Welcome, readers! So here we go, continuing with “The Grace Emancipation.” I’ll try to update at least once a week if I can. Thanks so much for sticking with this story. The Muse and I thank you. 🙂
BTW, if you want to refresh your memory by reading the first five chapters, just go to the menu on the main page and click on the tab for The Grace Emancipation preview.
Keep in mind that this is a WIP, so you might find an occasional error that slipped by me. I apologize in advance. 🙂
She felt the sun shining against her closed eyelids. A warm and tender feeling blossomed within her, and she opened her eyes, smiling for a moment.
Until she saw the face at the window.
God, no! she tried to scream out. But her fearful cry came out as barely a whisper – the desperate sound trapped within her, futile in its effort to escape. There was no escape, for even as she crawled backwards in her seat, the callused hands were clenched and reaching out for her. His amber eyes were burning with a furious light – a destructive, evil light of intent.
She awoke with a start, gasping.
The sun was indeed shining. But outside the window, beyond the smiling sky and the quickly passing landscape, there was no face besides her own reflected in the glass. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath.
I am far away now, she thought. So far away. Too far to be found.
Slowly, she opened her eyes – fearful, in a small way, of opening them and seeing the images outside of the window changed to things familiar. But looking now, she saw no clusters of deep dark woods. There were no torn and jagged mountainside landscapes. All was flat and wide open farmland – and it was beautiful.
The green and gold of the cornfields seemed to go on forever, reaching out toward a vast expanse of blue horizon. The land was only broken here and there by a bright red barn or a pretty white farmhouse.
“Good morning, Miss Gracie.”
She turned, seeing the porter. And she smiled at him.
“Good morning, Martin.”
He smiled back, and surprised her when he placed a tray across her lap. Looking down at it in confusion, she wondered at the bowl sitting there with a spoon beside it, along with a glass of milk and a small cardboard box.
“What is this?” she asked. And he replied with a shrug.
“I thought you might like some breakfast.”
Staring at the empty bowl, she felt like a fool for not understanding. Picking up the box, she put it near her ear and shook it. She could feel Martin’s eyes on her, examining her. But she could sense that he would be kind, as he had been since she’d first met him.
“Let me take care of that.”
He took the box from her, and she watched with curiosity as he opened it and filled the bowl with the contents – little golden flakes that made a wonderful sound as they fell. Martin wore a tiny grin as he poured some of the milk over the cereal.
“Kellogg’s Corn flakes won its favor through its flavor. The favorite cereal in millions of home. The original has this signature.”
She looked at him in slight confusion, but he just smiled and walked away. It was then that she looked at the box for the first time, reading it – and she smiled as she realized he had recited exactly what was printed there.
She sighed, shaking her head as she chastised herself for her ignorance.
“Oh, what little you know, girl. So very little.”
For a moment, she felt so foolish. But then a different feeling came over her, and she sat up a little bit straighter – a determined look in her features.
“This is where you are,” she said out loud, picking up her spoon. “Go with it, and don’t ask questions.”
The cereal was crunchy and sweet – deliciously different than any breakfast she’d had before. And as she ate, she thought of Jack and Alice.
What were they doing at this very moment? Maybe they were eating cereal like this – enjoying a peaceful morning, just like this. But she could almost bet they weren’t feeling all that she felt as the train sped along. Staring out the window, she watched the wonder of the world flying by.
Jack had once described all of this to her in a letter. But until now, she’d never been able to really picture it. As the hours went by, she marveled at the changes. Open farmland gave way to small towns, which soon became larger towns – the trees and greenery shrinking to make way for more buildings and homes. There were other changes around her – ones that she didn’t really notice at first. The number of passengers around her were growing with each stop. It wasn’t until she found herself in the close company of strangers that she finally noticed it. Between them and the quickly changing landscape outside, there was a strange but exciting tension in the air. Outside the window, the buildings had grown so tall in the air that they cast a shadow over the train itself, and to see the rooftops she was forced to press her face against the glass and look up.
Good heavens, she thought. They really do scrape the sky. Just like Jack said.
Suddenly, the train was thrown into darkness, and she let out a cry of surprise, covering her face. The gentleman sitting next to her let down the edge of the newspaper he’d been reading.
“Are you all right, miss?”
Removing her hands, she saw that the light had returned the car – only it was dimmer now. Her face flushed with embarrassment. But the gentleman passenger was kind in his words.
“Don’t be scared, miss. It’s just the tunnel into the station.”
There came a crying of the brakes. As the train slowed to a crawl, and then to a complete stop, Martin called out.
“Chicago, Union Station!”
Her heart did a summersault.
This is the end of the line, she thought. I have arrived.
Suddenly, she was afraid to get out. The car had become a comfort of sorts – secure, in its way. It had kept the unfamiliar world out, for a time. But now she had to go and face it.
Martin appeared in the aisle beside her. Taking her bag from the overhead bin, he held it out to her.
“Don’t be scared, Miss Gracie. It’s a big city, but you’ll do just fine.”
Rising slowly, she reached out to take the bag with one hand – and with her other hand, she reached out to him. They shook hands in a warm greeting.
“Thank you, Martin. You’ve been so sweet to me.”
In his kind and gentlemanly way, he tipped his hat to her.
“I’m just doing my duty, Miss. Good luck to you.”
She watched him move away, helping other passengers, and she felt a slight sense of dismay at the loss. She was on her own now – entirely on her own, at least until she found her way to Jack and Alice. And the moment she stepped down from the train to the platform, the full force of realization hit her.
Good heavens, she thought. What have I gotten myself into?
The room was cavernous and noisy – half-filled with shadows and half with a soft white light. The light was coming from above, through a frosted glass ceiling, and she stood staring up at it – a strangely beautiful work of art in a room filled with smoke and the noise of travel. She was forced to turn her eyes from it as the passengers around her wordlessly told her she was holding back the flow of traffic.
Lord, there were so many people to see! Everywhere there were moving bodies, more people in one place than she’d ever seen in her life, all moving to and fro. And what strange, fascinating people they were to watch.
The gentleman were dashing, some wearing banded straw hats – others with handsome fedoras. Their clothing looked like the kind she’d only seen on Sunday mornings. There were no overalls or tattered shirts here. The men wore neat looking slacks and fine button up shirts, some covered with thin vests and others with suspenders. How tidy the gentlemen were – most of them clean shaven, though some of them had a small mustache. But not one of them had a scraggly face.
Even their shoes – not mud-encrusted boots, but fine leather loafers – were perfect, and she could see why. Nearby, there was a boy kneeling down with a rag in his hand, buffing the extended foot of a man reading a newspaper. She smiled in wonderment.
No wonder their shoes shine so brightly, she thought. She’d never seen anything like it.
If the men were incredible to her amazed eyes, the ladies were even more so. From head to toe, the women were like a flock of brightly feathered birds…so elegant, so colorful. They seemed to preen for all who might be watching. Some had cute little rounded hats that came down low over their foreheads. Other hats were wide-brimmed and decorated with ribbons or feathers. The dresses were of the brightest colors and loveliest fabrics, many of the collars trimmed with fur or beads. Nearly every female neck was festooned with a long strand of pearls, most of which hung down to the waist. The ladies clomped by in thick-heeled, buckled shoes of various colors, but it was their bare knees that stunned her the most. In all of her life she’d never seen such high hemlines, falling just above the knee itself and exposing a scandalous amount of stocking clad leg.
She thought to herself…
If Mama and those old biddies at church could see this, they’d fall plum on their faces with shock and shame. And on that thought, she smiled again, thinking how very funny it would be to see such a thing.
Someone bumped into her, bringing her back from her musing. The man apologized and went on his way, but the incident suddenly made her remember where she was. There was a loud humming from the many voices, the rattling of baggage carts rolling by, the hissing of the train – and a hundred other sounds she couldn’t distinguish. Another person pushed past her, and she realized that by standing in one place, she was only causing trouble. Following the flow of the crowd, though rather more slowly than they, she looked around for she knew not what. She saw a man in uniform…one who looked like another porter or maybe a conductor. Quietly she went to him, seeking directions. He pointed her down a hall, and giving him a small word of thanks, she went the way he had shown her.
Her feet froze, as if suddenly they had been sunk into the thickest of mud. Her mouth fell open. With eyes slowly rising, she gasped at the sight of the magnificent Great Hall – the enormous vaulted ceiling making her tilt her head back in utter astonishment. She hardly knew the whisper of her own voice.
Great God in heaven!
The floor, the huge columns, the grand staircases and balconies – all were made of glorious marble, and the spaces echoed with voices and footsteps. The brass lamps and railings gleamed in the white light from the atrium above.
A palace! She said to herself. I have entered a palace…
The enormity of it came over her all at once.
Why am I here? What have I done? I don’t belong…
She took a step back, hoping to retreat to the shadows. It felt safer there, away from that brightly lit and wide open space. Another step – and she felt the solid thud of another body. She felt her suitcase slipping from her hand, and then the horror of realizing that most of her belongings were now all over the floor. With trembling hands she knelt down to pick them up – and her eyes met with the gaze of another.
“I’m so sorry, miss. Let me help you.”
He was young – about her age, or maybe a little older. There was kindness in his manner and his tone – and an athleticism in the way he moved as he helped her retrieve her things. He was dressed like many of the gentleman she had seen, with long tan-colored trousers and a short-sleeved buttoned up shirt. He wore no hat, so she saw the cute little curls of his blond hair. It was impossible not to notice how handsome he was, and she felt her cheeks flushing at the thought of it.
Another voice suddenly interjected.
“You’re a prince on the dance floor, little brother. But out here, you’re more like a monkey.”
What a deep, rich, and authoritative voice it was! Looking up, she was stunned by the sight of the man standing there. A large man. Quite tall, with long legs and broad shoulders. Like the other gentleman, he was dressed in brown trousers and a similar style shirt. But all similarities ended there. He wore a gray fedora, but she could see his hair was very dark. His face was an arresting one – very masculine. A long, straight nose – quite distinctive, but not distasteful. His jawline was sharply rounded, his cheekbones high. But his most striking feature was his eyes. They were the palest shade of blue, and his piercing gaze was fixed on her at that moment, even as the other gentleman spoke to him. His words were critical – and yet, they seemed spoken half-heartedly.
“It was an accident, Henry. And you could help if you wanted to. Be a gentleman.”
Henry snorted – and the corner of his mouth rose in a hint of amusement. “That’s your area of expertise, Will. Not mine.”
Grace’s eyes had gone back to the matter of her belongings. Despite Henry’s seeming disinterest, she saw him reach down to pick up something that had moved the farthest away – beyond the reach of her or Will, who closed the suitcase and followed her in rising to her feet. He smiled his pleasant smile.
“You’ll have to forgive my brother. He wasn’t raised with any manners.”
She smiled back. “That’s all right. I have six brothers at home. I’m used to it.”
This Will was certainly a personable fellow, and she liked him already. But her mind was on Henry, who was looking at the object in his hand.
My letters! she realized. He was holding her bundle of letters and staring at them, as if they held some kind of great interest for him. She wanted to cry out for the return of them – but Will was distracting her from it, commanding her attention.
“Six brothers?” he said. “My goodness, that’s a big family!”
“Actually, I have seven brothers,” she replied, only really half-listening. She felt better when she saw Henry taking a step closer, and felt great relief when he handed the precious bundle back to her. Her eyes and his held for a moment as they gazed at one another. But not forgetting herself entirely, especially her manners, she turned back to Will, who was waiting for her to continue their conversation.
“One of them lives here,” she said. “I’m on my way to see him. I just hope I can find my way around here. It’s all so new and big.”
“Maybe I can help you. I know almost everyone in this town. What’s your brother’s name?”
“John Langdon,” Henry said.
They both looked at him at the same time. Will’s brow went up with surprise.
“How do you know that?”
“I saw the name on the envelope, genius.”
My goodness, Grace thought. He sure is a snarky fella. But somehow, she wasn’t offended by it. In all honesty, there was something in his manner that appealed to her. What that something was exactly, she wasn’t quite sure. There was just something about him that was likeable, despite his surliness – and she sensed that his mood was caused not by her, but by Will. Clearly, the two of them weren’t the best of friends, but really – what was a bit of contention between brothers?
“What a small world it is,” he said, looking between her and Will. “Her brother happens to live right across the street from us.”
Will’s face broke into another smile as he looked at her – his brown eyes shining with delight.
“That John Langdon? No kidding! You know, now that you mention it, I thought I knew your face from somewhere. He has a picture of you sitting on his mantle at home.”
At the mention of Jack, she became entirely interested in Will. A friend of her brother – someone who knew him, and could maybe be her hope of getting to him. And he seemed so eager to please.
But was he really trustworthy? He was, after all, still a stranger. And who, in her entire life – other than Jack and Alice – had been genuinely trustworthy? While Henry stood nearby, looking at his pocket-watch – clearly impatient – she quickly thought of something to prove she could believe in Will.
“What picture does he have of me?” she asked.
Only someone who had been in Jack’s house more than once, and had seen the picture on the mantle, would know that she wasn’t the sole occupant of a photograph. In every picture she had ever sent him, there had always been a certain companion at her side. Will replied with a sure and instant answer.
“It was you and a spotted bird dog…”
“Pilot!” she exclaimed, smiling with joy at the mention of her dog.
“That’s your dog? Oh, I love animals! Especially dogs. You know I’ve always said that dogs…”
Henry suddenly lost his patience.
“Come on, Will! Let’s get a move on, huh? I’m tired and hungry. And now, I could use a stiff drink to go with it.”
As Henry turned and walked away, Will waved him off dismissively – but in the next moment, he consented to following after.
“All right, all right. We’re coming.” Reaching down to pick up her suitcase for her, he smiled, speaking softly. “You can follow us. We’ll show you where to go.”
Softly replying with her thanks, she followed along as they made their way through the Great Hall and up the grand set of stairs to their right. All along the way, Will continued his conversation with her. He loved to talk, there was no doubt, but he was so pleasant that she didn’t mind it in the least. And he didn’t seem insistent that she talk to him with equal enthusiasm. He merely talked while she listened.
“You’ll have to excuse Henry. He owns a nightclub here in town, and sometimes he doesn’t get much sleep. Neither of us do, actually. I’m the star of the show. My name is William Shaw, but you can just call me Will.” With his free hand he reached out to her, and they shook hands.
His brown eyes seemed to sparkle as he complimented her. “Well, you’re aptly named, I must say.”
Henry looked back at them over his shoulder. “Stop trying to pick her up, Will. You already have more women than you can count.”
“I’m not trying to pick her up. I’m just being polite. And besides – can I help it if the ladies love me?”
Grace felt a laugh bubble up from within her. What opposites these brothers were! One was all charm and friendly chatter – the other sarcastic, impatient, and arrogant. But despite their bickering, there seemed to be an underlying rapport between them – as if these arguments were just their natural way of being. And having had brothers, she could understand such a strange bond. At the top of the stairs, Will held the door open for her.
“I’m a singer and a dancer,” he explained. “And it’s true I’ve had a few girlfriends. But I’m harmless. I promise you.”
Somehow, she knew it was true. She could just feel it, and as they walked along the sidewalk outside the station, they lapsed into another pleasant conversation.
“So you have seven brothers? That’s a lot. John never says much about where he came from. How come you never came to visit before?”
Reaching up to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear, she answered shyly. “It’s a long story.”
“We have some time. Tell me about yourself.”
“There’s not much to tell, really.”
“I’m sure that’s not true.”
Another outburst came from Henry.
“Jesus Christ, Will! Quit bothering her.”
“I’m not bothering her.”
“Well, you’re bothering me.”
The two of them seemed to suddenly be at odds, and not in a playful way. Will’s face became serious, even stern in its own way. He and Henry stared at each other for a long moment before he turned to Grace.
“Miss Grace, meet my brother – Henry Shaw. Nightclub owner, war veteran, and perennial grouch. If you’re looking for someone to talk to, don’t look to him.”
Something changed in Henry’s eyes. His words were spoken to her, but his gaze remained fixed on Will.
“Since my brother likes to talk so much, maybe he can tell you that one of my eyes is false because I lost it in the war. Or how about the way I lost two fingers as well? There’s enough blood and gory details about that to keep you chatting for hours.”
“That’s enough, Henry.”
A silence fell between them then. No words were spoken even as they boarded the streetcar – a new and strange experience for Grace, who followed Will’s indication that she sit by the window. As they waited for the other passengers to board, she looked at Henry, who had taken the bench in front of them. It seemed clearer to her now, at least in some small way, that he perhaps had reason to be as moody as he was. Maybe life had just made him that way. War changed men entirely – she knew that to be true thanks to Jack, who had written letters home during his time in France. Unsure of what to say to Henry – someone she certainly didn’t know well at all – she felt the need to say something. Anything at all.
“I had an uncle who lost his hand in a saw mill accident.”
He looked at her. One of his eyebrows rose in interest – a rather intriguing little gesture, she thought, although she didn’t say so out loud.
“Is that so?” he said, to which she nodded. And as before, the corner of his mouth twitched up just a little. Not quite a smile, but a distinct change from the grimness of his frown. His eyes moved from her to Will.
“Well look at that, little brother. I learned something about her without talking her ear off.”
Leaning his head back, he took off his hat and covered his face with it, folding his hands across his chest. And Will snorted.
She found herself trying to hide a smile. But her thoughts were soon distracted – the slight jolt of the streetcar reminding her where she was.
It was all so new and exciting. And it only grew more so as they moved along. As she looked out the window, a car suddenly slammed on its brakes – the tires squealing and the horn blasting.
“My Lord!” she gasped, feeling her heart in her throat. “That car almost crashed right into us!”
Will just smiled. “Don’t worry about it. Drivers should watch where they’re going or the streetcars will run right over them. It happens all the time. Do you know that any fool can get a driver’s license? All they have to do is send a quarter through the mail? They really should do something to regulate that. It’s no wonder people get killed all the time.”
He was so calm about it all. And Henry never moved or lifted his hat from his face. Cars and trucks were everywhere. Horns honked, engines puttered. Smoke belched from tailpipes. Lord have mercy, there were even a few horses pulling wagons. That seemed awfully dangerous for the poor animals. But the smell of them was wonderfully familiar in a haze of overwhelming scents. One moment, a pungent odor – of gasoline or hot pavement – would be strong in the air. But in the very next moment, there would be the scent of something pleasant. Like the slight whiff of freshly baked bread – the invisible but tempting invitation of a nearby bakery.
But then there were the people – endless crowds of them, on the sidewalks and in the streets, and even up above. Bending her head to look, she saw all the faces in the open windows, some of the residents leaning out and watching the activity below. It was almost too much to take in.
“Goodness. How will I find my brother in all of this?”
Will’s voice was gentle and reassuring. “Don’t worry. We’ll make sure you get to him. And besides, Lincoln Park isn’t in the city. It’s close enough to walk, but it’s a world away, believe me. It’s much quieter there. More to your liking.”
She smiled at him. “Thank you for being so nice to me.”
Henry removed his hat and sat up, looking at her.
“A long time ago, I used to be a nice guy. But life…”
Her response came before she could stop it. He reminded her so much of Rochester. She couldn’t help herself.
“Fortune has knocked you about since. She has even kneaded you with her knuckles, and now you flatter yourself as hard and tough as an India-rubber ball…”
They stared at one another for a brief moment. She felt like a fool for allowing the wanderings of her mind to be heard. But his blue eyes flickered with a light she wasn’t able to describe. And he replied…
“I have battled through a varied experience with many men of many nations, and roamed over half the globe, while you have lived quietly with one set of people in one house.”
My goodness, she thought with a kind of delight. He knows every word.
Will looked utterly confused, his eyes going back and forth between them.
“What language are you two speaking?”
Leaning back against the window, stretching his long legs out on the bench, Henry snorted.
“It’s a book, you dummy. A famous piece of nineteenth-century female propaganda that women love.”
Grace just looked at him, not understanding. “Propaganda?”
“Yes, propaganda. Propaganda is defined as a form of communication, usually political, that hopes to influence thinking and behavior.”
She shook her head. “Jane Eyre isn’t political.”
“Maybe not, but it inspires women to go against the norm.”
At first, she had felt intrigued – and happily so – by the thought that he knew something of her favorite story. She had known so few men that bothered with the discussion of books. The prospect of it had excited her for a moment. Now it felt like something of a disappointment.
“But you know it by heart. You must like it a little.”
“My wife liked it.”
Will broke in suddenly, as if he sensed a coming conflict.
“Okay, let’s talk about something else. Anything else. But let’s not bring up anything to do with…her.”
A silence fell between the three of them. Grace was glad for it, in a way. But now she was curious. Obviously, the use of the word her referred to a woman, but the unpleasant way in which it was spoken indicated that the female in question was not to be discussed. She sighed, letting it go.
What was the point in discussing it anyway? It was none of her business. And now that they seemed to be on the edges of the city, her attention drifted back to the ever-changing world around her. Within just a few short turns of the streetcar, the city heights gave way to small brick residences. What pretty little dwellings they were! All neatly kept homes with trimmed lawns and hedges, lined up along white paved sidewalks and cobblestone streets. It was all so nice to look at…like something in a picture book. Her stomach began to knot with anticipation as she imagined reuniting with Jack and Alice. Looking down at her hands, she realized they were shaking a little. Taking a deep breath, she willed herself to be calm. And before she quite knew it, the streetcar was slowing down. It came to a stop on a corner, and she watched as Henry and Will stood up.
“Well, this is it,” said Will. “We’ll walk the rest of the way. It’s not far.”
And it wasn’t far at all. Before she knew it, she was there, looking at the house across the street.
Jack’s house, she realized.
It was beautiful to look at, with its flower-filled window boxes and manicured lawn. But it didn’t seem possible that she was really here. She stood rooted to her spot on the sidewalk…until Will patted her on the arm.
“Good luck, Miss Grace. We’ll be seeing you around.”
He offered her his hand. She took it gladly, thanking him.
“I appreciate your kindness, Will.”
Henry hadn’t said a word since getting off the streetcar. He stood at his mailbox near the front door, sorting through envelopes. He wasn’t the warmest man, to be sure. But there was something about him that generated a softness in her heart. Despite his surliness, she felt she at least owed him a word of gratitude.
“Goodbye, Henry Shaw. And thank you.”
He didn’t answer with words – only an unintelligible mutter. But he raised his hand in a polite gesture. And that was satisfying enough, it seemed.
Will lingered for a moment, and then he went up the walk to join Henry and disappear into their house. Turning from them, she stood for a moment, just staring at the house.
Taking a deep breath, she looked both ways. And crossed the street.