Friday, April 4, 2014


Title: Walls for the Wind
Author: Alethea Williams
Genre: Western historical
Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press
Date of publication: April 2014

Can even an angel survive Hell on Wheels? When Kit Calhoun leaves New York City with a train car full of orphans from the Immigrant Children’s Home, she has no clue she might end up as adoptive mother to four children in rip-roaring Cheyenne, Wyoming. At twenty-two, Kit has spent most of her life in the Children’s Home. Now she acts as one of America’s first social workers, serving as liaison between the home, the courts, and the children of the streets.
Kit has little doubt she is easing the plight of the homeless children, until the transcontinental railroad begins to span the country and she is chosen to accompany orphan trains to distribute city children as fast as the rails are laid and farms are carved out of former Indian lands. Eastern cities are overrun with homeless children, their parents sick with consumption or dead of accidents and disease. The farmers who take in the children are required to sign a pledge to clothe, feed, and educate them in return for their labor. Is this distribution of urban children to rural environs beneficial, as the churches that sponsor the dissemination insist? Kit begins to have misgivings.
Family ties are deliberately broken so that single children will have a better chance of being placed. Even so, Kit swears an oath to a dying woman that she will keep her son and daughter together. But when their train passes beyond the last settlements in Nebraska, Kit is left with no other choice. Hannah and Helmut, and teenagers Connie and Thomas, become Kit’s sole responsibility.
The first time handsome Patrick Kelley lays eyes on Kit inside the Casement Brothers store where he works in Julesburg, Colorado Territory, he wants her for his own. But circumstances, and a spectral-looking demented gambler as well as Kit’s certainty no one in his right mind would want her cobbled-together family, conspire to keep them apart. When Patrick and Kit and her brood ride Hell on Wheels into Cheyenne, they’re all forced to leave behind everything they knew and find ways to survive and thrive in the raw new American West.

“That was one of the more heartbreaking things I’ve ever had to do,” she said.

“The Lord provides the work, Katherine. He doesn’t always simplify the task of carrying it out.”

At the thunderous sound of the big man’s voice, the child stirred in Kit’s arms, before finally subsiding again. Howe leaned forward to wrap one of Hannah’s burnished curls around a sausage-like finger. “For such is the kingdom of God,” he quoted in what for him was a whisper.

He straightened again on his seat, pinning Kit with his eyes. “You’re familiar with the work of Charles Loring Brace, of course, upon whose ministry I have often stated I base my own mission.”

Kit nodded. Every children’s home, orphanage, youth asylum, and hospital in the city revered Charles Loring Brace, the founder of the Children’s Aid Society.

“Think upon this, then, daughter: Reverend Brace himself has said of his doubts, ‘When a child of the streets stands before you in rags, with a tear-stained face, you cannot easily forget him. And yet, you are perplexed what to do. The human soul is difficult to interfere with. You hesitate how far you should go.’” He rubbed his baseball-size chin with a great hand while he ruminated. “The severing of the sacred bond between mother and child is not meant to be effortless, Katherine.”

“But surely in the case of a street nomad it must be a more uncomplicated decision.” Kit swallowed. She had almost slipped and said street Arab, in which case she would have been in for a stern lecture from Reverend Howe, who despised such slangy derogatory terms. “I mean those vagrant young boys who attach themselves to older boys for protection in a gang. There must be no doubt that separating those from their hardscrabble lives is only right and just.”

“And sometimes one wonders about even that,” Howe rumbled. “They are already well set in their ways attwelve or fourteen years of age, drinking coffee, gambling, and smoking tobacco. They are truly children of the streets, and sometimes it seems wrong to pluck them from the only life they’ve ever known, no matter the low opinion we have of their lives. They have learned to survive. They find what work they can, selling newspapers, hauling bundles or bales, running errands. What do they know or care of formal education, or learning a trade, or leading a decent life? They are truly lost to themselves when we remove them from their familiar surroundings, and some of them, as you have no doubt witnessed, resent mightily the ‘new and better’ ways we force upon them.”

Reverend Howe leaned back, studying the roof of the coach. “And the girls. The little girls who sell matches or rags, or sing for a few pennies if they have the talent for it. As they grow, of course, it becomes more difficult for girls. Most, I am afraid, end by selling something more precious than matches.”

“You needn’t be so reserved with me, Reverend,” Kit asserted when he hesitated, although residual shame about her own mother’s profession toward the end of a shortened life caused Kit to lower her eyes. “I am not so delicate. I am not a lady. I have not forgotten.” The picture was forever burned into Kit’s brain: in the gathering darkness of a sparsely furnished room, her poor mother dressed in her frayed best and leaning over a bit of broken mirror to pinch some color into her thin cheeks in preparation for another desperate night. She could still hear echoes of the dead woman and the child she herself had been:

Will ye be leavin’ again, Mam?
I must, me darlin’.
Please don’t go, Mam. I’m afraid of the dark all alone. Please don’t leave me.
I must, lass. Ye know I must go.

Buy links:
Whiskey Creek Press

Author bio:
Western history has been the great interest of my adult life. I've lived in Wyoming, Colorado, and Oregon. Although an amateur historian, I am happiest researching different times and places in the historical West. And while staying true to history, I try not to let the facts overwhelm my stories. Story always comes first in my novels, and plot arises from the relationships between my characters. I'm always open to your response to my writing.

Twitter: @ActuallyAlethea
The Romance Reviews author page:

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