Authors: Pamela Griffin
Copyright © 2003 by Pamela Griffin. All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the permission of Truly Yours, an imprint of Barbour Publishing, Inc., PO Box 719, Uhrichsville, Ohio 44683.
Our mission is to publish and distribute inspirational products offering exceptional value and biblical encourgements to the masses.
All Scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
All of the characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events is purely coincidental.
Darcy Evans was having a bad day. What’s more, she certainly didn’t need the added nuisance of a meddlesome porter hovering at her heels. Hugging her battered satchel, which contained the one spare dress the reformatory allowed upon her dismissal—all she had in the world—she turned and eyed the man suspiciously.
“Can I take that for you, Miss?” The hefty porter raised shaggy eyebrows and held out his huge calloused hand.
“No.” Her reply was stiff, to the point. Why couldn’t he leave her alone? He’d been watching her since she stepped off the train at Ithaca and began pacing the platform.
The porter tipped his cap and moved away. Darcy sighed with relief and scanned the area with expectancy. The afternoon sun edged the trees and surrounding buildings with harsh white light, and the burnt-coal smell from the smokestack lingered in the damp air. Black specks of cinder from the departed train still floated through the sky, though she’d been waiting on this platform for what seemed an eternity.
Oh, pigeon feathers!
Had Charleigh really forgotten her? What other explanation could there be for her not meeting the train?
A slight smile tipped Darcy’s mouth as she thought of her redheaded friend. When Darcy first met Charleigh in a holding cell in England, she was confused, to say the least. To discover Charleigh had turned herself in to Scotland Yard went against every survival tactic Darcy had been taught by Hunstable and Crackers—two childhood accomplices who’d shown her all she needed to know about surviving on the streets of London.
Charleigh had exhibited a strange peace, a calm relief—as though she were actually happy to pay for her crimes. Something about the secretive woman had drawn Darcy, like a starved cat to a cooked leg of pheasant. At first she’d been a little put off by Charleigh’s talk of Jesus and salvation; but after two years at Turreney Farm, Darcy saw something in Charleigh she’d seen in no one else. A peaceable attitude. A glow in her eyes. A knowledge that God loved her—no matter what. And Darcy wanted what she’d seen.
Still, after Charleigh’s sentence was over—three months before Darcy’s—it had been easy for Darcy to slip back into the old life. All too soon she found herself back in the reformatory, serving a second sentence for drunkenness and petty theft. Near the end of her term, the barrister who’d represented Charleigh arrived with a letter expressing her desire to have Darcy come to Lyons’s Refuge—the reformatory for boys that Charleigh’s husband had founded in upstate New York—and help there. Darcy had readily agreed. There had been a lot of what the barrister called “legal matters” to wade through, but soon Darcy found herself on a steamer headed for America.
And now here she was, after coming all this way and traveling for five days, with no one here to greet her.
Frustrated, Darcy plopped down on the wooden bench along the station wall and slapped her hand to the crown of her floppy black hat.
Had Charleigh really forgotten her?
Grimacing, Brent Thomas picked up the mesh sack from the driver’s seat with his thumb and forefinger. He marched over the damp ground with the odorous parcel and flung it into the nearby field, wishing he knew which of his nine charges had thought it amusing to place a bag of dung on the wooden seat. He entertained a fairly good idea of the culprit’s identity but wasn’t certain. Furthermore, he couldn’t discipline every boy at the reformatory for one child’s prank, though he knew his mentor would have had no compunction in doing so. Professor Gladsbury was a stern instructor, and though Brent had appreciated the elderly man’s wisdom, he’d never agreed with his strict methods of discipline, such as the harsh raps on the palm with a willow stick. And yet, on days like today. . .
Mrs. Lyons’s shout halted him as he finished wiping off the seat. He turned to watch the headmaster’s British wife hurry down the three porch steps, waving an envelope in her hand.
Brent was already late for the station, having had to change into his one spare pair of trousers after his encounter with the reeking bag. Absentmindedness often made him act without being aware of his surroundings—seating himself without looking, for instance. Something the culprit was sure to know.
He offered a penitent smile. “I’m terribly sorry, Mrs. Lyons, I realize I’m late to collect your friend. Would you like me to post that while I’m in town?”
She brushed a fiery lock of hair from her face. “Yes, please,” she said after she’d caught her breath and handed him the envelope. “Now, do remember, Brent. Darcy’s been through a great deal, so she might not be quite—shall we say, personable, at first. But Stewart and I have prayed, and we feel God wants her here at the Refuge. That’s why we’ve done everything to make such an occurrence possible, including sending money for her passage.”
Brent nodded, uneasy. Why was she telling him this? He knew most of it. He wasn’t certain he was altogether in favor of bringing an ex-felon to help out at a reformatory for young boys, but he trusted Stewart’s judgment. Furthermore, Stewart’s wife, being an ex-felon herself, was certainly a changed person from the woman she once described.
She grinned. “You’re probably wondering why I’m sharing this with you. The truth is, well, you’re a wonderful instructor to the boys and a rock of support when my husband is away. Stewart and I know we can depend on you—with our very lives if need be. Why, I don’t know what we would’ve done without you when Stewart went to France to fight in the war. You’ve become more than a schoolteacher to us. You’ve become a friend. . . .”
Brent could feel the dreaded “but” coming.
“But, well, you’re a trifle stuffy. And Darcy isn’t the sort of person you’re accustomed to.”
Stuffy? She thought him stuffy? Just because he believed in dressing impeccably and using drawing room manners at all times? So, he did make sure everything went into its proper place. It didn’t necessarily make him “stuffy.” He removed his spectacles and cleaned them with the crisp handkerchief he’d placed in his pocket for that purpose.
“Oh dear,” she murmured. “I’ve offended you, haven’t I? I shouldn’t have spoken. I simply wanted you to be prepared. Darcy isn’t a woman with social graces—such as the women whose company you’re accustomed to. That’s the only reason I spoke—to prepare you. I never intended to injure your feelings.”
“That’s perfectly all right.” He replaced his glasses and folded his handkerchief into thirds, tucking it back into his pocket.
“I wish I could go with you, but of course someone has to stay with the boys. Between Irma and me, we’ll have our hands full.”
He attempted a smile. “No explanations are necessary, Mrs. Lyons. I shall deliver your friend to you with all expedience.” Still smarting from her comment, he added, “And I’m sure we’ll get along splendidly.”
Darcy sat on the bench and kicked at the wooden planks with the toe of her scuffed shoe. Hunger gnawed at her insides. Remembering the brown paper bag of walnuts she’d bought at the wharf before boarding the train, she pulled the small sack from her valise. Setting a nut on the platform before her, she pulled up the frayed hem of her black skirt several inches and brought the heel of her shoe down hard on the shell.
With satisfaction, she heard the resulting
and bent to scoop her treat from the ground. She pulled the shell fragments away, popped the nutmeat into her mouth, and chewed with unabashed delight. Sensing someone watching, she turned her head sharply to the side.
A well-dressed young man stood nearby. He stared at her in horror, his blue eyes wide behind the wire-rimmed spectacles perched on his rather long nose. His light hair was combed neatly under a bowler hat, and a clean and pressed dark brown suit covered his slim form.
Darcy suddenly felt like a mangy cat next to this fancy-dressed bloke. Her woolen skirt was moth-eaten, her non-matching jacket was threadbare with ugly patches at the elbows, and she’d stuffed an old piece of cloth into the toe of one shoe to cover the hole as best she could. Her chin went up in defense. “Well, whatcha lookin’ at, Guv’ner?”
He continued to gape, then slowly shook his head. “Excuse me, but you aren’t Miss Evans, are you?” He sounded as though he believed he’d made a mistake, and he turned to go.
“Aye, that be me!” Darcy shot to her feet, tossing the shell remnants to the ground. She brushed the residue from her palms onto her skirt. “ ’Ave you word on Charleigh? Is she comin’ ter get me?”
He faced her again. Something like pained acceptance filled his eyes before he answered. “Not exactly. She sent me. I’m Brent Thomas, the schoolmaster at Lyons’s Refuge.”
Darcy gave a short nod and looked beyond him. Her eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Where’s yer buggy? I don’t see it.”
“I had an errand to run. My wagon is on the other side, next to the post office.” He let out a long, weary breath, shook his head, then closed the few steps between them and bent over, putting his hand to the handle of her bag. “If you’ll follow me, Miss Evans—”
Darcy reacted quickly. She wrested the valise away from his grip, knocking him off balance. He fell against the bench with a surprised groan. Straightening, he rubbed his leg where it had made contact with the sharp corner of the bench and regarded her, his eyes wide in disbelief.
Darcy felt a momentary pang of guilt. “I like ter carry me own baggage,” she explained. Head held high, she strode from the platform and turned the corner in what she hoped was the direction of the buggy.
Brent stared after the tiny woman in rags, walking with the air of a queen. He shook his head. What had Stewart and Charleigh gotten themselves into? What had
gotten himself into?