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Authors: Siri Mitchell

Unrivaled

BOOK: Unrivaled
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© 2013 by Siri L. Mitchell

Published by Bethany House Publishers

11400 Hampshire Avenue South

Bloomington, Minnesota 55438

www.bethanyhouse.com

Bethany House Publishers is a division of

Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan

www.bakerpublishinggroup.com

Ebook edition created 2013

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.

ISBN 978-1-4412-6104-5

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 appearances of certain historical figures are therefore inevitable. All other characters, however, are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

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.

Cover design by Jennifer Parker

Photography by Mike Habermann Photography, LLC

To my sweet.

1

S
EPTEMBER
1910
S
T
. L
OUIS
, M
ISSOURI

Soon, soon, soon.
My thoughts kept tempo with the horses’ hooves. It was all I could do not to stare as the carriage passed the sites of my beloved St. Louis: the brown brick Cave Ballroom; the tall Morgens Brothers Building with its deep bay windows; Ford Motor Company. And all the shoe and boot stores lining the district. If I looked out the other side of the carriage, I knew I would see the St. Louis Club.

An advertisement for Royal Taffy candy caught my attention.
Give the Queen of Your Heart a Royal Gift
. The brazen red of its oblong wrapper was echoed in the border of the poster. It was the third of its kind that I had seen on our journey down Olive Street. I wondered how many more of them had been put up around the city. And I wondered, too, why I hadn’t seen any for my father’s candy, Fancy Crunch.

The carriage lurched to a stop again. My, but there were
so many more automobiles on the streets than there had been when I’d left for Europe. And it had only been a little over a year! Such a bother they were.

And it was so hot! I’d forgotten about Missouri’s humidity. Though it had been made in the new open style, my white silk collar was sticking to my neck, and I suspected my Denmark blue blouse-waist was already damp at the back. I shifted forward on the seat as the streetcars and automobiles sailed past us, reminding me of all the ships I had seen on the Mediterranean.

Awnings shaded shop windows while men and women hurried up and down the street. I noted how tall all the buildings were. Pride bloomed in my breast: Even Europe with all her splendors had nothing to rival my native city.

I had worried that I would find my home too dull and provincial, that it would be diminished by the grandeur of all the things I had seen and the places I had visited on the Continent. To the contrary! Dear, sweet home. I wanted to embrace it all, every piece of it. There were dozens of things I couldn’t wait to do. And there were a hundred things I wanted to tell of: eating linzer torte in Austria; viewing glaciers in Switzerland; drinking coffee at the cafés in Italy.

Soon, soon, soon.

I’d voyaged halfway around the world, but this last journey from Union Station to my house was interminable.

Glancing down at the newspaper I’d twisted between my hands, I determined to at least look as if I were patiently waiting. It was a discarded copy of the
Chicago
Tribune
someone had left on the train. A headline in bold type declared
Suspect in South Side Murder Arrested
. The article went on to explain beneath:
A twenty-two-year-old member of one of the South Side’s notorious athletic clubs was arrested for the murder of Micky Callahan.
How gruesome! My eyes strayed from the
article to the face of the hardened criminal, which stared back at me with beady eyes. It was enough to make me shudder. I hoped they kept him in that jail for a very long time! I folded it up and laid my hands atop it.

Seated on the bench across from me, my aunt and uncle exchanged a glance. I’d grown used to such glances on the Continent. But more than that, I had grown used to their exchange of tender gestures. I could only hope that I would someday find myself in a marriage as loving as theirs.

Four blocks more.

Three blocks more.

Oh!—there it was. The gracefully curving, columned gate that guarded Vandeventer Place from the world outside it. I knew every twist of the metal flowers that scrolled up the ironwork. The carriage left off its jarring bounce as it glided onto the smooth granite flagstones that lined the threshold of the gate. My heart thrilled to hear the splash of the fountain beyond, and tears pricked my eyes at the sight of the statue that topped it. Leda and her swan. And—look! Old Mr. Carleton was still sitting in that same wicker chair on his porch, supervising the pruning of his roses. I could not help but grin and wave my handkerchief at him.

“Perhaps you should settle yourself more fully on the seat, my dear.” Though her words were corrective, my aunt smiled as she said them. She had often helped to guide my behavior while we were in Europe. But she was right. Perhaps I should sit back. I wouldn’t want Father and Mother to think that my manners had suffered in Europe while I was gone.

I could not wait to see them!

Though . . . the thought of my father brought with it a pang of guilt. I’d been allowed to accompany my aunt and uncle on their tour in the hopes that it would turn me into a lady. A lady
didn’t succumb to enthusiasms, and she didn’t go about waving handkerchiefs, and most of all, she did not join her father in his business.

Not even when the best and happiest parts of her childhood had been spent with him by a stove, as they created new candies, anticipating the glorious success of his efforts.

How long we’d been waiting for that success.

But now I’d been to Europe. I’d seen her delights. And I had also tasted of her many sweets. In doing so, my resolve to join him in the business had only hardened, and I’d concocted a plan. I was going to share with him all that I had discovered. I’d collected labels from candy boxes and wrappers to paste into my scrapbook to show him. And I’d saved some samples for him as well. Perhaps that’s what I would do first: Let him taste my treasures. And then I’d talk to him about adding a new line of candies to City Confectionery’s offerings: Premium European Sweets. “How many new candies do you think Father created while I was gone?”

“Well . . .” My aunt’s glance veered away from mine and a frown tugged at the corners of her mouth. “I don’t know . . . but . . . Lucy, dear? There’s something I think you should know.” She looked again at my uncle.

There it was at the end of the street: my own dear house. The one Grandfather had built, with its gabled roofline and porticoed entry. It took all the strength I had to restrain myself from leaping out and dashing up the steps.

“Lucy!”

I wrenched my shoulders back and put up a hand to adjust my new straw picture hat. I felt the mound of white ostrich feathers atop it sway as I looked down and folded my gloved hands once more atop my lap. “Yes, Auntie?”

“There’s something that . . . well . . .”

My uncle cleared his throat. “Something’s happened to your father.”

That last block took an eternity to travel. The coachman must have helped me down from the carriage because all of a sudden I was inside, back in my own front hall, and I was being enfolded in my mother’s arms. “Papa—?”

“He’s resting.”

“Can I see him?”

“Not right now. Let him sleep. Perhaps tomorrow . . .”

I could see the old, familiar hallstand and smell the yeasty scent of Mrs. Hughes’ dinner rolls. But I could neither hear my father’s quick steps, nor was I enveloped by the warmth of his embrace. Though my palms had been sweating in my new kid gloves just a moment before, my hands were now as chill as ice. I gathered my skirt and put a foot to the front stair. “I would only look in on him. He wouldn’t hear me; I wouldn’t wake him.”

My aunt put an arm to my shoulders and drew me away with her to the parlor. “Be assured your father’s making progress. His condition is stable.”

Why wasn’t anyone doing anything? How could they be so calm? “But—what happened?”

“He had an attack. Of the heart.”

I slipped from my aunt and accepted my mother’s embrace once again. She ducked beneath the brim of my hat and kissed my cheek. “He hasn’t grown any worse. And we must remember: It’s only been three months.”

Three months! But that meant . . . I thought back to where I had been in June. I’d been sketching the Bernese Alps and floating in a boat on Lake Thun in Switzerland. “Someone should have told me!”

Mother adjusted my hat. “We didn’t want to worry you. And besides, there’s nothing you could have done.”

Aunt Margaret patted my arm and then took me by the hand and drew me further into the room.

I gasped in astonishment. It had been redone. Gone were the gleaming molasses-brown woodwork and the cherry-red wallpaper. The trim was now creamy white and the walls . . . they were the most peculiar shade of light green. It looked so . . . plain. And pale. “Why did you paint it?”

Mother blinked and glanced around the room. “I find it rather pretty. And painted trim doesn’t have to be polished. It’s saved so much time I was able to dismiss one of the maids.”

She’d dismissed one of the maids? “Who?”

My aunt had continued speaking. “And don’t you remember, Lucy? Just then we were in Interlaken. We would have had to go back into France and try to book passage. It would have been much too tedious to attempt.”

They hadn’t told me because it would have been an inconvenience?

She gave my arm a squeeze. “It would have spoiled the trip for you. It would have diverted your energies for no good purpose.”

Spoiled the trip? Diverted my energies? For no good purpose? “I am not a child!” I blinked back the tears that had begun to blur my vision at the edges. “I am not a child, and I would have appreciated knowing.”

“Come, now.” Mother pulled me to the divan, and we sat upon it, springs protesting, as Mrs. Hughes came in with a tea tray. My mother poured, handing cups to my aunt and uncle and then to me. After she poured her own cup, she left it on the saucer. “Tell me about your trip. I’ve been longing to hear. Tell me everything.”

My mother might have intended the words to be encouraging,
but they belied the anxiety in her eyes. I couldn’t reconcile the mother I’d left behind with the woman who sat before me, with the gray that had spread like a stain through her hair or the disheveled apron she wore over her shirtwaist and skirt. She looked embattled, weary, and worn.

Aunt Margaret and Uncle Fred sat in matching armchairs across from us. Everyone was looking at me, as if they couldn’t wait to hear what I would say, but all of the excitement and the joy of the trip had gone. How could I have toured countless art museums? How could I have laughed at the antics of the guignol puppets in the Tuileries Gardens? How could I have enjoyed myself at all when Papa’s heart had failed him?

I took a sip of tea, then set the cup back down on its saucer. “I don’t—I’m not quite sure . . . where to start . . .”

My aunt put her own teacup down and smiled, brow lifted, the way she had done when I had ordered squid in a restaurant in Athens. I hadn’t known it would come with all those legs and tiny tentacles attached. “Perhaps I can begin and give you a chance to collect your thoughts.”

Yes. That’s what I needed. A chance to collect my thoughts.

She told Mother about Munich and Florence. And about the new mountain railway up the Jungfrau. And then they talked about when exactly she and Uncle would continue their journey on to their own home in Denver.

Aunt broke off suddenly and smiled at me. “You must be feeling tired, my dear, but why don’t you tell your mother about our visit to the dressmaker’s in Paris.”

My mother.

Suddenly the whole trip seemed so misguided, so cruel. How had my mother felt when Father had his heart attack, knowing I was halfway across the world, traipsing around in blissful ignorance? What right had I had to enjoy myself while she was
here, facing my father’s illness alone? “I’m sorry. I think—I’m going to need just one more moment.” I rose and left the room. It took all my effort not to run from it. I went upstairs, one step at a time, never once breaking my pace.

In my room, I took off my hat. Not being able to find my hatpin holder, I pushed the pins back into the brim. I drew off my gloves, one at a time, folding them up just like the glover in Florence had shown me. And then I threw myself upon my bed and wept like the child I had just about managed to convince myself I no longer was.

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