Beside still waters, p.1
Beside Still Waters, page 1
Table of Contents
Note from the Author
Alaskan Waters Series
Beside Still Waters
Alaskan Waters Series, Book Three
© 2017 by AnnaLee Conti
This is a fictional work. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locations is entirely coincidental.
“O Perfect Love,” by Dorothy F. Gurney, 1883, Public Domain
“Does Jesus Care?” by Frank E. Graeff, 1901, Public Domain
“Disappointment,” by Florence L. Personeus, in Frontiers of Faith, by
AnnaLee Conti, © 2002. Used by permission.
All Scriptures from the King James Version of the Bible
Cover design and Typesetting: Hannah Nichols
E-book conversion: Anna Riebe Raats
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To my grandchildren—Sophia, Stephen, Sam, Spencer, and Robert (Sonny)—with the prayer that when you encounter troubled waters, you will find that with Christ in your vessel, you can smile at life’s storms.
To Lisandra, Jan, Sandi, Phyllis, Rekha, Andrea, Celeste, and Laurie, members of the East Fishkill Community Library Women’s Writing Group, to which I belong, who listened to my story chapter by chapter and offered so many helpful critiques—you are not only fellow writers, but I’m proud to call you my friends;
To my husband, Bob, who continues to encourage me and support my writing in many ways—thank you for assisting me with research and proofreading until I get rid of all the typos;
To my longtime Northern friend, Harvey Burian, who grew up in Mayo, Yukon Territory—thank you for reading my manuscript and giving me suggestions that keep my story true to the Yukon;
To my readers who wrote that they “can’t wait to read the next book”—thank you for the encouraging words that keep me writing when I feel like giving up;
To my publisher and the staff at Ambassador International—thank you for all you do to edit and format my manuscripts into beautiful books;
And, above all, I thank God for the life lessons through the years that inspire stories that are carriers of the truth about His love, forgiveness, mercy, and grace.
The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou anointest my head with oil;
My cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS, MARCH 1915
Aunt Mabel was dead.
Violet Channing unlocked the door to the three-room flat she’d shared with her aunt, her only living relative, now deceased. The cloying scent of her aunt’s floral perfume could not obscure the rancid odors of garbage and stale food in the stairwell or the medicinal smell of sickness that pervaded the apartment.
Violet clenched her fists. Aunt Mabel was too young to die!
Closing the door behind her, Violet surveyed the tiny living room. It was stuffed with the nicest things Aunt Mabel had been able to salvage when she lost her large, Victorian house in a wealthy neighborhood to the creditors after her husband died.
Slightly tattered lace curtains draped the lone window, the only source of ventilation—if it could be called that. The soot-ladened air from the tenements’ stark chimneys had permanently stained the curtains a dirty shade of brownish gray. Hand-crocheted doilies covered the head and armrests to protect the Victorian sofa she’d managed to save when her house was repossessed.
The apartment felt empty without Aunt Mabel’s dominating presence. She had tried so hard to make this cold-water flat look like her lost home. But the two of them couldn’t even afford enough coal to keep warm in winter or the doctor’s fees when she started coughing.
If only she’d stopped taking a lunch to work sooner to save up enough money for a doctor’s visit. Violet shuddered. Her aunt’s fits of coughing had worsened so quickly. She had refused to see a doctor until her sputum became tinged with blood. By then, it was too late.
“Consumption,” the doctor told Aunt Mabel. “Keep warm and rest.”
He took Violet aside. “There’s nothing I can do for her. Her lungs are too far gone. She probably has only a few weeks.”
“Keep warm. Ha!” Violet spat out, feeling again how her stomach had clenched at his words. She groaned. Her throat tightened, and she sank to her knees on the Persian carpet Aunt Mabel had brought with her to cover the bare, plank floor. The torrent she had held at bay throughout the funeral broke forth like a sudden, angry squall.
When she had no more tears to cry, Violet mopped her face with her handkerchief. The cold had seeped through her skirt. Suddenly aware that she was shivering, she arose.
Hugging her thread-bare wool coat closer over her long, black mourning suit, she sat in her aunt’s Boston rocker to figure out what to do. She no longer had the responsibility of Aunt Mabel’s welfare and was now free to choose what to do with her life—if only she could find the means to do it. The rent was paid until the end of the month, but the simple funeral had required all but a few remaining dollars. She needed money.
Violet reviewed her options. Before her uncle died, she had been studying to be a teacher. That’s what she really wanted to do. Because Uncle Chester had mortgaged the house to the hilt to finance his risky business ventures, she and Aunt Mabel were left destitute when he died.
At eighteen, Violet had had to give up her educatio
But how else could she support herself?
Thoroughly chilled now in spite of her coat, she crossed the tiny living area to the kitchenette to make tea. While she had no appetite, she knew she needed to eat something to keep up her strength. She checked the cupboard to see what was there. Not much—a nearly empty box of Quaker Oats, a box of Morton salt, a half-full jar of Grandma’s Molasses, and a partially used can of Crisco. Since her aunt’s death, Violet had had no time to go to the store.
She took down one of her aunt’s delicate china cups. She couldn’t sweeten her tea because she couldn’t afford sugar, but she could drink it in style.
Feeling a little warmer, she set out for the dry goods store to buy a few staples to make bread, a pot of beans, and oatmeal. At least she wouldn’t starve this week.
As she paid for her groceries, she glanced at the stack of Boston Globe newspapers sitting at the end of the counter. At first, she turned away, thinking she couldn’t afford one. At the last moment, she snatched one up. Maybe the Classifieds would list a job she could apply for.
Back in her flat, she put the groceries away, lit the coal cook stove, and mixed up a batch of bread. While it was rising, she rinsed the beans and covered them with water to soak overnight. That done, she sat at the table, covered with a red checkered oilcloth, and picked up the newspaper. Articles as to whether America should enter the “war to end all wars” filled the front page. Ignoring them, she turned to the Classifieds and scanned for a job. Nothing.
A waste of two cents. She started to close the paper when a small square in the corner caught her eye: “WANTED: a young lady to be a companion and tutor to a sick child.”
She read the smaller print and sat up straight in the ladder-back chair. A teaching job? Even without teaching credentials? Room and board provided? Could this be the answer?
Before she could grow fainthearted, she jumped up and grabbed her stationery, pen, and ink to write the application letter.
A week later, Violet received a cream-colored envelope from a local address. Curious, she slit it open and withdrew the folded note. Her pulse quickened as she read the request that she come for an interview on Saturday at one o’clock in the afternoon. The letter was signed, “Mrs. George Henderson.”
On Saturday, Violet dressed in her best outfit. Even though she was in mourning, she thought it best not to wear black—too dreary for a sick child. She slipped into her royal blue, button-up-the-front “hobble” dress with long, slim sleeves and several inset gores near the hem that facilitated walking. Around the fitted waist, she fastened a narrow belt. To soften the sleek lines, she added a full, white lace collar and pinned it with a brooch. One of her aunt’s feathered hats and her own threadbare wool coat were necessary for the cool day. Pointed, black buckle pumps peeked out below her ankle-length dress. Even though her clothes were slightly out of fashion, she hoped she looked presentable.
When Violet rang the doorbell of the three-story brick house in Cambridge, she expected to see a butler. Instead, a genteel matron greeted her. She was dressed in a beautiful, Edwardian-style, mauve silk gown trimmed with lace. Noting that the woman’s clothing, though elegant, was not in the newer, shorter style either, Violet relaxed.
“You must be Miss Channing.” The lady smiled and reached out to grasp Violet’s elbow and draw her inside. “I’m Mrs. Henderson.” She gestured toward the parlor. A tea service and a plate of cookies sat on the coffee table. “Have a seat, dear. Let’s have some tea while we talk.”
“Yes, thank you.” Violet’s mouth watered at the sight. She couldn’t remember when she’d last eaten something sweet.
Mrs. Henderson filled a china tea cup and handed it to her on a saucer. “Sugar? Cream? Help yourself to the cookies.”
Violet stirred sugar into her tea and savored a snickerdoodle, its top sprinkled with cinnamon. Heavenly!
Mrs. Henderson sat back with her cup and saucer in hand. “I suppose you were expecting a younger person to interview you.” She took a sip. “Actually, it’s my son who needs a tutor for his ten-year-old daughter. He’s a widower.”
Violet stilled her features. A widower? That could be awkward.
“He lives in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, in Canada.”
Violet’s eyes widened. “The Klondike?”
“Yes. My son, George Jr., is an engineer for the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway. Now that the gold rush is over, the narrow-gauge railroad carries mostly freight and a few passengers between Skagway, Alaska, and Whitehorse.”
Violet listened without interruption as Mrs. Henderson described the job.
“George’s daughter contracted rheumatic fever, and it affected her heart. The fever is gone, but Jenny requires lots of bed rest, so she can’t attend school. Since George has to be away so much with his job, he needs someone to entertain and tutor her while keeping her quiet. The few women there either have jobs or children of their own. George asked me to find someone here who would be willing to go to Whitehorse to care for Jenny. With your year and a half of normal school, you sound like the perfect match to our needs.”
“In the Yukon Territory?” Violet hoped her apprehension wasn’t showing. “My Uncle Chester had a copy of a Robert Service book. He regaled my Aunt Mabel and me with his reading of ‘The Cremation of Sam McGee.’ That’s all I know about the Yukon—that it’s wild and frigid.”
She thought of her shabby apartment. She had nothing to keep her here. But did she have the courage to leave all that was familiar to travel across a continent to that wild place? Would she be jumping from the firetrap of a city factory into a frozen wilderness icebox?
“I know it’s a lot to take in.” Mrs. Henderson sat quietly, waiting for an answer.
Violet swallowed her misgivings. Anything would be better than spending her life in that garment factory, wouldn’t it? She’d try to think of this as an adventure. “I have no family ties to keep me here, but I . . .” She felt embarrassed but decided she might as well be frank. “I don’t have the money to get there.”
“Oh, my dear, I’m sorry I forgot to mention that George will send the tickets as soon as I give him the go-ahead.”
“Then . . . y-y-yes.” Violet nodded. More resolutely, she added, “I’ll go to the Yukon.”
A month had passed since Violet’s interview with Mrs. Henderson. Desperate for money, Violet had gone back to her old job at the garment factory. Today, the establishment had earned the workers’ unofficial designation of it as a sweatshop. An unusual hot spell for early May smothered the city. Violet’s shirtwaist and long, black skirt had clung to her moist body since midmorning. Sweat trickled from her upswept hair, down her neck, and into her face as she bent over the treadle sewing machine, pumping her feet up and down until her legs ached.
At dusk, as she trudged back to her flat, the heat and humidity dragged at her footsteps. In Boston, she sweltered in the summer and froze in the winter. She groaned. Oh, God, how long?
Not that she expected an answer. It was just an expression to her. As a child, she had gone to church with her parents. After they died in a carriage accident when she was eleven and she had gone to live with her uncle and aunt, church was no longer required. She’d spent Sundays in various other pursuits with them. She didn’t miss it.
As usual, the tenement reeked of sweat and frying oil and stale cigarette smoke. Removing her wide-brimmed straw hat as she approached her flat, she noticed a packet propped against her door. Maybe the tickets she was waiting for?
Her spirits lifted as she snatched up the thick brown envelope, noticed the foreign stamps, and saw it was addressed to her. She unlocked her door and stepped inside. When she tore open the envelope, train tickets fell out.
She sat at the table and read everything. Mr. Henderson’s letter, in bold, masculine script, instructed her to pack and leave as soon as possible because she was needed immediately. “Summer in the Yukon is glorious,” he wrote. “You’ll have time to acclimate gradually to the winter.”
In this heat, the frozen Yukon sounded like heaven. “I don’t have to spend my life in that old factory!” she squealed as she jumped up and danced a little jig. Things were definitely starting to look up.
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS, EARLY MAY 1915
The next morning when Violet awoke, a sense of trepidation flooded her. Was she really going to the Yukon? She splashed cold water on her face and trembled, but not from the chill of the water. Could she actually do this?
A glance around the shabby apartment calmed her nerves. To get away from this, she could do almost anything. Besides, she had gone too far to back out now.
After a cup of hot, sugarless tea and a slice of bread spread with a dab of molasses, she dressed in her dark skirt and white shirtwaist and set out for the factory. She had much to do, but that list from Mr. Henderson would require all the money she could accumulate. At the end of this day, she’d get paid and tender her resignation.
When her shift was over, she tucked her final week’s pay into her skirt pocket and, with a sigh of relief, headed home. Tomorrow, she would start shopping. As she unlocked her door, she noticed the corner of something white sticking out from under it. An embossed envelope addressed to her in elegant handwriting. No stamp. It must have been delivered by messenger. A whiff of perfume momentarily blocked out the rancid odors of the hallway.
Closing the door behind her, Violet quickly slid her finger under the flap and removed the monogrammed note. “Dear Violet,” it read. “By now, you have probably received the tickets and instructions from my son. Would you please call on me at my home tomorrow (Saturday) at ten o’clock in the morning?” It was signed, “Mrs. George Henderson.”
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