From "Surrender a Dream"
A black enamel Overman safety bicycle rounded the corner. The silver spokes flashed in the sunlight, and the rubber ball-bearing pedals propelled the bike at an outlandish speed of twelve miles per hour. Air-filled pneumatic tires absorbed the shock as the wheels bounced over the deep ruts and steel cable-car tracks that checkered the busy intersection.
Ringing like Quasimodo's bell was the cycle's newest doodad -- a sparkling London chime with a genuine nickel gong. It sat atop the handlebars next to a black leather tool bag and a lollipop-shaped oil can that swung from its chain and clanged in ear-ringing discord against the steel bar post. Despite its annoying sound, the can was necessary, for its contents -- the Dynamic Cycle Oil -- made the chain mechanism glide like a yacht on Lake Michigan. Speeding through the morning air, the bicycle made another turn and then sailed down Randolph Street, right into the path of an oncoming bakery wagon.
The wagon team reared and the bicycle swerved right, jolting over the curb and cleaving its way through the crowded sidewalk. Women shrieked and men yelled, but the bicycle plunged onward, brakeless and out of control. Suddenly the cycle veered left, heading straight for an iron street lamp. The cyclist released the handlebars and, with both arms, grabbed the lamp post. The front wheel dropped down the curb, and with a loud crunch the bicycle dumped over, leaving its rider clinging like ivy to the cold iron post.
Adelaide Amanda Pinkney slowly slid down the lamp post. Her pent-up breath whooshed out the moment her kid pedaling shoes touched the granite sidewalk. She let go of the lamp post and looked at her bicycle, lying across the curb at a twisted angle. Its front wheel was still spinning. Stooping down, she tilted the cycle upright and stared at her pride and joy.
It was crooked. She stood and rolled the crippled bike up onto the walk and then watched helplessly as her special plaster-cast, custom-fitted saddle fell to the ground with a sickening thud.
"Hey, lady! Get a horse!"
Her gaze shot up. A crowd had gathered and stood back a bit -- her audience. Some of the men were smirking and the women shot her horrified looks before they regained their composure and scurried away. A few men mumbled something about women drivers before they went on. Not one gentleman offered her assistance. So she ignored them, figuring they were just angry at the thought of being run down by a woman. Then she saw the driver of the bakery wagon and she heard real anger. He stood with his arms waving like a flag. German curses bellowed from his mouth as he stared at the mess in the street.
Addie stifled a groan at the sight. The wagon doors must have opened when the horses reared, and all the wooden trays, filled with loaves of bread, golden doughnuts, and crusty muffins, were scattered in the street. The bread loaves looked like oval pancakes, and the muffins were crumbled chunks. Whole doughnuts rolled along the cobbly gray street until they chanced into the path of speeding carriage wheels.
A Chicago policeman, appearing solemn-faced behind his thick gray brush of a mustache, walked toward her. Clenched between his teeth was a whistle whose shrill trumpet could be heard even over the clamor of the busy street. His long, dark coat had double rows of brass buttons. They sparkled, but not half as brilliantly as the star that was pinned on his left breast pocket.
Addie wanted to run.
Instead, she leaned her bicycle against the lamp post and managed to appear busy as she tucked a few loose strands of raven-black hair back under her straw hat. She tugged her boned shirtwaist back into its proper position and fiddled with the braid on her jacket. Just as she began to dust off the chalky dirt from her navy serge skirt, the policeman arrived. Unable to ignore him when he stood only a scant two feet away, she took a deep breath and looked up, ready for battle.
Under the shade of his tall helmet, his eyes were kind, and familiar. Every Thursday for the last few months, Officer O'Grady had come to Addle's counter at the Mason Street Library and she'd given him the latest books on California, the golden land of opportunity. They shared an easy friendship, and a dream.
"May the saints be singing, Miss Addie! What brings you out in this mess?" He gestured toward the street in the heart of the business district, where every morning a jam of trolleys, wagons, and carriages crammed in a fifty-foot-wide jumble.
"Oh, Officer O'Grady, I'm so glad it's you. I had to deliver some of the library's loan books to the Ryder Street School this morning and I, uh...I seem to have had a little mishap."
The officer eyed Addie's bent bicycle and then turned toward the teamster, who yelled while he tried to shoo away a couple of loose dogs that scavenged through the remains of his baked goods.
Addie, her face in a half grimace, peered around the officer's shoulder, secretly hoping the teamster would have vanished. He hadn't. Instead he turned and stomped straight toward them.
"Better make a quick getaway," O'Grady said, and with a wink he added, "I'll handle him."
Addie smiled in relief.
"Get along with you, now!"
A quick thank-you and Addie rolled the hobbling bicycle into the sidewalk crowd, moving along as best she could with the heavy bike and the awkward cadence of its bent wheel. She thumped around the corner and stopped to rest and get her bearings. She inspected the wheel, knowing she needed to get to a repair shop, but the shop she usually used was in the riding academy near her small apartment, which was all the way across town. There was a sister riding club somewhere on Water Street but she wasn't sure exactly where. Taking a deep breath, she crossed her fingers -- hoping she was going in the right direction -- and she and her bike headed away from the business district.
Half an hour later, as the sweat drizzled down her face and onto her soaked clothes, Addie stared at her crossed fingers and wondered why she kept doing something so silly, especially when it didn't seem to work. The riding academy was nowhere to be seen. She sagged back against the cool bricks of a nearby building and searched through her jacket for her handkerchief. It wasn't there.
The sweat drops trickled down her nose, making it itch so much that she swiped at it with her sleeve. Then she saw her hankie. A small lace corner of it was sticking out of her cuff. She removed it, straightened, and wiped the moisture from her face and neck. She fanned her face. The humidity was awful.
It was a Chicago spring day, typically unpredictable. The morning had been cool, so Addie dressed accordingly. But now, in only a couple of hours, the weather had changed. The air swelled thick with humidity, and the wind that had breezed by earlier was gone.
Whenever the wind halted, the people of Chicago had to swallow her industrial waste. Addie could taste the brackish taint of smoke seeping closer. Vulcanian fumes belched from the city's smokestacks, and the sky turned into a dark and billowing cloud. Drifting downward, the smoke cloud mixed with the rising stench of the stockyards, the black, gritty soot that spewed from the elevated trains, and the heavy, moist air. Soon, a gray fog coated the city.
This was progress, and Addie hated it.
She grabbed her bicycle and headed east, away from the fog, and two blocks farther she found the riding academy and its repair shop. A short time later she left, having made arrangements for her bicycle to be delivered the next day. She pulled on her leather gloves and made her way to the trolley stop.
It was not a good day. The first three cars were so crammed with passengers that they didn't even stop. She if was so flustered that when one did stop, she just jumped right on, not bothering to check the number. The trolley rumbled on before she remembered. She glanced up; it was trolley No. 613. It was common knowledge that No. 613 was the worst car in the city, and not just because of its unlucky number. This car's route went through the most hellacious area of Chicago.
Addie released the trolley pole and eyed an empty seat. She plopped down on the hard wooden bench. At least she had a place to sit. She was short and hated to stand on these things because everyone was always taller. She never got any air. Standing on 613 would be horrid. This route would take her to work the long way. The car bucked over an intersection, and she hung on tight as the electric trolley-car rattled over the streets.
The car jerked to a stop every few blocks and more people squeezed in, until Addie was pinned against the window side of the trolley. Apparently, the majority of Chicagoans were not superstitious. The car was packed and the odor of unwashed bodies was so strong that she turned her face to the open window, preferring the dirty outside air to the stink inside.
She looked at the street. They were in the slums. Filthy children crowded the stoops of the tenements. Some of them were little more than babies, naked and toddling through the street muck. Gangs of boys, angry and cocky, stood and stared, until one began to throw pieces of broken tenement brick at the trolley. The others joined in, jeering and swearing. A health cart slowly made its way down the street, spraying the walks, and anything on them, with disinfectant. Buckets clucked against the cart's barrel pump where they hung, waiting to be filled and handed out to anyone who wanted the disinfectant. No one did.
Piercing through the trolley racket was a baby's wail. It had a hungry sound. Garbage was thrown in the gutters, and the desperate ones rummaged through it, looking for something that resembled food. These people were starving, hundreds of them. It was then that Addie remembered the doughnuts, rolling out in the street. The street dogs of the business district ate better than most of these people. She felt a pang of guilt, yet she knew she couldn't help. Chicago was her hometown, and now its growth had gotten out of hand.
Just one short year ago Chicago's Exposition had drawn people from everywhere, and many of them never left. Suddenly it wasn't a prairie cowtown whose only claim to fame was that it had burned down twenty years earlier. The Exposition boasted everything, from the splendid architecture of the different state buildings to the amusements and racy sideshows of the Midway Plaisance. In that one year almost two million people, natives and tourists alike, were lured to the specter of George Ferris's giant wheel, and Addie bad been one of them. At night, adorned with electric lights, the wheel was something to see. She had watched as it turned, making the sky above the Midway glow as if the stars had fallen to that one special place on earth. The Exposition had proved that the city could compete with the best of them. Its industry, transportation, and services rivaled New York City, but so did its slums.
For Addie, Chicago wasn't special anymore. The crowds and filth seemed to worsen. She had been born here, twenty-four years ago, and had only left to go to Columbia University and attend Melvil Dewey's School of Library Economy. Other than those two years, Chicago had been her home. When she returned, she had seen the city through different eyes, but she'd gotten along fine. Only an occasional yearning sprouted, usually spurred by one of Aunt Emily's letters, for someplace different -- a new kind of life. She had always managed to push those thoughts into that little part of her mind where she bid her secret dreams. A new life seemed like a dream, just like her other girlish dreams -- dreams of wealth, and of success, and of the man she would marry. But in the three months since her mother's death, Addie had trouble dispelling those dreams. They kept creeping into her thoughts at the most inopportune times. And sometimes, she would cry. It was hard to admit, but she was lonely, and unhappy.
Her father had been dead twelve years, and with her crippled mother's recent passing, Addie had no one, except her aunt who lived in California, miles and miles from Chicago. Aunt Emily was the last of Addie's family, and she missed her, missed that bond and the knowledge that there was someone who would love her just because she was Adelaide Amanda Pinkney. She missed it so much that when she sent a letter to her maternal aunt, notifying her of her sister's death, Addie had secretly hoped that Aunt Emily would ask her to come and live with them on their farm. But she'd heard nothing, and though that was odd, Addie assumed that maybe things had changed for her aunt and uncle. Times were hard all across the country, and from what she'd read, even the California farmers hadn't had an easy few years.
She should be happy, with a comfortable home and a job. Her mind flashed with an image of those hungry people. Lord knew she had enough to eat. Addie glanced at the straining buttons of her skirt. Maybe she had too much lately. Whatever, there was something eating at her. It was an itch to do something other than her monotonous routine. She had always been a methodical person, yet lately nothing seemed right. And Chicago, well, it just wasn't home anymore.
The trolley bell clanged and she saw the familiar sight of the Mason Street stop. She stood and wormed her way to the door. The car jammed to a neck-whipping stop, and the horde of passengers was sent waving backward. All except Addie, who'd had the foresight to grip the trolley pole for all she was worth. She stepped off the car and walked the short distance to the Mason Street Library. Halfway up the stone stairs she stopped and looked up. There was no sun, only a smudged sky. She wondered if she would ever see a blue sky again. Her shoulders sagged a bit and she turned and went into the library. Maybe, once at work inside, surrounded by the books she loved, she'd be happy. Maybe.
The next night another gray cloud of smoke blew into the sky -- a vast and moonless California sky. The dark vapor chugged out of the smokestack of Southern Pacific No. 11. The locomotive groaned up the grade, churning to pick up enough steam to crawl toward the crest in the track that led to Modesto, the train's next stop. Near the top of the grade two men jumped onto the coal tender. They wore masks.
The smaller man, wearing a red shirt and armed with a pistol, lowered himself into the cab. He pointed the gun at the engineer. "Stop the train."
The engineer paled, grabbed the brake and jammed it back. No. 11 squealed to a stop.
The bandit in the blue shirt jumped down from the coal box and ran back to the express car. He yanked on the doors. They were locked from the inside. He banged on the side of the car. A small slot in the observation window opened.
His steady gun pointed at the messenger who peered from the slot. The blue bandit spoke, "Shove out the safe."
"No!" The messenger slammed the slot shut.
The bandit fired two shots, into the air, and a few minutes later his partner led the engineer and fireman over to the express car.
"You have two minutes to send out that safe or we'll shoot these two." The blue bandit raised his gun and rested the barrel on the engineer's sweaty temple.
When the red bandit did the same to the fireman, a sudden scurrying erupted from within the express car. The loading door creaked aside and the heavy iron safe toppled onto the dirt.
"Thanks." The blue bandit lowered his gun. "Now get outta there."
The express messenger, a pudgy man with thinning blond hair, leapt from the car. The minute his feet hit the soft dirt his hands were in the air, waving frantically. All his bravado had apparently been left behind his little slot.
"Get in that cattle car," the blue bandit ordered with a wave of his gun.
With their hands held high, the railroad men walked to the next car. Covering them was the red bandit, with his gun cocked. They climbed into the car, and the bandit rolled the door closed. He slid the iron lockbolt into the latch.
The train robbers walked back to the safe. Shoving his hat back with the barrel of his .44-caliber Schofield, the red bandit pulled off his dusty mask and swiped at the damp blond hair that fell oil his forehead. Then he smiled. "Well, we did it!"
The other man grunted behind his bandanna mask and turned, lifting his gun. He unloaded the rest of his bullets into the safe's lock. Jerking open the riddled door, he pulled out five money bags. The two men stuffed them into their shirts and ran down the hill. Behind a giant crag of a rock stood two horses, tethered and waiting. The men mounted and rode off, with five thousand dollars of the railroad's payroll.
Topping the front page of the San Francisco Tribune was the headline on the robbery. Many speculated on the identity of the bandits, but there were no leads, only the descriptions of the men, and those were vague at best. The man dressed in red was under six feet, small in build, and was thought to have light hair. The other man's hair was hidden by his hat. "Maybe brown, maybe black," the engineer had told the reporter, before adding, "but he was tall, whip-thin and very tall."
Two weeks later Addie stood on her tiptoes, straining to reach the volume on the shelf. She was just too short, and someone had pilfered her step stool. This happened all the time, even at Columbia. But then, most of the women at school had had to use stools. It was beyond Addie as to why the men who designed libraries had to make the shelves so darn high. One would think only Amazons could read.
And she was not all that short. Well, at least not the shortest. Her classmate and current superior, Hilary, was an inch shorter. She was four feet eleven and had never forgiven Addie for being an even five feet. Because of one silly inch Addie was still suffering. Both women came home to Chicago and were placed in the newest library facility on Mason Street. Hilary made Addie's life miserable. She'd misfiled books and then blamed Addie. She'd dumped coffee on Addie's salary draft, and it took three weeks to get it reissued; and one day, after Addie had spent almost five hours cleaning up the misfiled catalog cards, she'd seen Hilary go through and purposely dump out three of the wooden drawers. Addie had to start all over again.
Her job wasn't fun anymore. Ever since the library board had made Hilary head librarian, she had done her best to make Addie feel inadequate. Hilary could never stomach the fact that Addie had graduated with honors, far above her on the dean's list. She belittled Addie's work, drilled her with more fruitless orders than Napoleon at Waterloo, and generally threw her weight around, which must have been a monumental effort.
Addie had worked hard for the library and had loved her work, even with Hilary's antics, until the last few weeks. The woman had gotten worse. Now she was deducting the cost of lost books from Addie's pay. Addie didn't understand the girl, but knew that she couldn't take much more. She didn't care if Hilary's brother did chair the board. Each day was getting worse and worse.
Addie had marched to the end of the aisle and was busy combing the sections in search of her stool when she heard the familiar sound of Hilary Dappleton's infamous "Pssst."
Addie started to turn, but then she remembered how Hilary had purposely blamed her yesterday for the lost set of Collier's Encyclopedia. Once more, just to irritate her.
She sounds like the old steam boiler in the basement. Addie squelched a grin and turned around slowly. Hilary's dimpled hands gripped the scrolled edge of the mahogany issue desk. Her buxom torso obliterated a large portion of the counter as she leaned over it. Addie glanced at her face. It was so strained with her effort to fuel her next pssst that it was deep purple, like one of those newfangled red onions.
Addie pointed to her own chest, her face the picture of innocence, and mouthed the word, "Me?"
Hilary's onion head bobbed up and down in agitation.
Addie widened her eyes and blinked.
One queenly arm, encased in green taffeta ruffles, waved her over. The abundance of green flounces on Hilary's arm continued to ruffle, like a tossed salad. The action made the black fringe of her shoulder epaulets sway as if windblown.
They probably were windblown, Addie thought. All that hot air had to go somewhere; it probably came out her ears. Addie sauntered over to the desk. "Did you need me, Hilary?"
"I swear, Adelaide, you must be deaf!" Hilary straightened and shoved her wide belt back into its proper place, crowning her royal-sized hips. "What do you expect me to do, shout? You know the rules about quiet."
"What do you want?" Addie couldn't hide her perturbed tone.
"Just a minute." Hilary started to rummage through a stack of paperwork that sat on her desk. "I found something that belongs to you."
"Ah! Here it is"' Hilary held up a tea-stained envelope. She handed it to Addie. "I hope it's not bad news," she added in a honeyed tone so false that it rang warning bells in Addie's head.
It was a telegram, which had obviously seen some wear. She turned it over. The flap had been opened and badly resealed. She looked up at Hilary, whose round face couldn't hide her wicked glee. It was all Addie could do not to slap her silly. Instead, her voice cloaked in ice, she said, "Thank you," and turned. With her head held high, she walked away. Almost immediately she heard the thunder of Hilary's feet, scrambling to catch up with her.
"Wait! Aren't you going to open it?" Hilary huffed along, right behind Addie, who turned and marched toward the ladies' necessarium. She flung open the door and spun around just in time to slam it, hard, in Hilary Dappleton's Cheshire-cat face.
She looked for a place to sit, other than the obvious one, and spied her stool, sitting in a corner of the pink-tiled room. She walked past the pedestal sink and sat down. The envelope flap was half open and she ripped it the rest of the way. Unfolding the telegram, Addie stared at the date: March 20. The telegram was over a month old.
That witch! She'd bet that Hilary had kept the cablegram on purpose, just to be mean. Then Addie read the message and knew how really mean the other girl was. Both Aunt Emily and her husband were dead, killed in a freak accident. A flash flood had swept down the road and overturned their buggy. Both had drowned.
Oh God, now I really am alone. Addie sagged back against the wall and stared at the rest of the message. She was the only relation. The farm was hers.
She took a deep breath and tried to control the tight ache in her chest. For the second time this year, and for the third time in her short life, Addie had to accept death. It hurt. The accident that killed her father had happened so long ago that the grief had lessened with time. Her mother's passing was painful, but since she had been an invalid for so long, bedridden and crippled, Addie had worked through the loss by justifying it as an end to her mother's suffering. And it had been expected.
This wasn't. Her mother's sister was special to Addie, and though she hadn't seen Emily for almost eight years, they had always written. Her mother could never understand her own sister's wanderlust. Marrying at almost thirty-five and then taking off for some godawful place in the wilds of California. But Addie had always envied her aunt's gumption. Her vivid descriptions of the farm, the town, and the people, had always made Addie laugh. And the space. When Aunt Emily wrote of the openness of the land, Addie's dreams began.
She read on. The telegram was sent by a lawyer named Levi Hamilton, and he requested that she contact him as soon as possible regarding the disposition of the farm.
A sudden pounding rattled the door, followed by a "Psssst!"
"Are you going to stay in there all day? You have no right to hog the room, Adelaide!"
Addie stood up, put the message in her pocket, and went over to the sink. She washed the grief from her face and walked back to the door. She flung it open and looked the woman in her squinty eyes. She wanted to tell her off, but common sense told her that nothing she could say would do any good. So, she walked right past her, heading over to clean up the card catalog, again.
Two hours later she was just finishing with the D's when she felt Hilary walk toward her. Addie didn't look up.
"Aren't you finished yet?"
"Well...?" Hilary's foot drummed on the wooden floor.
f0 Addie sighed and looked up. "Well what?"
"Are you going?"
Going where? Addie thought. Then it dawned on her. Hilary wanted to know if she was going to California. Addie took a deep breath and ran her tongue over her teeth before she replied, "Do you find other people'ss mail more interesting than your own, Hilary?"
The witch smiled. "I've been thinking, Adelaide. A farm would be a good place for you, working in all that dirt. It would suit you..." Hilary examined her nails. "And you wouldn't have to be able to spell." She gave the card drawers a pointed took, "Make sure those are all in the right order. I hate it when the cards are misfiled." With that five-pounder of an order, Hilary rumbled away.
"A farm would be a good place for you," Addie mimicked under her breath. All that dirt, humph! After working with Hilary, farming should be a breeze. Hilary had sure flung enough dirt at her lately.
Setting her elbows on the desktop, she rested her chin on her hands. Could she do it? Work a farm alone? She did have some money, so she could hire help. There were plenty of books on agriculture and farm life. She'd read enough of them.
Books had always been a source of learning for her, so why not learn farming? God knows she didn't want to stay here. There certainly was nothing left for her in Chicago. And she had no future here at the library. Working with Hilary had dampened any enthusiasm she'd had for her profession. This was a chance for a whole new life. She might never get an opportunity like this again. It wouldn't
be easy...But her aunt had done it, and so could she. In fact, that's exactly what she would do. But first...
Addie looked over at Hilary, who was lording over the issue desk. So you hate misfiled cards ? She grabbed a stack of cards from the D drawer and another from the R's. With the dexterity of a riverboat gambler, she shuffled the catalog cards. For the last fifteen minutes of the library's operating hours, Addie went, at random, from card drawer to card drawer, shuffling Hilary's beloved catalog cards. The library closed and Addie grabbed her belongings. With the happiest smile she'd worn in months, she walked past Hilary's throne.
Hilary glanced up, her face in one of its pouts -- the one that made her look as if she'd been sucking on pickles. "You're not leaving? There's still too much work to do."
"Yes, I am leaving. For good."
Hilary smiled in triumph.
Addie glanced at the card files and smiled back. "Goodbye, Hilary." Then she walked out the door.
Copyright ©1991 by Jill Barnett Stadler