Authors: Anne Mateer
Tags: #Automobile racing—Fiction, #FIC042030, #Charity—Fiction, #FIC042040, #FIC042000, #Young women—Fiction
“Anyway”—Webster pulled the rag from his back pocket and wiped it across his forehead—“I wasn’t supposed to mention it. And I have to get her ready.” He clamped his lips shut and returned to work.
I leaned against my Runabout as he fit pieces into the engine—tightening, oiling, tinkering. I grabbed a clean rag from a shelf over the workbench to wipe the door of my dusty auto and remembered my desperation. What would Webster say if I told him I’d given
the money away?
I couldn’t make myself chance his response. I had to find a way to replace the funds before anyone found out I no longer had them. My eyes caught on a simple gold bracelet circling my wrist. “Webster, do you think I could sell some pieces of my jewelry to raise the money I need?”
“What kind of jewelry?”
“Trinkets, really. Like this.” I held out my arm. He barely glanced my direction. “I doubt they’d bring much, but then every little bit would help.” I concentrated on a smudge of dirt that didn’t want to let go. I rubbed harder, until it flaked to the ground. “But I wouldn’t want to sell them around here. Too obvious. I don’t suppose you could help me, could you?”
Clank. Clang. Tap.
I drummed my fingers against the body of the car as he worked. With a grunt, he pointed at a large wrench. I picked it up and placed it in his hand before tossing my rag onto the workbench and perching on the back fender of my car.
“Of course, selling a few baubles will only repay what I already gave away.” My throat tightened, and my voice fell to a whisper. “Which would be three hundred and sixty-two dollars.”
Webster bolted upright, banging his knee on the race car. Growling through gritted teeth, he massaged the spot before pushing to his feet.
“Say that again?”
I breathed deep. “I gave away the rest of the money.”
“Clarissa’s sister’s house got hit by lightning. They lost everything.”
His gaze burned into me, so intense it held me motionless. Then he piled tools in the toolbox and clamped the lid shut before securing the box to the back of the race car.
“I’ll sell your jewelry for you. But you have to give it to me before we leave for Chicago.”
“I’ll give it to you at the speedway next weekend. After the race. Or maybe before.”
He straightened. “You aren’t going, Ally. I thought you understood that. Your father made it very clear I wasn’t even supposed to mention it to you.”
I inched toward the open garage doors. “Thank you, Webster. I knew the Lord would provide.” With the flash of a grin, I tried to dispel the fear clouding his eyes. “And don’t worry. I won’t get you in any trouble about Chicago.”
No, there wouldn’t be trouble. For either of us. In fact, Mother would be in raptures when I offered to accompany her on another trip to the city.
ll that night I tossed and turned, worrying about the little lives attached to those precious faces in my photograph. Each body housed a soul. A soul with an eternal future. How gladly I’d sacrifice my few semiprecious pieces of jewelry to give them the opportunity to hear the gospel, to experience the love of Christ through the McConnells. Mother didn’t even remember she’d given me those baubles. Besides, unlike my Packard, they were mine to do with as I pleased. And while they wouldn’t raise the entire amount, they might at least replace the funds I’d given away.
As the birds started their morning conversations, I forced my tired body out of bed, still cataloging in my head what I could sell without Mother or Father noticing. At my desk, I opened my diary, marking off the past few days. Just over six weeks remained until John and Ava McConnell returned. I pressed the blunt end of my pencil to my lips. There were still a few people in town I hadn’t called on to offer my services as a driver. But given the fact that not one person had yet to telephone regarding their need for transportation services, I doubted those conversations would yield anywhere near the entire amount.
A sliver of fear pricked my heart. Would I face the congregation alone and empty-handed? Would I fail John and Ava McConnell? Watch their joyful faces sink in disappointment? I refused to let trepidation take hold. I would trust God’s provision. His faithfulness. I shut my diary and opened my Bible instead.
Father’s Mercer chugged out of the garage before I dressed for breakfast. Mother met me in the foyer.
“Come take breakfast in the garden with me, darling, before you motor me to the train station.” She hooked her arm through mine and led me out the door.
I inhaled the freshness of the morning, wishing I could linger in its embrace. But my feet had to move to keep up with Mother. And my mind whirled with every step. Mother’s clubs—both the small one in Langston and the larger one in Chicago—supported a number of causes. Even if she wouldn’t lend her name or her effort to raising funds for the Gold Coast mission, she might have some ideas as to how to garner the necessary funds.
Webster’s whistle cut across the clear morning, lifting my spirits. At least I had one ally. No, two. Mr. Trotter stood ready to help, as well. I ought to call on him again.
“Alyce?” Mother motioned me to the gazebo as Webster rounded the stand of birch trees, the tune dying on his lips.
The gardener placed a chair near me, and I sat. Clarissa bustled out of the house laden with a full tray, clucking like an agitated hen. A plate of eggs with a slice of cheese and some fresh fruit appeared in front of me. I let my fork wander through the eggs on my plate but didn’t bring a bite to my lips.
“Mother, I need your help with something.” Father had ordered me not to ask Mother for money for Africa, but he hadn’t said I couldn’t seek her help in raising the funds.
“Oh?” Her eyes widened and her face took on an excitement I rarely saw.
Clearly, she wanted to help me. And I so rarely obliged. Maybe my request would give us a common bond.
I lifted a forkful of eggs, ready to plunge them into my mouth as soon as the words left it empty. “It’s about those children. In Africa.”
Mother settled her napkin in her lap and added a dollop of milk to her steaming tea. “I have nothing to give you, Alyce, even if your father hadn’t forbidden it.”
“I know, but I thought you could at least suggest ways to raise the money. You’re so good at that. How do your clubs manage to fund charitable causes?”
She sipped her tea. “Why can’t you find something more . . . suitable for your efforts? Like those poor Belgian children orphaned by the war in Europe?”
I speared a raspberry and popped it into my mouth. “Plenty of others are championing their cause. These children in Africa have no one else. Or rather, very few others. Can’t you help me?”
Her delicate mouth drooped before she set aside her fork. “You ought to be concerned with finding a husband before you take on other people’s problems, Alyce. I’ve tried to explain it to your father, but he cannot be convinced that you must spend more time in proximity to eligible men if you are to marry. After you marry, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to do good.”
A bee buzzed near my ear. I wished it would jab its stinger into my flesh so I could avoid this conversation. But it bumbled away, off to find a flower to satisfy its hunger instead.
“I’m not missing a thing, Mother. I’m working with the Women’s Mission Auxiliary at church. And there’s a social planned for later this month. I have other friends, too.”
Though none you would approve of.
“I’m satisfied with my life.”
Or would be if I had three thousand dollars for the mission in the Gold Coast.
Mother’s mouth puckered as if she’d bit into a lemon instead of a strawberry. “You know that isn’t what I mean, Alyce. On my last trip to Chicago I met several men who asked to be introduced to you. They are expecting you to accompany me next time. And I’m sure your friends from school miss you, as well. We could go up and stay for a few weeks.”
My heart thumped against my chest as I imagined Webster’s racing car zipping around the board track just outside the city. “Actually, Mother, I think that’s a great—”
“Ow!” Mother sprang from her chair and slapped at her neck. “Get it off! Get it off!” Slap. Slap. Slap.
I caught her hand, held it still. A welt the size of a nickel rose red beneath her ear.
Then her screaming stopped. Her body went limp. I caught her just before she hit the ground.
“Mother?” I eased her to the floor of the gazebo and settled her head in my lap as a bumblebee twitched one last time on the ground beside me. Her eyes didn’t open. They didn’t even flutter. “Help me! I need help!”
Before my shout died away, Webster lifted Mother into his arms, his eyes locking on mine. I hoped he could read my gratitude.
I phoned the doctor. And Father. Neither hurried to Mother’s side. Smelling salts did their job, waking her to a moaning existence. Clarissa made a quick mud plaster, which I dabbed on the sting. Betsy brought Mother a glass of wine to help dull her pain.
Her eyes closed. Her head lolled to one side. The front door opened and closed. Heavy footsteps climbed the stairs.
“Alyce?” she groaned as Dr. Maven stepped into the room.
She stretched out her arm. My shoulders slumped a bit as I stepped to her side, holding her hand as the doctor examined the sting.
“Nothing to worry about, Mrs. Benson. Everyone has taken good care of you.” He patted her hand and smiled in my direction.
“Thank you, darling,” Mother mumbled before turning her head, her face still white and pinched with pain.
“I’ll see myself out,” the doctor whispered. “Call if you need anything more.”
“I will.” After the front door shut and the faint chug of the doctor’s motorcar died away, I let go of Mother’s hand and advanced toward the door. If I knew my mother, this could confine her to bed for a week. And if I couldn’t rouse her from bed, how in the world would I induce Father to take me to Chicago for the race?
arly Sunday morning, I wrapped my robe around my nightdress and tiptoed into the hall. No stirring in Mother’s bedroom. No sound from the floor below. I hurried into the bathroom and then returned to my room to dress. Maybe I could spend some time with Grandmother before breakfast.
Shoes in hand, I crept down the hall, my stockinged feet making no sound on the polished walnut floor. As I passed the stairs, the smell of fresh bread rumbled my stomach.
I pushed open Grandmother’s bedroom door. “How is my favorite lady this morning?”
Grandmother chuckled as I made my way to her bedside, kissed her cheek, and settled into my usual chair.
“Did you—were you able—?” She whispered as if I’d taken up something sinister.
For once, I thanked the Lord that she couldn’t see my face. “Not much more money. But some.”
I’d gone into town for a while the previous day, exhausted my entire list of people to contact, and arrived home with less than two hundred dollars toward my goal.
“You need somewhere to keep what you’ve been given. Open my armoire.”
I did as she bid me.
“Look in the bottom left drawer.”
I slid it open.
“The red box. Dig for it.”
Pushing aside white undergarments, I spied a bit of scarlet wedged into the back corner. I pulled it out. A square box decorated with tiny beads.
“I purchased it at the Columbian Exposition. I can’t remember which exhibit booth. But I thought it charming. And a reminder that the blood of Jesus covered my sins. Take it. For your Africa money. Then I’ll feel I have a part in it, too.”
I turned the box over in my hands. “It will take time, but God will fill it. I feel sure.”
“I hope so.” Grandmother’s voice shook just a bit. “Yet I fear for you, child.”
My chin lifted. “I don’t understand why Father’s being so stubborn about this.”
Grandmother shook her head, tears standing in her sightless eyes.
“What turned him against God, Grandmother? Was it Mother?”
Grandmother turned toward me. “It was my fault, I fear.”
“Your fault?” I stroked her hand. “You’ve never been anything but gracious, even during his tirades and Mother’s tantrums.”
Her brown-spotted hand reached for the glass of water always on her bedside table. She lifted it to her lips. Once. Twice. The glass shook in her hand. I guided it back into place without mishap.
“I wasn’t always as you’ve known me, Ally. I didn’t come to know the Lord until the year before you were born.”
“Yes, I know. At the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Reverend Moody was preaching under a big tent and for the first time you realized you needed a Savior.”
Grandmother nodded. “What you don’t know is that those first few years I wanted so badly for your mother and father to come to the same realization. All I could talk about was the peace I’d found in Jesus, the joy I’d never experienced before. And every day—maybe every hour—I asked if they could see that they needed the same thing.”
“But surely they understood you just loved them so much you had to share your new faith.”
“That was my reasoning at the time. But a wise older woman spied me weeping bitter tears one Sunday after church. I explained your parents’ unwillingness to accept Christ and told her I was sure my unlearned words were the cause. She assured me they weren’t and counseled me to live out my faith for them rather than preaching to them. She explained that no matter how much I talked or what words I used, Jesus had to woo them to Himself. I couldn’t persuade them merely by saying it over and over again.”
Grandmother played with the lace edge of the sheet covering her thin frame. “She was right, Ally. It took time for me to admit that. But then you arrived, a tiny bundle of joy with your whole life ahead of you. You didn’t know me any other way, so I decided to pour myself into you instead of them.”
“But all these years, Grandmother. All these years we’ve prayed. And nothing changes them.” I choked out a laugh. “Well, maybe they do change. They seem to get further from the Lord.”
Grandmother nodded. “Every day that passes they get closer to the end of themselves. That’s what I’m believing to be the case.”
“Alyce?” Mother’s voice drifted into the room.
“Go on now. Serve your parents well, as you always do. And trust God for the rest. Even for Africa.”
“I love you, Grandmother.” I kissed her forehead. “Pray for me,” I whispered as I slipped my shoes onto my feet.
“Always” came the answer.
Behind the wheel of the Runabout, I chugged down the road to church, singing every hymn that popped into my head. By the time I parked, my heart had lightened, my faith had strengthened.
I cut the engine and laid my goggles on the seat before pinning my saucer-brimmed straw sailor hat atop my head.
I jumped, pressing my hand against my chest.
“May I be of assistance?” Mr. Trotter held out his hand. It seemed a bit ridiculous. I climbed in and out of my automobile by myself every day. Even when Webster stood nearby. But then, Webster wasn’t Lawrence Trotter, with his fashionable suit and a tie knotted beneath his chin.
Mother’s words about a suitable match flickered through my head. She probably hadn’t meant someone like Mr. Trotter. But could she be persuaded to approve?
Sociable. Dapper. Interested in the things of the Lord.
I laid my hand in his and stepped to the ground. A shiver skittered over my arms and down my legs as he slid the duster from my shoulders and tossed it across the seat of my car.
“Thank you, Mr. Trotter.” My voice fell to a faint whisper as my eyes met his. Even though I’d sat with him in church for almost two months, I’d never noticed the flecks of green that swam in his hazel eyes, the fullness of his lips beneath the line of fawn-colored hair above them. I remembered visiting with him alone in his office. My heart beat in excited anticipation—but of exactly what I couldn’t tell.
“Shall we?” He offered his arm. A smile crept over my face as my heart thumped faster. When I touched his arm, a lightning bolt of thrill shot through my middle, leaving my knees weak.
We walked into church together, whispers trailing behind us. I ducked my head. Did he hear them, too? I glanced up again. His chest puffed out a bit now, and his gait took on a swagger. He obviously felt no shame to be linked with an old maid of twenty-two. One with bobbed hair and a car of her own, who bore the name of the most influential man in town.
Maybe, just maybe, Lawrence Trotter was God’s answer to my prayers—in more ways than one.
After the service ended, the congregation buzzed with excitement over Mrs. Tillman’s announcement about raising funds for the mission. A Women’s Mission Auxiliary meeting was planned for that evening. My palms grew slick with sweat beneath my gloves. I wanted to leave before anyone asked me about the money I’d promised.
“Shall we?” were Mr. Trotter’s quiet words in my ear. He led me out the door, around the edge of the crowd. My discomfort eased. We arrived at my motorcar without having to speak to anyone, though I regretted a quick wave to Lucinda and baby Teresa instead of a conversation.
He helped me into my duster again. I pulled my leather driving gloves over my thin white ones, wondering again if God intended more than I’d imagined concerning the man at my side.
He whisked his hat from his head and swept it across his body in a formal bow. “I’d be delighted to take you for a drive this afternoon, Miss Benson. I could deliver you to your meeting this evening, as well.”
My heart seemed to stop as my hands stilled. Then my pulse took up its regular beat again. “How thoughtful of you, Mr. Trotter. I think I’d enjoy that.”
“Lawrence. Please call me Lawrence.” He set his hat on his head with a jaunty tap. “May I pick you up at four? That will give us time for a good long drive.”
“That would be delightful. Thank you.”
He stepped back. I hit the electric starter and my motor roared to life. Lawrence. Coming to pick me up. At my house. What would Mother and Father say? I pulled my foot from the clutch. The engine quit.
“Lawrence?” Heads turned as my voice carried across the churchyard. I cringed as he appeared at my window. He looked so eager. I couldn’t disappoint him. I’d just have to make sure Mother stayed out of the way. And Father, too. At least until I figured out if he and I had any chance at a future together. I relaxed, let a smile frame my innocuous words. “I’ll be waiting.”