Sunday, July 1, 2012
Margaret was enjoying her visit in Camden Corners. She especially enjoyed the company of Harvey Wilson. Harvey told her he had been a scoundrel until recently but she had a difficult time imagining him to be anything but charming.
Margaret and Helene were finally alone as Margaret unpacked her clothes. “Helene, I understand why you decided to move here. It is a delightful town with such nice people. I can see why you thought Neville was special years ago. It is obvious he adores you. He seems to be the only one who is concerned with waiting a respectable time after his wife's passing to marry you.”
“Neville is an honorable man. I feel better knowing we didn't rush into marriage the minute poor Prudence died. It has been almost six months now. It's not as though we haven't been seeing each other. Neville is here almost every evening for supper. The extra time has given us a chance to get better acquainted. We both have changed over the years. I must admit, I am glad the wait is almost over. Now tell me about Harvey Wilson. The man is obviously smitten.”
“Do you think so? I must seem like a foolish teenager but I haven't felt like this in years. Tell me, does he flirt like this with every woman?”
Helene laughed. “I don't know much about him except that he turned over a new leaf recently. I understand he was a modern day scrooge. I know he put Emma and Lily through some miserable times but they seem to have forgiven him for any wrong deeds. I think you will find the people here in Camden Corners are nonjudgmental. They accepted me and James without question even though they knew Neville was James' father and we were never married.”
“Helene, when will you forgive yourself? Just think what your life would have been without James. You and George raised a wonderful son together. I know you grew to love George in time and you gave him the child he would never have had if it weren't for James.”
“I know you're right. Let's not talk about my old problems. I want to hear all about Ronnie and his family. I can't believe they have moved to New York City. Wouldn't it be fun to visit them there?”
“Yes, and I plan to do that after they are settled. Elaine wrote that she had been shopping on Fifth Avenue already and she can't wait to show me all the stores. They want me to think about moving there but I don't know, I'm a little too old to start a whole new life in a big city.”
“You could always start a new life in a small town. I would love it if you would think about moving here. After you finish unpacking I'm going to take you on a tour of the village. That is if you are up to it after your long journey.”
“I would love it. From what I saw on our way here to Millie's, it is a lovely town. Harvey mentioned a concert in the park this evening. That sounds delightful.”
“Oh yes, and it's perfect for lovers.” Helene laughed as Margaret threw a sweater she had just unfolded at her friend.
Leo was happy to chauffeur the ladies around town in the new automobile. He resisted the urge to toot the horn but gave into the impulse when children walked by.
Their first stop was the antique shop. Harvey had been sitting at the table with Jonas and Oscar. His eyes lit up when he saw Margaret walk through the door. Helene introduced her friend to the the other two gentlemen.
“So this is Margaret,” said Oscar. “We have been hearing all about you this afternoon. You certainly have made an impression on our friend Harvey.”
Harvey wasn't the least bit embarrassed to have it known he had been talking about Margaret. He asked the ladies to sit down.
“I'm afraid we don't have time, we are taking a short tour of the shops to introduce Margaret to some of our neighbors.” Helene could see the disappointment in Harvey's face. “Harvey, would you care to join us?”
“I thought you'd never ask.”
After the tour of the shops, Leo drove them to the hospital grounds and the winery. It was the first time Harvey had seen the winery for himself although he'd heard about it.
“This is spectacular. Lou Rossi is mighty proud of his son as he should be. It looks like the grapes are growing nicely. They will be ready for harvesting any time now,” said Harvey.
Nick came around the corner and greeted the visitors. He had an office on the main floor. “You're right Harvey, we will be harvesting very soon. I'm hoping to recruit more grape pickers. Arthur Preston has posted notices around Greensboro, that should attract some workers.”
Nick gave them a tour of the facility. “It's quiet now but if harvesting goes well we will be fermenting those grapes very soon.”
“Shall we stop by the bakery on the way home? We could pick up a cake or pie to help Addie out with dinner tonight,” Harvey said as they were headed back to the automobile.
Just as the were walking to the front door of the bakery, a little boy was running out. He bumped into Harvey and dropped his cookie. He looked up at Harvey with the biggest, saddest eyes Harvey had every seen.
“I'm sorry little fella, I made you drop your cookie. Let's go back in and get you another.”
The little boy was silent but followed Harvey into the shop. Harvey picked out a dozen cookies and had Diana package them carefully for the boy. He handed them to the lad and he went running out the door again.
“Who was that little boy?” said Diana.
“Wasn't he in here buying a cookie just a little bit ago?”
“No, I've never seen him before. He probably swiped it. That happens a lot but I don't mind. The children usually suffer from a guilty conscience and come back the next day with their pennies in hand.”
“Well, now he has a dozen to eat. His punishment will be a tummy ache if he eats them all himself.”
While Harvey and the ladies were trying to choose among all the tempting baked goods, the door opened again. It was the same little boy with an older girl.
“Excuse me ma'am, my little brother came out of your shop with this package of cookies that he didn't pay for. How much do I owe you for them?”
Harvey spoke up, “Your brother didn't take those cookies, I gave them to him.”
“Thank you, sir, but we don't take charity. I will pay for the cookies if you let me know how much they cost.” She looked to Diana for an answer.
Diana saw the worn dress the girl was wearing. She said they were yesterday's cookies and were now a nickel for the dozen. The girl reached into her pocket and counted out 5 pennies handing them to Harvey.
Harvey knew the face of pride when he saw it and thanked the girl for the money. She and her brother left the store. Harvey glanced out the window and saw the girl hand out a cookie each to four other children. They walked down the street happily eating their cookies.
Diana had a tear in her eye. She was thinking of Iris and how she was all alone in the world the day she appeared at the fire house. Helene knew exactly what she was thinking. She had heard the story of when Iris found her way into town and into the hearts of Joe and Diana Taylor. Iris was a frequent visitor to the library and they had become very good friends.
Diana explained Iris' situation and also told how the Bentley's adopted Kenny and Becky. Will and Kate brought Billy and Butch into their home too.
“The number of abandoned and orphaned children is much higher than most of us realize. It breaks my heart to think of those forgotten children.”
“Margaret, you work with homeless boys in Albany.”
“Yes, there is a home in Albany where boys are housed and given nourishing meals. They all attend classes in a nearby school. The older boys have jobs in the community on weekends and during the summer. I work with them on their homework a few days a week. It's not an orphanage but a place where they are safe. They operate solely on donations from the community. It's a struggle to keep it going but they have managed now for 10 years. We do have success stories. One is Gabe Plummer. He was an orphan who came to the home when he saw the other boys playing in the yard. He was 15 at the time. Almost too old to be accepted. He was such an endearing young man he was allowed to stay. It was during the winter and he was so happy to be inside a warm place he did everything he could to help the staff. He spent most of his time in the kitchen cleaning the ovens and pots and pans. He watched the cook as she prepared uninteresting but nutritious meals. He also had a job in the local diner. The cook there took a liking to him and allowed him to experiment with various spices. Before long, he was teaching the experienced cook his tricks and the diner became the most popular eatery in the area. He was allowed to take portions of the spices home. The cook there was apprehensive at first but allowed Gabe to add this and that to her dishes. For the first time, the boys were asking for seconds. To make a long story short, the people who frequented the diner collected enough money for Gabe to attend a cooking school in New York City. He has since become Chef Gabriel at Bonne Voltaire, a very famous New York restaurant. Gabe has never forgotten his past. He travels to Albany once a month to teach cooking classes to the boys. They not only enjoy the classes, it helps them when they are out on their own to prepare nutritious meals for themselves.”
“I would be interested to learn more about this type of facility. I have a big house in Greensboro that might be suitable for such a venture.” said Harvey.
“Isn't that your home Harvey?” Helene asked.
“It is where I was existing until just a few months ago. I don't have any need for a house that big for just myself. Even though Greensboro has been home throughout my life, I am finding Camden Corners more and more appealing.”
As Leo drove through town, Margaret looked up and noticed the children they had seen earlier. “Look, an older boy has joined them, it looks as though he is sharing some good news with them. I certainly hope so, those youngsters appear to be in need of good news.”
After supper they all went to the concert. Leo drove the auto again and Leland took his horse and carriage. He didn't much like the new fangled automobiles although he had a feeling they were here to stay.
The concert was held in the gazebo in the park. They were just local people but they played their hearts out and everyone had a good time. Harvey noticed the children from earlier were standing to one side of the gazebo. Helene told about the young boy and the cookie. Millie, who had a soft spot for all children was concerned that they seemed to be ill prepared for the night that was turning cooler. They watched as the musicians packed their instruments and left the gazebo. The oldest boy led the others to the far side of the gazebo where they placed thin blankets on the hard seats. They were still nibbling on the sack of cookies from the bakery that afternoon.
“I'm going to ask where those children's parents are.” said Millie.
Leland tried to hold her back. “It's not our business my dear.”
“I'm making it my business. Look at the thin clothes those youngsters are wearing.” Millie walked over to them as the others followed.
“Young man, do you have a place to sleep tonight?”
“Yes ma'am, we do,” said the oldest boy.
“May I ask where?”
“I don't mean to seem disrespectful ma'am but we are just fine on our own. We don't need anyone interfering.”
“If you are planning to sleep on these benches, I would say you definitely need someone to interfere. These children need a nice warm bed to sleep in and some decent food in the stomachs. Tell me, where are your parents?”
“Please leave us alone. We will be fine.”
The youngest boy cried out. “Is the lady going to separate us, Bobby.”
“No, Ralphie. We will stay together, I promise. Please lady, leave us alone. You are upsetting my brothers and sisters.”
Harvey spoke up, “Young man, I think you had better tell us why you are settling down for the night in this gazebo. Miss Millie has asked you where your parents are and I suggest you tell her.”
“Our Ma and Pa are dead. I have a job starting tomorrow and I'm going to be able to find a place for us to live after I get paid. Now please, leave us alone.”
“No, you are all coming home with us. I have a house with more bedrooms than you have brothers and sisters. You will sleep in warm beds after Miss Addie fixes you a decent meal. Now pack up your blankets.”
Harvey could tell Bobby was about to protest. He said, “If you don't come with us, the sheriff might be interested to know what your business is in Camden Corners.”
The oldest girl said, “Bobby, let's go with them. The younger children are shivering and they are hungry. I don't think these people mean us any harm. You will let us stay together, won't you ma'am?” she pleaded.
“I promise you, no matter what happens, you will all be together now pile into the automobile if you would like to ride in it. Leo be especially careful with this precious cargo.”
The auto filled with children was headed toward Millie's home with the carriage following behind. “I don't know of anyone who will be able to take on seven children. Maybe I was too quick to make that promise but I won't have them separated so I'd better think of something.”
Harvey Wilson was sitting in the cramped carriage wondering if he should have Reggie Blackburn add another bedroom or two to the house he was building. Was he being foolish? He hadn't pictured himself as a father for many years. He wondered how Margaret would feel about raising a family at their ages. He would have to ask her tomorrow.
Bobby Warren might have enjoyed his first automobile ride if he hadn't been feeling like a failure. He wanted to jump out and take every one of his brothers and sisters with him. They would have been fine sleeping in the park tonight. It wouldn't be the worst place they'd ever spent the night. He had been assured he'd receive pay tomorrow evening for his work during the day and he planned to buy a tent he'd seen at the general store.
Leo noticed the other children were quiet and polite but obviously were delighted riding in the auto.
“What's your name, young man?” Leo asked Bobby.
“My name is Bobby Warren.”
The little boy sitting on his lap spoke up, “I'm Ralphie and these are my brothers and sisters. There's Teddy and Stevie and Willa and Callie.”
“You forgot me cried a tiny voice from the back seat. Lucille is my name but everybody calls me Lulu.”
“It's nice to meet you all. I think you are going to like Miss Millie's house. There are big comfortable beds with big fluffy comforters on them. My wife, Miss Addie, is the best cook in the world. She'll make sure you aren't hungry.”
“Mister I can take care of my family just fine. I'm going to start work tomorrow at the Hightower Winery. I told Mr. Rossi I would be there at 4:00 and now you are driving us far away from there. I'll have to leave at two in the morning to be able to get there on time.”
“Nonsense Bobby. I'll drive you there myself. I like to get up early to watch the sunrise.”
“We will all leave together in the morning. We are used to walking wherever we go. Thank you anyway sir.”
Leo was silent the rest of the way. He knew Millie would never let these children fend for themselves again. Bobby was in for a rude awakening if he thought life was going to continue the way it had been for this family.
“This is a mansion,” shouted Stevie from the back seat. “Is this where we are going to stay tonight?”
Bobby raised his voice to be heard of the excited voices. “Get your blankets and be quiet. We won't be here for long so don't start getting any fancy ideas.”
“Go ahead, Bobby, catch up with them. I'll bring the blankets.” Leo wasn't sure what he would do with the worn, thin blankets but he knew Millie would never let these children use them tonight.
The horse and buggy arrived a few minutes later. Harvey could see the silhouette of the seven children standing before this huge house. The sight pulled on his heartstrings.
“Come children, let's get in the warm house. Mr. Neville and Mr. Leo will find some clean clothes for you at the Mackenzie's. They have children of every size and will be willing to share until we can get you some new things.” Millie said
“We can't take your handouts ma'am. Warrens always fend for themselves. Our ma never took charity even after our pa died and we aren't going to either.”
Millie ignored his words and ushered the children upstairs into the living quarters. She was grateful that her deceased husband, Mr. Stout insisted on adding several bathrooms to the house. She couldn't imagine why they would need more than one but he was thinking ahead to the future. He imagined one day the home would be used as a boarding house and wanted to be sure there were plenty of bathrooms so that no one would be forced to use an outhouse again.
The women filled tubs for each of the smaller children. Bobby couldn't resist the bathtub when he saw it. Maybe just this once. It had been so long since he had soaked in a tub and never in a tub this luxurious. His Ma use to fill up the old metal wash tub on Saturday nights and scrub his back with lye soap. He would dry himself off with a scratchy towel. Miss Millie's towel felt like velvet next to his skin.
It wasn't long before his brothers and sisters were clean and decked out in new clothes, their hair slicked into place. Miss Addie had a place set for each one of them at the big table. The adults all had their tea or brandy.
Without prompting the children held hands and said a prayer before they ate. They were trying their best not to shovel food into their mouths but it was obvious this had been the first real meal they'd had in a very long time.
After dinner they all sat in the parlor as Miss Helene read them stories from a fairy tale book. These were the same stories she read to James when he was a youngster. It didn't take long before the younger children started drifting off. One by one they were carried into beds and tucked in. Margaret sat by their bedsides singing lullabies until they fell back to sleep.
Harvey sat with Bobby. “I know how hard it has been for you to accept what you consider charity, son. I think you will find as you grow older that it isn't charity but a friend offering a helping hand. Miss Millie saw you could use a bit of help tonight and offered her hand to you and the other children. You have done what you have to do to keep your family together. You even agreed to come here tonight so that we wouldn't call the sheriff. You knew if he got involved you would be forced to separate the children and that will never be an option for you. I'd like to hear what happened to your parents if you would like to tell me about it.”
Bobby liked this old man. He seemed to be able to read his mind. In fact, in spite of himself he liked all these old people. Ever since he and the children had been on their own they experienced the darker side of humans. They were forced to travel the undesirable areas of New York City and were chased away from most establishments. Sometimes a passerby would toss them a coin or two. Bobby felt the need to unburden himself and Harvey seemed the perfect one to listen to his story.
“Our pa worked on the big buildings in New York City. He was on scaffolding one day when the rope broke. He fell ten floors down. That was almost a year ago. My ma and sisters took in laundry and I worked delivering groceries for Mr. Ellis' General Store. We always had enough money to pay the rent and buy food. Ma said Pa wouldn't like it if we took charity so we didn't have any extras but except for missing Pa, we were doing fine. Then one day Ma started to cough. She got really sick and Willa went to get the doctor. He said she had Rheumatic fever and it did something to her heart. She was so weak she couldn't get out of bed. She kept getting sicker until one morning she didn't wake up. Willa tried to keep up with the laundry but she wasn't as good at it as Ma was and people stopped paying her do it. I still had my job at the store but there just wasn't very much money. I guess I should have paid the rent and not bought so much food because we got behind in the rent. When the landlord found out our Ma wasn't there and we were just children, he called the police. The policeman was very nice but he said we would have to go to orphanages. I knew that would mean we wouldn't ever be together again. After he left we took what we could carry in our arms and left the apartment. We have been on our own ever since.
Two days ago we were down by the railroad station and saw a boxcar with an open door. Without thinking I told the children to get on that boxcar and we would leave the city. By the time we arrived in Camden Corners, the children were getting tired. We got off the train without anyone seeing us. I spotted a handbill that said the Hightower Winery was looking for grape pickers. The children waited in the park while I went to see if they would hire me. I talked to Mr. Rossi and he said I could start in the morning. He said it was hard work but I know I can do it. Willa and Teddy will look for work in one of the shops. Callie is old enough to stay with the younger children while we work.”
“How old is Callie, son?”
“She turned 9 on her last birthday.”
“Son, you have an early day tomorrow. Maybe you'd better get to bed. I am staying at the boarding house down the road but I will be here tomorrow to check on your family. I know you will do a fine job picking grapes. Mr. Rossi is a very nice man. He will be a good boss too. Don't worry about the children. They will do just fine and together we will figure out a solution to your living arrangements.”
Harvey sat by himself in the parlor sipping his brandy. Margaret walked into the room.
“Are you having a hard time sleeping too? I can't stop thinking about those children and what is to happen to them,” said Margaret.
“I've been thinking of nothing but them. Tell me if you think this is a terrible idea. You remember I told you Reggie Blackburn is building a house for me by the lake. There are only four bedrooms but I don't think it's too late for Reggie to add a couple more. I'm thinking of adopting the children. Am I too old to do such a thing? I've never been married and never had a child of my own, do you think they would just laugh at me?”
“Harvey, I think it's a wonderful idea. I was thinking of adopting them myself. I have a big house in Albany and I know I would have enough room for all of them. I don't think either of us are too old to adopt but we may be too single. I understand they prefer placing children in two parent homes.”
“That would be a bonus if you would marry me Margaret. I was planning to court you in style before I asked you but under the circumstances, maybe we could do our courting after we are married.”
“Harvey, we barely know each other. It would be scandalous if we were married after such a short time. Who would have thought at my age I'd be involved in a scandal?” Margaret laughed.
“We both have a lot to think about. Maybe tomorrow we can meet with Oscar Crowley. I'd better get back to the boarding house. May I give you a kiss goodnight?” he asked
“Since we are contemplating a future together with our seven children, I think it would be very appropriate and also very welcome.”
Harvey took her in his arms and kissed her. He had forgotten how nice a woman felt against him. He wondered why he had wasted most of his life being an old curmudgeon. He had a good feeling that he would never be alone again and he was looking forward to sharing the future with the woman he loved.
Helene was saying goodnight to Neville when she noticed Margaret and Harvey walking hand in hand toward the porch. He kissed her again and they heard him say, “I love you Mama.”
“What in the world are you saying? Don't tell me Margaret is in the family way already,” Neville laughed.
“We are both thinking of being in the family way. The ready made type family,” said Harvey.
“Oh that would be wonderful. Neville and I were talking about that just now. We want those children to stay together and that would mean you would be staying in Camden Corners, Margaret.”
“I'd say there is a very good possibility of that happening.”
The two men walked down the hill together. “Neville, be honest with me. Do you think I'm crazy taking on a family of seven? I can't tell you why I feel the need to be a father at my age. I have fallen in love with a woman and seven children in just the last few days.”
“I'd say it was about time old chap. You are long overdue.”