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Authors: Kim Vogel Sawyer

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BOOK: Echoes of Mercy: A Novel
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“That sounds perfect, Kesia. Thank you.” He waited until she bustled off and then nodded toward the bowl of pie resting undisturbed in front of Carrie. “If you’ve got any qualms about trusting Miss Kesia’s cooking, set ’em aside. Your mouth’ll surely thank you for letting it taste her peach pie.”

Carrie wrinkled her nose prettily. “I’ve already indulged in her delectable pot roast and vegetables, so I’m aware of her culinary skills.” She scooped up an
acorn-sized blob of whipped cream with her finger and poked it into her mouth. When she licked her lips clean, she captured the little spot of gravy as well. “I’m not reluctant to trust her pie. I’m just too well sated at the moment to risk adding more to my stomach.”

Oliver blinked. He’d struggled to maintain his workman’s style speech in front of this woman, and suddenly he understood why. She spoke like someone with breeding, inviting him to do the same. He blurted, “You’re educated.”

She drew back, her eyes widening in alarm. “Wh-what?”

Father always fussed about Oliver consorting with the underprivileged.
“They’ll likely pursue you to gain access to your wealth. A man with money must always be diligent against gold diggers.”
He’d heard the warning so many times it rang through his memory without invitation. But if she came from a background similar to his, he could set aside his reluctance to get to know her better.

He leaned forward slightly, lowering his voice to keep their conversation private from the others still enjoying one of Miss Kesia’s homemade dinners. “Where did you study?” His heart beat with hope. “Abroad?”

Her face paled. “You’re mistaken. I’m not educated.”

He frowned. “You must be. The way you speak, the words you choose.”

She shook her head with great emphasis. The coiling strands of hair trailing down her neck slapped against her shoulders, and one delightful corkscrew curl slipped loose from its moorings to frame her cheek. “I read a lot, that’s all. I’m particularly fond of English literature. Have you ever read Bunyan’s
Pilgrim’s Progress
? It’s one of my favorites.” Her hand trembling slightly, she lifted her fork and pressed the tines through the pie’s flaky crust. She took a bite, swallowed, then sent a quavery grin at him. “You were right—this is scrumptious.”

Oliver watched, puzzled, as she shifted her focus to the pastry. She meant to turn the conversational tide. But why? Did she fear he’d tell Hightower she possessed education that qualified her beyond the position of a mere toter? A hopeful thought entered his mind. If he divulged his background of affluence, might she repay him in kind with an honest answer?

He opened his mouth, prepared to spill his secret, but he caught himself
and clamped his jaws shut. He couldn’t tell her. Not yet. Not until he’d examined every aspect of factory work. When he became its manager, he wanted a plan in place to ascertain his workers were content on the job. Happy employees were hardworking employees—that was Father’s motto. And what better way to learn what was needed than to move among the workers, becoming one of them? But if he told even one person the entire truth, word might spread through the factory, and then the workers would keep their distance from him the way they did with Hightower. They’d never trust him with their concerns.

“Here you go, Ollie.” Kesia slid a plate of biscuits and a large bowl of stew in front of him. Steam rose from the bowl, creating little beads of condensation on the peach fuzz above her upper lip. “Sorry it took me so long. That scroungy cat showed up at my back door again, yowling loud enough to scare the moon out of the sky. So I tossed it some scraps to shut it up.”

Oliver hid a smile. Kesia’s disgruntled tone didn’t fool him. She liked that old yellow-and-white-striped tabby. And Carrie’s actions—pretending to bury herself in a piece of pie—didn’t fool him, either. Anyone could see she was only chopping it into pieces rather than eating it.

Kesia must have noticed Carrie’s destruction, too, because she frowned at the bowl. “Here now, you’re makin’ a mess of that pie. If you ain’t hungry, just leave it.”

Carrie’s cheeks glowed pink. She put down her fork. “I’m sorry, Miss Kesia. I hate to waste it, but your good pot roast dinner filled me quite adequately.”

Kesia’s smile returned. “No worries. It won’t go to waste. I’ll feed it to the cat.”

A bemused grin twitched at the corners of Carrie’s mouth. “The cat eats peach pie?”

“The cat eats anything I throw at it.” She rolled her eyes, feigning great disgust. “I’m just sure as sure it’s expectin’. Won’t be long, an’ I’ll be runnin’ over with kittens. An’ then what’ll I do?”

Oliver, his gaze on the turn of Carrie’s delicate jaw, said, “You’ll give them peach pie, too, because you can’t resist feeding any hungry creature that comes
along.” He nudged Carrie lightly with his elbow. “You’re new here, so you probably don’t realize Kesia doesn’t ask for money in exchange for the food she serves.”

Carrie turned a startled look at Kesia. “You don’t? But then how—”

“Now that ain’t quite all the way true, Ollie. Don’t be makin’ me out to be some saint.” Kesia, her lips set in a scowl, snatched a rag from her apron pocket and set to scrubbing the spot where the filling from Carrie’s pie had splashed over the edge of her bowl.

Oliver chuckled. Kesia was the closest thing to a saint he’d ever met. He clarified, “She doesn’t ask a set amount for the food she serves. She lets every person put whatever he can afford into the bucket as payment. And if some can’t afford anything at all, well”—he shrugged—“she feeds ’em anyway.”

Tears swam in Carrie’s eyes, deepening her irises to a rich, dark chocolate. “That’s so kind of you, Miss Kesia.”

Kesia grunted, but her cheeks wore bright red banners. “Oh, listen to his ballyhoo. He’s just finaglin’ for another packet o’ ham an’ cheese sandwiches—that’s what he’s doin’.” She shook the rag free of crumbs and jammed it back into her pocket. “If you’re wantin’ more sandwiches for tomorrow’s lunch, Ollie, just say so. No need to carry on like a carpetbagger.”

He and Carrie exchanged a grin, and awareness of their silent communication filled his chest. He forced his attention back to Kesia. “I do need a box lunch for tomorrow.” He gave Carrie a questioning look. “And Miss Carrie might need one, too. Am I right?”

Carrie sighed, scrunching her face into an embarrassed grimace. “He’s right, Miss Kesia. I … I don’t cook.”

Oliver’s curiosity rose another notch. The only women he’d encountered who didn’t cook were women of wealth, who had staff to see to meals.

“You don’t cook?” Kesia’s graying eyebrows flew high. “But—” She covered her mouth with two fingers. Sympathy softened her expression. “Oh. You were orphaned. I s’pose you didn’t have a mama to teach you, then.” She patted Carrie’s hand. “Well, don’t you worry. I’ll fix you up with a real nice lunch. Ollie here favors my smoked-ham-and-white-cheese sandwiches. Make the cheese myself with milk from a nanny goat. That sound all right to you?”

Carrie smiled, but Oliver noted that it wavered. “Your ham-and-cheese sandwiches would suit me just fine.”

“I’ll go put ’em together for you right now. Yours, too, Ollie. An’ I’ll throw in a piece or two of the gingerbread left over from this morning’s breakfast.” Kesia scurried through the kitchen doorway.

Oliver contemplated Kesia’s comment about Carrie being an orphan. Might it be, following her parents’ demise, someone robbed her of her inheritance? If so, her work at the factory would make sense. He rested his elbow on the counter, leaned in, and asked softly, “Miss Carrie, about you losing your parents … Did—”

Carrie slid from the stool. “I’ll be sure to reimburse Miss Kesia well for the dinner.” She must have had more bites of the pie than he’d realized, because cinnamon and peaches wafted on her warm breath. She hurried to the bucket, her skirts swirling, and retrieved a little purse from her pocket. She scowled into the purse’s belly. His heart tripped. How much could she afford to pay, considering the small amount a toter earned at the factory?

He angled his gaze to his plate to allow her privacy. A solid
clunk
sounded. Oliver gave a start. Unless she’d tossed it into the bucket with force to feign a large contribution—and he couldn’t imagine her doing such a thing—she had dropped a heavy coin. He waited until she’d slipped out the door. Then he briefly abandoned his supper to peek into the bucket. On top of the scattered pennies, nickels, and dimes, a silver dollar glinted up at him.

Oliver stared in amazement at the coin, envisioning the woman who’d paid twice what he’d ever deposited into Kesia’s bucket for a meal. She must be rich. And educated. Yet she worked as a toter in his father’s chocolate factory.

Kesia stepped from the kitchen, holding a package wrapped in paper and tied with twine. She searched the café, her wrinkled face pursed in confusion. “Where’d Carrie go? I got her sandwiches an’ gingerbread here.”

Oliver said, “I’ll take it to her, Kesia. We work the same shift at the factory.”

“That sounds fine.” Kesia plopped the packet into Oliver’s waiting hands. “She’s a right nice young lady. An’ the way she set into her supper, I’m thinkin’ she doesn’t eat proper.” Her wattle jiggled as she lifted her chin high. “But if she
comes here again, I’m gonna offer to teach her how to cook a thing or two so she can see to her own needs. Ain’t right bein’ her age an’ not able to fend for herself around a cookstove.” She turned and headed back to her kitchen.

His feet moving slowly, Oliver returned to his stool and sat. Questions cluttered his mind, questions he felt certain Carrie would avoid answering. But he wanted to know. Because if she was all he suspected her of being, he’d take her home and introduce her to his parents as soon as he could end his charade.

Caroline

Caroline reached the boarding hotel, closed herself in the little cubby containing the hotel’s lone telephone, and called Noble. As wonderful as it was to hear his familiar voice—a voice that had calmed her nightmares, patiently delivered lessons, and encouraged her to seek God’s way above all others—she kept the call short. Partly because she had little of a professional nature to share other than she’d been hired. But mostly because Noble knew her well. His investigative skills combined with his deep affection for her would surely detect her confusion concerning Ollie Moore. And she wasn’t ready to talk about the strange attraction she felt toward Ollie. Not even with her beloved mentor.

“Keep your journal, as I know you will,” Noble said, his deep voice more fatherly than authoritative as it crackled through the line, “and call again Saturday evening. Maybe by then you’ll have uncovered some tidbit that will help us learn what happened to Harmon.”

A quick resolution was always the commission’s preference. But Caroline realized a quick resolution meant moving on to the next job. For the first time in the nearly seven years she had posed as a factory worker to explore firsthand the working conditions, she had no burning passion to finish and move on. What odd hold did this place … or its people … have on her?

“Rest well tonight, Caroline.” Noble’s kind blessing warmed her heart.

She hugged the telephone earpiece tight against her head. Although an illusive something held her here, she missed Noble and his sweet wife—the best
people she’d ever known. “Thank you, Noble. Greet Annamarie for me, and tell her I’ve found a wonderful little café where I can take my meals.”

A laugh came from the other end of the line. “She still intends to make a decent cook of you someday. But I’ll tell her. Good-bye.”

“Good-bye.” Caroline placed the earpiece in its cradle and climbed the stairs to her third-floor, one-room apartment, her leg muscles protesting the entire way. She always requested the least ostentatious accommodations, claiming it cut costs, but Noble knew the truth. Why put her in a full-size apartment with a kitchen that wouldn’t be used? She was a terrible cook. But not even Noble knew the reason why she resisted time in a kitchen.

She pushed the memories aside and moved to the little desk in the corner, determined to focus on her purpose for being in Sinclair. She opened her journal and recorded the day’s feeble findings and her expenses. As she wrote “Dinner at Durham’s Café, $1,” she gasped. She’d asked Kesia to make her a lunch, but then, trying to escape Ollie Moore and his question, she’d left without waiting for it.

Recalling the look of elation on Ollie’s face—and it had been elation, not surprise—when he’d accused her of being educated, she closed her eyes and swallowed a mournful moan. His esteem for her had gone up, and she’d gloried in it. But then she’d instinctively told him the truth. She was not educated. At least not in the way he’d inferred. But she was smart enough to know she’d piqued his curiosity, and that could be a problem.

Setting the commission journal aside, she lifted a second one from the desk drawer—her personal journal, which no one except God ever saw. She flipped to a fresh page, dipped her pen, and wrote in her neat, slanting script.
Dear God, I find myself drawn to Ollie Moore. I hardly know him, so these feelings make no sense, but they’re real. And I can’t let them continue. The more we’re together, the more I’ll be forced to lie to him, and I don’t want to lie to him. So keep us apart, please
.

BOOK: Echoes of Mercy: A Novel
5.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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