arthur, what do you think about my interest in Arthur? Do you think he returns my affections, and if so, do you think it improper for us to spend time together? She wondered what he would say to that, what he would advise. He would most likely say that social rules didn’t matter, if the two of them were happy together, that was all that mattered. She felt the same way, but she didn’t want to upset her mother, or be disrespectful to her regarding her opinion. How did one go about disagreeing with a parent, after reaching adulthood and wanting so much to honor that parent as God commanded? It was a tricky situation, and only added to her worry about her mother’s observation about her feelings for Arthur and the plainness she made of them. She wanted to disregard what her mother said about him displaying any interest in her, for it was a silly wish for her to think he might think of her as more than a maid and a helper in his venture. Or maybe not. She shouldn’t sell herself short. She wasn’t beautiful but she did think she had a lot to offer as a wife and a mother – she loved children and knew how to care for them, she knew how to keep a house and yard and how to cook, and she knew how to be careful with her money. She was a quick learner and was generally very level headed, at least until now. It was getting late and she knew it was absurd to keep thinking about him, but she couldn’t seem to settle her thoughts down and rest. She closed her eyes and set her mind to Christ, asking Him to take her concerns and help her decide what she should do. She knew that she would act in ways that would please Him, but she wanted her heart to be in it, not divided between what she wanted for herself and what was right. If her desires did not meet with what would please God, she would always choose His path, but she wanted so much for her wishes to be a part of God’s plan. Only He knew what was ahead for her, she reminded herself as she finished her prayer, and giving her life over to Him was all she could do while she waited for her future to unravel, a future with or without Arthur. Regardless, she did know that his plans to help the needy were worthy of her time and attention, so she resolved to continue to listen to his ideas and offer her suggestions. The rest would work itself out in time. She was too tired to sleep, she was certain, but as she gave up the control of her thoughts and worries to God, her breathing slowed and sleep overcame her, and she slept as deeply as one of her mother’s young charges. Arthur was waiting for her when she arrived at his house the next morning; he had a stack of papers in his hand and a brilliant smile on his face. She returned his smile but it must not have been delirious enough for him, for his faltered and he looked at her quizzically. “Is everything well with you? How is your mother? Joseph?” She sighed and nodded. They stood on the steps that led to the back wraparound porch and then into the back door. No one could see them from the inside of the house, and the backyard was a bit sheltered from the prying eyes of neighbors. Still, she meant to be careful and not bring trouble upon either of them. She wouldn’t give up on helping him with his plans but it would do no good to make it more difficult with gossip. “She, he, they . . . they‘re both fine. What do you have there?” His smile returned and he held the papers in front of her and shook them a bit. Or his hands shook with excitement, making the papers rattle in her sight. “Can we speak of this, of my plans, before you start your work for the day? My mother isn’t even here; she has gone on a shopping excursion with the girls, so perhaps you can take a few moments and read what I have written so far. I am sure you have some wonderful ideas to add, or corrections to my own thoughts.” She shook her head. “After work, please. Even with your mother out, she does pay me to complete my work, and it wouldn’t be right to leave my duties for any of the other servants.” Servants. That’s what she was, she mustn’t forget it, and he was the son of one of the wealthiest men in Newport, in New York, even, and this was a friendship that had to be handled carefully if their work for the poor would come to fruition. The sooner they could begin the better, but if they ran headfirst into it without a care, it might cause problems that not only cost her position but delayed his efforts and much needed assistance that could make all the difference in the world to families in need. Sometimes that one meal, that one recognition of self as a person of value, was all it took. She knew this from experience, from her and her mother’s own struggles to reach a point where they could fend for themselves with hard work and God’s help. She wanted to rush out and offer her knowledge, her words of encouragement and prayers, and a cup of hot coffee and a sandwich to everyone she could, right away, but they needed to contain their excitement for a bit longer until they could figure out the best way to approach others who could act as patrons in their endeavor. She shook herself with awe. Where did all of these thoughts come from? Last night she had been unsure, worried by her own romantic feelings, her mother’s insistence that she must be careful with her heart, but now, she was all business and concern for those Arthur and she could reach, those who could have a better life with a little help from their project. “First Steps.” Arthur was confused, clearly. She had been silent for several moments and he had let her sift through her thoughts, watching her face work out a variety of expressions and feelings, feeling himself as if he did not know how he had lived so long without her. It was a hot rush of recognition, something he had never felt before but could put a name to without a second thought. He loved this girl as he had never hoped to love a wife chosen by his parents, which was the norm for marital partnerships, loved her as a companion, a friend, as one who would walk with him towards Christ and help him, as he would help her, continue to serve God and fulfill His wishes for their lives. Together. He barely heard the soft words she uttered, quiet but firm, interrupting his own consideration of the complication he had only just understood. He longed to take her hands in his and ask her if she felt anything for him, anything approaching his feelings for her. It was inappropriate to bring up such thoughts, but they were there, in front of them, between them as real and alive as another living being. And it was, he thought, for God has brought us together. He had to wait, though, for she was all business with her mind suddenly set on their joint effort; he would have to wait until they had progressed further with that and perhaps she would trust him more on a personal level. She did like him, though, he knew that by the smiles she gave him, by how she allowed him to walk her home and to spend time with her mother . . . well, all of that spoke for something. Here she was, speaking to him, and he was so far ahead of himself. He brought himself back, rooted himself in the here and now, the time he had with her at that very moment. “I’m sorry.” She smiled gently at him, as she would a child, and touched the papers with her fingers, holding them at the edge, close to his own hand. He wanted to drop the papers and take her hand but didn’t dare. “First Steps. The name for our shelter, our program. That’s what it is, what we could offer. The first steps towards a new, independent life.” She was clever, his Josie. He couldn’t help feeling a sense of pride in her as if he had any place to do so. “That’s perfect, and you are right. And really, it was those children in Italy who set me on the path with my own first steps back home, back here, back to this.” She was listening carefully to him now, attentive and observant. “Back to the opportunity to serve. And to meet you. To find a partner in service, if you will.” This pleased her, he could tell. A partnership, they were, despite what anyone thought. He wasn’t worried about the opinions of others, only that they might count on them to help in their own ways; if he could convince others with resources of the need to contribute something in their own fields, their own specialties, that would certainly add up to a lot that the shelter could offer anyone in need. That reminded him of his offer to assist Joseph with the brace. “About Joseph’s brace . . .” he began. She held up her hand to shush him. “I know you mean to pay for it yourself. It is very admirable, and the story of a discount, well, very smart. I don’t know anyone who would want charity, but a discount, a good idea.” “My family’s doctor had an interest in medical supplies at one time; I will check into having someone come out and set the boy up with a brace that would do him some good over the next few years. With an early start at correction, he might walk just like any other boy by the time he is old enough for any real teasing and trouble to begin.” She gazed at him, unsmiling, deep in thought, as if she was carefully weighing every word that he said. And knowing her, she was. She smiled and looked down, suddenly flushed. “What is it? Did I say something wrong?” She took his hand in her own, very carefully, her touch soft and tentative. It was clear that she was worried how he would perceive this gesture. He made a firmer grip of their connection and she looked up at him, rewarding him with a smile that made him catch his breath. “You are a very good man, Arthur Davenport. I hope I won’t disappoint you.” He couldn’t imagine how she could ever do such a thing and was about to say so when the door opened behind him and they both turned their heads from each other to the furious figure in the doorway glaring at them. “Arthur, inside now. Miss Warren, you are dismissed from my service. Leave my property at once.” The two still held hands, each gripping the other tightly in light of the impossible words that had come out of Mrs. Davenport’s mouth. It was Josie who first found her voice, dropping her head and Arthur’s hand at the same time. “Yes, ma’am.” She turned away from him and he caught her by the arm, not willing to let her walk away so easily. They had plans; there was so much they were going to do together. He refused to let his mother get in the way of their future. When she looked at him sideways, pulling her arm away from him, he saw the tears standing in her eyes, tears she refused to release in his mother’s presence, and realized that for her this was more than a meeting place for them to discuss their plans for the shelter. This was her livelihood, her means to provide for herself and her mother. What would she do without the income? What had his impetuousness, his desire to see her, to talk with her, this morning, done? He let her go, considering his selfishness, and stood still, watching her walk away, down the path to steps to the Cliff Walk that led to the short dirt drive to her modest home, where she would be obliged to explain to her mother how her income had been lost, all because some spoiled rich boy insisted on meeting her in such a conspicuous place without any consideration for her. He heard his mother speaking to him, her voice rising in indignation at being ignored. He didn’t care. All he cared about was making this right for Josie and her mother, but he knew they would not accept money, in spite of his abundance of it and the fact that it would be no loss to him. He knew the two of them had struggled to keep themselves afloat, and their experience would be an excellent example for those who came for help to the shelter. Their ability to cope with disappointment, hard work, and the continuance of their faith would speak to the hope that was available to all who were willing to work hard, move past defeat, and hold fast to the path to Christ. He needed them to make the shelter a success; he needed Josie because he did love her, he wanted to be with her and hear her laugh, he needed her encouragement, her wisdom. He walked past his mother, who had stopped talking in amazement at her son’s behavior. He seemed as if he couldn’t see or hear her, so lost he was in some sort of daze over that girl. She should have known the girl was too smart for her own good. She had hoped to promote her one day, after she had proven herself over the years and had grown out of the self-important ideas that the children all seemed to have nowadays. What was the world coming to? She had no idea, but she did know that she wasn’t going to let the girl ruin her son’s life. She would make sure Josette Warren would not find employment in any home on this side of the town. She could stay on her side, away from Arthur, who needed to focus on following in his father’s footsteps. If he persisted in this idea of hands-on charity work, he might be persuaded to assist in church in other ways that would not take up the majority of his time and still fulfill whatever this interest was he had in the less fortunate. Surely this Warren girl was a negative influence on him in that regard; perhaps she had been whining about her own plight or that of her neighbors, all and any of which could be relieved by their own church brethren. The thought of her son getting his hands dirty on such an activity, well, it made her skin crawl. The unwashed masses were not a personal problem for him and she was still appalled that he would have come up with such a thought. As she considered who she must contact to get the information along that Josette was not fit for service, her son, who had stomped in the house and up the stairs while she was wrapped in her thoughts, sat in his room at his desk with his head in his hands. He and his sisters had been invited to a variety of entertainments in the neighborhood, none of which interested him. He was becoming a topic of conversation, his sisters chattered to him, or rather, his absence from social events was becoming that topic. He didn’t care. What mattered was reaching Josie in a safe place where she would listen to him, and they could find a way to make this work while allowing her to earn the money she needed to help her mother with living expenses. He couldn’t just walk over to her house and demand that she speak to him; she needed some time to discuss the issue with her mother, to recover from the brash treatment his mother had thrown at her, to hopefully still find a place in her life for him. That is what he really wanted, not only a partner in his work at the shelter, but a place in her life. He focused his thoughts as he kept his eyes closed, his head cradled in his hands. Please, God, if it is your will, I would have Josie as a helpmate in all things. Please keep her and her mother safe, and give me the wisdom to figure out how to set this right with her. He almost laughed out loud as he finished his silent prayer, for at that moment he realized that he had never known that he had been missing Josie until he met her. He had been walking alone in his life until he found God in the poor children in Italy, and God had brought the two of them together to continue their walk. His feelings of inadequacy, his selfishness, his desire to have and do more than others . . . these were all manifestations of the emptiness in his life, the void beside him where Josie would be. He needed to give her time, though, he owed her that private time with her mother, and alone as well. He wanted so much to run after her, to apologize, to assure her that all would work out well, that he wouldn’t let her and her mother go without. Words, words . . . he had to do something to show her he understood how his selfishness had affected her. He had to be true to his word in regard to Joseph, and that was a matter he could take care of that very day rather than wait around brooding and wasting precious time. The earlier the child had that brace fitted to his leg, the sooner the healing would begin, and the sooner he made efforts to put the well being of others ahead of his own wants, the sooner his own transformation could be visible, accessible to others who might be moved to take a serious look their own lives, at the lives Christ offered them instead. He stood up and shook the ennui from himself as if it were a heavy, dark cloak. His mother waited for him at the bottom of the stairs as if she could stop him, but the determined look on his face made her keep her mouth shut. She didn’t understand what had happened to her son, who had always been motivated by recreation, money, leisure . . . some poor children a world away and now, this servant girl, had changed him in ways she could not imagine. It was as if he were a changeling child. A part of her admired this new determination, this will that was so becoming in a man, but it would have been easier to take if it had a more respectable bent, perhaps a vested interest in the yacht club or in furthering his education with an internship at a bank, something that she could brag about to her neighbors. Speaking of those neighbors, she had been militant about speaking with the two on either side of her right away, making sure the maids were close by so they could hear as well. They would do the work of spreading the word about Josette for her. The key word was ‘seductress,’ and while Mrs. Davenport felt a small twinge of guilt for the use of such a negatively charged word, she did mean it in a figurative sense, but she failed to make the distinction to the shiny-eyed women who tittered with interest as she told her story. It was a lie, she would acknowledge later, although she hadn’t meant it to be one, and by the time it reached the other side of town Josie had become not only a seductress but a common slut and a destructor of respectable young men’s reputations. It was a small town and it did not take long for tales to reach Josie’s own neighbors, who were incredulous and reluctant to share the information with the girl in question. It had to be done, though, if it was to be countered, and if they knew Josie and Mrs. Warren as they thought they did, both women would counter the rumor like prize-fighters in a boxing ring. Mr. Davenport’s physician was a man of few words and very little curiosity, but the request young Arthur Davenport made of him was extremely unexpected. The boy had come unannounced, without an appointment, and offered a rather handsome sum of money to accompany him to a home on the other side of town, where many of the year-round folk lived. His desire for the payment was not more than his concern for the child Arthur described, and he did have some spare time that afternoon to pay a visit. Arthur gave him the address and the name of the caretaker, a Mrs. Warren, and gave him a payment in advance for his time and trouble. “Send a note ‘round afterwards, if you will and let me know the details of the treatment, including the price, but don’t mention money to Mrs. Warren, or ah, any other adults who might be present.” Dr. Colt found the entire situation a great relief from the general monotony of the usual complaints he treated: sunburn, exhaustion, insect bites, among a bevy of nervous ailments that really were attempts to get attention from someone or other. The Davenports were usually just part of the general social crowd here, nothing different or interesting about them, rather predictable in their behavior and cookie-cutter tastes, so this was of prime interest. He wondered why this lame child merited the attention of one of the Davenport clan. Could the boy be his natural son? No, he decided as he calculated where the younger Davenport had spent the last few years. “I must be able to count on your discretion for now, if you please, Dr. Colt. This family is rather proud and would not like to know that I am accepting the bill on their behalf.” The older man nodded in understanding. “Of course. My work is always confidential and I will absolutely concentrate my efforts on the best way to assist the child in improving his condition.” Arthur seemed distracted and yet still very pleased with the doctor’s assurances. Dr. Colt was stunned with the realization that the boy had seemed to age into adulthood over night. It was refreshing, but there was a sadness to him that made the doctor wonder what had caused this change in personality. He supposed that he would find out, either during this visit or after. Either way, here was a chance to help someone who actually needed him, needed his expertise and his training, rather than someone who merely needed a cold compress and attention. He straightened himself taller as he watched Arthur step out of his front door and turn down the street, relieved to be someone of true value to the family he was about to meet. Josie had walked home in a stupor, the humidity in the air like waves in front of her face, her steps unsure and shaky. What would she tell her mother, and what could she make of it herself? It wasn’t Arthur’s fault, but she couldn’t help thinking that if he hadn’t waylaid her at the back door she would be folding laundry at the Davenports’ right now, instead of stumbling home to explain to her mother that she had been sacked. Her mind worked furiously at other options for employment. Some of the other cottage owners had been in need of maids and garden help this summer, so she could apply to them, and there might be some opening for shop girls downtown. She would have to go back out this afternoon to pursue these avenues. For now she had to face her mother, as well as her own anger over her dismissal. She stopped in front of her front door, her hand on the knob, listening to the sounds of children chattering and laughing. They would not be able to continue to take care of the children at the amount her mother was earning for keeping them, as she did so at a discount to the parents in order to make it affordable so they could work. Without that option, the mothers could not work, and so Josie’s dismissal would have a terrible domino effect, not only on her own living conditions but that of several neighborhood families. Her mother, too, what would she do, without the children to care for, as there really was no other option, with her back troubles? She couldn’t work for someone else, in a shop, or private home, with the expectations of physical labor that came with almost every position. Josie knew she would have to be willing to accept any position regardless of what her mother said or her comfort level with the responsibilities it might entail. She had to keep her mother at home, and if at all possible, working by caring for these children, who had become precious to her, as well as helping to keep so many families employed. It was unbelievable, how one small action on her part, speaking to Arthur, could ultimately involve the fate of so many people. She blinked back tears of frustration as she pushed the door open, only to be greeted by smiles and squeals from the children, who rarely saw her, and the questioning gaze and confusion of her mother, who sat on the sofa with a toddler on each knee. “Josie, what are you doing here this time of day? Is everything all right? Is Mrs. Davenport well?” She couldn’t explain the situation in front of these shining, pink faces, chubby cheeks, tiny fingers that plucked at her dress as she stood there, tears threatening to spill out and over, tears that she was afraid would not stop if she let them fall. This would not be easy, whether she told her mother now or later. The details could wait, but she had to speak now, and then move on to look for a new job. “I’m no longer needed at the Davenports’.” It was such a simple statement, but what it did to her mother’s expression, even with the soft tone and lack of emotion with which it was delivered, was not what Josie had expected. She thought her mother would be worried, angry, upset . . . at her or at Mrs. Davenport, or both, but the older woman looked unflinchingly at her for a full minute before speaking. “Do you have a plan to remedy this?” Josie nodded. Her mother was calm in the presence of the children, which worked well on Josie’s own ferocity of feelings as she fought to maintain her composure. “Yes, ma’am. I’m just going to wash up a bit after that walk, and then go back out to see what I can arrange.” Her mother gently caressed the tiny fingers of a little girl as they rested in hers, the child watching her face carefully. “Be careful. And be particular. We will talk about this later, when the children have gone home. Don’t be out later than that. And bring yourself something to eat, if you mean to go on until you find something definite. You may be out longer than you think.” It wasn’t reassuring but it was true. Josie was aware that so little work was available, and without an excellent reference, which she did not expect from Mrs. Davenport after the way the woman had hissed at her only an hour or so earlier, it would be difficult to compete, especially since her experience was limited to house work. She was willing to learn, though, and hoped, prayed, it would be enough for someone to give her a chance. Chapter Six Mrs. Warren was surprised by a knock on her door that afternoon, as she wasn’t expecting visitors and it was a bit early for the first of the parents to be arriving to take their children home. She was sitting at the kitchen table with Joseph in her lap, as he had been a bit fussy all morning, and while the other children napped on blankets in the front room, she settled in with Joseph in a kitchen chair, his small fist clutching her hair under his chin as he rested his head on her chest. His eyes were wide open and the boy gazed out at his surroundings like an old man surveying the lay of the land. Mrs. Warren had been saying to Josie that the child had an old soul, that there was something wise about him, and he was meant for something far beyond what his life would most likely offer him. She prayed that he would have an opportunity to use his God-given gifts, and do Him honor by serving others with them. The knock was strong and insistent, and she stood, holding the boy close to her. She shushed him as a reassurance, and walked softly to the door, looking quickly through the side of the drape that covered the small window at the top. It was a doctor, it seemed, with a worn black medical bag in his hand and, surprisingly enough, a calm smile on his face, as if visiting a stranger’s house was a happy event. She opened the door and stood tall at the threshold. “Yes, sir? May I help you?” Dr. Colt was nearing middle age but still had a full head of hair, although it had streaks of gray that spoke to his age, and an air of authority that would brook no disobedience. Mrs. Warren, as he presumed she was, was a beautiful golden-blonde woman, possibly close to his own age, with a creamy complexion and a sweetness about her features that was not reflected in the firm tone she was using as she tried to obtain information from him. He was momentarily stunned by the contradiction before he began to state his business. “Yes, ma’am, I am Dr. Edward Colt, I have a medical establishment here in town. I was asked to visit one of the children here in your care, Joseph, I believe.” Mrs. Warren’s eyes lit up and a smile broke across her face, taking years off her already youthful countenance. “Oh, yes, yes, I can hardly believe it.” She backed into her home and stood aside to allow him in. She looked at the boy in her arms and back to the doctor. “This here is our Joseph, but shall we go into the kitchen as not to disturb the others?” He looked about him at the blanketed forms on the floor, curled together like sleeping kittens. There were seven or eight of them, he wasn’t sure, but they were healthy, rosy-cheeked, and resting the slumber of cared-for infants. He was pleased to see how well they were handled by Mrs. Warren, her obvious affection for Joseph, and her interest in the other children’s rest spoke highly of her as a caretaker. He had seen children of the higher social orders neglected on more than one occasion, ignored by parents and put in the hands of careless servants, and thought of how much better off these children were. It was a small home, clean and yet obviously lived in, as if the owner allowed the children to play and be comfortable. They walked quietly into the kitchen, where she nodded her head towards a chair at the table, and Dr. Colt pulled out the other one for her. She looked at the chair for a moment before turning her gaze to the doctor with a small smile on her face. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had a chair pulled out for me. Thank you.” He was awed by the youthfulness, the near-flirtatiousness of that smile, of her direct gaze. She was so different from the women he usually dealt with – her simplicity, from her clothing to her care of her home, showed a concern with that which was immaterial, the children, for instance. He took the boy from her arms and stepped over to the chair she had offered him with a gesture, and held the child up in his lap, Joseph’s small feet on his thighs. Joseph was surprisingly compliant, watching the doctor’s every move with his clear blue eyes. He kept his fists tight up against his mouth, gnawing at them with gums full of teeth bursting to break through. “Teething, are we, my little man?” Dr. Colt chuckled at the child’s serious expression while keeping watch on his small feet as they settled on his lap, considering how the boy rested his weight on each foot and how the feet were shaped. The boy kept his eyes fixed on the doctor’s with a directness that was disconcerting from a child so young. Intelligent, he thought, wondering what on earth was going on in the boy’s head. He could almost see the gears working behind those shining eyes, and resolved to make the boy’s life a bit easier if he could. “I’ll just need to take a few measurements, if you don’t mind, and we’ll get the brace ordered and on its way in no time.” Mrs. Warren blinked and sat up straighter. “Oh, my, this was very quick. We don’t have any money to put down on the device just yet. I really didn’t expect Mr. Davenport to send anyone out so soon.” He shook his head and pulled his gaze from the boy’s to look at her. She was so sincere, so earnest in her concern for the payment that it was all he could do to refrain from betraying the truth, that the Davenport boy was paying for it all. “No payment necessary at this point. If the Davenports vouch for you, I trust you will be good for it when the time comes.” “Thank you, sir, but I will need to know how much and when to have it, as we are taking up a collection in the neighborhood to cover the cost.” She was a practical woman, another virtue of which he very much approved. He had wondered why Arthur Davenport had taken an interest in the child, and he was beginning to wonder if Mrs. Warren had a daughter who was as pretty and well-spoken as she was. That would explain the interest, but might be a bit of a conundrum if the young man was truly smitten. That was a concern for another time. He held the boy against his shoulder and leaned over to reach into his medical kit for a measuring tape. Joseph was quite placid as Dr. Colt took several measurements, murmuring to himself and marking the information on a slip of a paper with a pencil that was culled from the bag. The boy cuddled up against him, inexplicably comfortable with this complete stranger. Dr. Colt looked up when he heard a giggle, yes, that was what it was, from Mrs. Warren. “Sorry, I couldn’t help it. It’s quite an adorable scene, like a painting.” He laughed out loud and Joseph leaned back to look at him. “Well, my boy, we’ll see what I can manage for you. Meanwhile, you behave for Mrs. Warren.” He stood and walked over to her as she followed suit, reaching out to take the boy from him.” “Lucinda, Lucy. And thank you again.” Lucy. He allowed his hand to brush against hers briefly as the boy was exchanged and was moved by his sudden interest in this woman, whom he had only just met. It would be a pleasure to see her again and honestly, a joy to fit the child with a brace that would enable him to walk properly. The fact that the child’s caregiver was wonderful company was a bonus. He thanked God quickly and silently for this new friend, and hoped that there might be an excuse available to see her again after the business of the brace was over. “I’ll be seeing you soon. And please call me Edward.” They walked through the maze of sleeping children and reached the front door, where he let himself out, taking care to close the door gently and quietly as not to disturb Lucy’s charges. He looked back as he reached the end of the path and saw Lucy and Joseph at the window, watching him, and waved. Lucy waved back, then took one of Joseph’s tiny hands and waved it as well. Edward couldn’t help the broad smile that took over his face the entire walk back to his office, where he sat and began to transfer the measurements from the small slip he used at Lucy’s to an order form he had readied at his desk earlier that day. When he was finished, he took up the phone receiver and carefully placed the call that would set the work in motion, thankful that he had been able to obtain one of the new devices to communicate with New York all the quicker. He would put the form in the mail after he spoke with the firm over the phone, but he knew that calling would make the order go through sooner. The sooner the brace arrived, the sooner he would see Joseph and Lucy again. He would have to speak to Arthur about the financial aspect of the situation as well. He didn’t like lying to Lucy or Joseph’s family, but he didn’t want to reveal Arthur’s secret. He was fairly certain that Lucy would not appreciate such deception. He would send a message to the younger man after placing his call and see about setting the matter straight before trouble came from it. He knew from experience that lies, for whatever reason they were used, only caused sorrow. The sooner they were honest with everyone involved, the more comfortable the both of them would be with their parts in it. He understood that charity wasn’t welcome, but surely Joseph’s family would make an exception for their child. Edward had no child of his own but was certain he would have done anything to make life better for any that he might have had, setting his own pride aside. He would pray that Joseph’s family would be able to do the same. Josie had spent the better part of the day walking first from house to house, or mansion to mansion as it were, knocking on back doors and either receiving a curt “no” to her request for possible employment, or being blatantly ignored, as she could see the servants moving about and pointedly refusing to acknowledge her. This was strange, as she knew some of them as acquaintances or neighbors. She was uncomfortable with this behavior, as it surely signaled something very wrong. She left off the houses and went into town to visit the shops, where no one was hiring. Her feet were tired from all of the walking, and her head was aching from the constant refusals and the growing fear that she would be unable to find anything today or any day. She sat on a step in front of a small office building that had a return sign in the window, so she was sure that no one was there to tell her to step away. She sat as far back as she could, resting in the cool dark of the shadows from the building, and rested her face in her hands. She was deep in thought, thinking actually of nothing but clearing her mind in order to think properly and without emotion or fear, when the occupant of the office returned. “May I help you miss?” She cried out in alarm at the disturbance, and jumped up, brushing her dress down as she did so. Dr. Colt reached out to steady her with a hand. “I’m so sorry; I was just stopping for a moment to rest. I didn’t mean to trespass, I saw that you were out and didn’t think it would be any trouble to take a minute.” He kept his hand on her elbow, as she still seemed skittish and a bit nervous. She had a familiar look about her, although he was sure they had never met before. “There, there, no trouble at all. Come in out of the sun for a bit, if you like. If you didn’t notice from the sign, I am a physician, and you seem very tired and upset, so I recommend stepping in from the elements for a time.” She was stunned by his interest and care and without thinking followed him into the building. He directed her to a comfortable chair in the front office, where a receptionist’s desk stood empty and the phone began to ring as if on cue. “Excuse me, miss, I need to take this.” He picked up the receiver and put his free hand on his hip as he began to speak with the caller. Josie was vaguely aware of what he was saying, as she was still a bit dazed and actually did not want to eavesdrop on his business, but she blinked her eyes and sat up straighter when the words “brace” and “child” were clearly spoken. When the man placed the phone back in its cradle, he turned to her and found a very different girl than he had left sagging there a few moments before. “That is quite a recovery, I must say.” he noted with a smile. “I’m sorry to have overhead your conversation, sir, but you didn’t happen to be speaking of a leg brace for a little boy, did you?” Ah, Edward thought. She must be Lucy’s daughter, which would explain his initial impression of her. What in the world was she doing wandering about in the afternoon heat, looking lost and bewildered? “Yes, I did, and if I may be so bold, I would venture that you are the daughter of the woman I visited only earlier today to take measurements of the little boy in her care. Joseph, correct?” She smiled brightly, a gesture that made her entire face come to life. Oh, this was how Lucy had looked not so long ago, and honestly, the two could be sisters if set side by side. This girl could look forward to aging well, that was a certainty. “I am Dr. Colt, and you must be . . . ?” She shook herself and put out her hand to meet his. “I am sorry for my lack of manners, Dr. Colt. You are correct; I am her daughter, Josette. We are so grateful for your interest in assisting him.” As she held his gaze she realized that if Dr. Colt had been to visit Joseph, then Arthur must have come to Dr. Colt not long after she had left his house that morning. So, in spite of his mother’s tirade and her dismissal, he had remained true to his word. She wasn’t surprised and couldn’t help but smile at the thought of him, focused and determined to help. “No trouble at all. Young Mr. Davenport paid me a call earlier today and as a family friend, I was happy to oblige. He is really the one to thank for his consideration.” She could only nod in agreement, wondering how to sort out this myriad of feelings she had for Arthur. It wasn’t really his fault she had lost her employment, but she did find herself feeling some resentment towards him for not considering that his interest in her might lead to trouble. Then again, she was responsible for her own actions, and she could have either avoided him or refused to continue their conversation when it was possible that his mother was around, especially at his house. He had proven himself a man of his word, a caring man who was using his social connection to make a child’s life better, not a child to whom he was related but a complete stranger, so there was nothing for him to gain by his assistance. She wondered how Arthur felt about this morning, about her response to his mother, about her in general. “Are you feeling well? You look rather distracted.” She brought herself back to the present, to this doctor who had dropped everything to visit Joseph and begin the task of purchasing a brace for the little boy. He must be a good friend to the Davenports, indeed, to do such a thing immediately. “Thank you, I’m fine. May I ask about Joseph? You think he can be helped with a brace?” He nodded and smiled reassuringly. “Of course. It will take a few days to have the brace altered and delivered, then I will fit it to his leg myself to ensure it won’t cause any problems. But do tell me what you are so upset about – you are in quite a state, if you don’t mind me saying so.” She didn’t mind, in fact, she was grateful for the request. Perhaps he knew of someone who was looking for help, and she didn’t want to bring it up herself out of the blue. “Well, I was relieved of my employment this morning and have been searching for a new position, but I am afraid I have been unsuccessful. I don’t think anyone is hiring, and I’m a bit worried.” He began to rub his chin with his hand and turned away from her, looking out the window that faced the street. He crossed his arms in front of his chest and turned back to her, a small smile on his face. “Actually, I am in a bit of a rough spot myself. My receptionist has just married and moved away to live with her husband’s family in Connecticut. You wouldn’t have an interest in dealing with office work, would you?” She blinked several times to clear her vision, which had suddenly clouded. She had to fight to keep from stuttering an answer. “Well?” he prompted. She nodded, and rewarded his offer with a bright smile that he recognized as identical to her mother’s. He was a bit surprised by the wave of warmth he felt in his chest at the pleasure the girl’s happiness and relief brought to him. Perhaps it had to do with the girl herself, or her mother. Regardless, it was wonderful and he was pleased that he could offer so little on his part that would make such a difference in her life. Besides, he really was terribly disorganized and needed the help. Files and papers everywhere, and often the phone went on ringing and ringing when he couldn’t get to it. Not a very good way to manage a business. “Thank you so much, sir, I won’t let you down. Do you need me to start right away?” Her excitement was palpable, like a small child’s in a candy store as she watched the clerk shovel candy into a small white paper bag. As he looked at her expression, he wished he could see her mother again, and although he knew he would sooner or later regarding Joseph’s brace, he wished it was even sooner. “Oh, no, tomorrow will be fine. I’m sure you’d like to get home to tell your mother, as she must be worried about your situation and you personally, to be out so long on a hot day. Go home and rest.” She rose and bit her lip. “Thank you again, ever so much.” “Yes, yes, that’s just fine. Tomorrow at nine, will that work? And please tell your mother I will be in touch about the brace.” He was so kind, she thought, his eyes were kind, his manners were kind, and she was nearly delirious with all of his kindness. It was amazing, how her tiredness, the heat, the decision to stop on this closed storefront, how all of that worked to arrive at a solution to her troubles. And to think, this was the same man who was assisting with Joseph’s brace, making as much of a difference in the boy’s life as he was in hers, and in her mother’s. He was so matter-of-fact, so steady, and she was sure he would be a good influence on her, unlike some of the maids at the Davenport residence. Not that she wasn’t capable of dealing with negative influences, but it was best to surround oneself with the positive, if and when possible. Thinking of influences . . . her mind drifted to Arthur, who had dropped his plans for his shelter to visit Dr. Colt and make these new plans for the brace, perhaps stressing the urgency enough to cause the doctor to pay a visit this same day. It was extraordinary, that Arthur should go out of his way to make the situation a priority, when he was quite consumed with thoughts of his own plans. Plans he had wanted to share with her only that same morning. Would he still want her to be a part of the project, even though she had left him standing with his mother, without a word of goodbye, without a look, without any indication that she wanted to remain involved. She hoped, she prayed that he didn’t think she would let her own turmoil over losing the position at his house get in the way of helping others in greater need. She walked home much relieved by the resolution to the problem of finding work but with a growing concern for Arthur and their relationship. She wanted to remain friends with him and needed to let him know, but she couldn’t go to his house and she didn’t know how to reach him. Dr. Colt. He might be able to carry a message to him, or allow her to call Arthur at some time when she was allowed a break at work. That wouldn’t be until tomorrow, though, so she told herself to stop worrying about it, as there was nothing she could do to contact him until then. It would do no good to worry. She asked God to help her to focus on the positive changes the day had wrought, because even without knowing what her pay might be, working in an office was much better on every level than working in a private home, at least for her, and she would be able to help others by helping the doctor. Josie suspected the doctor would pay more than she had made at the Davenports’, but would be happy with an equal amount, just to be able to keep giving her mother the same amount as she had become accustomed. When she arrived at her house, half the children had been taken home, the other half crawling and stumbling about in the half of the living room that her mother had cut off with a wooden gate to keep them safe from the perils of the rest of the house. It allowed them the freedom to move about in a greater area than a small pen would have, especially when her mother had to attend to one of the children individually, as when changing a diaper or cuddling a fussy child. Her mother looked up from doing just that, the small girl tucked comfortably into her arm as she held a small cup of milk for her to sip. The baby was staring intently at Lucy, and Lucy was humming an old nursery tune her own mother had sung to her and she had sung in turn to Josie. Josie couldn’t help but smile at the seriousness of the tiny girl. Her mother noticed her as she stood there inside the door, but kept her gaze even with the baby’s as she spoke to Josie. “How did you do?” Her voice was lilting, a singsong vibration in favor of the child, but Josie knew her mother was worried and would be relieved to hear her news. She spoke softly so as not to upset the baby or any of the other children. “I found a position with a doctor’s office in town.” Her mother looked up at her then, and Josie noticed that the baby had stopped drinking, her pale blue eyelids nearly closed, milk dribbling out of the side of her mouth. She smiled at the sight and wondered at the miracle her mother held in her arms. “A doctor?” Josie nodded, her gaze moving to her mother’s face. “A Dr. Colt. He told me he had been here today to fit Joseph with a brace.” Lucy’s eyes widened and a small smile touched her face. “Oh, yes, of course. A very kind man, very good with Joseph. Very nice. Well done, Josie. Well done.” That was it? Josie wondered why her mother hadn’t asked for further details, as in how she had ended up with the position, and why she wasn’t amazed at the coincidence. Wouldn’t anyone be? She seemed too willing to accept the information, and while Josie knew her mother was tired, she couldn’t help but wonder at the small, almost private smile that remained to adorn her mother’s youthful visage. Her practical, clear-thinking mother had the look of a child who had pilfered a forbidden candy bar. “Would you like some help putting the baby down?” She offered, holding out her hands to take the child. Her mother shook her head. “No, no, we’re just fine, aren’t we, sweetheart?” She sighed softly as she watched the infant sleep in her arms, with Josie, her own arms down at her sides, watching her carefully. She was tired, that was a certainty, but she looked as if something had been lifted from her shoulders. Of course, it could be the loss of her own position just that morning, and the reinstatement only this afternoon, along with the excitement of a brace for Joseph, not to mention a visit from a complete stranger. A complete stranger who happened to be very nice and when she considered him, very handsome. No, that was impossible. It was almost disrespectful to think of her mother in that way, but then again, she was still rather young and Dr. Colt was very pleasing, with only her limited knowledge of him to work with. Her mother’s behavior was indeed a mystery, but the smile on her face and the sense of serenity she felt from her guaranteed it was a good one. Chapter Seven Arthur wandered the Cliff Walk alone, considering what had been accomplished that day and feeling somehow inadequately capable to tackle the task he had set before himself. Yes, he had contacted Edward Colt and as far as he could tell, the man planned to visit the child that very day. He had also written out a plan to establish the shelter, step by step, along with contacts who might be able to assist; family, friends, and neighbors who could be asked to contribute financially or materially. He would not be above accepting a loaf of bread at this point, as every contribution would add up to assistance for the needy. He knew that Edward would be able to help as well, as his business rose and fell with the summer families like him, and in a few short months, he would have more free time to devote to those who might need medical attention or advice but could not afford it. He kept his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the surf, stopping to focus on the seagulls that soared so high, only to dip low and so close to the water that they might as well be swimming in it. He smiled to himself as he remembered that only a short time ago he had met Josie here, attracted to her quiet appreciation of the beauty that surrounded them every morning. Now she was out of work because he was so self-centered that he hadn’t considered his mother might discover them together after telling Josie not to talk to him. He knew his mother better than Josie did, and was well aware that she would have no problem firing anyone for any reason. It wasn’t fair but it was the truth, as she was in charge and could do what she wished. He needed to find a way to make amends, to find a new position for her, without offending her by insinuating that she couldn’t do it herself. She had mentioned a need to be sensitive towards Joseph’s family, to their pride and the necessity of allowing them to pay something towards his brace. Would she be proud, too, too proud to accept his help securing a new situation of employment? He looked down at his shoes, deep in thought, unaware of anything beyond the call of the gulls not far in front of him. “Is everything all right?” She had appeared in front of him, his Josie, as if an answer to a silent wish. He blinked and looked at her, unsure if he was simply imagining her, a result of the worry and heat of the long day. She offered him a small smile that broke the spell of silence he seemed to be under. He reached out and took one of her hands in his. “I’m sorry.” He offered only this short statement of apology, looking down at her hand in his, nearly holding his breath in anticipation of her response. She wouldn’t be here if she didn’t want to see him, he knew that, but he was worried about her situation and his role in it. It was selfish of him to worry about whether or not she was angry with him, even if it was along with concern for her employment, but it couldn’t be helped. She held onto the hand he had given her and nodded. “I know, and I am too. I left without even saying anything to you. It wasn’t your fault, really, I know how she is and I did agree to her terms, which was not to speak to you again, even though it was a lie. I knew I would talk to you, and so, I lied to her.” They looked at each other, the silence growing between them not at all uncomfortable. “Shall we walk?” he asked as he stepped to her side, keeping her hand in his own. “Yes,” she agreed, and they began to walk north towards her side of town. “Thank you for asking Dr. Colt to visit. He measured Joseph for a brace today and says it will be only a few days before it is delivered and he can fit it for him.” Arthur found that he was not surprised. Edward had been a steady help to his father over the years, as he could recall, and was well liked among the upper class for his timeliness and intelligence. He must have had the day free in order to call on Mrs. Warren so quickly after his request. Very convenient, he thought with a smile, saying a quick silent prayer of thanks for that convenience. “Why are you smiling?’ She looked up at him, a smile on her own face, but aware she was missing something. “I think, Josie, there was some divine intervention there, as far as Dr. Colt’s sudden availability.” She bit her lip. Oh, yes, that was it, and she thought, I didn’t say a prayer of thanks yet. She allowed her face to relax in a smile as she remedied that, and caught his eye again, stopping to face him. “That isn’t all.” He watched the expression on her face change from concern to happiness to excitement, and took her other hand with his free one, without thinking, pulling her a little closer to him. “Yes?” She sighed, seemingly with relief. “I have new job. With Dr. Colt. As his receptionist.” Arthur was indeed surprised. He had no idea the doctor was looking for a receptionist, then again, it wasn’t as if he had asked. This would be a much better environment for Josie, without his mother and sisters bossing her around, as he knew Dr. Colt would be a kind and generous employer who would appreciate Josie’s intelligence. In the short time he had known her, she seemed very level-headed and practical, maybe too much for a girl of her age. He wondered what it would take to make her relax a bit; allow herself some freedom from responsibilities. That would be a problem, he realized, because she did not have freedom from responsibilities. In fact, she was one of the most responsible people he had ever known. “Don’t you want to know how he came to hire me, and so quickly, too?” She was staring intently at him, as if trying to read his thoughts, and he understood that he had been taking too long to consider the small bit of information she had handed him several minutes before. “Of course I do. It is a bit of surprise, as well as a coincidence.” She smiled and looked down as if she were embarrassed, then looked back up at him. She tilted her head to the side when she answered, as if she were answering a question of her own as she responded. “I tried everywhere. Shops. Private homes. I knocked on doors. I walked all over town, and it was so hot, and I was tired. I had given up for the day, well and truly done in, so I sat in the first place I saw.” “Dr. Colt’s doorstep.” “Yes,” she agreed. “But I didn’t know it was his, I didn’t know whose it was, only that they weren’t there and it wouldn’t or shouldn’t be any trouble for me to rest for a bit before heading home. Then he showed up and asked me in, not knowing who I was any more than I knew who he was. We got to talking and he explained that he needed the help. Too wonderful to be a coincidence, as you say.” He thought they might walk a bit more, just so anyone who saw them standing together, holding hands, wouldn’t have cause to carry tales, but he didn’t want to let go of either of her hands. She didn’t seem to mind their position, and he didn’t want to disrupt the ease with which she spoke to him, the comfort they felt together. If someone saw, well, they could talk all they wanted. Some people in this town have too much free time and not enough of their own business to mind, he thought. He did have a care for Josie’s reputation, however, so he kept a respectable distance while maintaining a hold on her hands as she spoke. “Walk home with me and you can tell me about the plans for the shelter, the ones you’ve made so far. You still need my help, don’t you?” “Oh, yes, of course I do. I’ve made some phone calls today as well to prospective contributors. I want to get started as soon as possible.” “Is there a reason for your hurry?” She squinted her eyes in concern. “I know that winters can be bitter here and some families will have nowhere to stay and nothing to eat; worse yet, no hope that they can improve their situation.” “Winter is a-ways away, yet.” He nodded in agreement. “This is true, but I don’t know how long it will take to get the shelter off the ground, so to speak, and become established enough that we can serve as many families as possible during the cold months.” She squeezed his hands and he could read the surprise on her face. “You mean to stay here, in Newport, for the winter? Are you sure? None of you stay for the winter.” As soon as she said it he could tell she was sorry, her eyes wide in surprise at what she had implied and her mouth open to take a breath before apologizing. “It’s true, I am one of them. But I will stay, because being one of them is not necessarily a bad thing, and foremost because I won’t base my decisions on being part of a group. I don’t think I would be happy anywhere else now, or doing anything else, so I suppose I am motivated by selfish reasons.” She shook her head and pulled him closer to her. He couldn’t look away as she kept her eyes on his before rising up on her toes to press a soft kiss on his cheek. It was all he could do to keep himself from turning his head and meeting her lips with his own. As it was, he felt as if he was in a fairy story, and the beautiful princess had deigned to gift him with a sweet kiss. He would not ruin it by asking for more. “Not at all. I don’t see how God would want to deny us the pleasure we can have in serving others. I feel the same way.” Her speech over, she looked suddenly overcome by shyness, or by a fear that she had overstepped some boundary by kissing him, and seemed to fold in upon herself a bit while keeping his hands in hers. “My house?” He nodded, and they dropped one set of hands to turn and start walking, keeping their other hands together, their steps aligned. The gulls overhead called to them, and they stole glances at each other as they watched the birds circle over the rocks and the sea. Lucy was sitting at the kitchen table in a rare moment of rest, a cup of tea in her hand, when Arthur and Josie came in through the front door. Somehow she was not surprised to see the two of them together, in spite of her daughter’s dismissal from the Davenport house only that morning. She herself was in a bit of a daze after the shock of Josie’s trouble, followed by the doctor’s visit and then, Josie’s return and the news of her position with that same doctor. That same doctor, who had a soft touch with the boy and a consideration for her that no man had shown since her husband had died. It was a strange feeling, this attraction, to a man she had only just met and knew nearly nothing about, and it made her a bit dizzy, though she reprimanded herself for being silly. She was too old for this, the very idea . . . but Josie, well, she could see by the look on the girl’s as well as the boy’s faces that something was between them indeed. It worried her, but he had made good on his promise to help Joseph, and like the doctor, Edward, he had been genuinely interested in the boy and was gentle with him as well. It was not something that could be faked, and children knew when an adult was doing just that, so neither of the men had been acting when showing their concern. She was thinking too much; she always did. Then again, someone had to. She worried that Josie had become like her in that regard and was too old for her age, worried as an old lady might when she should have some time to be a girl, to have some fun, enjoy the attentions of this young man who, as she watched the two of them walking towards her, clearly adored her. She wanted to trust this boy with her daughter, but it only took a moment to destroy a reputation, to lose all prospects of a successful future, and it really was a man’s world, unfortunately, so if she, and Josie, misplaced their trust and it worked against them, the boy would have no trouble from it, while Josie would be ruined. Young Mr. Davenport had nothing to lose; Josie had everything. Lucy knew that her daughter was smart and cautious, and she wanted her to enjoy her life as well as have a care with it. There was a line somewhere that often grew hazy and unclear, and it was frightening to think that she might be unable to help her daughter decide when and if to cross that line for better or for worse. Josie was at least as worried as her mother but knew that for her, there was no turning back. She did love him and trust him, partly because of how he had acted that day, but also because she had a feeling, a hope in her heart, as if a prayer had been answered and he had arrived full of life and faith and a fulfillment of plans for the future. She recalled, vaguely, somewhere in the Bible where God reassured his children that he had plans, wonderful plans, for each of them, for their lives on earth as well as in heaven, and she knew that meeting Arthur, losing her position and finding a new one with the doctor, and the shelter were all part of those plans. Two weeks ago she had no idea that she was destined for anything other than housework, and now . . . she had a greater, more important task set before her, one for which she had been given a partner and friend. “Mrs. Warren,” Arthur nodded at Lucy and she returned the gesture. “We would like to discuss some plans for the shelter here if it wouldn’t be any trouble.” She wondered at his seriousness and excitement, and thought, oh, to be young and enthusiastic. How could she deny them this time together, working towards the greater good of the community? If he had designs on making any sort of untoward advances against Josie, he certainly wouldn’t ask to be with her under her own roof, with her mother in attendance. Besides, she had the feeling that they would find somewhere else to work out their plans and spend time together, so this way; she was close by and watching. Josie smiled at her, her eyes radiant with a joy Lucy had never seen before. She hoped that if Arthur saw the girl’s affection for him, he wouldn’t take advantage of it in any way. His glance back at Josie after Lucy’s confirmation that they could stay reassured her, as his pleasure in being with Josie was equally evident. She put a kettle on for tea and the two young people sat across from each other at the kitchen table, Arthur pulling out a handful of papers from the inside of his jacket and spreading them out on the table in front of Josie. “A list of ideas, along with one of friends, acquaintances, people who might donate time or money or materials to our cause. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve already made some phone calls and have a few commitments for monetary donations.” Lucy listened as Josie offered an observation. “Well, I suppose most people who are in a position to donate anything would be more comfortable donating money than time. I can’t see any of your neighbors getting too close to anyone not of their social standing.” The silence that answered the girl was deafening and Lucy had to turn around to see what was happening. She hadn’t considered that Josie had said anything wrong, but apparently Arthur was put out for some reason. “I wish you wouldn’t do that.” Josie looked down. “Just because your experience with ‘my’ people has been primarily negative, it doesn’t mean that everyone who has money is of the same disposition. It would be like me assuming that anyone who isn’t rich is unintelligent, or dirty, or whatever illogical descriptions can be said by someone who doesn’t take the time to consider that everyone is an individual, and that circumstances are not necessarily one’s fault.” It was quite a lecture, Lucy thought, from such a young man, and while she wanted to defend her daughter, for really, the girl didn’t know any better, as Arthur had pointed out, he was right. Judging others when one didn’t know them was wrong, and judging others was wrong in general. That was God’s job, not theirs. Josie was biting her lip and looked chastised when Arthur took her hand. Lucy watched the boy hold her daughter’s hand in his own, moving his thumb gently over her knuckles, and saw Josie relax. “I don’t mean to reprimand you like that. I’m sorry.” The two of them looked at each other, and Lucy felt left out of the small circle of feelings that surrounded the pair. She remembered how she had loved Josie’s father, who had worked so hard to keep them fed and housed, who had been able to soothe her with his touch as this boy was easing Josie’s hurt with his. He did care for her, she was certain of it, and they were embarking on a difficult task that would most likely not be welcomed by a number of people in the community and would test their partnership and strength alone and together. She decided to give over her worries about them to God, and after pouring two cups of tea and setting them before Josie and her guest, walked out of the room and settled on the sofa with her own cup. Josie was upset with herself for continuing to be so judgmental of the cottagers; she had somehow thought herself above that sort of thinking, but it was there, probably reinforced by comments from friends and neighbors who might very well have just been jealous of the fortunate ones who had been born into families with wealth or had been presented with opportunities to make their own. Perhaps seeing how many of Arthur’s acquaintances wanted to help with First Steps would be a step of her own in breaking down that thinking pattern. She knew she shouldn’t be thinking that way in the first place and that she shouldn’t need any sort of proof that they were not basically all the same sort of person, all negative, self-centered, selfish. She promised herself to be more aware of those judgments and work towards having a more open mind to others, on an individual basis, giving them the opportunity to allow her to get to know them and appreciate what they had to offer. “If I had returned only a month or so sooner, I would never have spoken to you, do you know that?” Josie looked up at him, only then realizing she had been watching his hand on hers, reflecting on her thoughts and what he had only just said. She knew what he was saying was right, but she had never actually thought about it. She nodded and he continued. “Servants weren’t really people, in my estimation; they didn’t merit any personal attention, that was sure. I don’t think I ever wondered what sort of lives any of our help led, if they had families, a warm place to live in the winter, a sick child at home, or if the work they did made them tired or sore or angry.” He rubbed his free hand over his eyes. “I really have no business telling you to be non-judgmental of us when at least you gave us some thought . . . I never gave anyone not of our social world any consideration at all. If I had seen you in our house I wouldn’t have wondered about you at all . . . I would have noticed you, how could I not, but only because of your physical beauty. I never would have been interested in you as a person, in your thoughts and feelings.” He shook his head. “It would have been a great loss to me.” They stared at each other, and Josie wondered if her feelings for him were only one-sided, or if she was imagining that he considered her only as a friend and partner in First Steps. She was happy to spend time with him as a friend and felt so very fortunate that they would be working together, and didn’t want to spoil it by assuming anything. But the look in his eyes, and what he had just said . . . it was so difficult not to hope for something more than friendship, perhaps later after the shelter had been established, but then again there was the problem of their social differences, which might not be a problem for him in theory, but if his mother continued to be difficult over the fact that they had a working relationship, what would Mrs. Davenport do if she thought there was more to it than that? “Please don’t be upset with me, I’m truly sorry for being such an old man about it. Why don’t we visit The Creamery and have an ice cream. It’s not such a long walk from here, is it? I know you must be tired from all the walking you’ve already done today.” The Creamery? With him? If he was willing to be seen with her in such a public place, eating together, well, his concern for his reputation within his social whirl was as close to nothing as it could get. She couldn’t imagine that he would have little care for what his parents thought, because it would be difficult for her if her mother disapproved of what she was doing, or of Arthur in general, but his parents were more concerned for what others thought than her mother was. He stood to lose a lot by being seen with her in public, openly friendly with a former household servant who had been banished by his mother only that day, and so, she decided to enjoy his company a bit longer by accepting his offer. As they walked to the front door Arthur bowed his head towards Lucy. “I’d like to take Josie for an ice cream, if you don’t mind. Would you like us to bring a treat home for you?” He said this as if they ventured out together on a regular basis, as if such a spectacle would not draw attention to themselves, to him in particular. Lucy blinked a few times before sighing. “No, thank you. I hope you know what you’re doing, Mr. Davenport.” He smiled at her confidently. “I do. I am taking my business partner for a friendly stroll. If anyone finds fault with that, I would say the problem is theirs and not ours. I hope you have a good evening, ma’am, and that I will see you soon.” Lucy almost shook her head at his youthful optimism, but she held herself back. “You too enjoy yourselves. Don’t be too late, Josie, you need your rest before you start your new position tomorrow.” Josie could not even feel indignant at her mother’s admonishment, although she felt as if her mother was treating her like a child. She didn’t need reminding about the job, or her tiredness. Her feet and legs were aching, and her back was sticky with sweat that had cooled against her skin when she had been sitting in the doctor’s office out of the heat and sun. Her mind was racing with excitement, fear, and disbelief with all that had happened since that morning, and with the boy who stood beside her now, his hand so close to her own, his own forehead beaded with the sweat of exertion. She probably should stay home and lie down, but every part of her cried out for more time with him, and the little girl in her had a sweet tooth that itched for a taste of the sugary cold pleasure of fresh strawberry ice cream. She couldn’t be upset with her mother for her reminders, as she was only trying to protect her and meant well. “Yes, I know. We won’t be long.” She smiled at her mother and then up at her companion, his eyes watching her as she reassured her mother. As they walked out the door she reached out and took his hand in her own, not wanting to wait until he did so. He squeezed hers slightly before stepping beside her, and the two of them began the short trek to The Creamery. Chapter Eight The ice cream shop was busy, which was to be expected on such a hot day, and Arthur knew right away that there would be some interest in him and Josie, if only for the purposes of gossip to take back to whichever social event was in line for the evening. It was of no interest to him; he could be polite and greet those he knew, and if anyone wanted to actually have a conversation, that would be fine as well, but he would not be goaded by judgments or unnecessary remarks, especially about Josie. He felt as if he might be overreacting to expect negative treatment from people he had formerly considered friends, and understood Josie’s preconceived notions all the more. When they walked in the door, Arthur holding it for Josie to step in ahead of him, they both felt the coolness of the shop envelop them, a comfort that relaxed them both after the long and busy day. He didn’t take her hand in his, although he wanted to, as he didn’t want anything to be said about her for allowing it. It was ridiculous to have to worry about what others thought and what they said, but he didn’t want any trouble for Josie or her mother on his account. The girl at the counter wore a white folded hat and had chocolate ice cream smeared into her striped apron. She smiled at them both and asked what they cared to have this evening. Arthur looked at Josie and nodded. “Strawberry, please.” He smiled and nodded in agreement. “Make that two.” The girl looked at the two of them more carefully, taking in the cut of Arthur’s suit and Josie’s thread worn dress, noticing that the pair of them did not exactly match. She didn’t make anything of it, but it was obvious and made Josie a bit uncomfortable. “Was that just a coincidence, the strawberry, or are you just being agreeable in getting the same as me?” He laughed. It was something he had rarely done before he met her, and he appreciated her all the more for giving him this small but wonderful gift. “I don’t think there is a flavor of ice cream that I don’t like, so really, I am just trusting your judgment in making the same choice. Somehow I don’t feel as if I’d go wrong that way.” She looked at him and their eyes held long enough for more than one other patron to notice. When Arthur had paid and the two of them turned back towards the door, paper cups in hand, it seemed as if everything ground to a halt. Every conversation stopped, every head turned, and they both realized they were the focus of a scrutiny they didn’t fully expect when they came in. It wasn’t as if this was the Metropolitan Opera and he had brought her here in rags, and it wasn’t as if a variety of people weren’t in the shop enjoying a cold confection. The difference was, of course, that like stayed with like. No one else in a suit the price of which would pay the rent for a family for a year on this side of town would be in the company of one who was wearing a dress handed down at least once and mended in several places. Politeness was one thing; keeping company, quite another. Arthur wanted to take her free hand and pull her close to him, as if to protect her from the nosy collective gaze, but didn’t dare, for it would be something so much greater for others to speak of later. They didn’t speak for a few moments as they walked away and back towards Josie’s house. When they reached the short path that led to her front door he did take her hand, uncaring that the hand that held the ice cream cup was in danger of the dripping mess that the ice cream had become. It had somehow lost its sweetness, and he couldn’t bring himself to finish but was unconcerned that he would be wearing it within a few moments, as it dripped down into his fine pressed shirt. “Never mind. Never mind any of it. I don’t care what anyone says; they can’t do anything but talk. We are destined to do great things to help others. I know that sounds romantic, and maybe dramatic, but I think we have our work set before us. Our work.” She kept her hand in his and nodded her agreement. Unlike him, she had not allowed their experience to dampen her interest in her ice cream, and she had all but finished eating. “I know. It’s uncomfortable, but we’ve never been too concerned about the latest gossip, although we’ve never been the center of it. Mother and I lead pretty boring lives compared to some that I hear of. And I am glad of it.” “Boring? Never. Simple isn’t necessarily boring. I wish I had . . . well, the important thing is that I’ve come around to see the good I can do, but I can’t do it without help. Your help. I hope that whatever happens, whatever is said, we can be partners in this.” A stray dog interrupted a long, quiet moment that stretched out between them, as Arthur held his paper cup at his side and the animal caught the sticky mess in one canine bite, leaving Arthur with a handful of crushed strawberry seeds and sweetened milk. “Come wash up before you go home,” Josie beckoned with a sweet smile, and he followed her into her house, knowing that now, he could follow her anywhere, and he would not be misled. For the next few days, Josie went to work for Dr. Colt, learning the ways of the office very quickly, for she was focused on doing well by him and ensuring that he didn’t regret giving her the position when he knew nothing of her. At the end of the work day, Arthur waited for her and walked her home, not unnoticed by others in town. The two of them made plans, discussed possible problems, obstacles, and he related those persons he had contacted and elicited promises of cash assistance or donations of time or items that would be needed. He was pleasantly surprised at some of his acquaintances who had seemed interested, excited even, to offer their time rather than merely write a check; it just went to show, he told Josie, that his preconceived notions of some of the more aloof members of his social set were absolutely wrong in some cases, and he was working at keeping his judgments at bay. “It’s just too easy to make these assumptions about people, when I know so little about them. I have to be careful – I don’t want to offend anyone or exclude them from the opportunity to help because of these ideas.” She reassured him that she was on the alert as well for the same habit, and perhaps they could help each other overcome it in time. “Everyone does it. That doesn’t make it right, of course, but it is a common failing, so we aren’t alone in it.” Within a week of Dr. Colt’s visit to Lucy and Joseph, he accompanied Arthur and Josie back to Josie’s house, a package under his arm that the latter two knew without asking was the child’s brace. It was exciting and a bit overwhelming. Josie worried that if it didn’t fit, or worse, didn’t work, her mother and the boy’s family would be incredibly disappointed. She caught herself in the negative thought, and silently offered her concern to God, who would provide for the boy as it was best, she knew. When the threesome entered the house, Lucy was alone with Joseph, and she was sitting on the sofa with the boy standing on the floor in front of her, her hands holding his above his head to keep him steady. “That’s a boy, there we are. Strong and steady, that’s it.” She was as proud of the boy’s small achievement in staying on his feet as if he were her own child. She was beautiful in these moments of maternal adoration, and while Josie and Arthur smiled at the charming expression on her face, Edward Colt was dumbfoundedly enchanted. She was alight with an honest love for this little boy, and it was a joy to see her so happy. He could not remember the last time he had felt so absolutely and simply happy himself; she had reached some part of him that he might possibly not have known existed, just by the concern she had for the child and the purity in her heart that was so clearly visible on her beautiful face. He took a moment to thank God for the opportunity to be of assistance to Joseph, not only for the child’s sake but for his own. It might be selfish to be glad of it, for he was thinking of how fortunate he was to have met Lucy in the bargain, but it was honest, and he felt no shame in thanking his heavenly Father for the gift of her in his life. He was reluctant to disrupt the moment, but was the first to do so, eager, as he imagined they all were, to see how well his measurements suited the boy’s leg. “Mrs. Warren, Lucy.” She caught the boy under his arms and lifted him into hers, unstartled by their presence and seamlessly shifting her attention from the child to them, to him, specifically. Her smile seemed intended only for him, as silly as he knew it was to feel that way, and he beamed back at her, imagining that this little boy must be full of joy to have so much of her attention. “Come in, please, Dr. Colt . . . Josie, Mr. Davenport, I trust you’ve had a productive day.” She knew how busy they both had been, and she had been very proud not only of her daughter but of this boy she hardly knew but was beginning to understand had a good heart and made her daughter happy. Where this would lead, well, she would take it as it came, and leave the future in God’s hands. For this moment was about Joseph, the child in her arms, who had a hard-working mother and father and barely enough food on his plate. She turned so Joseph was facing the doctor, speaking softly to the boy, reminding him of the man who had visited them less than a week before. The child pushed a tiny fist to his mouth and began to gnaw at it, his eyes focused directly and clearly on Dr. Colt. Josie and Arthur made themselves scarce, sitting quietly on the sofa behind Lucy and Edward, while Edward explained to Lucy, his eyes moving back and forth from hers to Joseph’s, what he had in the box, and what he meant to do with it. “This is a special boot, just for you, my little man. It will fit right over your leg, and while it might be a bit stiff, you’ll get used to it in no time and it will help you walk straight and tall, like a soldier. Do you play with toy soldiers?” The boy kept his eyes on Edward but made no sound or gesture of response. “He knows what they are. The other children have them, but they’re a bit older.” She looked expectantly at him, and he wished, he hoped, he prayed that the brace would fit and accomplish all she hoped for the child, for he not only wanted to help Joseph, he wanted to please her. He was not surprised to realize this, and it made him smile. “Why are you smiling, sir? Do you play with toy soldiers yourself, by chance?” He laughed and shook his head, charmed by her wit, and glad that he could entertain her at such a serious moment. “Once upon a time, I did. No time for such games now, I’m afraid.” “What a shame. You have no children of your own to play with, I gather?” He shook his head again, his smile faded. “I am alone, without having met the woman who could manage me without pulling her hair out.” She stared at him, a far off look in her eyes and a slight smile on her face. She knew a woman who could do such a thing, but she would never say it out loud. Oh, how silly, she had only just met the man. She was almost as bad as Josie and the Davenport boy were, mooning over someone she didn’t even know. But this was great fun, this small flirtation, and he was such a nice man, and there was the boy in her arms . . . “Shall we?” he was asking, nodding towards the box he carried before setting it down on the floor. He took a pen out of his jacket pocket and used it to slice open the tape that bound the seams together, and then lifted the rather sparse looking metal contraption out of the box and held it up to show everyone what it looked like. “We tuck his foot down here at the bottom, then straighten his leg out and close the straps around it, not too tight, but tight enough so that it won’t slip about and chafe the skin. It might take a few small adjustments to get it right.” Lucy sat down on the sofa beside her daughter and set Joseph on her lap so he faced the doctor, who knelt down in front of him and took the boy’s foot in his hands. He explained, very softly and simply, what he was going to do so the child wouldn’t be afraid, and Joseph followed the doctor’s actions with the gaze of a wise old man. He completely trusted all of them, and not a whimper escaped him during the process. “Does he speak at all?” A new concern had blossomed in Edward’s mind. It would be normal for a child of this age to be more uncooperative in situations that were beyond his control, or perhaps fearful, and it seemed unnatural for Joseph to be so passive. “Yes, he does a bit but he has six older brothers and sisters and I think he has already realized that unless it is something very important, his voice will go unheard in the din of the others. He’s quick, and smart, I can tell that much, and perhaps when he is older he’ll find a way to get attention. They are all so much older, some of them will be out of the house soon and then his parents will be able to attend to him more.” Edward nodded. “Not an uncommon situation. His parents know about the brace, correct? Are they willing to take the time to put it on and take it off every day, to watch for any skin problems or fitting issues?” “Oh, yes, his mother and I have been friends since we were girls. She’s busy all right, but she does love her littlest.” At the last statement Lucy petted the child’s cheek and a small smile brightened his tiny face. He didn’t seem the least bothered by the brace, and so Edward encouraged him to stand up, taking his small, warm fingers in his own to support him. Joseph slid off of Lucy’s lap and the brace clattered as his foot hit the wooden floor. His eyes grew wide and he looked, for a brief moment, as if he would cry, but then seemed to change his mind and stood quietly, staring into Edward’s eyes as if to say, see, I knew I could do it. Lucy wanted to clap her hands like a child but didn’t want to frighten Joseph. Josie and Arthur seemed to hold their breaths, and the room was still and silent before Joseph giggled. “Oh, Dr. Colt,” Lucy began, her voice low and tremulous, as if she was trying not to cry. “Edward, Lucy. Edward.” Their eyes met over the child’s head, hers full of unshed tears, his with a tenderness he never believed he would feel for a woman. Josie and Arthur held each other’s hands, their thoughts kept to themselves as they watched Joseph stand on his own for the first time, an event that had come from circumstance, kindness, and prayer, hoping that this was a predictor of more good things to come. Joseph went home that evening with his mother after Edward had explained to her the details of the use of the brace, and the thankful, tearful woman was overcome with gratefulness and disbelief that a complete stranger would do such a thing for her child and her family. “We will be paying you back, don’t worry. Just give us the bill when you come around next, and we can work towards settling up.” Edward had reassured her that he would do just that, and he planned to, with a modified amount as the purchase price, and she would be none the wiser. If she took fifty years to pay the amount he gave her, it would be no trouble; Arthur had offered to pay for the brace in its entirety, but he had negotiated a fifty/fifty split between the two of them, and Arthur had seemed satisfied with that. Edward didn’t have the sort of money or financial security that Arthur had, but he wanted to help as much as he could, and it did him no harm to contribute half of the cost. He did want to continue to be a part of the child’s life, if he could consider himself a part now, and watch how the brace helped him along. It would take time, he knew, but such progress was worth waiting for, and he had all the time in the world, especially when it would bring him in contact with Lucy now and again. “Tea, Dr. Colt?” Lucy interrupted his thoughts with her offer, and he was happy to accept. Arthur had gone home shortly after Joseph had stood with his brace for the first time, and Josie was tending to something indefinite . . . he sensed that she was giving them time alone. Was he that obvious? She must have approved of his interest in her mother if she was distancing herself so they could have a few moments together. He wondered if Lucy had noticed, and decided that of course she had, she was smart and quick and well, right at the moment, she made quite a satisfying cup of tea. “That went very well, I think,” he suggested as he sat, cup in hand, inhaling the fruity steam and feeling refreshed from what had become a long, tiring day. He knew that she was just as tired, if not more so, from her work caring for the children, and appreciated that she wanted to put off her rest to have a few moments with him. “Oh, yes, I think this will make a big difference for him, now and in the future. I think that Joseph’s mother is still in a state of disbelief over your generosity. I hope she didn’t seem ungrateful, she was just so stunned.” He shook his head to reassure her. “No, no, I understand, and she was very grateful, I could see it in her expression, in her eyes. It means so much to me to be able to help, to have been offered the opportunity to help.” They held each others’ gaze for a few seconds, and she smiled. “The opportunity to help. I like the way that sounds . . . not as if you felt required to do it, or pressured in any way, but as if you’ve been waiting.” Oh, I have, he thought. You have no idea. Actually, he had had no idea, either. “Thank you for the tea, but I should be getting back. I seem to have a full day tomorrow, and I don’t know what I’d do without your daughter’s help.” They both stood and she took a step toward him, holding out her hand. He took it and they shook hands gently. “She’s a good girl, you’ll find her very smart and a big help.” He smiled back. “I can’t imagine where she gets so many good qualities.” Lucy felt the heat creep into her cheeks. She hadn’t blushed in years, but she hadn’t been complimented by a man since she had become a widow. They walked together to the front door and he left her with a nod and a smile, and she watched him walk away from her house with a bounce in his step that belied any thoughts that he was only being kind in his attentions to her. Lucy was not only stunned, but shocked. “We’ll just be taking her over to my sister’s, that’s all. It’s just, well, we’d be a bit more comfortable with her there, is all.” Lucy had kept the little girl for her parents for the child’s entire young life and now, just today, it had occurred to the parents that the girl would be better off with a family member. It was astonishing, and she didn’t know if she was more upset that she was losing the child or that the mother was outright lying to her. “I hope I haven’t done anything . . .” she began, but was cut short by the mother, who was holding little Sara in her arms as the girl squirmed with impatience to be set down in the familiar home. “Oh, no, you haven’t, not at all. I hope we are settled up with this payment. I’m sure we’ll see each other in church, won’t we?” The woman seemed in a hurry to leave, turning and walking off before Lucy could continue questioning her. What in the world had just happened? Sara watched her over her mother’s shoulder, confused that she was still with her mother and not with Lucy. Josie was readying herself for work, as it was still rather early, and had missed the exchange as she was washing up and pulling her hair back from her face. When she padded into the living room on stocking feet, the chill of the early morning working to bring her to alertness, she caught the dejected look on her mother’s face and stopped to look at her. “What is it? Has something happened?” “Yes, I mean, no, I don’t know, really. Sara and her mother were just here, and her mother claimed that it was better for Sara to stay at Sara’s aunt’s house from now on.” Josie frowned. “Only just now? Why has it be fine for her to be with you for four years? Did she say why?” Lucy shook her head, unable to speak. “Why, it doesn’t make any sense. It’s as if something happened overnight to warn her off. But all that happened yesterday was the brace, and that was a good thing, not something that would make her take Sara somewhere else for keeping.” She stopped, her mind working, considering how the brace might have been misconstrued in any way by their neighbors, but came up with nothing. “The brace, it couldn’t have been taken in a bad way, as if it were better to leave Joseph alone rather than help him, could it? I don’t think I know anyone who would disapprove of the device.” “Me either. But I have a terrible feeling about it, not the brace, but about Sara’s mother. She was very short with me and just wanted to go as soon as she could. She was very reluctant to talk with me. There’s more to this than what she is saying, and I don’t like it.” Josie patted her mother’s arm and tried to reassure her. “Perhaps it is just as she said, but it does seem very strange. Don’t let it get to you . . . in a bit you’ll have a houseful of children to distract you. I’ll be taking a bit of that brown bread and cheese with me to work today, if that is all right with you.” Her mother nodded to her absently, and while Josie was concerned for her, she needed to get to the doctor’s office, and she truly believed that whatever it was that had motivated Sara’s mother to take her daughter somewhere else, it could be managed. The waiting and wondering about what it might have been was the worst part. She prayed silently that her mother would have a good day, and that she herself would be able to manage the ongoing mess of wrestling with the much disorganized record and file keeping system her predecessor at the doctor’s office had left. It had certainly kept her busy so far, and she knew that with a full slate of appointments today, she would be busy enough to make the day fly by. In the end, she would see Arthur, and he would have news about actual sites to rent for shelter space. Most importantly, she would see him for himself, the excitement in his eyes and the love in his heart that she hoped someday might be her own. Josie was so absorbed in her work that the day passed quickly with frequent moments of interaction with patients who were excited to see a new face on the other side of the receptionist’s desk, a fresh ear to fill with tales of their ailments and details of their lives. “When I was your age, I met my Henry at a church picnic. We had forty wonderful years together . . . I suppose you have a beau, a pretty girl like you?” It astonished her how these elderly women – and men – could drift off into their own dreamy memories, their eyes unfocused, small smiles enhancing wistful expressions, only to snap their attention back to her like a shot at very unexpected moments, catching her off guard. She was unprepared for the question the last time it was put to her as well as the first. She stuttered through her answers like a chattering doll. “Oh, no, no, I don’t.” It was nearly an apology, and yet, a small part of her felt as if she were lying even though she wasn’t. Arthur wasn’t a beau, he was a friend, and when the last aged patient received her answer to the oft repeated question, she realized that Arthur would be there within minutes to walk her home and share any updates regarding First Steps. Dr. Colt directed his patient into the examining room and nodded at Josie. “Go on, Miss Warren. I think I see your young man at the door.” At this the older lady shook a finger at her in mock disapproval. “And you said you didn’t have a beau!” Josie felt herself blush as she laughed along with the woman and the doctor, who thanked her for her work that day and turned himself and his patient away with a hand on her elbow to steady her steps. When Josie looked to the door, sure enough, Arthur was there, watching her intently. She caught herself before she let out a huge sigh. She was certainly too old for such dramatics, and she needed to be professional when discussing matters of the shelter. It was difficult, though, when he was so very handsome, and eager, and excited . . . She saw him raise a hand to knock on the door, which was ridiculous, as she was standing right there staring at him like a statue . . . how silly of her! She rushed to open the door and step out, right in front of him, close enough to . . . she laughed awkwardly at her nervousness, hoping he wouldn’t notice or care that she really was rather muddled. He watched her very carefully and seemed to be seriously considering something, something important, and she waited for what seemed minutes on end before he spoke. “I think we have a storefront to rent, and tomorrow I’ll look into setting up appointments to speak with the city’s leaders to see about any regulations we need to meet in order to operate, and also to keep them informed about our project.” He was unbelievably serious, his demeanor far more intent than the words he spoke. She understood how important this project was to him, to them, but it was if he were saying something more than just those words. It was confusing and yet, exciting in some way, as if he were trying to speak to her in some private code only the two of them could understand. He glanced through the windows of the closed door and then quickly out into the street, peeking out from the cozy nook the doorway provided before he rested his hand gently against her cheek, his fingers curled together so his knuckles brushed softly against her skin. She caught herself holding her breath, her eyes wide and unblinking, surprised and unsure how to respond. “Josie,” he whispered before pressing his lips to hers so softly and quickly she almost believed she was dreaming. Her eyes were closed for a long moment after the kiss ended; it was too wonderful to be over so quickly. She had never been kissed before, and to be honest, she had really never let herself daydream much about what it would be like, and now, it was so sweet and she didn’t want it to end. She opened her eyes slowly to find his face still only inches from hers, his eyes sleepy like hers, and she rose up onto her toes to kiss him in return. He was surprised, she could sense it, but not unhappily so, and he opened his hand to cup her cheek in his palm. When that kiss ended, he kept his hand on her cheek and stood back, staring into her eyes. “I think about you all the time, Josie, and not only because we’re working on the shelter together. We have a lot of work to do and I don’t want this to distract us, but this, us, we are important, too. I want you to know this, and to know that I want us to be together. I hope you feel the same way. Do you?” His question was almost a plea, and it seemed as if the wrong answer would break his heart right then and there. Fortunately for him, Josie thought, she had the right answer, and she couldn’t help but smile as she gave it to him. “Yes,” she told him, almost in a whisper, then again, louder. “Yes, I do. Absolutely.” The tension in his expression dissolved instantly, and he laughed like a happy child. “I could keep kissing you, you know, but it wouldn’t be proper, and I wouldn’t want to harm your reputation. There’ll be plenty of time for kissing in the future, our future.” He took her hand and they walked down the steps together to begin their walk towards Josie’s house. Along the way he shared the details of his day, the potential storefront information, and a time frame for the opening of the shelter, provided all went according to plan. Even if it didn’t, there was time for corrections, and the main goal was to get the shelter up and running before the cold set in in the late fall and the homeless were in greater peril from the elements. Ideally they would have space and provisions in a few weeks, but just in case, there was a cushion of time to handle problems so everything would be perfect when it opened. It was exciting, of course, and the idea of spending time in a very organized and visible manner to help others, involving people who might not otherwise have an opportunity to be of service, was attractive and satisfying, but this new element of romance, of the potential for a shared future, was blindingly thrilling. It was frightening to be so happy, and Josie knew she should be worried, but his talk of all the good things that were happening for the benefit of the shelter, and her own adoration of him, made it difficult for her to think clearly. She would speak to her mother about it, she knew, later when the day was done and they had time alone together over a cup of tea. Her mother would know what was best, although she couldn’t imagine her mother not finding the idea of love appealing. After all, she had loved her father, and still did, and her father had been devoted to her mother as well. Her mother would be happy for her, she expected, and would be able to advise her how to best proceed, for her and Arthur’s situation was very different from that of most girls of her station. His family would not be pleased, she imagined, but really, they would come around once they saw how happy he was, and how good she was for him. That should be all that was important to them, she considered, realizing with an ache in her chest that indeed, that was not all that was important to them. She held his hand tighter as they walked, the joy in his voice dimmer as her own happiness was blunted by clarity of understanding. Her mother, she reminded herself, would know how to handle this. She looked up at Arthur, who suddenly seemed innocent and vulnerable, and prayed silently that the road ahead would not be so rocky that this present joy would be taken from him. Chapter Nine The house was quiet, nearly empty of children except for Joseph, who was walking along the sofa cushions, his small hands gripping the edges of the large squares as he worked his legs along the floor, his young face deep in concentration. His expression looked so old for his age, so wise, so focused. Josie didn’t know if that was a good or bad thing, for he should be allowed to be a child; then again, his awareness, somehow, that he needed to work at improving his physical strength and coordination, even if he had no words for it, would make his progress quicker and in turn, give him pride and satisfaction with himself and his abilities. Lucy sat in a chair in the corner of the room, watching Joseph carefully without intervening. She raised a finger to her lips to warn Josie and Arthur not to speak just yet, as the child was concentrating and she didn’t want him disturbed. Josie looked up at Arthur, who was smiling approvingly at the boy, and she imagined him with children of his own, attentive and loving, appreciating the gift of life and the opportunity to be a father. This was a dangerous and potentially disappointing line of thinking, she warned herself, but it was a chance she had to take if they had any possibility of being together in spite of his family’s objections. They stood by her mother, waiting for Joseph to finish his walk around the furniture, and when he looked over at Lucy for approval, he was rewarded with three sets of clapping hands and laughter. His face was illuminated with happiness as Lucy stepped over to pick him up and swing him in the air. “Such a fine boy, you are, and such good work you have done today! Won’t your mother be proud.” Josie wondered aloud about the other children, forgetting momentarily about the girl this morning and her mother’s concern about the circumstances that had led the girl’s mother to take her from her care. “Where are the other children? Isn’t it a bit early for Joseph to be your only charge?” She watched her mother’s back stiffen and immediately regretted her words, for her mother had been so happy only moments before, and this response reminded her of the morning’s worries. Lucy responded before she could apologize. “A few more parents decided it was time to send their children to other sitters, although not a one could give me a good explanation. I suppose it is none of my business, they can situate their children anywhere they please, but it is so sudden, and so many at once.” Josie wanted to sit, as her knees felt weak with the realization that this might be her fault, her fault for walking out with a man so far above her own station, in a public place where others would see and judge them. It made no difference if their judgments were right or fair or necessary, but judge they would. She didn’t know if it hurt more to know that her own neighbors would be so ruthless, or that she had expected such treatment from Arthur’s family and social group, not her own; that made her as bad as any of them, to made such a judgment without knowing any of them individually. There was no other explanation possible . . . her mother had lost the children because their mothers believed she herself was unfit for the youngsters to be with, even though Josie was only with them a small amount of time. They most likely expected that if Josie were a bad example, then her mother must have raised her poorly, and wouldn’t do well by their own children either. It was absurd. Maybe she was overreacting. “Are you well? Josie?” Arthur had taken her by the elbow and was leading her to the sofa, where she sat heavily and put her face in her hands. Her mother watched her carefully, and when Josie looked up at her, she noticed that her mother seemed well aware of what she was thinking. She also did not look as if she was going to refute it. “I am so sorry. I can’t believe this, I really can’t.” Arthur looked back and forth from daughter to mother, confused by the sudden change in mood and behavior and completely in the dark as to what had caused this upset. “What’s wrong? Did I miss something in the last few minutes?” Both women looked at him, and Lucy nodded at Josie. “She can explain. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but there’s nothing for it. The two of you have much more to worry about than this.” She turned, Joseph in her arms, drowsy and tired from his efforts, his head resting on her shoulder, and walked into the kitchen. Josie watched her, her earlier reassurance that her mother would help her work through her fears about her relationship with Arthur and the potential they had for a future together in ruins. She had to make this right for her mother. While her pay from working for Dr. Colt was sufficient to cover their general expenses, her mother had been caring for children for years, and it was not only a way to keep the two of them fed, clothed, and housed, it was her livelihood. She loved her work and the good standing she had amongst her neighbors for her reliability and concern for their children. The damage to her reputation, hard-earned and long-standing, was a high price for her to pay for ice cream shared between Josie and Arthur. It was so wrong, and yet, it was what it was. “Last night. The Creamery. Someone, well, more than one, saw us together and didn’t approve.” His confusion was still apparent. She hated to continue, especially since her own thoughts during the past weeks had only been about the prejudices of his friends and family. She had been so wrong and it made the situation all the worse for it. “They, whoever it was, is,” she stumbled over the words. “They don’t think my mother is the best person to keep children, since her daughter steps out with men who wouldn’t be seen with anyone of her station unless . . . “ “Unless?” She couldn’t say anything more, so she looked down at her hands, clasped in her lap. It only took him a few seconds to figure it out, and she knew he had when he audibly gasped. “What? How could they? But they know you; they know your mother, the very idea!” She smiled sadly up at him, pleased with his indignation on her behalf. “What can we do to fix it?” he asked. She shook her head. “I don’t know. An open accusation is one thing, but no one will come out and say anything specific. We can’t deny something that is unsaid, since they can claim they have no idea what we are talking about, and it might make it worse if we bring it up. I don’t know, really, if we can fix it. Some people will think what they will, in spite of what they know as the truth. I don’t know what they’re afraid of.” “I’m a bad influence, is that it?” She took his hands in hers and stood up in front of him, keeping her eyes on his. “No. Absolutely not. If anyone thinks that they’re wrong. It’s rather that they think, or at least I think they do, that you wouldn’t be bothered with one of us, with me, if I wasn’t . . . offering you something.” She tried to maintain eye contact but at this last, her eyes fell and she stared down at his shoes. He squeezed her hands tightly and she looked back up quickly to see the fury on his face. “Oh, this has to stop. This is absurd.” She shook her head. It seemed as if all she had been doing these past few minutes was shake her head. “No, no, we just have to ignore it. In time they’ll see they’ve been wrong. It’s just, we’ve known these people for so long, since before I was born, they knew my father, they know better, that’s all. I didn’t realize how different this is for them, to see someone like you here, with me. It must look very strange and really, as if something unusual is going on.” He let go of her hands and turned around, walking away a few steps and running his hands through his hair. As much as she didn’t like to see him upset, she was pleased that he felt so strongly in her defense as well as her mother’s. It meant so much . . . it meant that she was important to him, that her reputation and her happiness were things he was willing to protect. She almost smiled at the thought, but the reality of their situation weighed too heavily on her. “I’ll think of something. It’s just wrong.” “No, don’t worry about it; we need to focus on opening the shelter. We can’t let anything or anyone get in the way of that.” He turned and looked at her when she spoke and nodded, acknowledging that she was correct in her assessment, and with his hands on his hips, he looked down for a moment before facing her again. “I haven’t been completely honest with you, Josie. My family . . . my parents don’t actually support me in this.” Arthur had tried to explain the importance of the shelter to the community, and to himself, to his parents and neither was willing to try to understand. His father was disappointed, it was clear, and didn’t want to discuss it anymore, and his mother was white-hot furious, insisting that he had been bewitched by a servant. He, of course, had been insulted that she thought him so gullible, but then again, his past behavior might have led her to believe this. Regardless, he thought they should make an effort to hear his plans, his dreams, and even if they didn’t agree, at least not make it more difficult by giving him the silent treatment when he was home. His sisters had been oblivious, in and out and all around town for social events and activities, and as they weren’t used to having Arthur around in general, they didn’t miss him. It hurt, he had to admit, but he had never been close to any of them, which was a sad state of affairs, and he didn’t know how to affect a change if they weren’t willing to get to know him and what he was working towards. It was distracting, and he was glad for Josie and her support, as well as for the project itself for not only keeping him busy but also for bringing his sorry family relationships to light, making it possible for him to seek a remedy. “I’m sorry,” she looked worried as she replied and he wished he could wipe the frown line from appearing between her brows. “Thank you, thank you for being a part of this. I don’t know what I would do if I was working alone, especially with my family’s disapproval to deal with every time I walk in my front door. It’s no more of a burden than your problem with your neighbors, though, and I mean to find a way to show them that what’s between us . . . our friendship . . . is only a good thing. They have no business judging you or your mother.” She had to smile now, a small smile but one nonetheless. He had taken her hands and she felt the urge to pray, with him, together asking for God’s strength and guidance. She bowed her head and without preamble, spoke softly as his hands tightened around hers. “Heavenly Father, keep us strong and true to you, help us to weather these storms, for all our work is in your name. We give you thanks for what we have and what is to come, for the opportunity to help others, and for your act of salvation. Amen.” It was short and to the point, but it was a bond shared between them, a offering to the Father they both aimed to serve, and they both felt the physical renewal that they needed to work more that evening on shelter plans with minds heavy with concern for the other issues at hand. Lucy didn’t know what to expect the next morning except to lose more children to rumor and judgment misplaced. She was relieved when no other children than the ones removed the day before were kept back, but she considered that it was probably only a matter of time before word got around and she would find herself losing more of them. She made a point of thanking each parent as they dropped off the children, and was especially enthusiastic in her welcoming of each little one into her home. Some of them had taken a special interest in Joseph’s new device and either watched his progress or offered to help in their own sweet way. “I hold hand,” one little girl told Joseph. He stared at her, then put his hand in hers and she patiently guided him across the room. She was only a bit bigger than he was, and the effort was not small on her part. Lucy was pleased to see how easily the girl offered assistance, and that Joseph was willing to accept it. If only there was someone who would offer her assistance in this matter, but even if there was, it was as Josie had explained to Arthur the evening before. It was difficult to counter something that was not openly said, and it was easy for those involved to deny anything when they were questioned about it. It wasn’t a matter of confronting anyone specific. Well, she had to be grateful for this day, and a house not quite full of children to care for, and try to give her worries over to God for at least the time she had with them. Josie was at work, and Arthur at the storefront he hoped to use for the shelter, and the best the three of them could do was support each other and continue to do what they normally would without this problem. She felt herself smile and wondered at how easily she included Arthur in her thoughts of her daughter. He really was becoming like one of their family, someone to trust and respect and appreciate, and she hoped, and prayed, that she was right on all of these counts, for it was obvious that Josie was in love with the boy. She wasn’t too worried after seeing them together so much over the past week; for as much as Josie was in love with Arthur; he was absolutely infatuated with her as well. The day seemed long for Josie, although she was busy at the doctor’s office. She felt responsible for her mother’s loss and didn’t know how to make any sort of positive change on the problem or to view from a different angle. She didn’t want to stop being seen with Arthur; that would only feed the gossips more, as if she were validating their suspicions by keeping their meetings private. They had nothing to hide and had done nothing inappropriate, except for that kiss. Oh, what if someone had seen that kiss? “What on earth is the matter, Miss Warren?” She shook herself out of her stupor of worry, as Dr. Colt stood in front of her desk and stared at her with concern. “I’ll get you a glass of water.” He stepped away from the desk before she could stop him, and honestly, water sounded just fine at the moment. She accepted it with thanks when he returned and took a sip, ending with a small sigh. “You can tell me, if you feel comfortable, maybe I can help.” She shook her head at his last words, knowing there was nothing he could do, but shared the dilemma with him, beginning with her acquaintance with Arthur on the Cliff Walk and her eventual dismissal from the Davenport household, ending with the loss of the children in her mother’s care. He watched her intently as she spoke, allowing her to finish before he exhaled a breath. “Well,” he started. “That is quite a rollercoaster of changes over the past few weeks . . . and this latest development, this treatment of your mother, that is very upsetting.” He was angry, she could tell, although he was trying to stay calm and focused on the conversation. His folded his arms across his chest and looked down, and she watched him struggle to maintain a professional air, wondering if he might have formed some sort of attachment to her mother. After all, she was still young, and beautiful, and shared his interest in helping others. It would not be surprising, and her mother could use a true friend to support her right now along with herself and Arthur. “Arthur thinks there is something we can do to stop whatever tales are going on about us and damaging my mother’s reputation, but I’m fairly certain there isn’t. Giving such talk any attention only keeps it going. Do you agree, or do you, like him, think we can do anything to alleviate my mother’s stress?” Edward walked to the front windows, looking out into the small street that went through town. He watched several passersby, ladies with their parasols tilted above their heads to protect their complexions from the harshness of the sun, young men chattering together gaily without a care in the world. A few children carried fruits and vegetables in baskets to sell, and on occasion, the adults stopped to purchase one or two, either out of necessity or pity. It pleased him to see that the children were not ignored. “It strikes me that your concern is for your mother first, is that not so?” Josie’s brows knitted together as she looked at him, confused by his question. “Yes, of course, why wouldn’t it be?” “Well, your reputation is ruined, you see, and that doesn’t seem to bother you.” She nodded and looked down at her hands, which she had placed in her lap. “No, it doesn’t, not really. Only that it might damage Arthur’s, our, chances of success at the shelter.” “I don’t see that happening. If he has arranged for a place and also backing from friends, there is no reason for this to touch on your plans. What of your future, though? Why are you not concerned for how this might look to potential suitors?” Josie had to consciously settle her thoughts and consider this question. She knew she would be ruined, but had been worried, honestly, only for the shelter and for her mother. Most girls her age were thinking of marriage and making a suitable match with a man who would be a good provider and a companion. No one of that description would bother with her if he believed she had been ‘entertaining’ one of the upper class gentlemen. Just the hint that she might be doing such a thing would make any young man take pause, and if not him, then his parents. It wasn’t fair, but it was true. This, however, was not the issue. “I suppose I never really thought too much about it before, it, I mean, marriage, was so far in the future, and it was something that would happen when it was meant to. Maybe that’s why it doesn’t worry me now.” Dr. Colt smiled at her, a smile worthy of a one of her mother’s more ornery charges. “Somehow I don’t think so.” Did she really expect Arthur to marry her? Was that what Dr. Colt was asking? Of course she would never kiss any man she didn’t intend to marry but when it came down to hard and fast facts, and serious considerations, should she well and truly expect them to marry? He never mentioned it, but she didn’t think he would behave the way he had if he didn’t mean to court her seriously. “Is it too much to ask?” She didn’t have to explain what she meant, and his smile vanished in response. “No. Not at all.” He pulled up a chair and sat on the other side of her desk. “Miss Warren . . ." “Josie, please.” “I have known the Davenport family for many years now. I’ve watched Arthur grow up, and to be honest, he has spent most of his life in a very selfish manner. So much time wasted, and it has truly been by the grace of God that he has seen a path before him that would please the Lord. I believe he has changed, and I believed that the two of you were brought together for a reason.” As he spoke, she very nearly held her breath, as her burden felt lighter. She watched him intently as he went on. “This won’t be easy, and the opinions of the people in this town won’t help, but if the two of you are willing to look forward and trust in God, trust in me, and your mother, the shelter will be a success, and the future the two of you will share will be one as well. So far you haven’t been distracted by these opinions, except in the case of the effect on your mother’s work. Let’s keep it that way,” “But my mother . . . " He shook his head at her, not dismissing her concern but asking only for her to trust him with it. “I’ll walk home with you today when Arthur arrives for you, and I’ll speak to your mother and see what, if anything can be done. Maybe nothing more will come of it, but if I know people, and my profession had led me to know them well, this won’t be the last of it. We’ll see if anything can be done to minimalize any damage and if not, we’ll stick together and find a way to keep your mother in business.” She bit her lip in thought for a moment, and nodded. “Back to work, now, I’m not paying you to keep me from my duties.” They shared a smile as he stepped into the examining room to work on a file, and she set about the endless task of document updating and sorting. It was an honest to goodness mess, and she was grateful to have it to occupy her mind for the rest of the work day. Her mother and she had an ally in the doctor, as she should have expected, and four heads were better than three. Maybe he could bring a different perspective on their problems, and if nothing else, just be there for them, her mother especially. Josie suspected the doctor wouldn’t mind spending more time with her mother, and her mother would have no objections to getting to know the doctor a bit better. Arthur felt as if he were living in a tomb, if living were the word for it. His parents ignored him except when absolutely necessary, and the most conversation he shared was with the servants. They, in turn, were very curious as to the circumstances of the rift between him and his parents, and in the dismissal of Josie, who had been a most promising maid. He imagined the gossip among the little group was full of illicit details that were as far from the truth as possible. The thought that Josie was being spoken of in the lowest terms raised his ire, and when the housekeeper appeared at his door to ask if he needed attended to before leaving that morning, so she might summon a valet for assistance, he called her into his room. She was stunned; the maid’s presence in a man’s bedroom was unheard of. He saw her hesitate. “Please, leave the door open, and you may stand on the threshold if it makes you more comfortable.” He was short with her, and he knew that he was being unfair, as he couldn’t say for sure that any rumors had been shared or if this particular girl had anything to with them if they had. He knew, though, of no other way to handle it than to address it directly and firmly. She did as he said, and hovered in the doorway, watching him warily with a tinge of curiosity in her gaze. “I won’t have anything negative said about Miss Warren, do you understand? Her dismissal is none of anyone’s business, and she is gainfully employed in a respectable establishment now, so it is no one’s affair. She is not to be discussed.” The housekeeper was aghast. Such things were not spoken of in this manner, and she was not used to being reprimanded for her personal discussions, which had nothing to do with her work. She was indignant, but also aware that her employment was at stake; even if Mrs. Davenport was upset with her son, if he asked for her dismissal, or proclaimed it himself, it would be a truth. She bit her tongue, quite literally, and forced herself to nod almost imperceptibly. “Is there any reason why anyone here should speak ill of her? Did she do anything harmful to any of you? Did she follow your direction as required?” She dropped her gaze and considered his words. He was right, Josie had done nothing to earn any of the gossip that had circulated about her, at least to her knowledge, except that the missus had bandied it about that she was an easy girl who had bewitched her son. As far as she herself knew Josie, she honestly didn’t expect the girl to fall from grace in such a way. She was very proper and maintained high standards of work and behavior. While she herself had said no word against her, she had also not stopped the other girls from talking, or from saying anything in Josie’s defense to Mrs. Davenport, which would be a dangerous track but nonetheless, the right thing to do. She had the feeling that Josie would never speak about her or the other staff in such a manner, even if the words were true. Josie would not perpetuate such nastiness about others. She said none of this aloud, but merely agreed with the younger Mr. Davenport, who excused her with a hidden anger that was in itself worth sharing. She wouldn’t dare, though, and kept the exchange to herself, determined not to participate in the negativity herself or allow it to continue in the house. If and when she encountered such gossip, she would put a stop to it. Whether it was true, which she doubted, or not, which was the most likely case, it was unnecessary to continue the talk. After he was left alone, Arthur considered what else he could do to alleviate the gossip not only in his house and among the servants, who he knew spoke with the other household employees in the neighborhood and in town, but in Josie’s corner of the woods, so to speak. No gentleman who was taking advantage of a young lady’s favors would publicly proclaim her innocence, would he? Suddenly he knew exactly what to do. Divine intervention, no doubt, he smiled to himself. It was time for him to do some intervening of his own. When Arthur, Josie, and Edward made their way from the doctor’s office to Josie’s house, the three were all thoughtful and generally quiet. Arthur longed to hold her hand as they walked but thought better of it. There would plenty of time for that later; and he would be wise to keep their physical attention to each other at a minimum in public, so as not to cause more speculation than already had begun. It wasn’t right for him to take liberties with her, whether he meant well by her or not, and he had been in grave error for doing so until this point. His own good intentions and thoughts did not, clearly, carry over into the general populace, which looked for the bad rather than the good, as it was more interesting to share with others. Why did some people feel better about themselves by setting someone else aside for derision? Did it make their own failures pale before another’s assumed actions? “We’re certainly a rowdy lot this afternoon.” Dr. Colt interrupted the silence with a laugh, and Josie and Arthur couldn’t help but join him. Arthur had known the man since his own childhood, and while he was wise and honest, he also had a fine sense of humor and the ability to dispel a miasma of depression. He was definitely a fine fit for his profession. “What progress have you made on the shelter today, Arthur?” “Well,” the younger man began. “I’ve signed the lease and paid the first six months rent.” It was such a profound and serious and wonderful statement, Josie thought, and he delivered it as if he was saying that he was going to purchase a quart of milk. She wanted to jump and hug him, but of course, she couldn’t, so she smiled up at him, unable to control her pleasure. “Six months? That must be a considerable outlay. You feel sure we will be a success, don’t you?” He smiled back at her use of the word ‘we.’ “How could we fail?” She felt herself flush as he stared right at her, and looked down for a moment before continuing to question him. “Does the building need cleaning before we start to move furniture and supplies in? I can come by in the evenings and sweep or mop, if need be.” Edward watched the unspoken exchange between the two young people, smiling to himself. They were trying to be discreet without actually communicating those efforts to each other, clearly in the interest of preserving each other’s reputations and that of Josie’s mother. Their commitment to their cause, and to each other, was obvious, and he hoped that none of it would be crushed by the nastiness of gossip. He didn’t believe their relationship was that tenuous, so he wasn’t too worried about it. He was concerned, however, for Lucy and her livelihood, and in turn, her happiness, and was eager to reach her house and speak with her to see how she was faring. “No need for that. I’ve hired a few girls and a boy to help with the cleaning duties, as they were looking for work and we needed the help. It seemed a good solution all around.” The two of them seemed in a world of their own, and Edward did not want to interrupt them. He was all but forgotten, he was sure, until Arthur addressed him. “Will we be able to purchase some basic medical supplies at cost, as you had suggested?” “Oh, yes, of course. We can discuss the particulars of amounts of each item and delivery dates as soon as you would like. And I can be on hand a few evenings a week, and on the weekends, for more involved cases you might encounter. I think general first aid might be in the realm of your abilities, though, and there really is no need to have me on the premises at regular hours.” Josie shook her head vigorously. “Oh, no, of course not, you work so much already, and the shelter is only a few streets away, so in an emergency we can get to you quickly, and even move the patient to your office if need be.” The girl was forgetting that she herself worked nearly as much as the doctor did, and her free time would now be spent at the shelter when it opened, as well as attending to some of the necessities of maintaining it when it wasn’t. She wasn’t a girl used to wasting time, though, so it wouldn’t be a stretch for her to commit her time to this project. In time, though, he knew that she and Arthur would work at the shelter as a primary job, and he would most likely lose his newest and most capable receptionist. Nothing would make him happier, though, than to see the shelter move on successfully and for her and Arthur to be able to commit to each other publicly and be together well and truly without interference from anyone. “We are agreed, then?” Josie and Arthur nodded in unison, and as they approached Lucy’s house, Edward saw Arthur’s hand poised to take Josie’s as soon as they were in the door, and the girl’s equally eager to take his. He laughed out loud, almost a short bark, but neither one paid any attention, the entirety of their focus on each other. His focus, however, was on the woman who sat alone on the sofa, her head in one hand as she leaned on one of the sofa’s arms. She wasn’t happy, and he was determined to do whatever was in his power to change that. Lucy had not lost any more of her charges that day, but nearly all had been picked up earlier than usual. No parent acted strangely towards her, however, and she wondered if she was being nervous or if she was, on the other hand, hopeful and not picking up on odd behavior that might clue her in that more children would be removed from her care. It was a Saturday, and often of a Saturday the parents did come early; some worked half days, some not at all, so it was difficult to guess how the following week would go based on this day. She was tired, though, in spite of having less time working with the children, and more than a little pleased to see her daughter and Arthur, along with the nice surprise of a visit from Edward as well. She wasn’t sure her pleasure showed in her expression, however, and made a concerted effort to smile and look as she felt at their arrival. “Well, I didn’t expect the pleasure of your company this evening, Dr. Colt,” she extended her hand as she stood and he took it, holding it in his as if he did not want to let it go. Arthur and Josie shared a glance and walked into the kitchen, Josie noting to her mother that she would put the kettle on. Josie was pretty sure that her mother heard nothing, although she made a small noise that was meant to acknowledge Josie’s statement. “I’m sorry I have nothing to offer you in the way of refreshment other than tea,” she began. “I’ve been remiss in baking. I have had a lot on my mind, but if I had known you would be visiting, I would have made something for your trouble.” Edward shook his head, smiling, and nodded towards the sofa. “Not at all, no trouble at all. Shall we sit? You do look a bit tired. Long day?” They sat beside each other, their knees turned in just a bit so they all but faced each other, inches away from touching. “I suppose. And you? Your work is so much more demanding than mine, I’m sure.” He laughed. “Oh, no, I’m sure it is no such thing. I do know that worrying is very taxing, however, and it has come to my attention that there might be something on your mind.” Lucy covered her face with her hands briefly, as if to wipe away the strain before answering. He was quiet, allowing her to compose herself and her answer, worried that he might be invading her privacy, but as Josie had told him, he thought that the daughter might be well aware of how a mother might consider the information shared with a new friend who might be able to offer a helpful perspective. “Yes, this is true. I expect Josie has told you of our predicament, if indeed there is one. It’s hard to say why anyone would think ill of her, and of me, in turn, when so many of the families out here have known us for years and we have never given anyone cause to question our propriety.” “I am sure of it, and perhaps, as you say, there may not even be a problem. I only want you to know that I am available if you need to talk, and if I should hear anything in the course of my work day, I will certainly refute it.” She smiled at him; it was easy to do, and she found herself very comfortable with him and his offer to help. She didn’t know what, if anything, he could actually do, but the thought was important and his intentions good. “The road to hell . . .” she muttered to herself, chuckling quietly. “Excuse me?” The doctor was giving her a confused look, and she realized she had spoken aloud. “My grandmother used to say that the road to hell was paved with good intentions. Do you believe that, sir?” He took a deep breath and while she had been joking, in part, she saw that he was taking her question seriously. “I think that if one stops at intentions, yes . . . one must act on one’s values and beliefs, and if he errs in the execution, well, that is only human error. I think many people have good thoughts but are afraid to behave in the manner they claim to believe, as it might not be popular. It is not an easy path we walk, Lucy, is it?” She nodded, her eyes on his. “We don’t walk it alone. Whatever I can do to help, please allow me the honor.” She smiled at that, agreeing that indeed it was a path made easier by sharing. “Let us check on the young people – they are very quiet in there. I’d like to know how the shelter plans are coming along.” It was his turn to agree with her, and he offered his hand to help her to her feet and they went into the kitchen to ask Arthur and Josie for details on the project that Lucy had yet to hear, taking her own mind off her worries about the children. Chapter Ten Sunday dawned bright and clear, the heat of the day promising to come earlier than usual, and the thought of swimming and playing on the beach was almost too difficult for the younger members of the church attendees to bear for the length of the service. Children were eager to leave the confines of the building and the perceived boredom of the service, driving their parents to distraction with the shuffling of feet and deep, audible sighs that left no doubt as to their inability to attend to the subject discussed, which was, Josie thought, rather ironic in the wake of the possible snobbery practiced by her neighbors on her and her mother’s behalf. “Let he who is without sin . . .” the pastor nearly shouted towards the sweating mass of listeners. Cast the first stone, Lucy thought to herself with a small smile. Josie tugged a bit at her mother’s sleeve, like a small child herself, and whispered for her ears alone. “People who live in glass houses.” Lucy couldn’t hide the conspiratorial grin she shared with her daughter, who she realized was becoming her friend and companion as well as her child and charge. She was proud of the girl for so many reasons, but at that moment, so very glad she had her for an ally. She thanked God silently for her many blessings but foremost on that day for Josie, who she knew in her heart would not have an easy walk through the rest of her life but would succeed and do well in the service of others in the name of Christ. She was up to the task, however, and would not walk alone, and she herself would be a willing partner in every way she could to assist her. She took Josie’s hand in hers and they held fast to each other through the rest of the sermon, focusing on the words rather than the few stares they received from some members of the congregation. Towards the end of the service, before the general rising of the crowd, both women noticed more and more people glancing at the back of the church at the entrance, where the doors were propped open on account of the heat. Josie turned her head to see what the fuss was about, but could see nothing, as the sun shone in her eyes. A murmur arose and the pastor gestured at someone after the benediction, when all should have arisen and been on their way to the yard where they would, as a habit, socialize a bit before heading home. Everyone stayed in their seats instead, so Josie and Lucy stayed as well, wondering what was happening. “Who is it?” Josie asked her mother, not bothering to keep her voice down, as everyone else was chattering louder than she was. “There’s your gentleman, Miss Josette!” Someone to her right giggled loudly but Josie couldn’t place the voice that made the statement, not unkindly but rather in a teasing fashion. She couldn’t imagine what they meant, but she didn’t have long to find out. Walking up the middle of the aisle towards the pastor was Arthur, dressed rather casually for him but formally for their church practice, strolling as if he hadn’t a care in the world and glancing neither right nor left as he reached the front of the church. “A word, if you will, sir, on a matter of some importance to the community.” The pastor was a bit confused and yet humbled by the presence of a man who was clearly a cottager, but as Arthur did not appear to pose a threat in any way, he bowed slightly and gave the younger man a wider berth in which to address to congregation. “Ladies and gentlemen, I am Arthur Davenport, and I have come to let you know about an exciting project that I’ve just begun in town. With the assistance of one of your neighbors, Miss Warren, I will be opening a shelter for the less fortunate, the unemployed, the hungry . . . in short, anyone looking for a helping hand. If you or anyone you know should be in need of assistance please don’t hesitate to contact either me or Miss Warren in the meantime, but when we are open in a few weeks, I will be sure to let everyone know the availability of our services.” The silence in the great room was like a living thing; Josie glanced around and saw not a few persons looking at her in wonder, some incredulous that this gentleman was in their church, speaking to them of wanting to help them and their friends. It was difficult to gauge their approval or their disapproval, and she caught herself holding her breath. She gently slowed her breathing and concentrated on its rhythm, listening to Arthur’s voice and gripping her mother’s hand tightly without looking at her. “Our shelter is a Christian-focused service, and we also welcome any assistance. If you have time or talents to share with your brethren in need, in whatever quantity, whether it is an hour a week or an hour a day, we would welcome any help you might offer. Sometimes it is the lowliest of souls who can lend a hand to the greatest in these matters; we aim not to judge but to serve.” Josie was in awe of the ease with which he spoke, all eyes on him, with no fear or nervousness in his tone or his gaze. “In light of this, we also ask that you not judge us in our efforts, our failings, or our time together. Like most work, it is best done when shared, as ideas from all involved enhance the quality of the end product. If you have any questions or concerns, I will be happy to speak with any of you in the yard momentarily. I give you a good day and thank you for your time and attention.” It was nearly a full minute after he walked back through the church, straight down the aisle again with nary a faltering step, before someone, no, more than one, began to clap. Several others followed, either in agreement or just as a habit, and soon most of the group was joining this gesture of approval. Josie and Lucy kept their hands together, their eyes on each other. “You didn’t know, did you?” Lucy asked, knowing the answer as she did so. Josie shook her head. “I don’t know what to say. It was wonderful, and brave, but . . .” “But what?” “I don’t know.” She felt the multitude of eyes on her as she and her mother stood, smiling in response to anyone she caught in her gaze as the two of them walked the same path Arthur had only a few minutes earlier. She wanted to be available for questions from anyone as well, but she didn’t want to interfere in anything that the others wanted to say to him either. Lucy took her arm as they emerged into the sunlight, directing her to the other side of the yard from where the young man stood, already speaking with a couple of older ladies who looked very serious as they listened to him. He looked so very businesslike and focused, smiling politely as he answered their questions and explained his plans, and only once did he look over at her and she wasn’t sure if he didn’t wink to ease her mind. The two women stood arm in arm for only a few minutes before a small group of women approached them. All were neighbors, ladies they had known for years, and in Lucy’s case, for decades. They had all sat together at this very church growing up, shared recipes at parish picnics, attended each other’s weddings . . . watched each other’s children grow up and move on. One of the women looked down as she stood before Lucy and Josie, but the others held their gazes, almost defiantly. “Well,” said one dark-haired woman, a bit older than Lucy and clearly the leader of the pack, so to speak. Josie knew her to be the type to be more judgmental than most of her mother’s acquaintances, and she had never been comfortable around her. She braced herself for what she predicted would be quite a set down. She didn’t know if she should answer any accusations or just ignore them; in the few moments she waited for the woman to continue to speak, she held her mother’s hand tightly in her own, determined to stand firm regardless of whatever approach the woman took. “It really isn’t proper to mix with gentlemen, even if it is for charity. One must be aware of appearances. Nice girls really should know better.” Josie had thought she was prepared for whatever the woman might say, but to hear the words out loud, particularly the outright insinuation that she wasn’t a ‘nice’ girl, was too much. This woman, indeed, all of these women, knew how she had conducted her short life, as well as how her mother had managed hers, and while neither of them were perfect, neither were any of these others, or their own family members. She felt her mother squeeze her hand and bit her lip to keep from responding. What could she say to change the woman’s mind, after all? “I see you have no intention of defending yourself. There really is no defense for such behavior. I hope you are appropriately ashamed.” “Ashamed of helping others? I don’t understand your reasoning, Missus . . . ?” Arthur had walked softly and quietly up beside the older woman, and Josie couldn’t tell how long he had been listening or how much he had heard. All of the women, including herself, were surprised at his presence, and she watched the woman’s cheeks flare red with embarrassment and more than a little fury. Arthur maintained a polite smile as he looked directly at her, expecting an answer, as was everyone else in the gathering. Josie noticed that others had followed Arthur to their small group and were listening intently for her judge’s response. The older woman blinked and held her composure, but it took her a few minutes to collect herself enough to speak. “The shame is in being alone with a man. Perhaps in your circles it is entirely appropriate, but on our side of town, a young lady must be mindful of the time she spends with the other gender, whether or not the motive and actions are proper. I am sure you meant no harm, but Miss Warren knows better. As always, a young lady must be careful of her reputation. After all, it is all she has.” She ended smugly, settling her shoulders in a manner that seemed to punctuate the end of her statement. The women about her glanced at each other and nodded almost imperceptibly in agreement, reinforcing their determination to stand by her, as she seemed, for the moment, triumphant. Arthur seemed nonplussed by her claim and hummed shortly to himself, as if considering her words, before responding. “Ah, I must disagree. Miss Warren has much more to offer than a spotless reputation. She had a strong work ethic, a clever mind, and a kind, Christian heart devoted to the service of the less fortunate. I think you underestimate her as well as the other young ladies in, as you say, your part of town. If she had not agreed to spend time with me to work on this project, I would be much farther behind, and the sooner the shelter is up and running, the more of those less fortunate we can help. I think putting her reputation before the basic needs of others would be rather selfish, don’t you?” At this, the woman stomped her foot. It was shocking behavior in one of her age, who should have control of her temper, but she had lost her argument, and in a very public fashion, too. Josie almost felt sorry for her, and said a silent prayer that she would get over her anger and see Arthur’s line of reasoning as a rational one rather than continue to make herself upset over it. Why did the woman care what Josie did anyway? What business was it of hers? “Our girls are not yours for the taking, if I may be so bold. You people with your money and boats and fancy balls think you can take whatever you like whenever you like. Miss Warren is not something to be had . . . she is a person, and you are interfering with her future happiness by toying with her reputation. Have you no shame? How can you call yourself a servant for Christ when you besmirch an innocent girl with your actions?” Josie was stunned as if the woman has slapped her, watching her traipse off in a huff, the other ladies behind her. She couldn’t help but stare in the woman’s wake, her thoughts full of the woman’s words. She could hear her mother speaking to her, and others milling about Arthur, reassuring him that they didn’t agree with the woman but appreciated his efforts towards helping the poor. Eventually her mother began to shake her and she noticed that Arthur was in front of her, and the rest of the crowd had backed away, still watching but giving the three of them space and privacy. She was unsure how this had come to pass. Her head felt light and she was a little dizzy. “What is it?” Arthur was looking at her with great concern, his eyes gentle and questioning, and she could sense that he wanted to reach out and touch her but didn’t dare, not in front of everyone. She wished he would, though, just to hold her hand, but his care for how it would appear to the others, especially in light of what the older woman had just proclaimed in front of the entire church congregation, moved her nearly to tears. Whatever the woman said, she was wrong, but truly, she meant well, and at the bottom of it, she was obviously worried about the effect the upper class was having on the girls in town. Josie knew of several girls who had fallen prey to the charms of the young men in question, possibly lured by the promises, said or unsaid, of money, status, and acceptance. Then again, there had been girls fallen by neighborhood boys as well, so it wasn’t necessarily the fault of one social group or another. Some girls were more susceptible to that sort of attention, and some boys were less scrupulous than others in taking advantage of them. She shook her head to try to clear the fuzziness from it and looked around for her mother, who was speaking to a few women close beside them. Arthur was still watching her carefully. “I’m fine, I’m sorry for being a bit dizzy there. Must be the heat.” She tried to laugh but she could hear how strained and stilted it sounded. She longed to be away from these people, the heat, to clear her mind. It was confusing to think of all that had happened in the last ten minutes or so, from Arthur’s surprise appearance in church, to the loud and nearly panicked expression from the older woman, who had seemed only moments ago to be merely a nasty, judgmental creature. She wanted to be home, with her mother and Arthur, as the denseness of bodies and the heaviness of the heat was keeping her from making sense of it all. “We should go. I’ll speak with your mother.” She could see, though, that her mother was quite in her element. She was chatting and smiling, seemingly comfortable with the small crowd around her. The interest in the shelter was promising, and Josie was glad her mother could field questions and keep the positive flow of interest going, especially as she herself felt paralyzed by the dichotomy of her preconceived notions and the reality of what had occurred just then. “No,” she stopped him from interrupting her mother, considering that Lucy should be allowed to continue as she was, interacting positively with her neighbors, returning their thoughts of her to the good, and either increasing her own reputation as a dependable caregiver or at least maintaining it. She had been known for so long as an honest and caring nurturer of children and it was a shame that perception had been interrupted, especially on Josie’s account. As long as her mother stayed, though, she had to as well. She couldn’t very well go off with Arthur, alone, as much as she might be tempted to, if only to savor the privacy and the time with him. They didn’t even have to speak for her to feel comfortable. It was risky and she wouldn’t chance it. While she didn’t care too much for her own reputation at this point she did have a care for her mother’s. Arthur, meanwhile, was still standing by her, a bit confused and unsure what to do, but somehow knowing that she needed a few moments to gather herself before deciding what to do next. “Shall we wait for your mother? Do you feel ill? I can get you a glass of water from the church, I’m sure.” Yes, that was it. He could find her a drink and she would have some time to settle herself, perhaps she would stand by her mother and see if the ladies had any questions she might help answer. She nodded to him and met his eyes briefly, hopefully reassuring him that all was well. After he turned to walk into the church, she moved closer to her mother and stood by her side, attempting a small smile in the face of the circle of woman crowded around Lucy. “Oh, I’m sure that Josie can answer that for you.” Josie drew a blank. She had heard the voices but was not really paying attention to what was said. “I’m so sorry, can you repeat the question?” “Distracted by that handsome young man . . . can’t say as I blame you. If I were a few years younger, well.” The ladies tittered but not unkindly. Josie supposed she had asked for it, but it still made her feel as if they believed she had little to do with the shelter preparations, most likely because they considered her incapable of such a task. Of course she would have to be led by a man who would tell her what to do step by step. It was absurd but she wasn’t going to argue. Her actions would speak louder than any words she could use to try to convince them. “Your question, ma’am?” she asked politely, her voice firm and steady. Before the woman could repeat her inquiry, Arthur was at her side with the promised water, and she smiled at him as she took it, sipping at first before draining half the glass as she realized how dry her throat had become. The ladies became still and watched her and Arthur carefully. She offered the glass back to Arthur and he made a small, neat bow as he took it from her. She thought she heard one woman sigh softly. He was sweet, it was true, and she supposed it was a bit romantic to have him standing there in his fine suit and shoes, practically dancing attendance on her. She almost giggled but stopped herself. “Illness. There is often a great deal of contagion when working with the poor and homeless. How do you intend to protect yourself and your assistants from catching diseases and passing them along to the rest of the community?” Arthur could have answered that question but he remained silent, looking at her expectantly. He was allowing her to be the authority on this one, and she indeed had the perfect answer. “We have Dr. Edward Colt on board with our team, and he has agreed to advise us as well as spend time at the shelter when his office is closed. He had drawn up a list of precautionary measures that we fully intend to take, and will keep us well stocked in medical supplies. We don’t want to endanger ourselves or anyone else while helping those who need us. Every step we take is with the advice of professionals in the fields we must deal with.” “Dr. Colt?” This declaration met with unanimous approval from the ladies, many of whom had been seen and treated by the very knowledgeable man, and after a few more comments, the group wandered off, grasping hands briefly with Lucy and Josie, smiling and backing away. Some of the women honestly seemed interested and concerned, but others were merely following the crowd as they always had done. If the collective turned on the two of them on the morrow, they would join in without question. It was just a matter of personalities, and some of the women were more easily led and made no effort to judge people and situations on their own merit. It was a tricky business, judging and not judging, as Josie was just figuring out herself, and she could almost understand the women’s reluctance to take on the responsibilities and consequences themselves. How much easier would it be to follow a designated leader and then blame her if a mistake was made, rather than face the issues that would arise from ostracizing someone because of rumors? “And now? Shall we go? I would be happy to escort the two of you home if you would allow me.” They left, each of them on either side of him, arm in arm, all three relieved that the trial, as it were, was over. Chapter Eleven Josie slept fitfully, still amazed at the length to which Arthur went to clear her name, stating his business and intentions in front of the entire church and people he knew nothing about. Ostensibly he could say he did it to elicit their assistance and approval for his shelter, to spread the word so if they knew of anyone in need of help they could recommend the establishment, but she knew that he had also done it, or primarily had done it, in order to clarify his position regarding his time alone with her. No one had said anything to her about the kiss, so she thought that perhaps no one had seen it, because if they had, Arthur’s efforts on her account would be for nothing. She knew she needed to rest, because Mondays at the doctor’s office were busy, with sickness that had carried over the weekend, business calls held over from the last week, and the usual appointments, mostly for elderly patients with chronic conditions. It seemed endless, and while she enjoyed it, no one worked well on little sleep. At the same time, Lucy was able to settle down after speaking with the women in the churchyard, but she had noticed that Josie was still uneasy. She had the feeling that the girl was hiding something from her, and while she believed she knew her daughter well, it was impossible to know anyone else completely, so she worried, just a bit, that there was more to the problem than Arthur had addressed in church. Arthur had not seemed upset when he left their home earlier that evening after spending the afternoon talking with them, sharing tea and having a brief tour of the small garden in the backyard that Lucy maintained with Josie’s help. Josie had seemed a bit distant, but Arthur seemed to sense that she needed time rather than questioning, some space to think rather than an insistence on his company. Lucy felt a bit ashamed of her ability to fall asleep so soundly when her own child was worrying, but she knew she was of no help to no one, especially the charges she would receive early the next morning, if she didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to catch up on the much needed rest she had lost since the troubles began. Arthur, much like Josie, was upset, unable to rest, and instead sat at his desk in his room, feeling alone and a bit lost. He knew he had done no wrong in speaking in front of Josie’s church that morning, and while Lucy had seemed pleased, even excited with the results, Josie was off somewhere in her thoughts, not angry with him but not present, really, as they spent the entire afternoon and much of the early evening together. He had held her hand, and felt her response as she took his fingers into her own, but there was something lost about her. He didn’t want to push her by asking questions or watching her too closely; whatever thought process was going on in her mind, she needed to work it out on her own, and if she needed his help, she would ask. He felt sure she would, and then vaguely hopeful rather than sure. He knew he loved her, and after surmounting any difficulties with the opening of the shelter there would be the problem of marriage. Marriage. It was the first time he had considered the word, but it only made sense for the two of them to marry. He wanted to be with her, to live with her, to be a partner with her at the shelter and in a home together. That was a marriage in the eyes of man and God, and he knew that his love for her was of the sort that stood up to trials and tribulations and whatever issues would come about, with the help of God. Her faith and trust in the Lord was a gift they would share with each other and with their children . . . children. He smiled, first a small smile but he soon felt it grow larger as he imagined miniatures of Josie and himself, running around a large yard, throwing a stick to a big, fluffy dog to fetch, a beautiful little girl and an ornery little boy to keep each other company and entertain their parents with their antics. It was a charming scene he carried in his head, but he knew that life was not that clear cut or perfect – children were a blessing but they were also a lot of work, time, and devotion, all of which he was willing to lavish on them as well as their mother. It would not be easy, especially with their difference in backgrounds, and he knew his parents would have extreme objections. He had not known that her own neighbors would be an issue, but he hoped that his dealings with them that morning had been helpful and had perhaps put those problems to rest. His family, however, would be more difficult, if not impossible. He was certain that his father would come around, but his mother had always insisted on arranging his marriage to a girl of a certain family, a certain order, and to be honest, he had never really cared much about her interference. Marriage was such a far off notion, and he had never looked at any girls in a serious way, in a fashion that made him consider them worthy of his time and attention beyond their prettiness or their potential purse. Marriage did not mean fidelity. That had been made clear sometime in his late childhood. He would marry someone appropriate in his parents’ eyes, and take a companion of his choice as he saw fit. Discretion was key, but this sort of arrangement was rather common, and most girls were raised to expect it rather than their husband’s full attention. Many wives preferred it, as it left the issue of entertaining their husbands to another woman, one she need never see or acknowledge, and she herself could spend her time as she wished, fitting her husband into her schedule as it pleased her rather than him. It was all a pretty arrangement for everyone involved, but it left no room for love or true affection, and it certainly was not what was promised during a church ceremony of marriage. What were those words, then, that the bride and groom stated, promised to each other? Lies? It was one thing for a marriage to go bad in the duration, but to start off with promises one never intended to keep, made in front of friends, family, and the eyes of God? What sort of trust was forged in such a process, if any? How could a man and woman live together, build a life and family together, under those pretenses? He wanted no such shaky foundation for his own union, and with Josie, he knew that their love and belief in God would keep them on a steady and true road together. She was a gift God had placed in his path, quite literally, at the perfect time. He wondered, as he looked out of his bedroom window, if she saw his presence in her life in the same way, and resolved to ask her when next they met. He would tell her first, though, how he felt about her, because he had only just realized that he had never spoken the words out loud. He thought it was understood between them but he wanted to be clear, and she deserved to hear the words, his intentions, his feelings. He wanted more for the two of them, for the family they would make together, than the financial security that kept his parents together. He imagined, of course, that over the years his parents had come to care for each other, but they seemed to have separate lives, coming together only when necessary, a sort of business partnership that he was sure was necessary in a marriage but for him, would not be enough. At one time it would have been, but with Josie, there would be so much more. He resolved to speak with her the next afternoon, but first, he would corner his mother and make sure she understood in which direction he was taking his life, and ask for her blessing. He would go on as he planned, with or without her approval, but he wanted to give her the option to formally and openly refuse to accept his plans. Everything that was going on in the house between him and his parents, this uncomfortable undercurrent of disapproval, was just like the gossip that had gone on over the past few days between Josie and Lucy’s neighbors. Unspoken to the Warrens themselves, it was still felt, it still hurt, and it still caused damage. Bringing everything out into the open, to discuss, share, and ask for thoughts and opinions, was the best way to deal with it all before moving forward. He rubbed his eyes and pushed his chair back from the desk, walking over to his bed and sitting on it before clasping his hands on his lap like a child. He did feel like a little boy again, but it was in a manner of approaching God as His child, asking for guidance, for help, in the matters the morning would bring, and thanking Him for the people in his life, not only the new ones but the family he had taken for granted his entire life and was now putting in a position to accept him for the person he had become and was still becoming, or to cast him aside for leaving their social standards for a Christian path that included a life with a girl not of their class. He offered his concerns to the one who had made him and crawled under the covers to sleep as much as he could before the daylight came. Monday morning came too quickly for Josie, as she splashed cold water on her face and tried to wake from a fitful sleep. She knew she would be busy today, and it would be a blessing to be so, but she felt a nagging guilt and knew that she would have to deal with it at one time or another, or it would continue to make her feel bad about herself. She considered talking to Dr. Colt about it, for he seemed so patient and wise, but thought she would wait and see if she could work through it herself. It was complicated problem, though, this matter of judging others, and it was done so easily and without consideration that she wasn’t even aware that she had been doing it. Clearly others were in the same boat, so to speak, and she wondered if they were as unaware of it as she was, or if they even cared. Obviously the older lady at church had good intentions behind her preconceived notions and honestly did not believe she was causing harm. It was frustrating, and she felt as if her thoughts were circling in her head and leading her back to the beginning of a circle from which she could not escape. Should she feel guilty for making judgments when she didn’t mean to, and if she didn’t spread gossip or share her judgments with others? Even if she didn’t talk about those judgments, her actions might show them, and might be harmful to others, which made her worry. “It’s a bit early to look so serious, Josie. You didn’t sleep well, did you?” Her mother was very perceptive, it was true, but Josie was sure that anyone would be able to see that she was not at her best. She couldn’t go to the doctor’s office and work with the patients without getting her act together; it would be unprofessional and she didn’t want to disappoint Dr. Colt. He needed her help, and she wasn’t a child to be coddled for being tired or upset. “No, I’ll be fine, though. Just need to wake up a bit. I’m sure the walk to the doctor’s office will do the trick.” “Some tea and toast before will help.” Lucy went into the kitchen and Josie heard the kettle clatter a bit as it took up its usual position on the stove. Her mother always seemed to know when to let her alone rather than push her into sharing her thoughts; she knew other girls who had demanding mothers who wanted to know all of their business and never let them have a bit of privacy with their own minds. She was blessed with a parent who understood her better than that, who took the time to consider her as a individual rather than just her child, and allowed her to speak when she was ready. This business of judging without thinking, and being upset with others, perhaps unjustly, for doing the same thing, might be something her mother could explain or at least help her sort out. She was ashamed of herself for not considering her mother when wondering who to consult about it earlier. The kettle whistled as she dressed and she smoothed down her dress as she walked into the kitchen and sat at the table. Lucy set cups of tea in saucers on the table, one in front of Josie, and one in front of her own chair, along with a plate of buttered toast in the middle of the table, before sitting down across from her daughter. She added a spoonful of sugar to her own cup and was silent as she stirred, her eyes on her cup so as not to put Josie on the spot. There was definitely something troubling Josie very much, and she wanted to help when and if her daughter allowed her. Josie was smart and practical, but so much had happened over the past few weeks that anyone might be confused and upset by any aspect of the changes in their lives, from the introduction of young man into her life to the involvement with the shelter to the impact of gossip on their family. It could be anything, but Lucy wouldn’t venture a guess, and wouldn’t come out and ask. All she could do was make herself available, and pray that God would keep Josie safe when she was out of her sight, and that whatever was a problem would be resolved as He saw fit. “Do you ever find yourself judging others, but you don’t mean to do it?” This wasn’t something that she had consciously thought of before, and she wondered where Josie had picked up such a worry. She knew that the problems of the past week, of being judged on Josie’s behavior with Arthur, had something to do with it, but how did the behavior of others play into Josie’s personal concern? “I can’t say I have ever really thought of it, but I believe that everyone does it, it’s only natural. I think the important thing is that how or if we act on those thoughts, and if we police them so they don’t poison our relationships with others or our ability to deal with them fairly.” Josie looked down in to her tea, clearly deep in thought, and did not respond, so Lucy continued, working through her own thoughts as she spoke. “And most importantly, we need to be sure any judgments we make against others, whether we mean to or not, don’t keep us from praying for them and wishing them well, regardless of how they treat us. I don’t mean we should allow them to treat us badly, or step aside to watch them harm others, but in our hearts we shouldn’t allow their actions to keep us from praying for them to change for the better.” Finally Josie looked at her mother, and nodded. She was tired, Lucy could see, and it was obvious that she had put herself through some serious thought and most likely, judgments upon herself and her own actions. She was a smart girl but perhaps too hard on herself. She was too young to look so worn out, but Lucy was proud that her daughter took her actions and thoughts seriously and wanted to do what was right by God and by her friends and family. She put her hand over Josie’s and smiled reassuringly. “You have a good heart, and you’re on the right path. Making mistakes . . . it happens. If you do nothing about it, if you never work to improve or change, that’s the greater sin. You’re doing just fine, and I want you to know that I approve of Arthur. What he did for us yesterday . . . he is a brave young man and his affection for you is very obvious. But he respects you, too, and his concern for our happiness, for my work here with the children, is a blessing. Just be careful and don’t rush anything.” “Oh, Mother,” Josie started, and pulled her hand from Lucy’s. “No, no, I’m not saying that you’d do anything inappropriate, or something that would jeopardize your future. It’s just that you’re very young, and there’s plenty of time for all of that.” Josie felt her face grow hot, and Lucy could see that she had embarrassed her daughter, which was not her aim but was unavoidable, considering the subject and the scant times it had been brought up between the two of them. She had explained briefly the facts of life to her when Josie had entered young adulthood not so long ago, but matters of the heart often complicated the physical aspects of love and Lucy knew it could become muddled and confusing. She didn’t see Arthur taking advantage of Josie in that way, though, so her concern was minimal, but as a mother, it was still something she felt she needed to mention, regardless of either of their comfort levels with the subject. “It’s best not to be alone with him too much. There are temptations, and while I don’t think you’d give in to them, it’s better not to put yourself in that position.” Josie stood up and nearly knocked over her tea in her eagerness to escape the conversation. This was not what she had asked her mother to advise her about and she wasn’t sure how it had turned into this rather than the original issue, but she wanted it to come to an end. She wasn’t a child, and she was certainly aware of what went on between a man and a woman after marriage, and furthermore, very conscious of how Arthur made her feel when he was close to her. She was horrified to think her mother believed she needed to be warned against the impropriety of such behavior, as if she would act on those feelings. In her heart she knew her mother meant well and didn’t really think she would behave in such a manner, but it was embarrassing and painful to hear such warnings. She thought her mother knew her better than that. “Oh, Jo, come now. You’re too old to be so offended by my words. You think on them, and work hard today. Give my best to Dr. Colt.” Josie merely nodded as she looked away, then took her teacup and saucer and placed it in the sink. Her hands were shaking, she noticed, and she was upset with herself for being so bothered by the conversation and so rude to her mother. She couldn’t bring herself to apologize, though, as she was upset that her mother had turned the conversation around and instead of making her feel better, made her feel worse, or rather, more self-conscious, than she had already, although for different reasons. She knew she was being childish, but her tiredness was wearing on her and she just couldn’t bring herself to clear things with her mother before she left. As she walked to the doctor’s office, she felt her feet grow heavier, and a headache crept up on her as she focused on the worries that had kept her up all night as well as the words her mother spoke that morning. Above all else, though, a nagging guilt stalked her, and while her mother’s reassurance resonated in her memory, the guilt forged a stronghold and colored her outlook. The day dragged on, long and cumbersome, and she knew from the faces of the patients that she was, while polite, distant and unfocused on her work, but somehow unable to pull herself out of the abyss. She hoped, and ultimately, finally prayed that she would be able to rest that evening, and almost as an afterthought, that her mother had a full house of children to care for as she herself muddled through paperwork and greetings, when she felt like doing nothing more than going back to bed and hiding under the thin flannel blanket that had kept her warm for so many years. Edward couldn’t help but notice how miserable Josie looked and was concerned that she might be ill. The shadows under her eyes and standing tears kept him from asking after her as she trudged through the day, making no mistakes and keeping up with the work, so he had no cause to complain, but as soon as the last patient left he saw her turn away for a moment and wipe a hand over her eyes, and could no longer keep his worries to himself. “Really, Josie, you must tell me what is wrong. You are absolutely not yourself today, and I can’t stand by and see how unhappy you are without asking. You aren’t sleeping, are you?” She sighed and it was obvious she was struggling against tears. This was the same girl who was so happy only a few days ago, beaming over the shelter, over the potential of her relationship with Arthur, which, as yet unstated, was so clear to anyone who saw them together. Something dramatic had happened, and he had developed an almost fatherly interest in her that compelled him to offer assistance. He knew that something had happened in their church the day before, something good, and he had only gleaned what little information he could from Arthur when the younger man confided in him about his plans to explain himself and his reasons for keeping company with Josie to her neighbors, thereby exonerating her from any wrongdoing, and her mother in the course of such action. He had not heard anything negative from Arthur since he last spoke with him Saturday evening, but wondered if something had gone wrong in the execution of his good intentions, and that Josie’s mood was a reflection of that. He instinctively worried about Lucy as well, for surely if Josie was upset, Lucy could not be happy either. “Is your mother well?” Josie nodded and looked down. “She’s fine. Very well, in fact. I don’t know if you’re aware of what Arthur did yesterday for us, but he spoke on our behalf in front of everyone at church. He was very dashing and I’m sure half the girls are in love with him. At any rate, the neighbors were very interested in the shelter, and Mother had a fine time speaking with them about it.” He tucked his hands in his pockets, hoping he wasn’t too obviously relieved to hear that Lucy was more than fine, especially as Josie was clearly very upset and he still had no idea why. Perhaps it was because her mother had fielded the questions about the shelter, which was obviously Arthur and Josie’s project, and so, the attention should have gone to Josie. That didn’t sound like Josie, though – jealousy wasn’t something that was part of her personality. “I don’t see why you are unhappy, though,” he cut right to the point. “If Arthur made the circumstances of your acquaintance clear, in a form that was socially acceptable to your neighbors, what happened to make it have such a negative effect on you? I can only see good in what he has done, and I don’t understand why you’re upset.” He was alarmed when she leaned into the desk, folding her arms in front of her and resting her head on them, exhausted in more than a physical way. She sighed heavily, and he held himself still and quiet to give her time to find a way to express herself to him. He heard a knock at the door and when she made no sound to show she heard, he left her for a moment, as she was clearly deep in thought, and went to answer it. It was Arthur, of course, and while he had forgotten momentarily that it was time for him to show up to walk with them to the Warrens’, he was glad to have him there to help him sort out Josie’s problem. Arthur saw Edward’s face and the tilt of his head, and before he even spoke to say hello he had turned to see Josie, her face down on her arms on the desk. Edward put his hand on Arthur’s arm and nodded, walking back towards the examining room and closing the door softly behind him. Arthur covered the distance between himself and Josie in less than a half dozen steps, almost barreling into the desk before going down on his knees beside her. He was overcome with concern for the girl who had come to mean so much to him in so short a time, and was worried that whatever was upsetting her had to do with his actions the day before. She had seemed well, then, although a bit disoriented by the attention she and her mother had received, so her current state was more than a little distressing. She turned her head towards him when he put his arm around her shoulders, and when he saw the tears on her face he couldn’t help but pull her into his arms, standing as he did, and taking her with him as he stood. He said nothing for a few moments, just holding her close, hoping he would be able to help alleviate whatever distress had taken hold of her. “I’m sorry,” she whispered against his chest, which did nothing to explain the problem, but still, he knew that whatever she was thinking, she had nothing to apologize for. “Why? What are you sorry about?” She took a deep breath and spoke a little more loudly than she had before. “For this, for crying, for being childish. I don’t need to bring my problems in to work, or to bother you with them. We need to spend our time together working on the shelter.” She pushed away from him and brushed at her dress, smoothing it down, and patted at her cheeks with her hands to dry them. She seemed on the verge of fresh tears before she spoke again, nearly interrupting him as he opened his mouth to respond. “What news today? Will we be able to open as planned? What do you need me to do?” He held his hands out to her and she took them in her own, still keeping a small distance between the two of them. “Oh, no, you have to tell me what’s wrong first. The shelter business is fine, but you aren’t. I need to know why. I need to know how I can help.” He felt her hands tighten in his own, and could tell by the play of emotions across her face that she was struggling over whether to confide in him or not, and how to, if she did. “It’s not that easy . . . it’s difficult to explain. I think it’s something I have to work out for myself.” He shook his head in disbelief. He wasn’t going to let her shut him out, not now. “No, please don’t do this. We’re friends, aren’t we, good friends?” She pulled her hands from his and turned away, clutching her hands together in front of her and looking down at them. “Yes, we are, but I just can’t. Some things are too personal. I promise it won’t get in the way of our work together . . . “ “Work? Do you think that’s all I care about? Josie, I love you. I want to help you, no matter what the problem is. I wish you would trust me. I can’t stand to see you upset like this, and it hurts to think that you don’t want to confide in me.” She stood frozen in place, and he worried that his words had, for some reason, done more harm than good. Maybe it was too soon to say the words, but he had resolved to tell her anyway, and while his efforts that day to deal with his parents had come to nothing, as both his mother and father had been unavailable and he literally had to make an appointment with them, this, at least, or at the most, had been accomplished. He had spoken of his feelings to Josie, and now there would be no mistaking the depth of his interest in her. He had laid himself out openly and now would hear what she had to say not only about her troubles, but about his proclamation. He could only hope and pray that she would return the sentiment, and share her problem with him so he could help her. The stillness of her response was not a good sign; surely if she was happy about what he had said, she would not be so upset now. It made no sense; she was a smart, clear-headed girl, and he knew that much from how she dealt with getting fired by his mother and looking for a job so quickly and efficiently, not giving up or giving in to despair over her situation. She was strong and supportive of her mother over the past few days as well, determined to be of assistance and not look at what had happened as a personal affront, which, in all honesty, it was. The neighbors’ shunning of her mother was directly related to their feelings for her and their judgment of her morality, but she had taken no notice, really, working instead as if nothing had happened and that the real damage had been done to her mother, which at this point, was true. Their talk, however, could have a lasting effect on her reputation, but since he planned to marry her, it made no difference. She didn’t know that he had thoughts in that direction, although it was implied, so he would take steps to remedy that and cement their relationship soon. For now, all he could watch her, her back to him, rigid as a statue, shutting him out. “Whatever it is, it is too much for you to bear on your own. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t be so upset. Tell me what you can, a bit at a time, if that is all you can manage . . . but you must share it. Please let me be the one you share it with. Please, Josie, let me help you.” He saw her shoulders rise just a bit, the tension growing as she most certainly was trying to hold back more tears. Nothing had happened that anyone could see, he knew, so there must be something, some crisis that perhaps had come of the events of the last few days, that might have lain dormant, waiting for the right trigger to bring it out. He knew about such things and how devastating and life-changing they could be, and hoped that it would not be something that changed her mind about him, not as a business partner but as . . . he hoped she had considered him as a future husband, but her care for her thoughts and practicality might have kept her from that sort of thought. She needed to know, to be clear on his intentions, although she had to be aware that there were obstacles he meant to confront before they would be able to move forward. He wanted them to have a clear path to future happiness, and whether his parents came around to accept their union or not, he wanted to have everything out in the open so that no obstacles would rear up an ugly head after they were engaged and wed. She turned slightly and set one hand on the desk as if to support herself. He waited and listened to her breathe, short breaths that spoke of her continued efforts to keep from crying. “I suppose you could say that I’m disappointed in myself . . . I don’t know any other way to put it. I just, I guess I thought better of myself than I should have and now I’ve been put in my place. I’m glad, because it had to happen, but I’m ashamed. That’s all.” It came out in a rush and he hardly believe his ears as she spoke, her voice low and thick and with emotion, as if she was worried she wouldn’t finish it she didn’t hurry and release it all right away. He could tell it was hard for her to speak, never mind to admit such thoughts, and while he was stunned to hear it, he didn’t want to minimize it by saying something dismissive, which he wanted so much to do, since there was nothing to it as far as he could see. “Where did this come from?” He wanted to tell her that it wasn’t true, that it was merely a fancy on her part, something she was mistaken about, but while he could see that there was nothing about her to be ashamed of, whatever had caused these feelings was real enough to make her believe there was something wrong with her on a serious, basic level, one that interfered with her ability to see herself with the value God had given her. It had been in her eyes when he took her into his arms only moments earlier, and he meant to take whatever burden it was from her before he parted from her that day. “What those women did to my mother . . . what they thought of me. I’m no better. Judging others . . . I’ve been doing it all along and didn’t realize it, not how much I had been doing it and how it affected what I saw in others, what I expected of them.” He was having difficulty keeping the space between them, but didn’t want to push her or keep her from speaking, so he kept his silence and waited. “I’m no better than any of them, but I felt like I was, like I was above acting the way they did.” “But you are better . . . you didn’t treat anyone the way they behaved towards your mother. You know this.” Her line of reasoning made sense in some ways, he could see that, but she was taking it too far. Recognizing that she had been judging others, as everyone did to some extent, was a good way of being sure she didn’t do it in the future in ways that kept her from being accepting and open to help them, but it didn’t make her a bad person. It was all too much, how hard she was being on herself. If only everyone who actually caused harm by their judgments would look at themselves as closely and as mercilessly as Josie was doing just now . . . “Seriously, you’re doing no one any good, least of all yourself, by beating yourself up like this. You’ve hurt no one, you’ve only learned that you’re human and make mistakes just like the rest of us. Please, don’t do this.” She turned to him then, with a look so tired, her face pale and eyes teary, that he couldn’t help but step forward and put a hand on her arm. “You need to rest, and you’ll feel much better and see more clearly when you do. Please, think on what I’ve said.” She nodded slowly and leaned a bit towards him, accepting his assistance and taking his hand. “Dr. Colt?” he called out, and Edward appeared as if he were on the other side of the door to the examining room just waiting for them to finish their conversation. Arthur wondered if the older man had heard any of it, and hoped that perhaps he had some advice for Josie and for himself as well. He wanted to make her feel better, but knew that he could only do so much. If she was bent on torturing herself over a flaw shared by everyone, he would be hard pressed to take that from her without a fight. He knew what it was to feel unworthy and broken, and it pained him to know she was going through that just now, as he held her hand close to him, and worse, that she had spent the night alone suffering without sleep or company to help her through it. “Have you spoken with your mother about this?” Josie nodded. “Yes, and you are in agreement with her. But still, I can’t help feeling the way I do. I understand what you both are saying, but it doesn’t make me feel any better about myself, about my thoughts . . . “ Her voice trailed off and Dr. Colt opened the door, hat in hand, as if nothing were amiss. Arthur was grateful that the doctor was so perceptive; clearly Josie wanted as little attention as possible, so his behavior would make her more comfortable on the walk back to her house. He would speak to Dr Colt later about the situation, and perhaps the older man would have some advice for him. He was used to feminine tirades in matters of clothes and parties, such as he heard from his sisters and other young women in his social circle, but this was nothing like their fussing about insignificant, instantaneous gewgaws and claims for more attention; Josie was taking her thoughts and actions so very seriously for someone so young, and she wanted to be careful how she treated others and do what she could to stop making mistakes in judgment. He meant what he had said to her, and he was proud that she was so concerned, but worried she was taking it a bit too far. She was upsetting herself for no reason, at this point, as she had figured out what was wrong and was taking steps to keep that judgmental habit in check. He hoped that his suggestion of rest, along with reassurance from himself, her mother, and Dr. Colt, would be enough to make her feel better about herself. He longed for the day when they would be together as a family, and he could hold her in his arms as much as he wished, keeping her safe and showing her how much she was valued and loved. If he asked her to marry him right then and there, what would she say? He couldn’t do it of course; he knew that she would want something so private and personal to be between the two of them, regardless of her answer, so he would wait, yet again, and hopefully be able to confront his parents and settle the matter with them before asking her. He needed a ring. He hadn’t thought of that, and it would certainly occupy his time while he was attempting to get the shelter up and running, along with catching his parents and holding their attention for longer than a few minutes. A ring. He must have been smiling because he saw Dr. Colt smile at him, amused by something in his expression, and he looked down at Josie, who held his hand tightly and stared at her shoes. His smile vanished and he pulled her to him. It was impulsive and momentary, a small squeeze that seemed to relax her just a bit. “Let’s get you home.” Chapter Twelve Josie felt herself dragging the entire walk home and wondered why she couldn’t snap out of it. Her head felt heavy, and she was tired much more than she expected she would be after struggling for sleep the night before. The weight of my sins, she thought, and sighed heavily, knowing how dramatic her thoughts sounded even to her. Arthur was right, she knew, and she needed to shake herself out of this mood so she could focus on their plans and be a contributing partner to help get the shelter off and running. Moping about wouldn’t do anyone any good and those they would help through the shelter had much more to cry about than she did. She hadn’t eaten since breakfast very early that morning, and when she arrived home and the men left her and her mother alone, she allowed Lucy to fuss over her a bit, spooning soup into a bowl and settling Josie at the kitchen table as she prepared a serving for herself. Lucy spoke about the children, their excitement at finding a toad in the garden earlier that day, and Joseph’s growing strength as he fought valiantly to master his brace. Everything she said made Josie feel ashamed of her time spent feeling terrible about herself; while others were enjoying the world around them, appreciating the beauty and opportunities they had, she had wasted the day in tears. Little children were her example, she thought, and she remembered how the Bible said a little child would lead them. She smiled to herself, and unknowingly made her mother relax with the knowledge that somewhere inside of herself, Josie was beginning to feel better about who she was and the mistakes she had made. When Arthur arrived home, he was astonished to find his parents speaking together in the dining room, plates of uneaten food in front of them. It was a rather informal dinner, apparently, and both his mother and father were waving their forks at each other as they made points in their discussion, which seemed rather heated. Arthur stepped into the room and after clearing his throat, the two of them stopped arguing and acknowledged him. “Well, I must say, it’s about time you stayed home and spent some time with your family. All of this do-gooding is rather much for a young man of your age. You need to be out and about socially, looking for a wife, and enjoying the last days of your freedom before marriage.” “Don’t be so crass, Artie. The boy needs to mind who he spends his time with, in case you are unaware of what young ladies he chooses to visit. That is my primary concern. He had girls on the mind, only not the proper ones.” “Oh, my, I certainly haven’t heard that one. Do tell, my boy, who has taken your fancy? I’m sure any of the little shop girls won’t mind being a mistress once you’ve married and produced an heir, and . . . “ “Artie! Honestly, I am right here, and this is most improper.” Arthur attempted to speak but his parents continued as if he wasn’t even there. “Don’t act as if you are some sort of green girl. Even our own daughters know how this is played, why, I saw Sarah flirting shamelessly with one of the Taunton boys over the weekend, so she certainly knows her duty to match with one in line for fortune and stature. Either one of those boys would be a wonderful match, never mind that the younger one has some sort of arrangement with a housemaid.” Mrs. Davenport slammed her fork onto the table. “I am mortified that we are having this conversation, all the more so because your only son has taken up with one of our former maids in a very public fashion. This must end.” Mr. Davenport turned to Arthur as if suddenly remembering that he was there. He blinked a few times before huffing out a small laugh and tapped the table. “Well, well, nothing wrong with a bit of skirt before settling down, no matter what your mother says.” Arthur brought both of his fists down on the table and roared, nearly frightening himself as well as his parents. He couldn’t stand the way they were speaking of Josie, of himself, and of marriage in general. It was just a game to them, a game in which the winner had the most money and the most influence, and most likely, the least happiness. He wanted no part of it. “Josette Warren is not a ‘bit of skirt’ – she is a person, worthy of our respect, of our consideration, and I will not have anyone speak against her, even the two of you.” His mother looked at him as if she had never seen him before. It was appalling to have her own child yell at her like a common street urchin, but the admonishment was horrifying, as if she were the child and he the parent. It was really too much to be borne, she thought, furiously stunned. She pressed a hand to her chest and looked, blinking, at her husband, who was staring at his son very carefully, as if trying to find someone he had once known but was gone, he was sure, forever, replaced by this ruddy creature with his own eyes and panting ferocity. He could almost admire the boy if he wasn’t being so disrespectful. “Now, now, see here, Arthur,” he began, but his son cut him off in a show of further disregard for his duties as a good offspring. “No, I will not see anything you have to show me. It is time you saw things as I do, how they really are, and whether or not you accept my vision is entirely up to you. You will listen to me, however, for the first time in my life, and you will see what I plan for my future, a future I intend to share with Miss Warren, if she will have me.” He watched his mother sway in her chair, not merely a display of melodrama but a true response to the shock of such a statement. Marry a housemaid? Impossible! “Oh, son, these things do happen, I assure you. We can certainly help the poor girl with expenses but this is not the end of the world. In fact, many young ladies find themselves in such a state, and are satisfied with enough to keep themselves and the child . . .” Mr. Davenport stopped when he bothered to look at his son, who was bright red with a fury the older man had never seen on any of his children’s faces until that evening. It was frightening; the boy’s color, his haggard breathing, the words that had been coming forth from his mouth. It was as if a batch of fairies had descended upon the house and taken his son, replacing him with a changeling, but such things, even in old wives’ tales, didn’t happen with grown men, only infants, and he had to admit he had seen the boy change in front of his eyes over the course of the past few months, even more so as he only saw him momentarily now and again throughout the week, so when they did meet, the change in personality was profound. It was difficult to accept, but here was the final proof, the angry creature he had produced in front of him, asserting himself in a fine fashion and man to man, he could not be more proud. “I am sorry, Arthur. Please continue. I must not assume anything about your motives in this situation, and I have been treating you like a child for too long.” Arthur looked at his father, watching for signs of sarcasm, something which his father was not too familiar with but there was, he knew, a first time for everything. He was sure that his father was being sincere, as surprising as it was, and he stared straight into his parent’s eyes as he continued, leaving the presence of his mother and her astonished gasps aside for the moment. “I love Miss Warren. We have been working together on the shelter and she is a fine partner, smart, clever, caring . . . and a most fitting partner for my life, the path I am trying to walk as a Christian . . . I think we are good for each other.” His mother could not let him go on without asking the obvious, and blatantly interrupted in a very unladylike fashion she would find unacceptable in her daughters. “But is the girl with child? Is she making you marry her? It is perfectly honorable to keep her and care for her and the infant, while marrying within your station . . . “ “My station? My station?” Arthur turned around and put his face in his hands. He was having trouble keeping himself from grabbing every knickknack within reach and throwing them across the room into the painted mirrors that reflected them all on the opposite wall. Losing his temper – more than he had already done so already – would do no good to his argument, and he wanted so much to end this amicably with his parents. It wasn’t necessary for them to accept his plans, to accept Josie, but it would be so much easier for them all if they did, and when grandchildren came . . . . well, he was getting ahead of himself for sure, but these were things to consider. “She is not going to have a baby. She is not that sort of girl and we have not been together in that way. That is for marriage, between a husband and wife, which we intend to be. Which I intend us to be . . . I have yet to ask her. I wanted you to understand my position, not so much that you approve, but that you know, as I don’t like secrets and believe you should be aware of what I am doing. Whether you like me or not, I am still family and I want you there for my children, when they do arrive, in a year or ten years. I want no animosity between us, or any ill feelings for Josie from either of you. She deserves better, and I mean to give her whatever I can to make her life easier, although helping me with the shelter will not be an easy task to begin with. We are committed to helping others, though, so no matter what, we will continue with that project, together.” He watched their reactions through the mirror, the electric lights bearing harshly on the play of emotions across his mother’s face. Her face had remained unlined and smooth with age, but the ugliness that had shown through her expressions so far during their interaction had made her look as if she was a monster in a children’s story. He tried to imagine her with a grandchild, a cooing baby in her arms, and he ached, yes, he admitted it to himself, he ached for her to accept that future child and love him or her as he and Josie would. His father sat passive, looking at Arthur’s back, somehow forgetting that the mirror was there and that his son’s face would be visible to him if he only looked at him through the reflecting wall. “Yes,” his father finally spoke. Arthur turned to face both of them as his father continued. “You have the right to make your own decisions, and while I cannot agree that this is the best course for you, I am aware that you are an intelligent man, and I must say that I approve of how reflective and hard-working you’ve been since your trip to Europe. It does no one any good to be as self-centered as we had allowed you to become in your youth. Your sisters as well, although I think they will be satisfied with a good marriage and the free time to gabble about like a couple of chickens.” Arthur surprised himself with his response. “Don’t sell them short, Father. They are young yet, and they know nothing but what they’ve seen and heard around them. If they are exposed to more important ideas, more intelligent people, I think you might be surprised. They are my sisters, after all.” He allowed himself a small smile, and considered that he was guilty of judging his sisters without taking the time to get to know them as people, not just as figures fulfilling roles in his life. He understood how Josie had felt guilty about doing so herself, although her judgments had been about near strangers, not her own family. She at least gave them the courtesy of time and consideration, which he had never done. Surely Sarah and Catherine were capable of much more than shopping and cooing over the young men available at the beach that summer. He would make a point of spending some time with them, when he caught up with them. Perhaps a visit to the beach, with Josie alongside. She would be a good example for them, and he could gauge their reactions to spending time socially with their former maid on such an occasion. Not that he could blame them for any adverse responses on their part, for they had been raised to disdain any collaboration between the classes. Given the opportunity, however, they might rise to the challenge and be more open-minded than their mother. “Indeed, you have given me, us, quite a bit to think about. Well, when you see fit, please let us know when you would like to bring Miss Warren around for tea, so we might get to know her better. If she is to be part of the family, as you seem determined to follow through, we ought to make her welcome. My dear?” He turned to his wife, who looked as happy as a dried-up trout ready to be dressed for a dinner plate. It was appalling, the entire scene was absolutely dreadful, and she could hardly contain her feelings. As a dutiful wife, however, she was conflicted with the desire to agree with her husband regardless of her own thoughts, and she knew that Arthur and her husband both were aware that she honestly did not approve of any of this business. The shelter, the girl, none of it. Really, she worried, how much was she expected to take? And her girls? Were they to be tainted by this behavior as well? She was sure her heart would burst with the speed of its beating against her chest as she fought to keep her breath even and her composure intact. She stood, pushing her chair out behind her and took a deep breath. “Of course, darling. Whatever you think is best.” With that, she turned and marched out of the room, her steps as sharp and quick as a general’s. The men were left staring at her back, completely aware that she would do what she could to stop the world from turning on its axis if that was what it took to get her way. Arthur was nervous, but with his father’s support, both his earthly and heavenly ones in tandem, he knew he would be able to follow through and make a life for himself and Josie, as well as share their time and efforts with the less fortunate in order to help them build a future for themselves as well. Josie slept the deep sleep of one with a clear conscience, her constant prayers of the day answered with a lifting of her guilt, her worries over her unconscious habits of judgment, and her future. She knew she had to honestly give up the control over the outcome of her efforts with the shelter, her affections for Arthur, and the situation with her mother over to God. Working towards something was one thing, but the ultimate result was truly out of her hands, and making herself ill over the outcome was selfish and she could see, upsetting to those who cared for her. Arthur indeed was concerned, and while she was sorry she had worried him, it reinforced her belief that he did love her. Of course he had said it, but loving was more than a word, more than a proclamation. Words were easy to say, but actions . . . well, love was an action. It was how her mother took an interest in her life, not only in her ability to contribute to the family finances, but in who she was as a person, her talents, her thoughts, her worries, her plans. Her mother had been busy and most likely lonely for adult companionship for a great deal of their lives together, but she had always made Josie feel valued and worthy of her attention. That was love. Josie wondered if maybe the interest Dr. Colt was showing in Lucy was blossoming into something more. She smiled at the thought as she washed her face and brushed the hair from her eyes and into her usual ponytail, bound with the small string she kept on hand for the purpose. Her mother, her beautiful, intelligent, hard-working and independent mother, with a suitor. She almost giggled at the thought. He was wonderful to work for, with high expectations but a genuine concern for her, as he demonstrated so well only yesterday, and his efforts to assist young Joseph were beyond admirable. She wondered, with Newport being so small, how they had not met him until only recently. God worked in mysterious ways, she thought, and perhaps if her mother had met him at a different time in her life there would not have been the attraction that so obviously existed between them. Her mother was at the door when Josie came into the kitchen, accepting a little girl into her arms and speaking softly with the mother before nodding and closing the door as the woman backed away. She turned to Josie and Josie saw that the girl was one who had been removed from her care only last week. Her mother beamed with the joy of having the child again, and the little girl held a chunk of Lucy’s hair tightly in her small fist, as if she would never let her go. “Apologies all around. Nothing specific, just a general apology. All’s right with the world, isn’t it?” Josie nodded with a small smile, knowing what her mother was really asking. She had come to terms with her guilt and would work towards changing her view of others, and she realized just then, of herself. She had been, as her mother, Arthur, and Dr. Colt had assured her, too hard on herself for being flawed. She would always be flawed, always make mistakes, but the important things was that she turned to Christ for help, sorry for whatever she had done, and determined through conscious effort not to make the same mistake again. She understood now how some people chose not to follow Christ, even when they were fully aware of his sacrifice, his willingness to accept them no matter what their failings. It wasn’t easy, this road, and it required vigilance and honesty about one’s self, but it was worth it. When she left for work she thought about Arthur, and knew that whatever he was doing that day, he was making the shelter come into the realm of reality, and she admired his steadfastness and dedication to the project, through which he would never become rich on his own account or gain any notoriety. He was truly doing this out of the goodness of his heart. She loved him for it, and she knew, from his own lips, that he loved her. She didn’t know where it would take them but she was willing to wait and see what God had planned for the two of them. Meanwhile, she needed to focus on the day’s work for which the good doctor was paying her, and spending time with Arthur in the capacity of his business partner. She couldn’t help but look forward to seeing him on a personal level as well, though, and she smiled to herself as she walked, looking forward to seeing the shelter plans come to fruition. Chapter Thirteen If everything fell into place as Arthur planned, the shelter would be ready to open in about a week. He was hoping that the churches in Newport would be willing to advertise it as an acceptable and helpful place to turn in times of need, and that perhaps some of the members or staff of those same churches might be willing to spend some time making themselves available at the facility, too. He decided to spend the day walking around town and introducing himself to the clergy to see what he could accomplish, and then he would go down to the rented space and see how the group of workers he had hired to do some general cleaning had completed their task. There was a suite of furniture, nothing new or fancy but clean and usable, that was being donated by one of Dr. Colt’s colleagues who was retiring, and he was having it sent from New York City. The truck would arrive any day, and Arthur wanted the space to be prepared to arrange the pieces at delivery. He knew that once the space started to look inviting, it would feel much more real; the whole project, the work he had done towards it, the help and advice Josie had been so generous in offering him. Josie. As he walked through town on his mission to contact church employees, he kept thinking of her. He wished he could go to Dr. Colt’s office and steal her away, even just for lunch, just to hold her hand and talk with her for a little while. He would see her a the end of the day, see how she was, how she had slept, her small, sometimes shy smile that quickly showed interest and sometimes surprise in whatever he was saying. He wanted to bring her good news about the shelter, and every time he wavered before a stone edifice that marked a religious building, he remembered that all the denials and outright refusals of help would eventually lead to someone who was willing to help or show an interest, and he wanted to share that news with her that afternoon. He would keep at it, and despite his initial surprise that some of the people who chose to serve God as a leader in religious gatherings would find the idea of a shelter distasteful or unnecessary, he believed that there were people in town who would see the good in the project. He raised his hand to knock at a wooden door, weather worn and scuffed, when it swung open. An elderly man blinked several times in surprise at finding Arthur there before he spoke. “May I help you, young man?” Arthur offered his hand as he introduced himself and briefly explained his position. The man stood attentive until the end, unlike some of the others, who had made disdainful faces by pursing their lips or clucking as Arthur continued to plead his cause. He almost stumbled over his last few sentences, distracted by the man’s attention. Regardless, he watched Arthur carefully as he spoke, and was silent after a moment when the younger man had finished, then nodded thoughtfully. “When I lived in the City, I used to see them, children, barefoot, playing in the dirt. No place to go, no one to watch over them. There were societies, there are societies, still, that take them in, but if the little beasts can’t be caught, or if the parents move from one corner to another, one doorway to the next, it is hard to get ahold of them. Those are the worst, those little ones, dirty and mean most of the time, fighting for everything they can get, when they should be tucked away in a bed at night, with a nice piece of bread in their bellies. Spending their days wrestling each other for a bite to eat is no way to grow up.” He seemed to be gazing out past Arthur, lost in thought, and Arthur hated to interrupt him but felt he needed to. The man was deep in his memories, and Arthur wanted to know if he would use these memories, this passionate feeling he had for the homeless, to help Arthur and Josie with the shelter. “Sir?” he spoke softly so as not to startle the man, who jerked slightly and returned his focus to Arthur, sighing as he did so. “That was some time ago. I do know that there are some families here who struggle, and we sometimes give them a bit of space to stay on occasion. I don’t know what they do otherwise. The parents look for work, but most of it, as you know, is seasonal, and it is so difficult to return to the City if one has brought a family out of it with hope of peace, quiet, safety . . . only to be met without the prospect of a job.” “And so, what can I do to help you, my boy? I can offer some Bibles, a bit used but that, after all, is a good thing. I can stop by on occasion to advise anyone who might stop by. As you see, I am past my prime, and can’t give you much than a few hours here and there. I am happy to advise you in any way you might need, though, so do feel free to stop by.” Arthur knew he was wearing a ridiculous, beaming smile, like a child rewarded after a long day at lessons. He couldn’t help it; after walking most of the day and trying to keep up his enthusiasm, he was tired, hot, and trying very hard not to get discouraged. The man before him was a blessing. He extended his hand and the other man shook it. “Michael Winborne, at your service.” Arthur nodded, still smiling, and promised to return after he had more details on the opening of the shelter. As he walked away, he felt like skipping, but held back as it just wouldn’t be very professional of him. He laughed to himself and shook his head, thinking that Josie would definitely find his reaction humorous. He would be early to walk her home if he went just then, so he stopped by The Creamery and picked up two ice creams, settled in small paper cartons. He was so thankful that he had not been one of those children Mr. Winborne spoke of, a child of the streets, and knew the simple joy of a cold treat on a hot summer day. That would be his offering to the children, he thought suddenly. Ice cream. The children who came to the shelter deserved nothing less. Josie would love the idea as well, which made it that much sweeter. Josie was glad that Dr. Colt asked no questions of her, and his inspection of her mood was slight and almost imperceptible, but she knew him well enough to understand that he couldn’t help but examine her in some way or another, especially after the way she had behaved when they had parted last. He was a doctor, after all, and surely in the habit of watching people for signs of illness, but he was also a friend now, a friend who displayed more than a little interest in her mother. It was sweet, that after so many years of working and looking after her, her mother had, albeit unspoken, an admirer. She hoped her mother would be open to this second chance at happiness with a good man, especially now that Josie was old enough to look out for herself and didn’t really need the day to day care that her mother’s charges needed. Her mother was a strong, independent woman who looked to God for her self-worth, and had no need of an earthly man to validate her, but it wouldn’t hurt for her to have someone to walk the path of faith beside her, someone intelligent, caring, and above all, Christian to share the journey. Dr. Colt asked her no specific questions until the day was nearly over, and then thanked her for a job well done, as always. “You are well, I see?” She nodded and had to fight to keep her head level rather than letting it drop with shame over her breakdown. “Yes, thank you.” He must have sensed that she was ashamed and wanted to act as if she had never been upset, but he prodded her just a bit. “We all have moments, in fact, sometimes entire days when we lose heart. That’s what friends and family are for. You mustn’t be afraid to ask for help, or to accept it, and to believe that no matter how bad you feel at any given time, there is hope and you will feel better. There is no shame in any of those feelings, either. If you were always confident, always happy, you wouldn’t be human.” She sighed, as she agreed with him. “It is embarrassing, though, but I am fine today.” He smiled at her and patted her arm, leading her to the front door as he saw Arthur walking up the steps, two small boxes in his hands. “I have been keeping you and your mother, and Arthur, in my prayers. There is great power in prayer, as you must know. God listens.” “I have no doubt that he does, and I appreciate that you think of us. You will be walking with us today, won’t you? I’m sure my mother would be happy to see you. I mean, she enjoys your company, especially after spending all day with small children, as you can imagine.” He laughed, and Arthur found the two of them sharing a smile. “A good day, I take it?” Josie slipped her arm through his and caught herself before she pulled close to him, which wouldn’t be appropriate, at least not yet. Not yet. Well, she had to watch herself, she didn’t need to have any expectations about their relationship, but rather enjoy the friendship they had and the time they spent together on First Steps. “Yes, indeed,” she turned her face up towards him, “Absolutely.” As Josie expected, Lucy was pleased to sit at the kitchen table with Dr. Colt, treating the doctor to a slice of apple pie with his tea. Her mother must have felt ambitious to bake while she had the children, unless they all napped at the same time, which seemed to happen once in a blue moon. She expected Dr. Colt to visit most evenings now, which must mean something, Josie considered, as Arthur attempted to gain her attention. “My parents. Have you been listening? Is something wrong?” She shook her head and bit her bottom lip. “I’m so sorry; I didn’t mean to be rude. I’m a bit distracted by whatever is going on in the kitchen.” She nodded towards the kitchen, and Arthur understood her immediately. He smiled conspiratorially, leaning closer to her and whispering. “Ah, young love.” She giggled, and as she moved to put her hand over her mouth to stifle the sound, he took her hand in his and brought it to his lips. Her breath caught, the giggles forgotten, and her eyes were caught on his as he kissed the palm of her hand. She rested it against his cheek, and they stared at each other for what seemed hours before he cleared his throat and eased away from her. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair before speaking. “I’ve spoken with my parents, about the shelter, about . . . everything. My father isn’t pleased, but is trying to keep an open mind. I am hopeful that he will bring my mother around to his way of thinking.” She was still, watching him carefully and wishing she knew what had made him move away from her. She knew he was a gentleman and didn’t want to compromise her in any way, and really, she shouldn’t tempt him, but her mother was in the very next room, and no one else was around, so there was no shame in being close. She hoped she hadn’t done anything to ruin the moment, that perfect moment when she thought he might kiss her. “That’s wonderful, truly. Do you think your father will come to the opening of the shelter? I know you would feel better having his support.” He shrugged, still keeping his eyes averted, his hands clasped together between his legs and he rested his elbows on his knees. “I won’t ask for the moon just yet,” he laughed softly before shifting his gaze back to her. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t hope for it.” She longed to throw her arms around him and hold him close, to promise him that everything would work out well for him and for the shelter, and that she would stand beside him no matter what happened with his parents. Dr. Colt walked in, with her mother stepping into the room right behind him, and announced that he was taking Lucy on a walk, and would the two of them care to join them for a visit with the gulls by the ocean? How could they refuse? After all, the Cliff Walk was one of the treasures of Newport. The freshness of the salty air and the calling of the gulls were a balm to the spirit, and both Josie and Arthur knew that they needed a bit of that to get through the next few days until the shelter opened and the future took a turn as it would. Arthur rose from the sofa and offered his hand to her, and she took it and kept it in hers as they left the house behind the older couple. She would follow him, and they would walk side by side on whatever path the Lord set before them. The shelter arrangements, in all their minute details, took much of Arthur’s time the rest of the week. Some evenings he was unable to walk Josie home, leaving the honor to Dr. Colt, who was more than happy to play escort as it led to Lucy. Josie focused on keeping her mind clear of negative thoughts, of worries, and made time every day to talk with God. She had always said prayers at regular times but now, she spoke to Him as if in conversation, thinking carefully as if she were speaking to someone face to face, and opening her thoughts and heart to him as she never had before. It was an untried path and sometimes disconcerting, but she knew he was listening. Moments of clarity in her thinking, along with a general feeling of calm, often followed these times, and she knew those moments were answers to her prayers, responses to her side of the conversations. She hoped that soon she and Arthur would have some quiet, private time when she could share this new practice with him. Maybe it was something he did already. They had never spoken about such things, although clearly they were aware that they both prayed, just not in any specific fashion. It was a wonderful discovery, and she wanted him to know of it so he could try it too. Sometimes it was difficult, when she was busy or tired, but it was incredibly important to maintain this communication, and she knew it was up to her to do it. God was always there, and it was up to her to keep the contact with him. Knowing this and acting upon it were two different things, and she was just learning the difference between those quick prayers of thanks and requests and these longer, more intimate encounters. As the week wore on, she found herself daydreaming about a future with Arthur, and had to keep those thoughts in check. It would do her no good to expect or hope for something that was nearly impossible, considering their class difference, but he did seem intent on being with her. It wouldn’t be enough to visit with him; eventually, if nothing more came of it, she would have to end it, and they would have to remain partners and friends in business only. She wanted to marry and have children someday, and while she was in no hurry, if he was only going to spend time with her as he was doing now, without any commitment, it would do neither of them to continue. She stopped herself when her mind wandered in such a way, as she filled out information for a patient’s file, or washed dishes at home, and took that opportunity to pray for guidance and patience. She would know God’s will when it was time. For now, it would be enough to work towards a successful opening of the shelter, and plan for the winter when their work there would multiply. It would take a lot of effort to keep First Steps open when the air became an icy hand at one’s throat, when jobs were scarce and the ocean misted the town with a blinding chill. First things first, her mother always said, and this was the task set before her. She would help herself by helping others. It seemed so simple, but it would work, and she looked forward to sharing those moments of success with Arthur. It was a circular thought process as she tried to take her mind off him, because it always led back. Maybe God was trying to tell her something. She would have to remain attentive to what else He had to show her. Arthur had a seemingly endless list of all that he needed to accomplish before the shelter could open on Saturday afternoon. His mind was full of details, meeting times, and the comfort of Josie’s hand resting on his face. It was an ever present sensation, in the midst of speaking with townspeople who had offered assistance, directing the delivery men as how to arrange the furniture, and consulting at length with Mr. Winborne, who was proving invaluable with his years of experience working with the needy and his wisdom in dealing with people in general. When Friday arrived and he was crossing off the last bits of necessary tasks to meet his self-imposed deadline, he had dinner with Mr. Winborne at his modest home, and the older man immediately sensed a distraction in Arthur’s thinking as they discussed what to expect at the opening and how to react to a variety of situations that might present themselves, both on opening day and every day the shelter was available. “What else is on your mind, son?” Arthur was struck by the man’s use of the term. His own father had never asked what he was thinking, because he had never been interested. If Arthur had any thoughts that did not come from his parents’ dictation, his parents would not want to hear them, so there was no point in asking. Only recently had he taken it upon himself to share them whether his parents wanted to hear or not, and while it had been difficult, he was beginning to think those efforts might pay off. His father had taken coffee and breakfast with him every morning since their conversation, and his mother had nodded to him briefly, at least acknowledging his presence. Now this near stranger was asking after him with genuine concern, and it nearly brought tears to his eyes. He wanted to be like Mr. Winborne, open and generous with his time and consideration to those who needed someone to listen and offer advice. It was a blessing that he had stumbled upon him in his search, and he had thanked God for him every day since they had met. “There’s a girl.” He started but left it at that when he saw Mr. Winborne smile. It was a knowing smile but not condescending. He felt as if he had no need to say anything else to elaborate. “Of course there’s a girl. You’re an intelligent man of a good station, why wouldn’t there be a girl?” Arthur was still for a moment. “My station has nothing to do with it. She’s – she was – our housemaid, and now she works for Dr. Colt as his receptionist. Dr. Colt is the physician who is helping at the shelter with surplus supplies and regular office hours when he is free from his own office and patients.” Mr. Winborne’s face fell and he seemed to disapprove of Arthur’s explanation, the lines between his eyebrows furrowing as he shook his head. “Housemaid? Oh, no, I thought better of you than that. Taking advantage of a young girl simply because she is available and can’t possibly say no without losing her job . . . “ He knew it was rude but Arthur had to interrupt. “No, no, sir, absolutely not. I would never treat Josie that way. She is my partner in the shelter project, and has given so much time, so many ideas to it, and naturally, I have fallen for her because she is so smart and caring, and, well, she does happen to be very beautiful. It’s just a difficult situation with my parents, who have already planned out who I should marry, or at least narrowed it down to a few acceptable families and their daughters, but I mean to follow my heart.” Mr. Winborne’s expression changed drastically as he listened carefully to Arthur, finally arriving at a smile and a sigh. “The path to true love . . . my mother used to say it was not an easy one, but it was worth it. I will pray that your journey will lead you both to happiness. Any girl who occupies your thoughts so completely would be lucky to have someone so attentive.” Arthur felt the heat rise to his face, and he thanked his new friend quietly, before apologizing. “I’m sorry if I was abrupt just then . . . it’s only that I don’t want anyone to think or speak ill of Josie. She deserves better.” “Ah, well, I think she will be getting exactly that if you do keep on the straight and narrow and stick to your guns. Your family will come around, once they see you mean business. You are very young to do something so drastically against family advice, but certainly capable of forging out on your own without their support. I look forward to meeting this girl, as she will be at the opening, correct?” “Yes, sir, she will be, working hard as always. But, please, she is unaware that I plan to ask for her hand, and . . . “ The older man laughed and scratched his head. “Never fear, my boy, your secret is safe with me. Such matters are private, at any rate, and your own business. Your decision to share them with me is an honor, and it is not my place to repeat what you tell me. I do hope that you hold true to what you’ve told me, and trust in God to show you the way.” “I will,” Arthur assured him with a smile. “You can bet on it.” Arthur was sure that something was bound to go wrong, since everything seemed to be going along just fine, right up until the night before the opening. Josie had been to the shelter with her mother, and they had arranged the donated clothes and immediate food stores in a manner that made them easily accessible when visitors arrived, as she worried that some may be too shy or cautious to stay long if they were kept waiting. On Friday night, she shared her concerns about their potential clients’ nervousness with Arthur, as Lucy and Edward spoke quietly together in the Warren kitchen. “So Mother and I took that into consideration, that if they were kept waiting, they might leave, so this way we can grab clean, warm items for them to change into as well as a quick bite to eat to get them settled and comfortable while we prepare something more substantial and make any necessary arrangements for the long term, such as housing. I was sure you wouldn’t mind.” He smiled at her, proud at her forward-thinking and pleased that she was sure of his approval. “You don’t need my OK – First Steps is your project, too. Anything you do will be in good faith and for the best. I know this. I can’t think of everything, you know, and I am sure in many ways you will have ideas and plans that I could never dream of. “ A long strand of her straight blonde hair had escaped the string by the end of the day, and he reached out to touch it and slowly wind it around his finger. Josie felt sure he was going to kiss her, but just as he moved in closer, they heard her mother and Dr. Colt pushing their chairs out from the kitchen table. Arthur let go of her hair, slowly and gently so as not to pull at it. When the two kitchen companions walked into the room laughing softly together, Josie thought that they probably wouldn’t have noticed if she and Arthur were kissing, they were so involved with each other. There would be plenty of time for that later, though, after First Steps was launched and they had time to explore what they each thought of the future, of their future, together. She knew that he wanted to talk, and that he had tried to, but somehow it was difficult for him, most likely because of his parents. She would pray, as she had been, for God to show them the way as He wanted them to continue together, as friends or . . . something more. It would take patience but Josie knew she had been waiting her whole life for a specific purpose in her service to God, a way to use her time and talents that would please him, and if she could work better as a team with Arthur by her side, then she would. When he and Dr. Colt left together soon after the older couple had finished their visit, she hoped with all her heart that God would be pleased with the work they had done together and bless their continued partnership, in whatever form it might take. Chapter Fourteen Saturday seemed a long time coming, especially as Friday evening became Friday night, and then Saturday morning. Arthur stood at his bedroom window watching the stars fade into a sky lightening and blooming like a spring flower waking for the first time. He was tired, unable to sleep from excitement, nerves, and a longing to speak with Josie about his hopes and plans for their future. He had been waiting until after that day, but after much consideration and praying, thought it was ridiculous to put the shelter above her, above their happiness. In truth, he hadn’t made the shelter a priority in anything but timing, but he knew that Josie was waiting for some clarification of their relationship and it seemed cruel to extend her questioning any longer than necessary, as he knew exactly what he wanted and what he would ask of her. He hoped she would agree with him but he would not know for certain until he asked. As the sun slid above the horizon, stealing across the pale sky in a deep orange and pink vein, he wondered when he would be able to share such a moment of wonder with her, alone, early in the morning, much like their first meeting on the Cliff Walk when they both appreciated the handiwork of their artistic God. Breakfast was delivered on a tray per his instructions of the evening before, but as he ate while dressing, a knock came at his bedroom door that he didn’t expect. “Yes?” His invitation was truly a question, as he had no idea who would bother at this hour. His father would still be abed of a Saturday morning, and his mother was not quite on speaking terms with him other than general politeness when necessary, if only to keep the servants from gossiping. Mrs. Davenport peeked around the corner of the door and looked at him, his tie hanging about his neck unfinished and the buttons at the bottom of his shirt undone. She made a clucking sound as walked in, attacking first the shirt and then working at the tie. He was dumbfounded. She hadn’t attended to him in years, not since he started using a valet on an irregular basis. “Mother?” “Oh, dear, have you regressed to using one word sentences? All that fancy education gone to waste. I hope you are more eloquent this evening, and if you aren’t, I’ll remind you to be more careful.” He stared at her before absorbing her meaning. She was planning to attend the opening of First Steps? Was he hallucinating in his early morning haze of drowsiness? “Do close your mouth, Arthur. You look like a fish with it hanging open like that. Now, is there anything you need, any finishing touches, or the like, on the building or anything else, before this evening?” “Are you offering your assistance, Mother?” “Don’t look so surprised. It is not acceptable for a mother to show interest in her son’s work, and really, to be proud of him for his accomplishments?” He was well and truly dumbfounded and at a loss for words. She smiled, pleased that she had astounded him, and patted his cheek. “Well, then, I’ll leave you to it, and your father and I will walk over later this afternoon. It’s such a lovely day, and a stroll will do wonders for your father’s constitution. He spends too much time in the City, in that dreary old office building. The sea air will do him good.” She kissed him on both cheeks, and after the second kiss, held him close for just a moment, a moment that spoke the volumes of apologies that she was unable to vocalize but that he understood completely. He was thankful for such a great blessing on this important and stressful day, and counted his mother, finally, as one of his supporters. He knew that his father had come around to accepting him for who he was without continuing to try to change him into his vision of what he wanted his son to be, but his mother . . . it was nothing less than a miracle for her to change her way of thinking. God’s hand was at work here, and he smiled as she closed the door behind her, wondering if God was smiling along with him. It was a terrific surprise, and he hoped to share it with Josie soon. Josie had slept fitfully with strange dreams she couldn’t recall. She wasn’t exactly worried about the opening, but there was a twisting in the pit of her stomach that spoke to a worry she couldn’t quite name. Yes, many things could go wrong in the practical working of the shelter, it was true, but it was the interactions with the townspeople, with some who didn’t approve of inviting the homeless or unemployed into their surroundings, wanting instead to act as if they didn’t exist and make them sleep on the fringes of town where they wouldn’t be so readily seen. The woman at church who meant well by condemning Josie’s partnership with Arthur; that was the sort of person she was worried about as well. In a way those people were more dangerous, as they thought they were doing something good but instead were causing harm. What if clients actually came to the shelter on opening night and a dissenter was there to scare them away? She pushed the blanket off and sat up in her bed, her legs heavy from lack of sleep and a headache growing between her eyes. She would be of no use to the shelter, or to Arthur, if she kept going like this as the day went on. She decided to give her worries over to God, who would guide her as always, and concentrate on preparing herself for a long afternoon and evening of work, both physically and mentally, for which she needed to be ready. Her mother was still sleeping, but Joseph would be arriving soon for a half day of care, so Josie kept quiet as she set the kettle on and toasted herself a slice of bread, allowing her mother those few extra minutes of rest. When Joseph and his mother arrived a bit earlier than usual, Josie took him in her arms and the two of them played gently in the living room together, sitting on the floor and stacking wooden blocks into towers until Lucy walked in. “Well, hello, Joseph, I didn’t hear you come in, you were quiet as a mouse. Thank you, Josie, I know you have a big day ahead.” She sat on the floor and began to speak softly to the boy about the tower he had made, and Josie stood up and made her way back to her room to straighten herself up a bit before heading out to Dr. Colt’s office. He was expecting some medical supplies to be delivered and she had offered to come and help sort them, as some were for his practice and some were for the shelter. After that, the two of them were going to walk over to First Steps to see what needed to be done before that night. Arthur would meet them there, ideally with an overview of how the opening would run, and everything would unfold as it was meant to. She prayed that she could keep her worries in check, and that Arthur would, in the midst of all his work, enjoy the fruits of his labors. Even if no clients came to the shelter that night, the community would be able to visit and see what was available to those in need, and be better prepared to refer anyone they might suspect would benefit from a visit. It was an open house of sorts, an open house that had quite a bit riding on it. Then again, she had to stop thinking of how much the success of the evening meant, what sort of impression Arthur and she, along with Dr. Colt and the others who were helping, made on others who could be supportive or hinder the possibilities for First Steps’ future. It was beyond her now; she could only do what was in her power to help, and be there to support Arthur. They were a team now, regardless of how the shelter developed and grew, and she knew in her heart that they would continue to be. Dr. Colt was quite focused on the supplies as he organized and sorted, delegating tasks to Josie in a direct manner than some might have found pushy or domineering. Josie knew him well enough to understand that this was his way of coping with the stress of the evening ahead, and she was relieved to know that even at his age, with his wisdom and expertise, he could still be nervous like she was. They spent the morning packing and stacking boxes, and young boys employed for the day by Arthur carried them down to the shelter, where Dr. Colt and Josie found themselves in the afternoon, unpacking the morning’s work in what was basically an unwinding of their earlier efforts. Arthur was a blur, walking briskly through the building, offering Josie a brief but sincere smile, a touch on her elbow, small gestures to reassure her that he was pleased she was there and he appreciated her presence. He knew it had been difficult for her the last few weeks, and she had always followed through with her offers to complete tasks so he would be free to make contacts throughout town to lay the groundwork for the future of the shelter with committed donors who would see tonight’s success perpetuated through the winter. Her nerves, worries, and concerns faded in the busyness of the preparations, and she could see that if Arthur was nervous, he was nearly overcome with work and a visible sense of pride in their accomplishment so far. Josie saw the delivery of simple refreshments, baked goods from members of her church, apple cider from one of the orchards nearby, and gestured for Arthur to take a brief moment to have a small treat before their guests would arrive, and perhaps someone in need of help, which would entail a completely different perspective than the entertaining of the townsfolk. It would be an unpredictable evening, she knew, and she was excited. As he took a cookie she offered and smiled, his smile reaching his eyes and reassuring her that all was well, she suggested she walk home and change into a fresher dress. He shook his head. “You look beautiful, Josie. No matter what you wear, you will be the most beautiful woman in the building tonight.” She was stunned at this blatant admission and she knew she was blushing, but she couldn’t help but smile. She knew he meant it; this was no mere flattery falling from his lips. He held her eyes with his own as he brushed cookie crumbs from his hand like a child, then knelt before her on one knee in a pose she couldn’t possibly mistake. “Josette Warren, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?” He had no ring; his actions were completely motivated by his trust in God and the feeling that it was time, the perfect time, to make a future for the two of them no matter what happened with the shelter. They would face the outcome together, and remain together for the rest of their lives. He watched her bite her lip and open her mouth as if to speak, unable to take in the suddenness of his question, and he stood up and kissed her without concern for anyone who might see. “Yes,” she whispered against his lips when the kiss ended, such a sweet and gentle kiss that spoke of their devotion. He touched her hair, held back in its familiar, worn string, untying it and releasing her shining hair against her neck and back as he had never seen it before. He took her left hand with his and asked her to hold it out in front of her. He wrapped the string around her ring finger, tying it gently but snugly into a bow. “I have no ring with me tonight, so let this serve as a sign of our commitment until I find something more permanent.” She laughed, her hair falling across her shoulders. She looked so young, so happy, and so full of life, and he was so thankful she was agreeing to be a part of his future. “I can’t imagine a more perfect or wonderful ring than this, and I can’t imagine being more blessed than I am right now.” Epilogue The wind was icy, the stones slippery, and Arthur had to take care as he made his way up the walk to the front door. He didn’t bother to knock, as it was his home now, at least until the baby arrived. Josie had been so ill with her pregnancy that she wanted to stay with her mother, and while her mother was keeping company with Dr. Colt, which only made sense as she was soon to become Mrs. Colt, she was, of course, more than willing to care for her daughter as the girl was about to become a mother herself. Arthur was upset by her sickness in spite of Dr. Colt’s reassurances that she would soon reach a point in the progression of her pregnancy where she would be able to eat without becoming ill, and gain weight as the baby grew inside her. He felt guilty to a degree, as it was his fault, when it came down to it, that she was in such a condition, but her tired smiles when she spoke of the coming baby were rewarding enough to help him overcome the worst of it after a long day at the shelter, where he was busy in spite of constant assistance from a variety of townsfolk. He missed her companionship, as they had started the project together and had seen it burst into success that first night, working together long hours and talking, getting to know each other more deeply before their wedding in the late summer. Josie had become pregnant so soon after the wedding, and almost immediately fallen ill with the child, who seemed to have taken control over his mother’s small body. Both knew that in the long run, her suffering would be worth it, and it was only for a few months it would be so bad, but it was difficult for him to see her this way. Josie was frustrated by her inability to help and her near complete dependence on her mother and husband for daily needs, even those that were more private in nature. It would have been embarrassing if she hadn’t felt so unbelievably depleted of all energy in a way she had never experienced before. She prayed and asked for guidance, for patience, and thanked God for her mother and her brilliant, hard-working, adoring husband. He slept beside her at night, his arm holding her close, this man who had grown up sleeping in spectacular brass beds the size of her entire bedroom in her mother’s house, and now shared her small sleeping quarters without complaint. He had made every concession to make her more comfortable, but she knew that once she felt better, they would move back into his parents’ home, where they had an entire wing, including their own servants, to themselves. It was private and quiet, and her in-laws had gone out of their way to make her feel welcome. There had been, understandably, some awkwardness between Mrs. Davenport and herself, but the older woman could honestly find no fault with Josie, and her pregnancy had revealed a soft side to the grandmother-to-be that even her husband had never seen. She would be an attentive grandmother, and Josie knew it pleased Arthur to no end to see his mother so happy for the coming event. When Arthur shut the door behind him and began to take off his boots, Josie called to him from the sofa, where she sat with a pillow behind her back. “I’m feeling a bit better. Please sit with me and tell me about First Steps.” He took his coat off and rubbed his hands together, and she knew he wanted to warm them so he wouldn’t give her a chill when he touched her. He did so many things with a concern for her, things that took no conscious effort but were done because he loved her and it came naturally to him. When he sat beside her she cuddled close to him and he wrapped an arm about her. “Well, the family with the little girl has found a home. The father will be working at the diner on the corner by the library, and there is a set of rooms at the back that are unoccupied during the winter. For the time being, the owner is allowing them to stay. The mother would like to find work as well, so your mother might have a new charge on her hands soon.” Josie smiled. Dr. Colt had proposed to her mother immediately after her own wedding, and they had yet to set the date for the ceremony. She had no idea how the two of them would work out living arrangements, as her mother had no plans to give up her work. It would make sense for Dr. Colt to live here with her, and with Josie gone, there would be room. While Josie loved being with her mother and appreciated her mother’s care of her, she was eager to return to a life with her husband. “You should be in bed, Josie.” “Only if you come with me.” He smiled. It was a familiar exchange, begun when they were first wed and she noted his tendency to stay up, hunched over his desk taking notes, brainstorming, worrying, and encouraged him to get some sleep just as he had insisted she go to bed at a reasonable hour. “Already like an old married couple, aren’t we?” She relaxed in his arms as he lifted her, and he worried at the slightness of her figure as he carried her to their room, noting that the light to her mother’s room was on but that Mrs. Warren was staying in to give them some privacy. It was pleasant to stay here, and he knew Josie was comfortable with her mother, but he wanted to be back in their wing at his parents’ home. They would stay there year round, and his parents had decided to do so as well. His father was thinking of a partial retirement so as not to trouble himself with the treacherous commute during the winter, and also, he admitted with a smile, to spend time with his grandchild. It was amazing what a child, even one yet to be born, did to people, the promise of a new life, the hope that came with the gift of a new person created by the hand of God, ruling from his throne of grace, offering his love to them through their innocent child. Josie was half asleep as he laid her on the bed and he was reassured by the evenness of her breathing and the small, almost secret smile on her face. Over the past six months the world had changed and he had been reborn into a new life, just as his son or daughter would be come early summer, and he saw in his wife’s calm expression the sweetness of the life that God had set before him, made so powerfully possible by the love he was blessed to share with her.


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