Authors: Anne Mateer
Tags: #Automobile racing—Fiction, #FIC042030, #Charity—Fiction, #FIC042040, #FIC042000, #Young women—Fiction
© 2012 by D’Ann Mateer
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
Ebook edition created 2012
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.
This is a work of historical reconstruction; the appearance of certain historical figures is therefore inevitable. All other characters, however, are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.
The internet addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers in this book are accurate at the time of publication. They are provided as a resource. Baker Publishing Group does not endorse them or vouch for their content or permanence.
er design by Dan Thornberg, Design Source Creative Services
Packard Runabout automobile on cover art courtesy of John D. Groendyke, Enid, Oklahoma
Words cannot express the depth
of my love for you.
y foot pressed the pedal on the floor, shifting the Packard Runabout into a higher gear. A slight nudge lifted the lever on the steering wheel. Gasoline gushed into the engine. Already engulfed in a cloud of smoke and dust, the motorcar jumped forward over the rutted dirt road, bouncing me above the leather seat. My hands gripped the steering wheel, keeping my auto on the road and me within its confines. But even the jolting of my body couldn’t dampen the thrill that electrified me as the world raced past.
My Bible danced on the seat beside me. I imagined the look of horror that would appear on stodgy Mrs. Tillman’s face should I drive into the churchyard at upwards of thirty miles per hour. Trapping the book with one hand, I slid it beneath my thigh. My grin fell away. As much as I loved the swiftness of the machine beneath me, I owned no desire for scandal. And an overheated engine wouldn’t get me to church on time, either.
Shifting gears, I pulled back on the gas. The world slowed, and the white steeple of Langston Memorial Church came into focus. By the time I pulled into the churchyard, the Packard was creeping along at the pace of a fast walk. The first deep note of the bell tolled across the quiet Indiana countryside.
A horse munching grass raised its head and stared until I set the brake and stopped the engine. The mare went back to her breakfast while I pushed my door open and stepped out among the few autos dotting the field beside the clapboard building.
I shrugged out of my linen duster before unwinding the swath of netting covering my head and face and fluffing the short brown curls that peeked out from under my small hat. Dirt marred the fingertips of my white gloves as I pushed the door shut, but few would notice the testament of my indulgence on the open road. The windscreen and top kept most of the dust and oil smoke from my clothes.
“Good morning, Miss Benson.” Mrs. Tillman’s purposeful stride carried her past me, her family struggling to keep up.
“It’s Alyce. Remember?” I tried to banish the disapproving picture of her I’d imagined and instead hurried to draw even.
She glanced in my direction. “Hmm. Yes.”
“I’ve been thinking about ways in which the Women’s Mission Auxiliary could raise funds to help with missionary efforts both at home and abroad. I wrote down some ideas.” I opened my handbag and withdrew my list as Mrs. Tillman halted at the bottom of the steps leading into the church.
Her eyes widened a bit as she studied my dress, my hat, my gloved hands. She tugged at her floor-length skirt and then at the high collar of her blouse before reaching for the paper I held out to her. My cheeks flamed with the realization that my exposed ankles and square neckline rendered me suspect in Mrs. Tillman’s eyes. What if she noticed the dirt on my gloves? I whipped my hands behind my back.
“Mrs. Swan said you had ideas.” She skimmed the piece of stationery in her hand, mumbling as she went. “Bake sale. Quilting bee. Picnic with games and concessions.” She folded the paper and tucked it inside her Bible. “Of course we can bring these up for a vote at the next meeting.”
“I would like that very much, Mrs. Tillman. I think we can—”
“Just remember that this isn’t Chicago, Miss Benson. It’s Langston, Indiana. We have humble means, though our hearts are large.”
I rocked forward on my toes in excitement. “Exactly. That’s why I thought—”
Mrs. Tillman’s lips pressed together, and her eyes narrowed. I straightened my shoulders, feeling altogether like a schoolgirl again.
Her daughter sidled up next to her. Mrs. Tillman laid a hand on the girl’s head, her expression softening just a bit. “I’ll put your ideas on the agenda. Next Sunday—a week from today.”
I wanted to throw my arms around her right then, but the pinched expression returned. I nodded instead, wondering if I ought to curtsy, as well. “Thank you, Mrs. Tillman. I’ll look forward to the meeting.”
Her gaze raked over my attire again. I swallowed down a fear that she’d change her mind.
She sniffed once. “Seven o’clock sharp, Miss Benson.” She pointed her fan at me to emphasize the point.
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll be there.”
Mrs. Tillman joined the others streaming into church, but I couldn’t move. Joy surged up from my toes, tingling all the way to the top of my head. Using my ideas, the women of Langston Memorial Church would do something great, something
for the kingdom of God. Pressing my hands together, I gazed into the cloudless sky and thanked the Lord for answering the prayer of my heart.
“I saved you a seat, Miss Benson.” A honey-colored mustache twitched a bit on the eager face of Father’s new bookkeeper.
“Thank you, Mr. Trotter.” I slid in next to him on the third pew from the front. An ache surged into my chest, a longing for Grandmother—the only person in my life who spanned the gap between my family and my church. Until Mr. Trotter’s arrival.
“How is your grandmother?”
“The same. Her painful joints and faded eyesight keep her in bed most days.”
“I could have picked you up this morning.” Mr. Trotter’s quiet words almost missed my ear among the surrounding chatter.
“That would have been quite inconvenient for you.” I straightened my skirt and crossed my ankles.
“It would’ve been no trouble between friends, Miss Alyce.”
My head jerked in his direction. Friends. I hadn’t imagined they would be such a scarce commodity when I’d returned to Langston after two years at the Chicago Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences. The friends I’d made growing up had moved away, gone to work, or caught a husband. Besides Father’s mechanic, Webster Little, I had no one my age to talk to. But perhaps that was changing. New people settled in Langston every day. Like this man who shared my faith.
His color heightened.
I averted my eyes.
Deep organ notes resounded through the room. The congregation rose to sing.
“Number thirty-six,” Pastor Swan called out from the front platform.
Eyes shut tight, words of a new hymn rolled off my tongue. “ ‘Had I a thousand lives to live I’d live them all for Thee.’ ” A thousand lifetimes would never be enough to show my gratitude to my Savior.
We plunged into another song. And another. My spirit soared like when I let the spark plugs fire and the gas flow free.
I ducked my head lest such irreverent thoughts make themselves plain on my face. How dare I think of driving while in church? Yet perhaps the two experiences weren’t totally incongruous. In both cases, I submitted to the control of something so much more powerful than myself.
The music ended. Pastor Swan invited us to sit. “Brothers and sisters, we have some very special guests with us today.” His usually placid face grew animated, his step more buoyant. “John and Ava McConnell have spent the past five years living in a British colony called the Gold Coast in western Africa, sharing Christ with a people who have never heard His glorious name.”
My breath caught. My body tingled.
I leaned forward, hungry for every word, ignoring the escalating wail of a child, thankful that it soon faded into the distance.
“Please welcome Mr. McConnell.”
A man stepped to the front of the church, his eyes downcast, his wrists extending beyond the cuffs of his jacket, a worn Bible grasped between his large hands.
Pastor Swan returned to the front pew and sat between his wife and the woman I assumed to be Mrs. McConnell. I couldn’t pull my gaze away from her. A faded dress hung on narrow shoulders. Her bones must have been as fragile as a sparrow’s. How did that kind of woman live five years in such a place as Africa? Had she trekked through a jungle? Encountered a witch doctor? Seen lives changed by the gospel?
What courage it took to board a ship for the unknown, to live among the natives of another land! What a thrill to be entrusted by God with such work! No matter what else happened this day, I knew I had to meet Ava McConnell.
My tongue whisked over my dry lips as I forced my attention back to her husband, his long fingers slowly turning the pages of his Bible.
“Mark, chapter six,” he announced.
A familiar passage—Jesus sending out the disciples by twos, without money belt or extra clothes. Grandmother and I had journeyed through the Bible together many times, her reading to me as a child, me reading to her when her eyesight faded to black. My toes pressed against the floor as Mr. McConnell read the verses and then began to speak about his mission.
“Mrs. McConnell and I felt the call of God to go to the Gold Coast even before our marriage.” He looked toward his wife. The love shining from his eyes twisted my heart. I’d yet to meet a man my parents and I both approved of, let alone one whose eyes reflected such adoration. Mrs. McConnell nodded sweetly. Her husband lifted his gaze to wander over the rest of us.
He talked of men and women mired in superstition and pagan rituals. Of punishment meted out to those who befriended the white strangers. One village chief fell ill after their arrival. The witch doctor blamed the McConnells for bringing bad spirits. My lungs refused to draw in air as he told how none of the witch doctor’s potions and charms brought relief to the chief. Then he and Mrs. McConnell had entered the hut and prayed. The chief recovered, and though he hadn’t yet embraced Jesus, he’d released his people to do so if they wished.
“Jesus has sent us to proclaim the gospel to the Ashanti people in Africa. We live trusting God to provide everything necessary to that work. Money. Food. Clothing. Even the words to speak in each moment.”
My heartbeat quickened. Oh, to be called to be such a vital part of God’s work! He wouldn’t even have to send me to Africa, though the thought sent a shiver of excitement down my spine. No, I’d be content to work for Him here in Indiana. I glimpsed Mrs. Tillman closer to the front. Her face reflected the same rapture that pulsed through my veins.
“Thanks to a friend who secured some photographic equipment, you can see some of those who are part of our work in Africa.” Mr. McConnell slipped several photographs from the pages of his Bible. He stepped to the front row and handed two to Pastor Swan and two to Mr. Tillman on the opposite end of the front pew.
“One picture shows the young man who came to help us the very first day we arrived. We call him William. He lives with us now, though he is almost a grown man. And the little children playing beneath the banyan tree are Mrs. McConnell’s students. She has learned enough of their language to teach them English. We hope one day they’ll be able to read and understand the Bible.”
My eyes followed the pictures as they passed from person to person. Would they disappear before I could hold them? My fingers refused to stay still. I clasped them together and pressed them to my lap. For a moment. Then they wandered again, worrying over the folds of my skirt, the fringe on my purse, the pages of my Bible.
Finally the photographs landed in my hands. Breathless, I studied the dark faces. A group of men sat in a semicircle. A length of cloth draped the shoulder or circled the waist of each, dangling into a wrapped skirtlike garment. My cheeks heated. I told myself to look away from the scantily clad men who faced the camera. But I couldn’t. The lack of hope in their steely eyes clawed at my heart.