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Authors: Lyn Cote

Blessed Assurance

BOOK: Blessed Assurance
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BLESSED ASSURANCE

Whispers of Love

Lost In His Love

Echoes of Mercy

LYN COTE

Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine!

Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!

Heir of salvation, purchase of God,

Born of His spirit, washed in His blood.

Perfect submission, perfect delight,

Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;

Angels descending bring from above

Echoes of Mercy, Whispers of love.

Perfect submission, all is at rest,

I in my Savior am happy and blest;

Watching and waiting, looking above,

Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

From the hymn “Blessed Assurance” by Fanny Crosby

Contents

Chapter 1

Would the baby live? He'd survived the night, thanks be…

Chapter 2

When Jessie returned to the dining room, Susan was still…

Chapter 3

“Mr. Smith!” Mrs. Bolt swished through the curtain. “I thought…

Chapter 4

“Jessie, I been so worried.” Susan hurried down the back…

Chapter 5

Jessie, standing opposite her guest, glanced once more around her…

Chapter 6

“Beer,
bitte
.”

Chapter 7

Lee read the despair on Mrs. Huff's face as she…

Chapter 8

Inhaling the clean fragrance of fresh starch, Jessie shrank from…

Chapter 9

The sharp rat-a-tat on the front door caught Jessie on…

Chapter 10

With the back of her hand, Jessie wiped away perspiration…

Chapter 11

Jessie stood in Miss Greenleigh's room, normally so neat. Today…

Chapter 12

“Oh, Mr. Smith, are you leaving now, too?”

Chapter 13

At midnight, Jessie finally gave up trying to sleep. Slipping…

Chapter 14

At first, Lee couldn't think, then he hurried inside Jessie's…

Chapter 15

Returning from Sunday evening service, Jessie and Esther mounted the…

Chapter 16

The noisy crowded church-turned-hospital was momentarily peaceful. The afternoon sun…

Chapter 1

“They'll be preening like peacocks on a terrace.” In a…

Chapter 2

A firm hand drew Cecy away from Hunt and Bower.

Chapter 3

Attending Cecilia's aunt's first afternoon tea as a journalist, Linc…

Chapter 4

Barely keeping his balance on the undulating floor, Linc brushed…

Chapter 5

Linc lifted the limp Cecilia. He wanted to pursue the…

Chapter 6

The glitter of honed-steel stunned Linc. Bower caught Hunt's wrist.

Chapter 7

Cecy was barely conscious of Mr. Wagstaff wrapping a coat…

Chapter 8

In the creeping shadows of early twilight, Cecy perched on…

Chapter 9

As the afternoon sun waned, the butler held the door…

Chapter 10

The sky threatened rain as Linc and Cecilia set out…

Chapter 11

In one of her new “journalist” outfits, a severe, brown…

Chapter 12

Cecy's heart leaped. She buried her tearful face against Nana's…

Chapter 13

Through the shadowy foyer and up the curved staircase, Linc…

Chapter 14

In an ivory morning frock, Cecy lingered by her mother's…

Chapter 15

Cecy gripped the leather arms of her chair.

Chapter 16

The late-night routine of nurses and patients went on around…

Chapter 17

“Linc, wake up,” Cecy's low, coaxing voice called Linc up…

Chapter 18

Cecy shrieked, “Stop! He went in to save a baby.

Chapter 1

Voices shouted, “Police!” Del reared up in bed. A fist…

Chapter 2

Meg stared at St. Clair. “Why are you behaving this…

Chapter 3

Forced to smile, inside Meg flared with animosity. Of all…

Chapter 4

For one moment, Meg flirted with the idea of offering…

Chapter 5

“Good morning, Father, Gabe.” With thin morning light behind her,…

Chapter 6

Gabe sensed the ominous hush like a suffocating mist around…

Chapter 7

Gabe, with Meg Wagstaff at his side, pushed his father's…

Chapter 8

Wrapped up in her thick cardigan, Meg wandered through the…

Chapter 9

Arriving at home, Gabe, his parents, and sister filed into…

Chapter 10

Gabe walked into the breakfast room, shadowy in bleak morning…

Chapter 11

Shocked, Meg searched Gabriel's intense gray eyes.

Chapter 12

Ready to spit fire, Meg followed Gabe inside the ballroom.

Chapter 13

Stunned, Meg repeated, “Voodoo? What are you talking about?”

Chapter 14

Outside the hotel with the sounds of giddy laughter and…

Chapter 15

The strange car roared away. “Meg!” Gabe sprinted to her.

Chapter 16

Meg watched Gabe as Nadine, who obviously had a taste…

Chapter 17

Stepping outside of the Penny Candy with his companions, Gabe…

April 9, 1871

Would the baby live? He'd survived the night, thanks be to God. But would he finally keep liquids down today? The dark-skinned baby in Jessie's arms drew a deep, wonderful breath. She'd bathed the fevered child all night long. Trembling with fatigue, she wilted onto the old rocker.

Across from her in the gray glow of near dawn, she glanced at the outline of the baby's mother and father. They lay side by side on their narrow rope-bed in mutual exhaustion. Earlier, the mother, unwell herself, had nearly fainted and Jessie had forced her to lie down. Now, the way the black couple lay so close, so intimate, made her throat tighten. She looked away as if she'd intruded. She took a deep breath, steadying herself.

The grim dread that had oppressed her all night turned to cautious gratitude.
But I must get home now
. “Ruth,” she called softly to the sleeping mother.

The young woman stirred and moaned, “My baby?”

“I think his fever may have broken.”

Ruth stumbled to Jessie's side, lifting the child. With the inside of her wrist, Ruth tested her son's forehead. “You have the bestest way with sickness.”

Aching, Jessie shuffled the few steps to the door and retrieved her black cape and bonnet from a nail. “Ruth, he's not out of danger yet.” She fumbled with the ribbons of her black bonnet.

“Please, my husband will walk you home.”

Jessie knew she must hurry home before her gossipy neighbors saw that she, a young widow, had spent a night away from home. And if a black man were seen accompanying her? Even worse. She shook her head. “Ruth, please don't give your baby anything but mother's milk. It's important. Promise me.”

Cradling her baby son close, Ruth nodded. “God bless you, Mrs. Wagstaff.”

After one last reminder to Ruth to heed her warning, Jessie shut the flimsy door behind her. She hurried north along the railroad tracks and then crossed them. Like the Continental Divide, the parallel black metal lines divided the freed slaves on one side of the railway from the Irish immigrants opposite them. Though the gray-brown shanties, thrown together from used lumber and tin, looked like heads bent in sadness, leaning close to each other as though sharing their sorrows, the two sides, both equally needy, never mixed. The scene always depressed her.

Jessie's long black skirt and petticoats swirled around her ankles, their weight growing with every step, slowing her down. Over the thud of her heels on the wooden Randolph Street Bridge, she heard the jingle of the harness bells and clattering hooves of the first morning bob-tail trolley. A stitch in her side, she hurried to the corner, flagging it down thankfully.

Lifting her skirts discreetly, she climbed up the steps. While she looked for a seat among the day-maids and workmen, the trolley jerked to a start. She stumbled, sat down abruptly, then moved to accommodate her modest bustle.

She would make it home now well before the gossips were up and snooping. Sighing, she closed her eyes, letting herself sway with the trolley's curious rhythm of going forward while rocking side to side. She snapped her eyes wide open. If she missed her stop, then needed to ride back, it would cost another penny and minutes she couldn't afford.

Blinking to keep her watering eyes open, she glimpsed the skyline of downtown. Dawn had come. The rising sun cast a rosy glow
over the squared, ornate parapets of the limestone hotels. Her Will had called them imitation castles. Will's face surfaced in her memory, smiling as always, blond and blue-eyed. He whispered to her, “Come here, princess.” He drew her into strong arms and his warm lips touched—

Ring! Startled awake, Jessie sat up straighter. With eyes now wide open, Jessie noted each northward street sign. At Ontario Street, she yanked the bell cord. Relief left her feeling hollow as she stepped down at the corner. Her pace quickened down the alleys so near home now, murky puddles wetting her shoes and cotton stockings.

Around the familiar, white frame houses, the lowing of a few cows and the clatter of a milk pail told her some people had already risen. She walked into heavy mist close to Lake Michigan; it concealed her.

Almost there.
She began to breathe easier. From her alley shed, she heard the tut-tut of her hens. At last, through the grayness, she approached her back steps, an island in the surrounding fog.

Like a rag doll moved by unseen hands, she listened to the crunch-crunch rhythm of her shoes on the coal-cinder path. Longing for her first cup of coffee, she hurried to the first step.

“Jessie?” a sleep-filled voice muttered out of the mist.

A man's voice. A cold needle of shock jabbed her. She yelped.

“Jessie, Jessie Wagstaff?” the same voice asked.

Her eyes found the man, looming above her on the porch. But the slender stranger with dark hair and eyes, dressed in a well-cut black suit, did not appear threatening to her. Indeed, his startled reaction must have mirrored her own. “Who…are you?” she stammered.

“Smith. I'm Lee Smith.”

Heat flooded her. All her hurry and worry were for naught. Every neighborhood gossip must have heard her shout. She turned her aggravation on him full force. “Why are you on my porch at this hour?”

The man just gawked at her.

The door behind him hit the outside wall with a crack like a gunshot. Susan bolted toward the stranger, brandishing a broom. Outrage twisted her dark features. “Get! Get! You leave Mrs. Wagstaff alone!”

The man ducked just in time to avoid the swat aimed for his head.

Frozen with shock, Jessie merely watched as the man stumbled down the few steps to her side. “Susan!” Jessie finally shouted over her friend's stream of threats and captured the end of the broom, grabbing it away from Susan. “Stop! Please! I'm unharmed!”

Jessie glared at the stranger. “Sir, you have sixty seconds to persuade me that you have a lawful reason to be here before Susan and I run you off.”

The stranger removed his now cockeyed hat. He began in a soothing tone, “I apologize. I didn't mean to alarm you. I must have dozed off while I waited for you—”

“I asked you a simple question.” Jessie gripped the end of the broom as if it were her temper. “Answer it or I summon the police.” Susan too scorched the man with her gaze.

“If this is the Wagstaff House, I am looking for a room.”

“You want a
room
?” Jessie couldn't keep her voice low.

“This is a boardinghouse. I need a room—”

“It's only five
A.M
. Who would look for a room at this hour?”

“I'm so sorry, Mrs. Wagstaff. You are Mrs. Wagstaff, are you not?”

“Yes, I'm Mrs. Wagstaff,” she admitted though would have much preferred to punch him. Susan began to mutter under her breath again, sounding like a locomotive building up a good head of steam.

“I arrived at the railway station downtown only about two hours ago,” the man continued. “I asked directions and walked here—”

“Here? Why?” she demanded, her eyes narrowing. “Do I know you?”

“No, your boardinghouse was recommended by the conductor on my train.”

Liar.
“Chicago has over three hundred thousand people and you
expect me to believe that some train conductor I don't know gave you my address.”

“Well, he spoke highly of you.” The man's irksome smile held.

The hooves of a fast-approaching horse clacked on the wooden street out front. A uniformed officer dismounted only a few feet from Jessie. “Police! What is the disturbance here?”

Jessie felt her face go red. Police and a strange man in her backyard at dawn. The gossips would have a heyday with this. Jessie deftly dropped the broom and swung to face the policeman. “Officer, I'm so sorry you were called. The fog hid Mr. Smith from my sight and he startled me.”

“One of your neighbors heard and flagged me down. You're certain you do not need any assistance, madam?” The policeman glared at Smith.

“No, but thank you for coming so quickly, Officer. It does my heart good to know that such a minor disturbance brought such quick action. Thank you again,” Jessie said as she linked her arm with Smith's and led him up the steps to the back door.

Astonished and so close to Jessie, Smith took a moment to really look at her. A young woman with ivory skin, dark, serious eyes, and soft, wavy brown hair; she'd changed little from the pretty girl on the worn daguerreotype he still carried in his pocket. Then over his shoulder he nodded civilly to the policeman as they stepped into a large kitchen. As soon as the door closed, Jessie dropped his arm as if he had leprosy.

With his hat still in one hand, he stood stiffly, conscious of being travel-worn, wishing he had delayed and taken time to have his suit freshly brushed and pressed. The two of them stood facing each other and listening to the officer's departure.

“He gone, Jess—Mrs. Wagstaff,” Susan said.

Jessie released a deep sigh. “That takes care of that.”

Lee's curiosity forced him to ask, “How did someone alert the police so quickly?”

“You think,” the hired girl asked, “someone pulled the alarm on the corner?”

“No, not enough time.” Jessie untied the strings of her dreary bonnet. “The person probably was heading for the alarm and saw the policeman down the street.”

“Alarm?”

“Yes. You sound like you're from the East.” Jesse propped her hands on her hips, giving him a disgusted look. “So we know you didn't expect to find that Chicago is up to date. We have alarm boxes every few blocks that are connected by wire to the nearest police and fire station.” She turned her back on him. “Susan, who do you think flagged down the policeman?”

“Got to be that Mrs. O'Toole,” Susan said.

Grimacing, Jessie nodded. “What would everyone do for diversion if we didn't live here?”

He detected only the barest touch of humor in the widow's tone. Then he found her disapproving gaze on him once more and he fought the urge to tug at his stiff white collar. He tried to come up with some reason to stop her from sending him right back out her door.

“I suppose you'll have to stay…for a while,” Jessie grumbled. Her unwelcoming expression made him feel like a child who'd come to her table with dirty hands. “At least, till breakfast is finished. One of my nosy neighbors will certainly stop the officer and ask him about you. It would look suspicious if you were seen leaving too soon.”

“Old biddies,” Susan muttered.

Well, the old biddies had done him a favor. They'd got him inside and were keeping him there. Stifling a mocking grin at this irony, he bowed. “Thank you for your charming invitation. I am free for breakfast.”

“Humph.” Jessie walked away from him.

He bit back a retort while she took off her dowdy, threadbare bonnet, cape, and gloves.

A startling fact occurred to Lee. At five o'clock in the morning, the widow had been coming
up
the steps, not out of her door. Where had Mrs. Jessie Wagstaff been all night?

The girl was tying a red calico apron around herself when she put his thoughts into words. “Do you think they saw you was coming
in
, not stepping
out
?”

Jessie, donning a full white apron, shook her head at Susan. For a moment, Lee considered repeating the hired girl's question. However, he couldn't afford to antagonize Jessie any further.

“How Ruth's baby?” the girl asked.

“Better, but not out of the woods yet. I hope Ruth heeds my warning.” Jessie motioned to Lee, directing him toward a long table beside the kitchen window. The stark white curtains that fluttered over it suited the sparsely adorned whitewashed room, and it all seemed to go with its cheerless mistress. She ordered, “You might as well sit.”

With clenched teeth, he obeyed, balancing his hat on his knee. He hadn't known exactly what to expect from Mrs. Jessie Wagstaff, but it hadn't been this. How long did this woman think she could get by with treating him like a pesky bill collector?

Ignoring him, the two women went on with their obvious morning routine.
Fine. Just as long as breakfast is good and comes quick.
Susan picked up a milk pail and left by the back door. Jessie filled a wall-mounted coffee mill and began to crank it. The aroma of freshly ground coffee beans made his mouth water.

He got up his nerve to attempt to get a toehold here. “Do you have a room for rent?”

“I have no vacancy and even if I did, I never take in male boarders. A widow can't be too careful when it comes to gossip.”

Her dismissive tone sparked his temper. “I want a room—not a widow,” he snapped back.

She glared at him.

Suddenly he didn't like Jessie Wagstaff one bit. But he reminded himself that he didn't need to like her to achieve his goal. His long-delayed purpose for coming compelled him to swallow her rebuff. He reverted to his lifelong tactic. Charming nonchalance had always infuriated his family while giving them no opportunity to badger him. He gave her a practiced, languid smile and dusted the
top of his hat with careless fingers. “I'm merely looking for a clean room and good food. You were recommended and—”

“Mother!” A young lad with tousled blond hair, still dressed in his white nightshirt, rushed through the curtained doorway into the kitchen. The sight of the boy caught Lee off guard. Her son—this was Lincoln.

As Jessie unhooked the jar of freshly ground coffee from the mill, the boy grasped her forearms and bounced on his bare toes. “There was a policeman and a horse. I saw them out of my window.”

Jessie balanced the coffee jar to keep it from spilling. “Well, why not? Policemen often come down our street, Linc.”

The boy dropped his hold on his mother and turned to Lee. “Who's this?”

Lee looked into the face of the boy—so new to him, yet so familiar. Without warning, the innocent face unleashed an avalanche of wrenching images inside Lee. Phantom cannon roared in his ears and the sweetly putrid smell of gangrenous flesh made him gag. Fighting the urge to retch, he clutched his hat brim with both hands.

BOOK: Blessed Assurance
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