This is the last peek I'll give you into the book. I'm hoping it will encourage you to read it. If you have read it, please leave a comment with your take on the book.
Early spring, 1890
Maddy Mercer pressed trembling fingertips against the throbbing ache in her temples. "I need to see how Loraine is faring."
"But Miss Madeline, your dear father has been gone only a few weeks." A deep frown marred Sarah Sneed's face, even though the words held compassion. "You're still in mourning. You shouldn't go traipsing down to that shanty town."
The usually cheerful woman, who had been more than a servant to Maddy since her mother died when she was only a child, turned to stir a pot on the stove. "Frank has been taking food to her. She hasn't gone hungry." The swirls of the long-handled spoon kept cadence with her words. "He'll take the basket to her this morning. There's no need for you to venture out into the cold."
Maddy closed the fasteners on the black, woolen, full-length mackintosh, ending at her neck, then straightened the double cape attached at the top. "I know, Sarah, but I've been praying for her, and I feel a strong urgency to see her myself."
At the sound of Sarah's huff, the outside kitchen door flew open, letting in Sarah's husband and more cold air than the stove could stave off. After he shut the heavy door, he stomped his feet on the doormat.
"Tell her, Frank. Miss Madeline shouldn't be out in this weather."
The ruddy-faced handyman and driver studied Maddy's face but said nothing.
"I've been cold before, and I can't continue to stay in this house. All I do here is mope and dwell on what I've lost." Maddy pulled a knitted hood over her hair, tucking in the few stray curls that refused to stay in her bun, and tied the strings in a bow under her chin. "Going to see Loraine will help me forget my sorrow for a little while."
Frank nodded and picked up the basket on the table and the heated brick his wife had prepared for him. He offered his other arm to Maddy and escorted her to the waiting surrey. "You're doing a good thing, helping these women. Most of the young people in your circle never think about what the poor are going through."
She turned tear-filled eyes toward this man, who more often than not was silent. His words touched her heart. "Father taught me about benevolence. How can I not help them? I'd want someone to help me if I were in their situation."
"I'm always glad to visit them for you, but Loraine sorely needs a woman right now." Compassion haunted his somber eyes. "It's a good thing you're going today."
After helping her into the back seat, he placed the brick wrapped in wool beneath her feet and tucked a heavy lap robe around her. Then he took his place in front and picked up the reins.
"Let's go." As his tongue clicked, the two matching black horses pranced down the slushy street.
Even though Frank had lowered the heavy side and back curtains on the large, leather-topped buggy, the wind clawed at Maddy with chilled fingers, sneaking toward the lump of ice that had settled in her heart when she lost her father. She ached with loneliness, an emptiness that nothing had been able to fill, not even the loving ministrations of this loyal couple who attempted to bring her comfort.
The surrey's strong springs couldn't keep the buggy from rocking as the wheels bumped over the cobblestones. On any other day, the swaying motion would have soothed Maddy, but her thoughts were so jumbled about losing her father and Loraine's immense needs that heaviness clouded her mind. And each breath of icy air burned her lungs.
When the buggy finally stopped outside the tumbledown shack, Maddy took a deep breath, immediately regretting it. She pressed a white linen square against her nose to block out the unpleasant odors of garbage mixed with human waste and who knew what else. She closed her eyes for a moment. This cluster of ramshackle shanties was an eyesore that should be torn down, but where else would the poor occupants go? It was the only place available to them. Boston wasn't ready to welcome these people inside the borders of the town.
Why hadn't someone forced the property owners to take better care of their renters? She knew most people didn't give a thought to the plight of the poor, focusing instead on their own sumptuous lives. Only a few residents like Maddy even ventured here.
The Bible, however, said that the poor would always be among us, so Maddy wanted to do whatever she could to help. Still, her offerings seemed so insignificant against such a vast problem, even where Loraine was concerned.
"Miss Madeline?" Frank offered his hand to help her alight from her carriage.
She took hold of his steadying grip and tried to find a place where her shoes wouldn't become bogged down in the muck and mire. After she perched on two small, convenient rocks, Frank startled her by sweeping her up in his arms and carrying her to the larger flat stone that served as a tiny stoop. He was careful when he set her down, keeping his arm around her until she steadied on her feet. He hadn't carried her since she was thirteen, but his strong arms felt comforting in a way she needed right now. While she knocked on the sagging, splintered door, he returned to the buggy to retrieve the basket of provisions.
She waited a long moment. When no one came, she knocked a little louder.
After another long wait, the door opened only a crack, and Loraine peeked out before she pulled the door wider. "Miss?"
"Just Maddy." She gave a trembling smile. "Remember what I told you."
Loraine clutched her gaping, tattered robe over the bulge of her stomach and moved back to allow Maddy's entrance. Maddy tried not to stare. In the weeks since she'd been here, the first-time mother had expanded at an alarming rate. Perhaps her baby was due sooner than she believed. She wouldn't last another month. She looked about to explode right now.
Frank followed through the gaping doorway and set the basket on the rickety table leaning against the wall near the open fireplace. Maddy shut the door, but it didn't latch. Must be some trick to making it stay.
Her servant lifted the lid of the basket and started removing cans of fruits and vegetables that had been bought at Shale's Mercantile.
When he brought out a loaf of bread wrapped in a tea towel, she watched the enticing aroma capture Loraine's attention. Her eyes strained toward the food, hunger painting a terribly needy expression across her face. Then Frank left to retrieve the basket of coal they had brought.
"Come over and let's eat." Maddy didn't have to urge Loraine again.
The pregnant woman waddled to the table and dropped into the chair closest to the fire. "That smells so good."
Loraine's raspy voice didn't sound right to Maddy. Worry climbed with spidery feet up her spine.
Frank hastened across the room. "I'll keep watch over the horses and buggy."
He scooped a tattered curtain back and peeked between the boards nailed across the broken window. With his back to them, Maddy knew Loraine would feel less conspicuous and have a sense of privacy. She was grateful to Frank for being so astute.
Maddy lifted the lid from the crockery jar filled with warm, homemade soup and filled a bowl for the young woman. To make her feel less embarrassed, Maddy also ladled a small amount into a bowl for herself. They were sitting far enough from each other that Loraine couldn't see how little she had taken. She ate tiny bites while Loraine gobbled the soup and bread. All the while, the woman's plight tore at Maddy's heart.
After a few moments, Loraine slowed her eating, and her manners reflected Maddy's. "Thank you. I don't know what I would've done if you hadn't come. I didn't have a bit of food in the house."
Maddy reached across the table and clasped one of Loraine's dry, cracked hands. "Tell me how long it's been since you've eaten."
Loraine's head drooped as if in shame. "Not since I ran out of what your driver brought me last time. That was day before yesterday."
Maddy couldn't imagine being in such straits. This woman's parents should be horsewhipped. Disowning their daughter because she married someone they didn't approve of was unconscionable. They didn't even know her husband had died or that they were going to have a grandchild.
Her brows knit with concern. "Have you seen a doctor?"
Loraine shook her head, tears streaming down her pale cheeks.
"What about a midwife?"
"I don't have money for either of them."
Maddy barely heard the whispered words. She stared across the bleak, cold room at the small fire. "How much money do you have?"
Sobs erupted from Loraine. Maddy waited for them to subside, praying for the poor young woman sitting before her. She couldn't have been much more than Maddy's twenty-one years, but she appeared decades older.
"Not even a penny." A hiccough punctuated the sentence, and she swiped at her eyes with the backs of her hands. "When the landlord comes, he'll probably turn me out. I haven't paid him anything this month."
Each word battered Maddy's heart, chipping away some of the sadness hardening there. Her life was so much better than Loraine's. Her losses paled in comparison. "How much do you owe him?"
Loraine stiffened her spine. "I couldn't let you pay him, Madeline. Somehow God will take care of me. He has so far."
"Miss Madeline." Frank had turned away from the window. "We can't stay long. The horses will get too cold."
She opened her reticule and extracted what little money she carried with her. She pressed the coins and one crumpled bill into Loraine's hand. "Don't think about refusing me. Perhaps God sent me to you. I did feel a strong impression that I had to come."
Loraine smiled through her tears. "Thank you again."
Maddy pulled Loraine into a warm hug. "Either I or Frank will come to check on you and bring you food every day."
When Loraine looked as if she would protest, Maddy stepped back and gently took her cold hand, rubbing it to bring warmth. "Loraine, just look at it as God doing His work through us."
Tears made tracks down Loraine's smudged cheeks as she slowly nodded. "All right. Thank you."
Once back in the buggy, Maddy felt the cold clear to her bones. The heated brick had long since lost all its warmth. Even in the comfort of the covered double surrey, with a blanket wrapped around her skirt, she shivered?and from more than just the temperature. She had to think of another way to help Loraine. During the trip through Boston toward her home, she tried to come up with a solution. Since she had never quite warmed up in the hovel where Loraine lived, the cold numbed her body and clouded her mind.
"Whoa!" Frank Sneed called to the horses. After they came to a full stop, he stepped down from the front seat and lifted the heavy woolen side curtain. "Let me help you, Miss Madeline."
He extended his callused hand, and she grasped it, feeling the warmth through her black kid leather gloves. If only more of it would reach her heart.
She let Frank help her to the house. Thankful for the heat that whooshed from the open door, she was even more grateful for Frank as he hurried to care for the horses, knowing he must be as chilled as she was. The dependable man always put duty first.
Sarah greeted her with a welcome cup of hot chocolate and a plate of her favorite oatmeal cookies. Spices scented the air, reminding Maddy how little she'd been eating lately, and suddenly she felt hungry.
"Join me." She pointed toward another chair at the kitchen table. "I want to talk to you."
Sarah poured a cup of tea from the teapot she always kept steeping and sat with Maddy. "How was Loraine today?"
"I'm very worried about her." Maddy took a sip, welcoming the warmth the sweet liquid brought. "I think she'll have the baby soon, but she hasn't been to a doctor. She can't even pay her rent."
Sarah tsked before biting into her own warm cookie.
"I'll have Frank take our doctor to check her. I can't just sit here and not do anything for her." Maddy glanced around the warm, welcoming kitchen so different from the one-room, bare, cold shanty she had just left. Life could be so unfair.
She'd change that for Loraine, if she could find a way.
If this whets your appetite for the book, it is available in both print and Kindle format. On sale at bookstores across the country and on Amazon.com, Christianbook.com, Barnesandnoble.com
Lena Nelson Dooley