Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Pursuit of Lucy Banning

The Pursuit of Lucy Banning
By Olivia Newport
Chapter 4
"Thank you."
With a smile, Lucy pressed a coin into the hand of the cab driver as he helped her down. Daniel had put her in a carriage to carry her safely home after their tea. The neighborhood was quiet as the carriage pulled away and Lucy surveyed her surroundings. The Pullmans had houseguests, Lucy knew, so she was not surprised to see a couple of extra coachmen tending to carriages under the broad porch at the front door across Eighteenth Street. The brownstone-covered massive home seemed as impenetrable as the Pullman business empire. Lucy had last been inside the Pullman home the previous spring for a dinner party. She'd spent several hours in the opulent dining room and parlor that evening, and more than one dinner guest had referred to the two-hundred-seat theater and the two-lane private bowling alley of the home. Lucy had managed to swallow her wonderings whether the Pullmans were looking for a life in which they never had to leave their fortress. In comparison, the Bannings lived simply, and perhaps even were the "poor neighbors."
Certainly the Fields were not the poor neighbors, nor the Kimballs, whose new home on the corner of Eighteenth and Prairie had been completed only in recent months. Lucy had watched it go up stage by stage, passing by it every day. The neighborhood rumor—no one knew for sure—was that the owner of the Kimball Piano and Organ Company had a Steinway in his parlor. A Kimball piano would have been a cheap insult to the Rembrandts that hung on the walls. Across the street from the Kimballs, the Glessners were the neighborhood rebels. They refused to erect a home that fit into the unspoken code of European design, opting instead for granite stone architecture that embraced a free American spirit. Inside, Mrs. Glessner flagrantly defied the rules for decorating and welcomed the friendly atmosphere of the Arts and Crafts movement with its warm tones and practicality even in exquisite craftsmanship. Flora Banning acquired select pieces from the Arts and Crafts movement, but Mrs. Glessner embraced it full on.
Lucy turned to face the solid oak front door of the Banning mansion two doors down from the Kimballs. With lips together, she inhaled deeply, then opened her mouth and exhaled slowly. The weight in her shoulders eased. She should never have let slip to Daniel that she had met Will Edwards at the university. At least Daniel was not coming to dinner tonight, nor would he be calling for her later. A business dinner would consume his evening. The staff would undoubtedly set a place for him just in case. Over the years they had grown used to Daniel's presence in the Banning house and seemed prepared for his needs regardless of when he turned up.
You can't stand on the sidewalk forever, she told herself. Her family may not have been the richest on the block, nor the most daring, nor the most creative, but they were her family. Dinner would be served promptly at eight o'clock, and Lucy could not appear in gray flannel. She picked up her skirts and climbed the handful of steps that led to the front door and entered the expansive foyer.
Penard, his wrists crossed behind his back, paced in front of a stiff lineup of the household staff. The round dark mahogany pedestal table, anchor of the foyer, separated butler from staff. Taking in the startling scene before her, Lucy instinctively caught herself from letting the door slam.
"As you know well," Penard was saying, "my position as butler of this household makes me accountable for every item within its walls. Mr. Banning is seriously distressed that some items have gone missing from his private study. I have admonished each of you repeatedly not to enter that room without specific permission from me, and I have extended no such permission to any of you. You can understand my concern that some items of sentimental value to Mr. Banning have disappeared."
As if on ominous cue, the seven-foot grandfather clock bonged six times.
Lucy skimmed the expressions of one stricken servant's face after another. As much as she might like to, she could not get involved. Running the household was Penard's purview. Her parents had trusted him for fifteen years. Mrs. Fletcher, the cook, had been with the family for years as well and was above reproach. The other staff tended to rotate every year or two. Lucy so far had found Archie Shepard, the footman and assistant coachman, to take his responsibilities seriously, and Elsie, the ladies' maid she shared with her mother, to be delightfully personable. Bessie, the parlor maid, said no more than she had to but anticipated her tasks and the family's needs with almost befuddling ac- curacy. The kitchen maid, Kate, had left abruptly a couple of weeks earlier, but Lucy assessed her to be simply high-strung, not the sort who had any point to prove by stealing knickknacks. She wondered whom Penard could suspect among this lot.
Lucy's eyes moved to the young woman at the end of the lineup. She must be the new kitchen maid, she thought, and Penard is going to scare her off before she even catches her breath. The woman, who was around Lucy's age, stared at her feet during the entire dressing-down. Holding her satchel closely, Lucy inched away from the door and toward the marble stairs across the foyer.
Penard pivoted and paced in the opposite direction. "I need not remind any of you that you serve in this house at my pleasure. The Bannings give me authority. If I do not recommend you, you do not work here. It's that simple. For the moment, I will refrain from making specific allegations, but be warned that I will be watching carefully. I will know everything that happens in this house."
The new kitchen maid twitched, and her eyes rose momentarily to Penard.
"Charlotte, do you have something you wish to say?" Penard glared at the maid.
"No, sir." The maid's eyes went back to her feet.
"If I discover that you are withholding anything from me, you have my assurance you will regret it."
"Yes, sir, Mr. Penard."
Lucy flinched on the girl's behalf. Clearly she was unnerved. Was it really necessary for Penard to speak to her this way on her first afternoon of employment?
Still, Lucy knew she ought to go upstairs to choose a gown for dinner and let Penard sort out whatever was amiss. Her foot was on the first marble step when her father burst into the foyer.
"Well, Penard, what have you discerned?" Samuel Banning boomed.
Lucy cringed. She knew that intonation well: her father had given up even trying to be polite. Involuntarily, she turned to see how Penard would respond.
"I have taken appropriate action, Mr. Banning," Penard said. "I'm sure we have put an end to things."
Samuel Banning pointed at Charlotte, the new maid. "Who is this? I don't recognize her."
"This is Miss Charlotte Farrow," Penard responded evenly. "We have engaged her services as a kitchen maid. She has just arrived to take up her post."
"Was she here yesterday?" Samuel snapped.
"Only briefly, sir, for an interview."
"Why didn't I meet her?"
"You had not yet come home from the Calumet Club, sir. After I interviewed her and recommended her, Mrs. Banning gave her approval."
"If she was here yesterday, she could have done it," Samuel said. "I want to see her bags."
By now Charlotte was visibly quaking, and Lucy could no longer resist the urge to intervene. "Father, please. I've only just got home, so I'm not sure what is causing such a stir, but I'm certain we can sort it out calmly."
"You wouldn't say that if it were your items going missing. My brass paperweight is gone."
"The one shaped like a gavel?"
"Yes. It's the only brass paperweight I have."
"It's not the first time you thought something was missing, Father," Lucy reminded him. "Remember last spring when you were sure Richard took a book from your library of first editions? You were quite distressed, as I recall. But it turned out you loaned it to Daniel's father. You didn't even recall you'd given it to him until he returned it a few weeks later."
"This is not the same at all," Samuel said. But the wind had gone out of him.
Lucy glanced at Charlotte, who was so pale Lucy thought she might faint.
"Father, let the staff go back to work." She spoke quietly. "I'm sure if we put our minds to it, we can figure out what happened."
"That's what your mother says." Samuel raised rather than lowered his voice. "But if one of her precious pots went missing, she'd sing a different tune."
"I would sing exactly the same tune." Flora Banning appeared in the broad arch that led from the parlor to the foyer. "Penard has a spotless record hiring staff, as you well know. No one he has brought into our employ has ever given you cause to think twice."
"Things change. This new girl—"
"She's only been here a few hours, Samuel."
"But yesterday—"
"She was in the parlor for all of ten minutes and then left directly by the servants' entrance. She was nowhere near your study."
Lucy glanced at the maid, who seemed visibly relieved.
Flora turned to Penard. "You may dismiss the staff, Penard. I'm sure they all have better things to do."
Penard nodded his head almost imperceptibly, and the staff dispersed.
"Samuel, for goodness' sake," Flora said, "it's a paperweight. It's nothing of value."
"That's hardly the point, Flora."
"I'm sure you've just misplaced it. You're not in court. There's no need to put anyone on trial. Stop acting like a foolish old man." Flora's eyes brightened as she looked at her daughter. "Lucy, dear, you're home."
Lucy stepped over to kiss her mother's cheek, one hand behind her back with the satchel.
"Have you been with Daniel in that outfit?" Flora asked.
Lucy sighed. "Yes, Mother. I had no time to come home and change. It's a perfectly good suit."
"It's drab and off the rack. It's a good thing Daniel is as fond of you as he is. I'm surprised he allows you to dress the way you do sometimes."
Lucy's eyes flared but she held her tone. "It's hardly Daniel's decision how I dress for an afternoon at the orphanage, is it?"
"You're going to be his wife soon. Your appearance will reflect on him."
"I promise I'm not going to get married in a gray flannel suit."
"Goodness, I should hope not," Flora said. "Have the two of you settled on a date?"
Lucy let her gaze drift away casually. "Daniel suggested mid-July."
"In the middle of the summer heat! Oh, I don't know, Lucy."
Lucy shrugged. "It's just a suggestion. We haven't decided anything."
"Perhaps I'll have a word with his mother. We don't want to let it become an urgent question."
Lucy smiled. Daniel was of course correct that the mothers would have strong opinions. "The only urgent question I'm facing is what to wear for dinner tonight." She looked from one parent to the other, then took her sulking father's elbow and turned him around. "Why don't the two of you relax in the parlor? Perhaps Mrs. Fletcher can have Bessie bring you some refreshment."
"I'll call for her," Flora said, taking her husband's other arm.
"I had hoped Aunt Violet would be here," Lucy said. "It's Thursday."
"She telephoned this afternoon to say she is otherwise engaged," her mother explained.
"Then I hope she's enjoying herself." Lucy's words masked her disappointment. Aunt Violet, where are you when I need you?
By the time Lucy left her parents in the parlor, Flora was talking about the redecorating that should be done before the wedding. As she turned back toward the stairs, across the foyer Lucy saw movement in the dining room. She paused long enough to see it was the new maid beginning to lay the table for dinner. The girl looked up just long enough to catch Lucy's eye before busying herself with the china.
Something's wrong, Lucy thought, but not what Father thinks.
Bio: Olivia Newport's novels twist through time to discover where faith and passions meet. Her husband and two twenty-something children provide welcome distraction from the people stomping through her head on their way into her books. She chases joy in stunning Colorado at the foot of the Rockies, where daylilies grow as tall as she is.


Friday, May 11, 2012

Hannah's Joy

Returning to Pleasant Valley is giving Hannah Conroy a much-needed chance at a new life, but now she must discover her true place in the world, when opposition comes from every side.
HANNAH'S JOY, Pleasant Valley Book 6, Berkley Books, May, 2012
Available now wherever books are sold. For a signed bookmark and Pennsylvania Dutch recipe brochure, contact Marta Perry at marta@martaperry.com

Do Not Reproduce without Permission.

Chapter One
     A man in Army fatigues stepped off a bus just down the street at the Pleasant Valley bus stop. Hannah Conroy clutched the stroller handle as an onslaught of dizziness hit her. She fought the irrational surge of joy that turned in an instant to ashes.

     It wasn't Travis. It was an unknown young soldier, moving into the welcoming arms of his family—mother holding him, fighting back tears; father standing stiffly as if to deny his emotions; a girl of about ten waving a welcome sign.

     Not Travis. Travis had lain beneath a marker in Arlington National Cemetery for well over a year. He wasn't here on a warm September day in Pleasant Valley.

     Two women in Plain dress stopped next to her on the sidewalk, their faces blurred by the tears she wouldn't let fall. One reached out a tentative hand.

     "Are you all right? You are Hannah, ain't so? Paula Schatz's niece?"

     She nodded. She couldn't cry. Jamie would be frightened if he saw his mother in tears. But he was almost asleep in the stroller, one chubby hand still grasping his toy dog.

     "I'm fine." Hannah almost managed a smile. "Thank you."

     "You're going into the bakery, ja? Let us help you get the stroller inside."

The woman motioned to the other…a girl in her early teens, Hannah saw now…who pulled the door open, setting the bell jangling. Together they maneuvered the stroller inside Aunt Paula's bakery, where the aroma of fresh-baked bread surrounded her, easing the hurt.

     "Thank you," she said again. The grief and pain ebbed, leaving her as lost as a leaf in the wind.

     "It's nothing." The woman patted her arm with a feather-light touch, the girl nodded, and they were gone.

     Aunt Paula, as round and comforting as one of her own dumplings, glanced up from the customer she was serving, her eyes clouding when she saw Hannah's face. By the time Hannah reached the kitchen door, Aunt Paula was there, wiping her hands on the white apron she wore over her traditional Old Order Mennonite dress, its tiny print faded from many washings.

     "Hannah? Was ist letz?" Aunt Paula spoke English most of the time, but in moments of stress she was apt to slip into Pennsylvania Dutch. "What's wrong? I saw Leah Glick and her daughter helping you."

     "Nothing." Hannah bent, the action hiding her face for a moment, and lifted Jamie from the stroller. He was relaxed and drowsy, a precious, heavy armload now at twenty months. "I'm fine."

She didn't want Aunt Paula worrying about her. It was enough that her aunt had made a home here for her and Jamie.

     But Hannah couldn't stop herself from glancing at the window. The family, their faces animated with love, moved toward a car.

     Aunt Paula followed her gaze. "Ach, I see." Her voice was soft. "I know. After your uncle passed, I'd see a man with wavy hair like his, or his way of walking, and my heart would stop, as if it reacted faster than my brain did."

     "It's been almost a year and a half." Hannah cradled Jamie close, and he snuggled his face into her shoulder, his soft breath against her neck. "I'm better. But sometimes—"

     "Ja. Sometimes." Aunt Paula patted her. "I know."

     The bell jingled on the bakery door, and Aunt Paula turned to greet the man in Amish garb. In all the years since she'd lived here as a child, Hannah had nearly forgotten the peculiar mix of Amish, horse-and-buggy Mennonite, black bumper Mennonite, and English that made Pleasant Valley so unique.

     William Brand was Amish, and he worked with his cousin Caleb in the cabinetry shop down the street. Hannah had learned that much from him, but it had taken persistence. William stuttered, and like many stutterers, he took refuge in silence much of the time.

     Banishing thoughts of the past, Hannah moved to the counter, smiling. William was silent enough already. She didn't want him to think she was avoiding speaking to him.

"Good morning."

     He ducked his head in a nod. Tall for an Amish man, and broad-shouldered, he wore the traditional Amish black broadfall trousers with a blue shirt and suspenders, the usual straw hat on his head. In his mid-twenties, William was probably a year or two younger than she was, but his fresh color and the shyness in his blue eyes made him seem even younger. Next to him, she felt ancient.

     And what did he make of her, with her denim skirt, pink lipstick, and curling ponytail? Did he find it odd that Paula Schatz had such a modern niece?

     "H-H-Hannah," he managed, as if determined to say her name.

     Then he looked at her son, and his face softened. He held out a work-roughened hand, and Jamie latched onto it, saying something that might have been an attempt at William's name.

     "S-sleepy time, Jamie?"

     Jamie shook his head vigorously, but the movement was interrupted by a huge yawn that showed every one of his baby teeth, and they both laughed.

     Funny, how William's stutter seemed to ease when he spoke to Jamie. Once, a lifetime ago, she'd planned to become a speech therapist, and her interest stirred at the observation.

     "He just doesn't want to admit he's tired. I thought he was going to fall asleep in the stroller," she said, reminding herself to speak naturally to William. Talking with a stutterer required more patience than many people had.

     "H-h-he's a-afraid he'll m-m-miss something."

     "That's for sure." She tickled Jamie's belly, loving the way he chuckled, eyes crinkling.

     Aunt Paula returned to the counter, carrying two coffees in foam cups and a white bag. "There you are, William, your usual coffee, just the way you and Caleb like it. And a couple of crullers to tide you over to lunch."


He handed her the money. With another smile for Jamie, he went quickly out, perhaps relieved not to have to engage in any further conversation. His straw hat shielded his face from Hannah's view as he passed the window.

     She stood watching his tall figure for a moment, and then went to get Jamie's plastic cup of milk from the small refrigerator behind the counter. She focused her mind on him, trying not to let it stray toward those moments on the sidewalk.

"Has William always stuttered?"

     Aunt Paula leaned against the display case, seeming ready for a comfortable gossip. "I don't know about always," she said. "Anyway, it's a big family, and William is the youngest. His mamm and daad were both sickly off and on, and it seemed like William kind of got lost in the shuffle, what with his oldest brother, Isaac, taking over the farm and always barking orders at the younger ones. I'm not sure when the stuttering started, but it was before William went to school."

     Hannah nodded, feeling a pang of sympathy. William hadn't had it easy. "That's typical. It's usually in those early years when a child is starting to talk. How did the family handle it? Did they get help for him?"

     "Not that I know of." Aunt Paula frowned. "I think the schoolteacher tried to help him, but seems like the other kinder were always impatient, finishing his sentences for him, acting like he was...well, slow."

     "I don't think he's that." She'd seen quick understanding in William's face in their few conversations, even when he didn't speak.

     "Ach, William's bright enough, and the best thing that could have happened to him was going to work with his cousin Caleb in the shop. The boy will maybe find a little respect for himself there."

     "Not a boy," Hannah murmured, taking the cup from Jamie, who was nearly asleep on her shoulder. She rubbed his back, cherishing the feel of his small warm body against her.

     "I'm nearly forgetting." Aunt Paula's voice lifted.  "That's what you were studying in college, wasn't it? Before you got married, I mean?"

     "Speech therapy." She'd gotten interested when she'd babysat for a family with a child who stuttered. The Davises had been so helpful, encouraging her and aiding her with loan applications so she could go to school. That had been her only goal, until Travis came along.

     But Travis had loved her. It had seemed meant to be, that they should love each other and get married and make a home together always.

     Always hadn't lasted very long. Just a few short years of moving from one Army base to another.

     "You could help William." Aunt Paula, not able to follow Hannah's thoughts, smiled broadly. "I don't know why I didn't think of that before. You can teach William, help him get over his stutter."

     "No, no, I couldn't," she said quickly. "I'm not qualified. I never finished school, and besides—"
     Besides, she intended to go back to the outside world as soon as she could swing it financially.