By Stacy Henrie
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With her brothers away fighting the Great War overseas, Livy Campbell desperately wants to help her family. Her chance comes when she meets a handsome stranger who lands her a job as a teacher in a place far from her parents’ farm. But the war casts a long shadow over the German-American town that Livy now calls home-and the darkness will test everything she thought she knew about family and love . . .
More than anything, Friedrick Wagner wants to be part of his adopted country’s struggle for peace. But when the bitter animosity between Germans and Americans soon turns citizens against newcomers, friend against friend, he will do whatever it takes to protect Livy from the hysteria that grips their town. As tragedy-and dark secrets from the past-threaten their future, Friedrick and Livy have one chance to stand up for what’s right . . . and one chance to fight for their love.
While writing is a very solitary act, this book wouldn’t be possible without the loving support of my family. Thanks to my kids for your excitement over what Mom is doing. And a lifetime of thanks to my husband for holding my hand, so often literally, through all the ups and downs of being an author. You are my real-life hero!
Much thanks to my agent, Jessica Alvarez, and my editor, Lauren Plude, for seeing the potential in not only this story but the series in general.
Thanks to Ali Cross, Elana Johnson, and Sara Olds for being much more than critique partners. Thanks, too, to Amber Perry—it’s amazing how just a few years of knowing each other can feel like a lifetime of friendship.
A final thank-you to family, friends, and readers who have cheered me on. I hope this story touches your heart as much as it has mine.
While this story, its characters, and the town of Hilden are all works of fiction, many true events inspired those experienced by Livy and Friedrick. The governor of Iowa did, in fact, proclaim the use of foreign languages in public to be against the law in 1918. This law was unique in that it forbade the use of any foreign language, not just German. The proclamation was issued in May, but for the sake of the story, I had the language law come into effect at the beginning of February.
There were four liberty loan drives during the course of America’s involvement in the Great War, in which all citizens were encouraged to buy bonds in order to help pay for the cost of the war. A fifth “victory” drive occurred after the war ended. The third drive, which figures into this story, actually began in April. Again, for the time frame of the story, I moved the drive to March.
The Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918–1919 is well known for its deadly sweep across the globe. Of lesser note is how the epidemic hit in three waves. The first and second waves occurred in the spring and late summer/early fall of 1918, and the third during the beginning months of 1919. Because the influenza epidemic played a pivotal role in the Great War and the year 1918 in particular, I wanted to capture the essence of this experience. While I have Friedrick contracting the illness during the first wave, when the number of deaths was comparatively small, his symptoms and the high potential for death in young adults his age are both true to life.
Although the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibited the making, selling, and transporting of alcohol, didn’t come into effect until 1920, Iowa had its own statewide prohibition law by 1916.
Before researching for this book, I knew very little of what so many German-Americans faced during World War I. The few incidents of persecution I’ve shared in this story—coercion to buy liberty bonds, arrest, prison sentencing, homes and buildings painted yellow, and tar and feathering—actually did occur. The widespread use of propaganda during the war was likely one of the biggest contributors to inspiring fear and mistrust of German-Americans, who were often viewed as potential enemies to the United States. This suspicion typically resulted in ordinary citizens meting out justice against other citizens, in sometimes violent ways, as shown here in Livy and Friedrick’s story.
Having now studied much about World War I, I have a great respect for not only those men and women who served in the Great War, but those who, like Friedrick and Livy, fought prejudice and injustice on the American home front. Most German-Americans chose not to resist, for the sake of their lives and their families. But whether they stood in silence or stood vocally, most remained ever loyal to the country they had come to call home.
Iowa, March 1918
Of all the birthdays Livy could recall, this one would certainly go down as the most memorable—but for all the wrong reasons. Ironic, she thought, smoothing the skirt of her blue silk taffeta dress for surely the hundredth time. I always thought turning twenty would be special.
She fanned herself with her hat, wishing she’d selected a chair near the back of the dance hall, where the door had been thrown open to let in the cool night air. The catchy strains of a one-step filled the crowded room as couples danced in front of her.
Livy glanced at the hall’s entrance, then to the clock on the wall. Where could Robert be? He’d told her he needed some work done on his automobile, so he would meet her at the dance hall at seven o’clock. But with Robert’s army training, Livy knew he meant six fifty-nine. That had been an hour ago.
The song ended and the couples stopped moving to applaud the band. Livy let her gaze wander over the unfamiliar faces. A tall young man with blond hair and broad shoulders caught and held her attention. Not only because of his handsome face and blue eyes, but also because of his lack of a uniform. Most of the men here tonight were older and married or baby-faced youngsters almost out of high school. The few who looked to be in their mid-twenties like the blond young man were dressed as soldiers, likely having returned home wounded, like Robert.
With his cane, Robert didn’t enjoy dancing as he once had, but he’d promised to take Livy for her birthday. The few times they’d come to the dance hall, mostly just swaying to the music, Livy couldn’t help seeing the adoring looks the other girls gave Robert—or the jealousy-tinged ones they threw at her when Robert refused to dance with anyone else. The appreciative glances and wistful sighs were the same wherever they went together.
But tonight she sat alone, with her polished dance shoes and her carefully curled hair. Without Robert. Livy simmered with frustration. She’d looked forward to a lovely evening all week. What would make him so late? A sudden thought turned her insides to ice and she dropped her hat into her lap. The inside of her cheek found its way between her teeth.
“Please let him be sober, God, please,” she whispered, the next song drowning out her quiet pleas. “I’ll forgive him any other excuse, if he’s sober.”
Robert had vowed, just three weeks before, that he was done imbibing—much to Livy’s relief. She couldn’t entirely blame him for turning to the bottle. There was so much he wanted to forget about his time overseas. Things he’d whispered to her, during moments of insobriety, which made her cringe in horror.
Robert’s stories had only increased her anxiety for her two older brothers, fighting in France. What were they experiencing there? Would they be driven to drink because of it?
Livy mentally shook her head at the thought. She couldn’t imagine Joel or Tom ever becoming drunk. They wouldn’t be alone in that resolve either. There were other men in their hometown who hadn’t succumbed to drinking—some had even lost arms or legs or their eyesight. So why were they able to stay away from alcohol and Robert couldn’t? Not even Iowa’s statewide prohibition or Livy’s increased compassion toward him had stopped Robert from finding the bootleggers when he wanted.
For a moment, Livy imagined she could smell the fermented scent of Robert’s raw alcohol. She hated that smell and the way it clung to his breath and clothes. She gagged at the memory and sucked in a breath of the stale, warm air inside the dance hall to clear her nose.
She’d learned to read his drunken mood, too. If he was lumbering around the barn, muttering things to himself, he was angry. Angry at the Germans, at God, at her sometimes. She didn’t like the barbed comments he tossed her way, but those were preferable to the intense sadness he experienced more often.
If he was lying back in the hay, bottle in hand, he was consumed with sorrow. No matter what she said or how long she sat holding his hand, she couldn’t talk him through the guilt and regret of his memories. And that cut worse than the smell. Still, she’d always try to coax him into a better mood, then return home exhausted, doing her best to dodge her parents’ questions about her evening.
Robert had promised to give it up, though, and Livy clung to that promise. Especially as her birthday approached. The past three weeks he’d been solicitous and sober, as he had when he’d first come home. At least until tonight.
When another fifteen minutes had crawled by, Livy forced herself to accept the likelihood that Robert—for whatever painful reason—had chosen to spend her birthday with a bottle cradled in his arms instead of her. Hot tears of anger sprang up behind her eyes, and no amount of blinking could keep several of them from leaking onto her face.
“Are you all right?”
Livy whipped her chin up and found herself peering into eyes more brilliantly blue than she’d suspected from her seat across the room. Their clear depths exuded friendly concern in a way that made her feel immediately safe, though she didn’t know this young man. Up close, his Sunday shirt and pressed trousers, though worn, accentuated his strong-looking physique.
She blinked, trying to remember what he’d asked her. Something about her being all right? “Yes. Thank you. I’m fine.”
She swept away the salty drops from her cheeks. Of course her first real cry in ten years would be witnessed by a stranger, and yet his self-assured, compassionate manner made her suspect he didn’t find her silly.
“You look like you could use a dance.” He crouched down in front of her and held out his hand. “How about it?”
Livy darted a quick look at the entrance again. “I’m…um…waiting for my boyfriend.”
“Ah.” He let his hand drop to his side. “Seems to be a bit late.”
She blushed. Who else had noticed her sitting here for over an hour? “I’m sorry,” she offered lamely.
“No, it’s all right.” He stood and started to walk away.
Who was she kidding? Robert wasn’t coming. If he happened to, he’d likely be drunk and unable to dance anyway.
“Wait.” Livy shot to her feet. She could have at least one dance on her birthday. Why should she spend the whole evening hurt and angry over Robert’s absence?
The young man slowly turned back around.
She attempted a genuine smile. “I’d love a dance.”
His face lit up as he smiled in return and held out his hand a second time. Setting her hat on her chair, Livy placed her hand inside his larger one and allowed him to escort her onto the dance floor. The band began to play a fox-trot—one of Livy’s favorite dances. She and Joel had become fairly adept at the steps before he’d left for the war.
It felt strange, at first, to be in another man’s arms, but the feeling soon left her. The way he held her hand in a confident but gentle grip, his hand warm on her back, helped Livy relax. He led her around the floor, their feet walking or spinning in time with the music. He was as skillful at the fox-trot as her brother, and Livy relished the chance to do more than just sway to the music.
“Are you from around here?” he asked her after a minute or two of dancing.
“About an hour away. And you?”
He shook his head. “I live outside of Hilden. In the county north of here.”
Livy vaguely recalled hearing the town name. “You drove all the way down here, just to go dancing?”
“We don’t have a public dance hall in Hilden. So we have to come here, or head farther north, or drive all the way to Sioux City. Do you come to this one often?”
“I used to, before I went to college in Cedar Falls.”
With slight pressure to her back, he expertly led her through a spin before he picked up their conversation again. “What did you study in college?”
“Are you a teacher now?”
Livy frowned, doing her best to tamp down the seeds of resentment the question unearthed. She loved her family and wanted to lift the burden her brothers’ absence had created, but she missed college and the chance to pursue her own dreams.
“I was only able to attend for a year before I was needed here.” Her words drew a look of sympathy from him.
“I know what that’s like,” he murmured. Before she could ask what he meant, he poised another question. “Do you still want to be a teacher?”
“Very much. I’m hoping someday I’ll have the chance.”
The understanding in his blue eyes changed to enthusiasm. “That might be sooner than you think. The teacher at one of the township schools outside of Hilden was recently…” He shot a glance at the floor, his jaw tightening. Livy wondered at the change in his mood. Then he guided her through another spin and his expression relaxed. “Suffice it to say, she’s gone now and I don’t think they’ve found a replacement. It’s a little far away, but you might want to inquire about it.”
A possible teaching job? A flurry of anticipation set Livy’s pulse moving faster at the prospect. She tried to squelch it with the reminder she wasn’t likely to be hired with only one year of college completed and no teaching certificate, but she couldn’t destroy the hope completely. How wonderful to be on her own again, and not learning how to teach this time, but actually being the teacher.
Livy met his open gaze and found her thoughts moving from his idea to the man himself. She didn’t even know his name, and yet she felt comfortable enough in his presence to share some of her regret at having her dream of teaching cut short. She hadn’t even voiced those feelings to Robert yet.
“Thank you,” she said, hoping he sensed how much she meant it. “I may look into it.”
“I hope you will.” He smiled in a way that made her stomach twist with unexpected pleasure.
She searched her mind for a more neutral topic, one that wouldn’t mean spilling more of her secrets to this stranger. “Do you live with family, up there in Hilden?”
He nodded. “I’ve got my father, stepmother, and two half siblings. What about you?”
“I’ve got more than two siblings.” Livy laughed. “I’m the third of seven. Five boys and two girls.”
She studied the firm shoulder beneath her hand. He appeared quite fit and healthy, so why wasn’t he a soldier? “Can I ask you something?”
“How come you’re not fighting overseas?”
Livy wished the question back at once when a shadow passed over his face, erasing the easy camaraderie between them. Before he could answer, the song ended. He released her hand at once, though he didn’t join her or the other couples in clapping.
She gnawed at her cheek, embarrassed at her apparent mistake. He’d been so kind to notice her distress earlier and suggest the teacher position in his town, and she’d repaid him by bringing up something he clearly did not wish to discuss.
“I’m sorry. It’s none of my business,” she said, rushing her words in an effort to keep him from disappearing into the crowd before she could finish. “I didn’t mean to pry.”
He watched her, his expression guarded. What could she say to erase the awkwardness her inquiry had caused? They’d been having such a lovely time talking and dancing.
“I appreciate the dance. You see it’s my birthday and I adore the fox-trot. So you’ve saved my evening, Mr.…” She waited for him to fill the pause with his name.
The corners of his mouth worked up into a smile. “How about you call me ‘the birthday rescuer’?”
Livy chuckled. She wasn’t sure why he refused to give his name, but she wouldn’t press it—not after her blunder moments ago. His kindness had completely changed her botched evening. “Thank you for the dance, birthday rescuer. And for telling me about the teacher position.”
“You’re welcome. Do I get to know the name of the birthday girl?”
Two can play this game, Livy thought with a smirk. “How about ‘the girl I danced with once’?”
His deep laughter pleased her. “How about we dance again?” He gestured to the floor, where the couples were pairing off for the next song. “Then you could be ‘the girl I danced with twice.’”
“No. I’d better go.”
“Without your beau?” He raised an eyebrow.
“I did get my birthday dance.”
A dark-haired girl approached them. She threw a haughty look at Livy and possessively pulled the young man toward the dance floor. Did the two of them know each other?
“Good night. Happy Birthday,” he called over his shoulder.
Livy waved good-bye. The frustration she’d felt earlier threatened to overwhelm her now that their pleasant encounter had ended, but she refused to shed any more tears tonight. With head held high, she wove her way back to her chair to collect her hat and coat. If the drugstore hadn’t closed up shop yet, she could telephone a neighbor to run over and ask her father or her younger brother Allen to come collect her.
Outside the dance hall, she inhaled the crisp air to clear away any lingering moisture from her eyes. She descended the steps and started past the wagons and automobiles parked in front of the building.
She spun around and saw her father standing beside the family wagon.
“I was just about to come inside and look for you.” Josiah Campbell placed his worn hat on top of his brown hair. A few gray strands had sprouted near his temples since Livy’s brothers had left to fight, but he still didn’t look his true age of fifty-one.
“How’d you know I needed a ride?” Livy asked as she walked toward him. Had something happened to one of the family? Or perhaps Robert was hurt or ill—and not drunk after all. “Is everything all right?”
“Everything’s fine.” Josiah gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze that soothed her concern. “Mrs. Drake came over an hour ago to say Robert wasn’t feeling well. She was sorry to hear Allen had already driven you here. I came to drive the birthday girl home.” He smiled, but Livy struggled to return the gesture.
Her suspicions tonight about Robert had been correct, after all. Mrs. Drake always used the excuse “he isn’t feeling well” when she and Livy both knew the truth—he was passed out from drinking.
“Up you go, sugar,” Josiah said as he helped her onto the wagon seat. Livy sat numbly as he unhitched the horses and climbed up next to her. He guided the horses away from the dance hall and onto the street. “Pretty night, huh?”
Livy glanced up at the stars scattered across the black sky. “I suppose.” She began gnawing at her cheek again, wishing she had the courage to tell her parents about Robert, but she kept her lips clamped together. Robert’s continued trouble with alcohol embarrassed her. Why couldn’t he lean on her instead?
“Something on your mind?”
“Just thinking I feel old.” And tired. She linked her arm through his as he laughed softly. “Thanks for coming to get me.”
“Sure thing, sugar. I’m sorry Robert wasn’t able to make it. Did you have a nice time anyway?”
“Yes,” Livy answered and she meant it. She thought of her “birthday rescuer” and a real smile lifted her lips. Once she’d stopped waiting around for Robert and actually danced, she’d felt much better.
Maybe that’s what I need to do from now on. She was tired of waiting—waiting for her life to start again now that she’d left college, waiting for her brothers’ safe return, waiting for Robert to give up alcohol, waiting for a proposal.
Robert had mentioned marriage for the first time about a month ago—the same day he’d received word a buddy from his squad had been killed. Livy doubted he could remember much of their conversation, even when his hangover had ended. If she did marry him, how many more nights would she find him that way? How many times would she have to drag his unconscious body into the house and nurse him back to awareness?
The possibility brought a prickle of cold fear creeping over her. She didn’t think she could live that way. She wanted a marriage like her parents had—one full of love and warmth.
A feeling of being trapped grabbed hold of her, squeezing at her throat and lungs. Was there nothing she could do to change her life, her circumstances? The conversation she’d had with the kind young man about the teacher position repeated itself through her mind. This could be her chance to pursue her dream and give her and Robert some needed space, too. It might be a long shot, but surely one worth taking. Even considering the idea resurrected Livy’s earlier hope and excitement. The sensation of claustrophobia faded in the wake of her enthusiasm.
“Daddy, what would you say if I were to get a job?” No matter how badly she wanted this, she wouldn’t do it without his and her mother’s blessing.
“What sort of job?”
“A teaching one. I heard about an opening at one of the township schools, north of here, near Hilden. I’m hoping they’ll take a teacher with only one year of college behind her.”
“Is that so?” He glanced at her, and though she couldn’t see his expression from the shadow of his hat, she sensed he was studying her face. “Would that make you happy, sugar? I know leaving school wasn’t what you planned to do.”
“It’s more than that.” She fiddled with one of the buttons on her coat, anxious to have him understand but not sure how much to share. “Things have been a little strained with Robert, and I think some distance would be good, for both of us.”
“So there’s more to it than him missing out on your birthday tonight?”
“Yes.” Livy feared he’d ask more questions, ones she didn’t want to answer. Tonight needed to be about hope and the possibility of new beginnings, not uncertainty and past frustrations.
His answer nearly made her fall off the wagon seat. “Then I think you ought to give the teaching job a try.”
“Really?” she squealed. She twisted on the seat to face him straight on. “Are you sure? What about needing me here, to help around the farm?”
“You’ve done a great job of that already, Livy.” Josiah pushed up the brim of his hat and smiled at her. “We would’ve been hard-pressed to run the farm this last year, without Joel and Tom around, if you hadn’t come home. But your younger brothers are growing and learning more responsibility now. I think we’ll be just fine.”
“You could use some of the money I earn to hire one of Allen’s friends to help out, if I do get the job.”
His head dipped in a thoughtful nod. “That’s an idea.”
“I can apply then?” She already knew the answer, but she couldn’t quite believe the gift he’d just presented her. Not something material, like the new mirror and powder compact he and her mother had given her earlier that day, but something infinitely more important—a promise of better days ahead.
Josiah shifted the reins to his left hand and put his arm around her shoulders. “If that’s what you want to do—need to do—sugar, then you do it. The kids up there would be lucky to have you as a teacher. We’ll be all right here. Don’t you worry.”
“Thank you, Daddy!” Livy kissed his cheek. His confidence and approval were worth more to her than a night full of fox-trots. “Could you drive a little faster?”
He chuckled at her impatience. “Anxious to get a slice of your birthday cake?”
“Nope.” Though the thought of her mother’s chocolate cake did make her mouth water. “I’ve got to write a letter to the school superintendent in Hilden.”
“Well, in that case, I suppose we’d better hurry.”
Livy laughed and gripped the wagon seat as he urged the horses to pick up their pace. With any luck, this birthday would mark the beginning of a new chapter in her life.
* * *
Friedrick stepped silently through the front door and eased it shut. The smell of the family’s bread, sausage, and cheese supper still hung in the air. Murmurs of conversation and the clatter of dishes came from the kitchen, where his stepmother and half siblings were cleaning up. He quietly removed his dirty boots, a grin on his face. He was going to win their little game tonight.
He crept down the hall toward the parlor. A glance over his shoulder assured him he was near victory, until he brought his weight down on the squeaky floorboard. The loud creak that erupted brought squeals of protest from the next room.
“It’s Friedrick,” Harlan shouted. “Hurry!”
In his stocking feet, Friedrick skidded into the parlor, the sound of footfalls close behind him. He dove for the sofa, but not before Harlan’s small frame slid past him. The two ended up in a laughing heap among the cushions.
“Boys, boys,” Elsa Wagner scolded in German from the doorway, her hands on her hips.
Friedrick had been nine when his father had remarried, but in no time at all, Elsa had quietly and easily filled the absence his own mother’s death had left in his life. She and Friedrick’s father spoke little English, and never in their own home, though they’d made certain their American-born children had learned the language.
“The sofa is for sitting, not wrestling.” She shook her finger at them.
“I won, I won,” Harlan said, ignoring his mother and bouncing up and down on the sofa.
“Not so fast.” Friedrick sat up and pulled the boy into a sitting position beside him. “Greta isn’t here yet.”
- On Sale
- Jun 24, 2014
- Page Count
- 384 pages