by Ivy Rose
Excerpt from The Old River Road, a brand new novel documenting the lives of the author’s great-great-grandparents, who travelled from Chicago to Spokane. Join us now as Clara and her children step off the train in Spokane, in the year 1892.
Clara and the boys stepped off the train onto a wet platform. The station wasn’t much more than just a platform; nothing at all like the beautiful stations in Chicago and St. Paul. According to what Clara had heard, the larger junction of the Northern Pacific Railway was further down the line.
Rain was coming down hard, and grey clouds spread as far as the eye could see.
Clara jumped and stared at her little son at her side. He yanked his hand from hers and wrung it.
“Mama, you’re squeezing me!”
“I’m sorry.” The words came without conscious thought. Clara’s eyes darted here and there, looking for a familiar face. Where was William? Frank, even? They had said that they would be here.
Two young fellows unloaded Clara’s trunk and the furniture, setting them on the platform. Clara asked that they be taken under the roofed area, to protect them from the rain. Then the train whooshed out of the depot, tooting its whistle loudly.
There was no one around, just strangers, and not very many of them at that. Clara had expected Spokane to be a larger city. But this…this was barely a town.
“I’se cold, Mama,” Newton said, a shiver going through his body and he wrapped his arms around Clara’s neck.
Clara blinked slowly, and shook her head to clear her thoughts.
“Come here, Archie.” She ushered the little boy towards the small roof covering and sat on the bench provided.
Where were the men? Her father had said that Frank would be meeting them with a hack! Clara’s mind reeled. She had been promised that there would be someone to meet her at the depot. But where were they? Her father had specifically said in his telegram on what day Clara and the boys would be arriving. April twenty-eighth.
Panic seared Clara’s chest. Today was the twenty-seventh. The train must have been faster than expected.
The cold, hardness of the bench seeped into her. What could they do? The boys would be getting hungry soon, as would she. Fishing around in her pocket, Clara pulled two coins out.
Twenty cents. That was all she had. The last of their funds. Every dime had been spent on doctor fees.
Oh Lord, help me know what to do!
Clara replaced the coins and attempted to control her breathing. Whatever could she do with twenty cents? There was no conceivable way that it could buy a meal for the boys, much less for herself. And no one would be coming to fetch them until tomorrow.
What could she possibly do? She had heard of people sleeping in train depots, but not on a cold, spring night with two young children.
It wasn’t long before darkness fell. The rain continued to pelt down steadily, making the platform slick. Her time was running out.
A place to sleep; that’s what they needed first. Clara took a deep breath and stood up, swinging Newton onto her hip.
“Can you tell me the name of a decent hotel near here?” she asked the curly-headed ticket agent.
“The Commercial Hotel is a fine one,” he said, returning his gaze to Clara. “Jest up the road a ways.”
Readjusting Newton and bidding Archie to follow her, they set out into the dark wetness of Spokane.
It didn’t take them long to get to the Commercial Hotel, which turned out to be far more grand than Clara had hoped. She gazed upwards at the four story building, feeling as if it were crushing her.
No. She wouldn’t let this defeat her. Clara marched herself inside the lobby, dripping wet.
“May I speak with the manager?”
The young lobbyist nodded and left down a long hallway. Within moments, a sharply-dressed older man came from a back room. Clara feared that he would turn his nose up at her and the boys, dripping as they were on the pretty rug, but he did not. Instead, he extended his hand and smiled.
“Is there something I can do for you?” he asked, eyes full of compassion.
As briefly as she could, but without sparing too much information, Clara explained her plight to the kindly manager. She asked if they might have a room and something to eat.
“You can keep my rings until my husband arrives to fetch us in the morning,” Clara said, proceeding to pull the rings off her fingers—the emerald engagement ring and ruby wedding band.
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