Chapter OneSix years later, Saint Louis, Missouri
Thunder cracked then rolled along the quiet residential street. A
young woman hurried on her way, her hand placed strategically
on top of her head to prevent the gusty wind from carrying off
her plucky straw hat.
Susanne McCord didn't mind the inclement weather, but
she did wish the rain could have held off for another thirty
minutes. Fat drops peppered down on the cobblestoned streets,
scenting the air with the smell of summer rain.
She smiled, thinking of the changes the past six years had
brought. She'd arrived at her Aunt Estelle Merriweather's a
spoiled, flighty, temperamental young woman yearning for fun
and parties. Instead she had found a dedicated woman struggling
to maintain a small orphanage in her home. Now her aunt
was gone, and Susanne was in charge of the children.
Her shoes skipped gingerly over the gathering puddles, her
eyes scanning the numbers printed on the towering houses. The
three-story frame dwellings nearly took her breath with their
lovely stained-glass windows and hand-carved doorways.
When lightning flashed as bright as a noonday sun, she
peered at the address scrawled on a scrap of paper that was fast
becoming soggy in her hand.
Her feet flew purposefully up the walk as the heavens
opened to deliver a torrential downpour. Pausing to catch her
breath, Susanne stood for a moment under the shelter of the
porch eaves, watching the rain pelt down. She noticed the old
lamplighter, already soaked to the skin, hastily making his way
down the street.
She called out, inviting him to take cover with her. He
turned and scurried up the walk, his head bent low against the
"Terrible, isn't it?" Susanne commented as the white-haired
gentleman removed his top hat and shook the rain off.
"'Tis for certain, little lass." He grinned and his wizened face
broke into a wreath of wrinkles. He set his lantern down and
extended a friendly hand. "Thaddeus McDougal here."
Susanne returned his greeting. "Susanne McCord. It looks
like we're in for a good one." Susanne had never acknowledged
her married name, nor did she ever plan to. Since their journey
from Kansas to Saint Louis, she had not seen Cass Claxton
again. They had parted on bad terms, with Susanne declaring
she would see him again when hades froze over.
Thaddeus sighed. "Aye, it does at that, lass."
"Well, we can always use the rain."
"'Tis true, 'tis true." Thaddeus glanced about the massive
porch, mild curiosity on his face. "Wasn't aware the old house
had finally been sold."
"Oh, I don't think it has." Susanne noticed that the house
was not in the best of repair. The porch sagged, the paint was
peeling, and several shutters flapped haphazardly in the blowing
rain. It didn't matter though-it looked beautiful to her. "I'm
here to see about acquiring its use."
"Eh? Well ." Thaddeus's pale gaze roamed over the peeling
porch ceiling. "Old Josiah would be upset if he could see his
house now. Used to brim with love and laughter, it did." His
eyes grew misty with remembrance. "Josiah never had children
of his own, you know, but he took in every stray he could find.
Fine man, he was. The world lost a bit of sunshine when Josiah
Thorton was laid to rest."
"I never knew him," Susanne admitted.
"Fine man." Thaddeus sighed again. "Well now, little lass,
why be you tryin' to acquire such a big old barn of a house?"
"I'm looking for a place big enough to be a home for nine
"Nine children!" Thaddeus took a step back, eyes wide. "Beg
pardon, miss, but you don't look old enough to have nine wee
Susanne smiled at his obvious bewilderment. "I'm overseer
of a small orphanage. The bank has been forced to sell the home
we're presently living in, and someone mentioned that this
house was empty. I've looked unsuccessfully for weeks for somewhere
to move the children, so when I heard about the house I
hurried right over." Her forehead creased with a frown. "I'm
sorry to hear the owner's passed on."
Losing Aunt Estelle's house had been a blow, but running
an orphanage was not a profitable business venture, and Estelle
had been forced to mortgage her home for operating expenses.
Now Susanne was desperate to find somewhere to shelter the
"Aye, Josiah died about a year ago."
"Then his family will be disposing of the property?"
Thaddeus frowned. "Josiah didn't have any family-leastways,
not that I know about. Rumor has it that he had a business
associate, though. Could be he can tell you what's to be
done with the house."
"And how might I contact this business associate?" Susanne
hoped that wouldn't prove to be another time-consuming delay.
The orphanage had to be out of its present location by the end
of the month.
"Well ." Thaddeus stepped over to the legal notice nailed
to the porch railing and peered through his wire-rimmed spectacles.
"It says here that anyone wanting information about his
property should contact a Mr. Daniel Odolp, Attorney-at-Law."
Susanne took a small pad from her purse and prepared to
scribble down the address. "Does Mr. Odolp reside here in Saint
"Aye, his office is close by." Thaddeus read the address
aloud for her.
"Oh, that's not far."
"Only a wee jaunt."
"I wonder if Mr. Odolp would still be in his office."
Thaddeus reached into his waistcoat and took out a large
pocket watch. He flipped open the case and held the face of the
watch toward the receding light. "Depends on how late he
works. It's nigh on six o'clock."
Six o'clock. Susanne doubted Mr. Odolp would be working
this late, but since she'd be passing by his office anyway, it
wouldn't hurt to check. "Thank you, Thaddeus." Susanne
replaced the pencil and pad in her purse and reassessed the
inclement weather. It wasn't raining hard-just a nice, steady
drizzle. "I'll go by and see if Mr. Odolp is still in his office," she
"But it's still raining."
Susanne shrugged and gave Thaddeus a bright smile. "I
"Well now, you just might. You're an unusually pretty piece
of fluff with that flaxen hair and those violet-colored eyes. If you
had wings you'd look like an angel," he finished wistfully.
"A half-drowned angel, surely, but I appreciate the lovely
compliment. It's been nice talking with you, Thaddeus." Susanne
reached down and quickly removed her shoes and stockings,
then her hat. It was senseless to ruin them. Her toes peeked out
from under the hem of her skirt.
Thaddeus grinned. "A barefoot angel. Nice visiting with you,
lass." He picked up his lantern. "I must be about my work. It'll
be full dark soon."
Susanne watched the old lamplighter step off the porch. A
chance meeting and now they would go their separate ways.
One set out to light folks' pathways; the other to find a home for
nine waifs and strays.
Aunt Estelle had been a devoted, God-fearing woman who
had taken seriously the commandment to give a cup of cold
water in Jesus' name. No child had been turned away from her
door. When Susanne had worried about unpaid bills, her aunt
had quoted her favorite Scripture: "'Be kindly affectionate to
one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to
one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving
the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing
steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints,
given to hospitality.' Romans 12:10-13."
Estelle Merriweather had lived those words. She had been
patient when times were hard, diligent in prayer, rejoicing in
hope and believing that God would provide.
Susanne dodged another puddle. Well, she had been as
patient as possible, which she acknowledged wasn't saying all
that much, and the good Lord knew she spent a prodigious
amount of time on her knees. But she felt the hope in her own
heart was a feeble candle flame compared to the blazing torch of
steadfast confidence that had filled her aunt's every waking
Still, she had learned to trust in God's tender care. She
sighed. Hope. It was all she had to cling to.
"Lord, I'm hoping you will help me get that house."
* * *
Saint Louis, Missouri, had been the gateway to the West for
adventurers, explorers, traders, missionaries, soldiers, and
settlers of the trans-Mississippi. Founded in 1764 by Pierre
Laclede Liguest, a French trader, it began as a settlement for the
development of the fur trade. One hundred and ten years later
the area had turned into a thriving waterfront town where
cotton, lead, pelts, gold from California, and silver from New
Mexico poured through shipping lanes along the busy Mississippi
levee. It was said that Saint Louis was admired for her
hospitality, good manners, high society, virtue, and the sagacity
of her women.
One such woman hurried through the night, intent upon
her mission. Susanne could hardly believe her good fortune
when she rounded the corner leading to the landing and saw
the faint lantern glow spilling from a window of a second-story
Prominently displayed in bold black print across the window
was Daniel R. Odolp, Attorney-At-Law.
She covered the short distance to the building and climbed
the steep stairs leading to the second floor. A few minutes later
she tapped softly on Mr. Odolp's door.
"Yes?" boomed a deep voice that brought nervous flutters to
Susanne's stomach. The man sounded like a giant.
"I . I wonder if I might speak with you?"
Susanne heard a shuffling, then the sound of chair legs
being scraped across a wooden floor. Heavy footsteps
approached the doorway.
She swallowed, her throat gone dry. With only a small tallow
candle splitting the shadows of the dark, narrow, forbidding
hallway, she suddenly wished she'd decided to wait until morning
to make her visit. Just as she was turning to leave, the door
was abruptly flung open.
The man standing in the doorway was indeed a giant, at
least six feet five. Bushy dark brows nested over his beady black
eyes. His face was pockmarked, and his jowls hung heavily on
his neck. Sweat beaded profusely on his ruddy forehead.
Susanne thought he was the most unattractive and intimidating
man she'd ever encountered.
"Mr. Odolp?" she asked meekly.
"I am Mr. Odolp!" he barked. "Good grief, woman, are you
Susanne drew herself up stiffly, perturbed by his appalling
lack of gentility. "No, sir, but I shall be if you continue to speak
to me in that tone."
"You called my name," he boomed, "and I answered. You
implied you wanted to speak to me, and when I opened the
door, you asked again if I was Mr. Odolp. Naturally, one would
assume you have a hearing problem."
Susanne jumped as he bellowed again.
"Yes, I am Mr. Odolp!"
"Well, you needn't keep shouting." She lifted her skirts and
brushed past him.
He closed the door and stalked back to his desk, his eyes
grimly surveying her bare feet. "Where are your shoes and
stockings, young lady?"
Susanne glanced down and blushed. Her shoes were still in
her hand, along with her hat and stockings. She must look as
strange to him as he did to her. "I'm sorry . it was raining."
"What brings you to my door at this hour?" the attorney
demanded, curtly dismissing her stammering explanations. He sat
down and reached for a wooden box filled with cigars, selected
one, bit off the end, and spat the fragment into the wastebasket.
His chair creaked and moaned with the burden of his weight.
Susanne flinched at his lack of manners, but her demeanor
remained calm. "I understand that you're handling Josiah
"I am." The lawyer held a burning match to the cigar and
puffed, blowing billowing wisps of smoke into the air.
The humidity in the room was stifling. Susanne fanned
smoke away from her face. "I was wondering if Josiah's house is
going to be sold."
"Does he have more than one?"
Mr. Odolp turned his face upward and hooted uproariously.
"'Does he have more than one?' You're not serious!"
"I'm afraid I didn't know Mr. Thorton personally."
"I'm afraid you didn't either." Mr. Odolp fanned out the
match, propped his feet on top of his desk, and took a long draw
on his cigar. "Exactly which house did you have in mind,
Susanne felt her hackles rise at his growing insolence. "The
one on Elm Street. And my name is Miss McCord, sir."
"Well, what do you want to know, Miss McCord?"
"Some details about the house. For instance, who will be
disposing of the property?"
"The house was jointly owned."
"Josiah and his business partner." Mr. Odolp brought his
feet back to the floor and stood up. He lumbered to the files
and rummaged for a few minutes before extracting a thick
folder. "Since Josiah had no immediate family, we're waiting to
see if anyone steps up to claim his estate." Mr. Odolp grinned as
though he knew his next remark would certainly shock her.
"Josiah's partner wants to be sure there aren't any illegitimate
Thortons waiting in the wings."
Susanne was taken aback by his speculation and annoyed at
his continuing impudence in a lady's presence. "And if there
"Then the Thorton estate reverts to Josiah's partner." Mr.
Odolp sighed, and Susanne detected a note of envy. "A sizable
fortune, I might add. The partner will then decide what he
wants to do with the property."
"Exactly how long will it be before a decision is made?"
"Six months or longer."
Susanne walked to the window and looked down on the
rain-slicked streets. She pursed her lips thoughtfully. The house
was exactly what she was looking for. Undoubtedly there were
others available in town, but none so well suited to her purpose.
She'd hoped to stay in the house longer, but six months
would be sufficient. If she could persuade Josiah's partner to
lease the house to her for six months, it would alleviate her
immediate problem. At least she and the children would have a
roof over their heads until she could make other arrangements.
"Would it be possible for me to speak with Mr. Thorton's business
"I see no need to bother him. What is it you want?"
Susanne turned from the window, meeting his beady eyes. "I
would prefer to speak to the partner in private, Mr. Odolp."
"And he would prefer you to speak to me."
"Then let me phrase it differently." Susanne let a hint of
coolness creep into her manner. "I insist on speaking to Josiah
Thorton's business partner."
Susanne arched one brow. "Does the name Silas Woodson
ring a bell with you, Mr. Odolp?"
"Yes, the governor of Missouri." Susanne tapped her finger
on her cheek thoughtfully.