My Name Will Never Fade - Book 2
© 2023 Michael Winstell
"ALLAN CHARLES SHELTON! If you run me into a wall, I swear before heaven that you'll sleep on the floor for a week!"
Allan kept his hands over her eyes. "Dear wife, would I ever do such a thing to you?"
Faith Shelton groped the air with her hands, unable to hold back her smile. "You bumped my head on the threshold after our wedding, remember?"
"I do. Just a few more steps."
"I feel like a fool!"
"That's what all these people watching you must think."
"What?" Faith tried to wriggle out of her husband's grasp to look around but he kept his hands in place.
"I'm joking!" he laughed, turning her head forward again. "There's no one watching. Please, just two more steps."
Faith pursed her lips.
If this isn't the best surprise of my life, he's going to be on the floor for a month!
Her foot struck a stone step.
"Up we go," Allan said.
Faith walked up the step, noticing that the surface beneath her feet felt different– textured, alternating between hard and soft. Grass and stone. Her heart was racing now and she trembled with excitement.
I want to look!
"Keep your eyes closed," Allan said as he slowly pulled his hands away.
Faith bit her lip and squeezed her eyes shut.
Say it say it say it say it...
"Okay," Allan whispered in her ear. "Look now."
Faith opened her eyes and gasped.
It was the most beautiful house she had ever seen, a tall red-brick Victorian masterpiece. A stone walkway led up to a massive front porch with columns supporting a balcony on the second floor. The roof was peaked at the center, flanked by two regal towers. Large windows bordered by elaborate shutters spanned the structure and delicately carved flourishes adorned the eaves. Large bushes bursting with flowers surrounded the house and broad-leafed trees shaded the lush carpet of grass. A wrought-iron fence topped with fleur-de-lis encircled the property.
Faith turned around. Allan was grinning ear-to-ear.
"What do you think?" he asked, spreading his arms wide.
"It's...it's amazing! Is it really ours?"
"Can we go inside?" she asked.
"Of course! It's our house."
Faith clasped her hands together and hurried up the walkway. Her hard-soled shoes clicked on the stone steps leading up to the wraparound porch. She ran her hand over the columns and envisioned herself on a warm Sunday afternoon in a cushioned rocking chair, sipping on a glass of fresh-squeezed fruit juice and enjoying the blossoming garden. Curling her arm around one of the columns, she swung herself around to look at her darling husband, who still stood out on the walkway.
She beckoned him with a grin and he ascended the steps. His strong hands gripped her waist and pulled her close to him. Faith wrapped her arms around his neck and stared into his eyes, mesmerized by their gray-green hue.
"I'm in love with this place," she whispered, "and I haven't even been inside yet."
Allan's eyes sparkled as he rushed over to the door. Faith studied the ornate woodwork, noting the intricate patterns carved into the heavy double doors inlaid with stained glass. She leaned forward to get a better look and spotted the decorative "S" half-hidden in the fragmented glass panes.
"Your home awaits, my lady," Allan said as he turned the door handle.
Faith took a deep breath to calm her nerves. She gave Allan a giddy smile and walked through the front door.
For the second time, her breath was taken away.
A spectacular chandelier hung in the two-story front hall and a river of marble flooring swept into the house, terminating at the foot of a bifurcated staircase that spread out like a ballgown. The walls were stained wooden panels and the windows let in a great deal of light, making the space feel open and airy. There weren't any furnishings and the walls were bare, but Faith could already imagine hosting fancy parties with elegant guests reclining on fashionable furniture and admiring the tapestries, window dressings, and artwork.
She stood in the center of the house and spun around, twirling her silk skirts.
This is unbelievable!
"Quite a place, isn't it?" Allan asked, stepping into the house and shutting the door.
"It's like a dream," Faith said, craning her neck to look at the soaring ceiling. Then she gave him a pouting expression. "Pittsburgh is going to feel so dreary after this."
Allan laughed. "Pittsburgh was always dreary. That's why we are moving to Johnstown."
"Darling," Faith said, fixing him with her eyes, "tell me the truth: are we moving to Johnstown just for me?"
"What do you mean?" Allan asked.
"Your business is in Pittsburgh. Your father is there. Your life."
"You are my life."
A warm blush spread across Faith's cheeks. "But I will be with you wherever we live."
"I know you don't want to stay in Pittsburgh. And frankly, neither do I. Look at this place! Would you rather keep on living in the seventh floor of a fifty-year-old building overlooking a dirty river, or would you want to live here in the shadow of green mountains?"
"I want to live here," Faith whispered, moving close. "With you. My husband."
A sly grin crossed Allan's face.
"Would you like to see upstairs?"
"Oh, the usual...closets, bath chamber, sitting room. And yours and my bedchambers, of course."
"Bedchambers, you say?" Faith raised an eyebrow. "I suppose we must go and have a look."
Allan took her hand and they walked up the grand staircase together, their footfalls echoing throughout the empty house.
The sun was starting its downward trek to the horizon as they walked through the garden behind the house. Scents of gardenias and jasmine drifted through the air, intoxicating Faith's senses, which were still reeling from the beauty of the house itself. She had been especially delighted to discover that her bedchamber was a grand space flooded with sunlight, with an adjoining boudoir. Allan also had a bedroom, though hers was more inviting, which suited her fine because she hated sleeping alone. There were two other bedrooms on the second floor and one more in the attic for servants' quarters. The parlor, dining room, and drawing room were spacious and elegant, perfect for entertaining large numbers of guests. Faith didn't yet know anyone in Johnstown but she planned to change that very soon.
She looked over at her husband walking beside her. Allan Shelton, Jr. was the picture of the modern American businessman in her estimation: dignified, intelligent, strong features, well-dressed, but still exuding a rugged personality, as if he could at any moment fling aside his top hat and waistcoat and jump on a horse and ride off into the sunset like those barely-civilized cowboys she had heard about out West. Perhaps it was her country upbringing, but she wasn't attracted to dainty men like those pink-skinned European types lounging about and spending their family's royal money.
Allan was still plenty sophisticated, though. His father had seen to that, securing a place for him at Princeton and then in the family metalworks business, which had recently been absorbed by Andrew Carnegie's Iron and Steel Works. Faith often wondered what her husband was like before she had met him at that banquet three years ago. She'd heard tales of the wild Princeton parties and she didn't delude herself with the notion that her husband had remained a chaste and studious young man. Allan never shared any intimate details of his collegiate days with her, though at social events, she would often find him among his old friends, laughing the sort of laughter that usually accompanies lewd tales.
None of that mattered, though. He was all hers now. No doubt many women had tried to catch his favor and some may have succeeded for a time, but when it came to marriage, he chose her – a poor girl from the northern Allegheny Mountains who had found her way into the upper echelons of society.
Of course, she had a few secrets of her own about how she got there in the first place...
A gentle summer breeze followed them along a half-hidden walkway to a small gazebo tucked beneath a cluster of poplar trees. Allan took her hand and sat down beside her. She stared into his eyes, absolutely in love with him and feeling absolutely foolish about it.
They had only been married for eight months, and she was happy to discover that his fondness for her grew deeper and stronger with each passing day. Sometimes she wondered if she was really in a dream, and the thought of waking up terrified her.
He brushed a strand of hair away from her eyes. She touched his hand and pressed it against her cheek.
"I don't deserve you," she said.
"You're right," he answered. "You deserve so much more."
"I'm still speechless," she said. "Is this really our home?"
"Yes, my love. When we get back to Pittsburgh, I will have the movers start packing up the apartment. We'll need a lot of new furniture, so while I am getting all the paperwork taken care of at the office, you can do some shopping."
"Can we afford all this?"
Allan rested his hand over hers.
"There is no price on your happiness. And I know how much you dislike Pittsburgh. Honestly, I could do with a change of scenery myself. I will have to make frequent trips back, but I will spend every moment I can here with you."
"What about your father?"
"What about him?"
"How does he feel about you moving away?"
Allan's eyes fell. Faith's eyes widened.
"You haven't told him yet?" she exclaimed.
Allan's words faltered. He paused for a moment and looked up at the gazebo roof.
"I know what he would say if I had asked him beforehand. And it wasn't easy, believe me. I still feel plenty guilty, and I know he'll want to tan my hide when I get around to telling him. I also haven't told him about my new position at Cambria Iron Company, but seeing as Mr. Morrell gave me the job personally, I don't think Father will be able to raise too much of a fuss."
"The important thing is that you're making your own decisions. You can't live in your father's shadow forever."
"He'd like it if I did. I don't know if I'll ever grow big enough to make it on my own."
"Allan." Faith touched his face with a gentle hand. "You are a good man. I love you. We are going to make a happy life together. Everything else doesn't matter much."
He nodded slowly, his eyes gazing off into the unfocused distance. Then he rose to his feet, pulling her up with him.
"Do you like the house?"
"I've already told you a dozen times I do!"
Allan ran his finger over her nose. She loved it when he did that.
"I'm so relieved," he said. "Honestly, I've been terrified all day. The only person I'm more afraid of disappointing than my father is you."
Faith embraced his shoulders and lay her head against his chest. "You could never disappoint me, Allan Shelton."
He put his arms around her and they held each other in silence for a couple of minutes, surrounded by lush flowers and fluttering butterflies. Faith could hear his heartbeat, deep and rhythmic. He seemed invincible to her. His father was a stout and commanding man but the son was destined for even greater things. She knew that Allan was going to leave a lasting legacy and she was thrilled to be a part of it.
Then she did something she didn't do all that often. She prayed.
Thank You Lord for this wonderful man, my husband. Please bless our life together, and please give him peace.
She looked up into his eyes and thought he looked a little more relaxed than just a moment ago. Had God really answered her prayer that quickly?
"How do you feel?" she asked.
Allan kissed her forehead. "When I'm with you, I feel at peace."
"You said that even after we move here, you will still have to travel back to Pittsburgh."
"Yes, but only when it is absolutely necessary. The telegraph is a remarkable invention. Besides, I am confident that you will turn this place into a palace of comfort and tranquility."
A piercing whistle shrieked in the distance, vaporizing the romance in the air.
"That's the one-hour whistle," Allan groaned. "We need to start heading back to the station."
Faith nodded, casting one last yearning glance around the garden. "I can hardly stand the thought of going back to Pittsburgh after seeing all this."
"All the more reason to hasten the move. I suspect that we will be residents of Johnstown in a matter of weeks."
Arm-in-arm, they strolled out of the garden back to the front gate where the carriage was waiting for them in the same spot when it had brought them to the house a couple of hours earlier, though the driver was now different. The coachman hopped down from his perch and opened the door when they approached.
"Train station, sir?"
"Straight away," Allan replied as he helped Faith into her seat and sat down on the opposite bench. The coachman closed the door, climbed back into the driver's seat, and gave the reins a gentle tug. The horse obediently plodded forward, its shod hooves clopping loudly on the cobblestone street.
Faith settled onto the bench and stared out the window at the beautiful house that would soon be their home. Watching it disappear down the street was like leaving a new friend she had just met. To keep from feeling glum, she turned her attention to the small yet bustling community of Johnstown. When she and her husband had arrived this morning, they had taken a carriage through the town and seen a few of the prominent landmarks, such as City Hall and St. John's Church and Central Park on Main Street. Before heading to their new house, they had stopped for lunch at a quaint little cafe, and it was there that Faith found herself falling in love with the town. It was so green compared to Pittsburgh, which was choked with smoke billowing from countless steel factory smokestacks. Of course, Johnstown had plenty of factories and smelters and boilers, but those were concentrated in the upper region of the town, leaving the downtown district relatively smoke-free and pleasant.
Faith had also been taking stock of the townspeople. Few were opulently dressed, at least compared to the Pittsburgh crowd, but there was an ease about them that was absent from their big-city counterparts. It took her a few minutes to realize the difference: people in Johnstown actually smiled.
As the carriage bumped and jostled its way down the street, Faith studied the faces of the people once more. She felt a strange kinship with them, and part of her wanted to stick her head out the window and declare, "I'm one of you now! I have a house up the street!"
No one would have cared, of course, and many probably wouldn't have understood her. She was surprised to discover that a sizable portion of Johnstown residents were first-generation immigrants from Denmark and Germany, and the Irish might as well have been speaking a foreign language too. Pittsburgh was also a cultural melting pot but somehow that city seemed to absorb its residents into its collective identity. Yet here in Johnstown, cultural distinctions seemed to thrive, as evidenced by the variety of languages on storefront windows and the delicious aromas of unfamiliar food. Pittsburgh was a giant American industrial machine, while Johnstown exuded a romantic European flourish.
Perhaps Johnstown is where I will finally feel at home...
Her head rested against the seat back as she watched the life outside the carriage window. This place was wonderful, but she knew she would have to make an effort to convince Allan to feel the same. Despite his kind words, she knew that Pittsburgh was in his blood. She looked over at him sitting across from her, his nose buried in the Pittsburgh Gazette. No doubt checking on his holdings in oil, coal, and of course, steel.
Faith smiled to herself and rested her chin on her hand. That was Allan, always thinking about business. He was happy to spoil her, which she didn't mind at all. And he was also a surprisingly romantic and tender person, contrary to the personalities of most businessmen she had come across. His mother had died when he was a child and she could only imagine what kind of woman could tolerate a man like Allan Shelton, Sr., her father-in-law. That man didn't have a gentle bone in his boulder-sized body.
The thought of the inevitable confrontation between father and son about this move to Johnstown worried her. Her husband was head-strong and confident, but Shelton Sr. was a force of nature.
A knot tightened in her stomach. She wished she had asked Allan if their new house was fully paid for or if it was being financed. Her gaze turned toward the window again and the fear multiplied. What if Allan's father refused to let them leave? What if she found herself imprisoned in Pittsburgh forever? What if this was all taken away from her?
"Dear, are you all right?"
She looked at Allan, covering her startled expression with one of calmness. She had always been very good at masking her true feelings.
"Of course," she answered, smoothing a wrinkle in her skirt. "Why?"
Allan folded his newspaper on his lap and narrowed his eyes. "You had that look you get sometimes."
"Like your mind is racing faster than a locomotive."
Maybe her masks weren't as good as she thought...
"I'm just taking it all in," she said, gesturing toward the window. "Thinking about our new life here." After a nearly imperceptible pause, she added, "I hope you didn't have to sell too many stocks to pay for our new home."
Allan laughed. "Don't you fret none about that," he said. He held up the newspaper and pointed to an article. "Besides, when the new factory opens in Conemaugh, I'll have enough this time next year to buy us another home."
"Another home? But why?"
"Why not? And I don't mean a true home; maybe a summer house. Or a winter house. I'm quite tired of snow, to be honest. I hear Savannah, Georgia is lovely in the winter."
Faith reached out and put her hand on his knee.
"One thing at a time."
Allan grinned. "Quite right. As always."
A train whistle shrieked and Allan knocked on the carriage wall.
"Faster," he commanded.
The driver snapped the reins and the horse sped up to a canter. The carriage bounced and rocked, tossing Faith around her seat. Allan chuckled and squeezed in next to her, folding her in his arms. Paying no mind to her hat or hair, she rested her head on his chest.
Please, she prayed, don't ever let this go away.
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