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Authors: Lauraine Snelling

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BOOK: Pearl
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‘‘Your father had an early meeting,’’ the maid said in response to her questioning look. The table seemed empty without him sitting at the head, glasses on the end of his nose as he memorized the newspaper. Keeping up on all the news and politics was one of the traits he claimed helped him build his empire. One thing was for sure, once a fact entered his head, it never left.

Pearl laid her napkin in her lap, said grace, and took her first sip of coffee, one of her favorite rituals of the day. Tea was for later. Coffee started the day. If she’d known she’d be eating alone, she’d have moved to the sunroom, one of her favorite places in the Hossfuss mansion.

Jorge Jr. slid into his seat, his smile lighting the room. ‘‘I thought you might be gone. Father left early, eh?’’

‘‘You’re just the person I need to see.’’

‘‘Really?’’ He checked his reach for the platter of rolls.

‘‘I’ve decided it is too late to do a play this year, and besides, this class takes longer to learn things than last year’s, so now I need an idea of something for them to look forward to.’’
For me
too, as the case may be
.

‘‘I’ll have to think about that.’’

The maid brought in Pearl’s plate of soft-boiled eggs, bacon, and one piece of toast. ‘‘Here you go, miss.’’

‘‘Thank you.’’ Pearl watched the new maid replace her father’s napkin in the silver napkin ring. ‘‘Mr. Hossfuss wants a clean napkin with every meal,’’ she instructed.

‘‘Oh, sorry.’’

‘‘The rest of us don’t care.’’

‘‘I see. Is there anything else I can bring you?’’

‘‘Not at the moment. Jorge?’’

‘‘Inga is already preparing my plate.’’ He propped his elbows on the table, another indication the master of the house was absent.

‘‘You’re going to forget one day and . . .’’

‘‘No I won’t. Not after the last time.’’ He rolled his eyes, munching on the roll he took from the platter in the center of the table as he talked.

Pearl ignored his manners and motioned him to pass the rolls. ‘‘Before they are all gone.’’

His grin made her smile back. ‘‘Cook would send out more.’’

‘‘So what do you think?’’

‘‘An art project?’’

‘‘Like what?’’

‘‘A mural.’’

‘‘I don’t think so.’’

‘‘Shame you didn’t start a garden.’’

‘‘
Now
you think of it.’’

‘‘You could bring them here for a picnic. Inga would love to fix a picnic.’’

‘‘That’s a wonderful idea! We could walk over, talk about the things we see on the way, and walk back a different way.’’

‘‘What if you took the cable car? I’ll bet most of them have never ridden on that.’’ He dug into the pancakes, two eggs, and bacon set before him.

‘‘Here’s warm syrup.’’ The maid set the pitcher at his elbow.

‘‘Would you like your chocolate now?’’

‘‘Yes, with half coffee, please.’’

‘‘Sacrilege.’’ Pearl murmured the words for his ears alone which made him laugh again.

‘‘I read that some people drink theirs that way. It sounded good to me. But when I asked Cook to make croissants, she shook her head.’’ He leaned closer. ‘‘I don’t know why.’’

‘‘You mispronounced the word. Perhaps that’s why she looked confused and said no.’’ Pearl corrected his pronunciation.

‘‘We’ll go by Les Pain et Beurre sometime so you can hear and see.’’

‘‘And taste and smell. I love the smells of a good bakery.’’

‘‘Well, enjoy the rest of the rolls. I better be on my way.’’ What would her father say to the idea of twenty or more tenement children, immigrants, and Negroes coming to picnic within their gates?

Somehow the idea made her smile. She’d talk it over with Amalia instead of The Mister, as she sometimes referred to her father.

‘‘For you, miss, from the missus.’’ The maid handed her an envelope as she was about to go out the door.

‘‘Does she need to see me before I leave?’’

‘‘No, miss. I hope your day is a blessing.’’

‘‘Thank you.’’ Pearl took a deep breath of moisture-laden air carried by the wind off Lake Michigan. Purple and white crocuses bloomed along the gravel walk.

On days like today she enjoyed her walk, much to the consternation of Marlene, who thought ladies of her station should avail themselves of the carriage. Even the short distance to the cable car.

She used to listen to those strictures, but since she began teaching at the settlement house and saw how those people lived, driving up in a carriage every day seemed ostentatious. Besides, no matter how she strove to be the perfect lady, her father never noticed, only castigated her when she didn’t measure up. So what difference did it make? Not that she blatantly challenged the mores of society. After all, she wasn’t stupid. Quite the contrary, as those who questioned her learned.

Entering the smoke-stained brick building, she headed for her classroom, sprinkling smiles on her way like sugar on cookies. ‘‘My, you surely are in a cheerful mood,’’ one of the other teachers commented.

‘‘It’s a beautiful day, and after all the rain and wind we’ve had, I decided I better enjoy it.’’

‘‘Well, if you lived with
my
mother . . .’’ The sour look continued on down the hall.

Pearl shrugged.
You wouldn’t recognize happiness if it tripped you
. Since the sun had a difficult time streaming in the filthy windows, Pearl unlocked the catches and raised the lower panes to let in some fresh air. Then she left to locate the janitor. She found him studying the furnace that had been on its last puff for several months.

‘‘That bad, Mr. Polenski?’’

‘‘Worse, miss. Just a good thing spring has come, that’s all I can say. What we’ll do next winter . . .’’ He shook his head and rubbed his chin with one finger.

‘‘We’ll let next winter take care of itself, I’d say. Perhaps by then we can find a benefactor who will donate a new furnace.’’

The look he gave her told her how little he believed that kind of story.

‘‘In the meantime, I have a favor to ask.’’

‘‘If I can.’’

‘‘Would you please wash the windows in my classroom, on the outside, that is. I can hardly see the sun through them.’’

‘‘I suppose you mean today?’’

‘‘If you could be so kind.’’ Pearl knew how to turn on the charm when needed. But she also knew she was a favorite of his because he rarely had to clean her classroom and she frequently brought him samples of Inga’s good cooking.

‘‘Might as well since I can’t figure anything more to do for that old . . .’’

He used a Polish word that Pearl was certain she really didn’t want to translate.

‘‘Thank you. How is Mrs. Polenski?’’ Pearl knew his wife had been ill for some time.

‘‘Better, thanks to that basket you sent to us.’’

‘‘How did. . . ?’’ She paused. She’d been sure they had no way of knowing the baskets had been from her.

He cackled and slapped his knee. ‘‘I caught you this time. Had me a suspicion is all, but you just gave it away.’’ His heavy Polish accent made understanding difficult at times, but his delight in her consternation was obvious.

She patted his arm. ‘‘I have pupils to see to.’’

Back in her classroom she put her hand in her pocket. She’d had her school skirts made specially with two square pockets on the front like those on an apron. While she often kept treats for the children, a handkerchief, or chalk and pencils, now she remembered the note from her mother.

Pulling it out, she unfolded the stiff paper.

Dearest Pearl,

Please be ready a bit early for the symphony tonight. Your father has invited guests to come to our house first and we’ll all go together. You might want to wear the new gown you’ll find hanging in your room. Love, Amalia

A note. She didn’t want to see me face to face. Something is going on
. Pearl read the missive again. Here she’d been hoping to find a way out of attending the symphony tonight. It always lasted so long, and she had to get up for school in the morning, not languish around drinking tea like many of her acquaintances. As if it made any difference what she pleased.

Perhaps if her father were feeling expansive, he would be pleased with her idea to bring her class to her home for a picnic. Perhaps not. Perhaps she would not bother to ask him in advance. Telling him afterward or waiting until he heard and accosted her might suffice.

She put the thoughts out of her mind, smiled and waved at Mr. Polenski through the first sparkling window, and went outside to bring in her pupils to begin their morning. When she stepped outside to find Sadie covered in blood, she had an idea this would be a less than perfect day. ‘‘What happened?’’

‘‘Nothing. Her nose just started bleeding,’’ one of the students informed her.

‘‘Here, pinch your nose.’’ She took Sadie by the hand and led her into the classroom.

Things got more less than perfect as the day progressed, including a fight on the playground, a pencil lost or stolen, and another nosebleed for Sadie. By the end of the day, the last thing Pearl wanted to do was dress and go to the symphony, even if they were playing Strauss.

Trailing a gloved hand down the banister some hours later, clothed and bejeweled again by Bernadette’s artistic hand, she made her way to the gathering with only moments to spare. Her father, resplendent in frock coat with tails, greeted people as they entered the parlor.

‘‘Ah, here you are, my dear.’’ He took her hand and tucked it into the crook of his arm.

Pearl shook her head, enough to set the rope of pearls looped across her forehead to swishing, not that it took much. She fought the desire to brush them away. She’d never liked wearing elaborate hairdos or fancy ball gowns. After all, as the saying went, one cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

‘‘Mr. Longstreet is so looking forward to seeing you again.’’ Her father leaned close enough to whisper. ‘‘You made such an impression on him, you know.’’

I know of no such thing. And what about the impression he made on
me? One of extreme boredom
.

But her father had his hand on hers as if he sensed she might be inclined to bolt. Not that she’d ever given him such an idea.

‘‘Good evening, Miss Hossfuss.’’ Sidney Longstreet bowed as if his back were made of steel bars.

‘‘Good evening.’’ Perhaps before he had been terribly shy or tired. Surely tonight will be better.

She reminded herself of that hope later, when she nearly choked swallowing a yawn. While the music was lovely, an evening of Strauss had a tendency to put her to sleep. Like her partner.

After the first intermission, all she could think of was going home.

Mr. Longstreet tried valiantly to stay awake, his head jerking upward like a giant puppeteer pulled viciously on a string. Pearl could feel nothing but pity for the poor man. He should be home with his children. He still had not mentioned a wife. Ergo he had no wife, was looking for a wife to care for all his children, or her father thought she would be a candidate for that exalted position.

Without mentioning the idea to her of course. As if that might be of some importance in the scheme of things.

‘‘I-I’m sorry,’’ her escort murmured after the applause at the end of the concert woke him up.

‘‘Do not feel embarrassed. I had a terrible time staying awake myself. Lovely music but restful might be a good description. You were not the only one.’’ She’d heard snoring from someone behind her.

‘‘Nevertheless, I must make this up to you.’’ He stood, and she followed him out to the aisle.

‘‘May I come calling Sunday afternoon?’’ he asked.

Have we already progressed to that? Please, what can I be doing Sunday
afternoon that will be a viable excuse in Father’s eyes
. Nothing came to mind. For one with so facile a brain, it seemed to be slumbering from the music also.

They made their way out to the line of carriages drawn up in the street.

‘‘Will you be attending church with us?’’ Jorge Hossfuss nailed his poor clerk with a smile.

Pearl smiled her acknowledgment. She was trapped with nowhere to go.

The next afternoon she hurried home from school so that she could have some time with her stepmother. As soon as they were seated in the sunroom with their tea poured, she leaped in, before someone came to disturb them.

BOOK: Pearl
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