Authors: Elizabeth Camden
Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Bostom (Mass.)—History—19th century—Fiction, #FIC042030, #FIC042040, #FIC042000, #Women translators—Fiction, #C429, #Extratorrents, #Kat
© 2012 by Dorothy Mays
Published by Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Avenue South
Bloomington, Minnesota 55438
Bethany House Publishers is a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Cover design by Jennifer Parker
Cover photography by Yolande De Kort / Trevillion Images
For my husband, Bill . . . the inspiration behind every hero I’ve ever written.
ydia was embarrassed to wear a damp dress on the first day of school, but it rained last night while her clothes were strung across the boat’s rigging to dry. She was lucky to be going to school at all, and tried not to think about her clammy dress as she walked to the schoolhouse, her hand clasped in her father’s work-roughened palm. He seemed more nervous than she was as they walked to the school, almost a mile from the pier where their boat was docked. The school was a fancy brick building with real glass in the windows. There were no windows on the boat where Lydia lived, just oiled parchment that let a little light into the cabin where the whole family slept.
Papa did not want her to go to school at all. Last night he and Mama had a big fight about it, and Lydia had heard every word. They made her and Baby Michael go beneath the hatch, but living on a boat as tiny as the
meant she could hear everything.
“That girl doesn’t speak a word of English!” her father roared.
“What is the point of sending her to school if she can’t understand what they are saying?”
“She will learn,” Mama said. “Look how quickly she learned to speak Italian when she was just a small child. She already knows Greek and Turkish and even Croatian from the year we lived there. She is good with languages, and she will learn English. Lydia is nine years old, and it is time for her to be in school.” They never stayed in one place long enough for her to go to school in the past, but that was supposed to change now that they were in America.
Lydia had been a baby when they left their tiny Greek island. Papa said they had to leave because people did not like that he married a Turkish woman. They sailed away in a fishing boat Papa had built with his own hands, hugging the coastline of the rocky Adriatic shores until they got to the islands of Italy. That didn’t last very long either. From there they spent time on the coasts of Albania and Croatia.
They lived on Papa’s boat, casting nets into the crystalline sea and hauling aboard prawns, bluefish, and bass. Lydia’s earliest memories were of sunbaked days sorting the fish into baskets on the deck of their boat. In the evenings they pushed the nets and tackle to the side and laid their bedding beneath the stars. Lydia’s entire life was on that boat, from cooking meals over the gas burner, sitting on Mama’s lap to learn her letters, and twice a week washing her hair in the salty water of the Mediterranean Sea. Mama said it was the salt and sun that put coppery glints into Lydia’s dark hair. “Just like a brand-new penny,” Mama would say as she combed Lydia’s hair to dry in the sun. Her brother, Michael, was born in Sicily. He was four years old now, and she was supposed to stop calling him “Baby Michael,” but it was still how she thought of him.
Lydia wasn’t sure why they had to leave Sicily, but over the summer they got on a huge ship and sailed all the way across the
Atlantic Ocean until they reached Boston. Papa said things would be better here, but Lydia was not so sure. Their fishing boat wasn’t nearly as nice as the one Papa had built in Greece. He tried to fix the
but water kept seeping through the hull, and it was Lydia’s job to fill cans and throw the water overboard. Five times a day she emptied the bilge, but there was always at least an inch of water on the floor of the cabin where they slept. Papa said the sloshing water meant their cabin was always clean, so they should be grateful they had such a special, self-cleaning boat. It was all part of his plan, he had laughed.
Lydia didn’t care if they lived on a lousy boat. For the past three years, the only thing she had asked for every Christmas was to go to school. She had seen glimpses of other children walking to school in the village in Sicily and daydreamed about all the wonderful things they must be learning behind those closed doors.
Papa still did not want to let her go to school. He had pointed to Lydia’s thin cotton smock that was six inches too short. “You want to send our princess to school looking like that?” he roared at Mama, gesturing to Lydia’s ankles showing beneath the bottom of her dress. Two weeks ago her hem caught fire when she brushed too close to the cooking burner, and Mama had to cut it off. The scorch marks no longer showed, but Papa was still upset about her only dress.
“I won’t have it,” he said with resolution. “I won’t have my princess being ridiculed by the hoodlums of Boston.” His face crumpled up, and Lydia thought he might be about to cry.
She scampered across the deck and threw her arms around his waist. “Don’t be sad, Papa. I’ll learn English right away, and then I’ll be able to teach you and Mama and Baby Michael too. We’ll all be able to speak it.”
Papa, whose calloused fingers stroked the hair from her forehead,
cradled her as he rocked her from side to side. “My poor little water sprite, you don’t know how cruel children can be.”
“I don’t care if they make fun of me,” she said. “And Mama can wash my dress so it won’t smell, and I’ll look just as nice as any of the other children.”
“We will wash your dress tonight so it will be fresh and pretty for school tomorrow,” Mama said. “Lydia
go to school. It is time.” Lydia smiled when she recognized that tone. Papa usually got his way, but when Mama’s voice grew firm like that, he always obeyed.
It rained overnight. When fat raindrops began spattering on the top of the cabin, she raced aboveboard to yank the dress off the rigging. She fell flat on her face when she tripped over the crab traps that slid to the middle of the deck, and by the time she pulled the dress from the rigging it was soaked. It was still damp as she walked to the schoolhouse the next morning.
Lydia sat in the hall while her father talked to a lady in an office near the front of the school. Rather, he was speaking words in Greek and gesturing with his hands, which the woman did not understand. When Papa turned around and pointed to Lydia sitting on a bench in the hallway, comprehension dawned on the woman’s face. Lydia slid off the bench as the frazzled lady came to stand in front of her. The lady spoke very quickly to Lydia, then waited as if she expected Lydia to say something. The lady seemed very stern as she scrutinized Lydia’s dress, especially when she reached out to feel the still-wet cloth. Now the lady was muttering beneath her breath and glaring at Papa, even though it had been Lydia’s idea to wash the dress.
Lydia stared at the lady’s mouth as she said the same phrases over and over and then waited, as if she expected Lydia to respond. Lydia knew only one word in English, and perhaps this was the right time to say it.
She looked straight into the lady’s eyes, smiled, and said, “Okay.”
That seemed to satisfy the lady, who turned and gestured to Lydia to follow. Lydia knew she had been accepted into the school and felt like the sun was bursting inside her. She whirled around to wave goodbye to Papa, who twisted his cap between his hands, anxiety written all over his face as he waved goodbye to her.
Lydia darted to follow the lady down the hall. She was going to school! The hallways were wide and straight, and the floors were polished to a high shine. The air smelled so fresh it made her feel good just to breathe it.
It was obvious she was late for class, because the other students were already in their desks and a man at the front of the room was writing on one of those fancy black pieces of slate. The door creaked open and all eyes in the room swiveled to stare at her. The angry lady talked to the teacher while Lydia turned to look at the students lined up in their neat, orderly rows.
They looked so
All of them had their hair combed and wore socks under their shoes. Did they always look so tidy, or only today because it was the first day of school? The teacher pulled Lydia’s hand to lead her to a desk at the back of the room. Her very own desk. It had a matching seat and she wouldn’t even have to share it with anybody! The man started speaking to her, but she didn’t understand. His face was kind as he knelt down beside her desk and repeated himself more slowly this time. It didn’t make any difference. She didn’t have any idea what he was saying, but she knew he was friendly and was waiting for some kind of answer from her.
She smiled broadly. “Okay,” she said, and once again it seemed to be the answer he wanted to hear.
The teacher returned to the front of the room, and the class began.
Lydia ran as fast as her skinny legs could carry her. She hurtled through the air as she rushed to the pier to meet Papa after school. It didn’t take long to spot him pacing along the pier, his face still drawn and worried. Lydia could tell the moment he saw her because he whipped the cap from his head and came striding across the pier in those giant steps of his. She thought her lungs would burst as she raced even faster to fling herself into his arms. “Oh, Papa, it was
The word seemed so puny to describe the joy that bloomed inside her. She should tell him how wonderful the school was, how kind the teacher had been to her. There was so much more she wanted to say, but her throat clogged up when she tried to speak. Why was she crying when she was happy? But a fat tear rolled down each side of her face, and it was impossible to talk through the lump in her throat.
“The teacher’s name was Mr. Bennett,” Lydia told her parents once they were back on their boat. “I saw the letters of his name written on the blackboard, and at lunch he sat with me and repeated it over and over until I understood. He was very nice, and he even gave me part of his sandwich for lunch.”
Mama had not realized that children were supposed to bring something to eat for lunch, and she said that tomorrow Lydia should bring Mr. Bennett a nice piece of fresh cod to thank him for being so nice.
“And what about the children? They were nice to you?” Papa asked, guarded worry in his eyes.
Lydia wasn’t stupid; she had seen some of the girls laughing at her short dress and whispering behind their hands. Not that she cared. Why should such a little thing bother her when she had a sturdy desk all to herself and when there were so many fascinating things in the classroom to look at? Maps on the walls showed the
outline of all the countries in the whole world, and in one corner there was a stuffed eagle with its wings stretched outright. But her father was worried, and he was waiting for her answer.
“No one said a single bad thing to me,” she said truthfully.
And it didn’t really matter that she didn’t speak English, because the next day Lydia learned that two of the children in the class spoke Italian, and there was another little girl who spoke only Russian. She made friends with them and sat beside them at lunch every day, easily picking up a number of Russian words to add to her repertoire of languages.
And as the weeks rolled by, Lydia learned more and more words in English. Mr. Bennett seemed particularly pleased with how quickly she was learning. “Clever girl,” he said as he patted her on the top of her head. Lydia wasn’t certain what “clever” meant, but she knew it was good and she loved it when Mr. Bennett called her a clever girl, which he did a lot.
But on this particular chilly day in October, Lydia did not feel so clever as she stood at the pier to wait for Papa. Normally, Papa and the
were already waiting for her after school. It was a windy day, so getting sail power back to the harbor should not have been a problem. Lydia sat on a bench, swinging her legs and kicking at a discarded pile of rope to pass the time until the
By the time the sun started to set, hunger gnawed at her tummy and it was starting to get cold. Papa would not forget to come get her after school, so that meant something bad must have happened to the
She didn’t know what to do. As the sun sank lower, boat after boat pulled up to the dock. The sailors unloaded their tackle, secured the rigging, then slung their haul over their shoulders and left the pier for their homes. By now Lydia was shaking so
badly she didn’t really know whether it was from the cold or from the fear. Maybe she would have to spend the entire night here on the dock.
It wouldn’t be the first time she slept outside. When they first came to Boston they spent two weeks living in a public park while Papa looked for a boat to buy. He told them it was a grand adventure. “Think how lucky we are not to live in a smelly old tenement when we can sleep under a cathedral of the stars,” he had said. At the time, Lydia would have preferred the smelly old tenement, but her father assured her that sleeping under the stars was all part of his plan. “Breathe in that clean American air!” he had said. “Sleeping outside is the only way to experience it, and we would not want to miss out on it!”
Lydia tried to savor the clean American air as she sat huddled on the dockside bench, but it was too cold to draw a deep breath. There was a big difference between sleeping outside in August and sleeping outside in October. She found a piece of discarded sailcloth near the end of the wharf and wrapped it around her shoulders.
It was stupid to be worrying about Papa. He was the best sailor in the world. He had built the boat they lived on in Sicily with his own two hands, and he had fixed up the
to make her sail again, even though Mama called it a “floating heap.”