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About the author:
Ruth White grew up in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, and went to college at Montreat and Pfeiffer, both in North Carolina. A former teacher and librarian, she now enjoys her roles as full time writer and grandmother. She lives in Hummelstown, PA.
What inspired you to write your book?
My fiction is realistic, which to me means authentic to the time, place and characters. I try to re-create the way of life in every detail. I am true to the voice of the main character, who is my narrator in first person, using her dialect and grammatical use of the language. I think this makes my work unique, not better than other fiction, because I have read some pretty terrific fantasy, but I think it’s the realism in my books that make them memorable.
Here is a short sample from the book:
Friday, June 28th, 1929
I am part of the welcoming committee when Angel and her mother and father arrive in a shiny blue Essex sedan. They are here for Mr. Myles’ birthday party tonight, and will be staying for the weekend. Brody stands beside me. Where my arm barely touches his, I feel the fine blond hairs stand on end. Earlier in the week he left The Bridge of San Luis Rey in my mailbox, but this is the first time I have seen him since our day out together. I watch him kiss Angel on the cheek. Then he kisses Mrs. Temple’s hand and shakes Mr. Temple’s.
“Lorie, darling!” Angel greets me. “I have missed you! You spoiled me.”
“Welcome back, Miss Angel,” say I.
Mr. Myles greets everybody. He is in a jolly mood, and Mrs. Myles pretends to be, even though she has been in bed since Monday, until an hour ago.
“You will want to go to your rooms and rest a bit, I’m sure,” she says to the Temples, “before dinner and the grand event.”
Brett and Jeff haul in all the suitcases, which are many. Mrs. Myles accompanies Mr. and Mrs. Temple to their room. Brody disappears, and I don’t see him again until evening, when I catch a glimpse of him in the dining room where the Temples and the Myles prepare to enjoy a special dinner together. Ellie and Tootsie are assisted by Marge and Delia in serving, so I slip away to have my own meal in the servants’ hall.
The next time I see him he is entering the ballroom with Roman as the band is warming up. This time it’s a jazz band, per Mr. Myles’ request. He has also requested his fiftieth birthday party to be a flapper gala, and everybody has dressed the part. The women are wearing short flimsy frocks, strings of long gaudy beads around their necks, headbands or feathers on their heads, and high heeled shoes. Even the maids wear beads and no aprons. Our uniform dresses are short enough to fit right in. I am allowed to let my hair flow freely without a net, and Mrs. Myles has ordered frilly green head pieces for us instead of the usual maid’s cap.
It’s the flapper rage to wear hose rolled down below the knee, but this is the one fad Mrs. Myles decries as tacky. Some of the guests display turned-down hose anyway, and Mrs. Myles is gracious enough not to notice.
The men wear their Oxford bags and striped shirts with loosened ties. I am glad to see Brody’s trousers are not quite as baggy as some of the others. He looks rakish as always. Angel, of course, could pass for a film star in her black flapper dress, and high heels with straps across the top for easier dancing. Her head piece sits smartly over her little blond bob, sporting one black feather with a red tip. On her right cheek she has painted a black beauty mark.
Mr. and Mrs. Myles meet the guests at the ballroom door, while Angel and Brody are situated at the edge of the dance floor, greeting people and shaking hands. I stand a few feet behind them, at an angle which gives me a good view of Brody. I watch his face, loving every dip and curve of his expressions.
Suddenly there is a lull in his duties as greeter, and I find him looking back at me. Our eyes lock, and he gives me a radiant smile.
Before I can react, Angel is saying to him, “Brody, darling, who is that dapper young man?”
Brody looks, and I look. It’s Luke. Brody and I glance at each other.
“His name is Luke Wayne,” Brody says. “His family and mine have been friends for years.”
Wayne? Could he be related to Dr. Wayne? I must remember to inquire. Now Luke Wayne is coming toward us – not to greet Brody and Angel. No, he is looking at me and walking toward me.
“Lorelei,” he says, and takes my hand. “I hoped I would see you here.”
I remove my hand from his before he can kiss it. Brody and Angel are watching.
“If you please, sir,” I say to Luke, “I’m on duty.”
“What!” he says, confused. “What do you mean?”
I don’t respond. Can’t he see I am a maid? Maybe not – with the beads and head piece and no apron.
Brody steps in to save me. “Lorelei is busy, Luke.”
Now Luke is definitely confused. “Busy? What is this?”
Brody takes Luke’s arm and pulls him aside where neither Angel nor I can hear what is being said. Shortly thereafter understanding crosses Luke’s face, and he smiles. He slaps Brody on the back and walks to me again without acknowledging Angel.
“I’m sorry if I placed you in an awkward position, Lorelei,” he says in a whisper. “I didn’t realize you are in the service of the Myles family. But it makes no difference to me. I would like to call on you if and when you change your mind.”
At this point many people have arrived, and are buzzing around us so that I feel less conspicuous. Brody and Angel are involved again with welcoming the partiers, but they both keep glancing at me and Luke.
“May I have at least one dance with you tonight?” Luke says.
“I am a maid, sir,” I say, as if that should put the matter to rest.
“I happen to know,” he says, “that the Myles family will do whatever it takes to make
their guests happy. I will ask permission.”
“Oh, please don’t,” I plead with him. “I would not be comfortable.”
“Why?” he says with a grin. “Because you would have to explain to them how you know me? Where you met me? I won’t tell.”
I feel a bit panicky. “Please…” I say again.
I think he finally understands my discomfort. His demeanor changes, and he says, “Of course, Lorelei. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“Thank you, Luke.”
“Lor…eee,” comes Angel’s whine right at my elbow. “Will you get me a coca-cola plee..ze?”
I wonder how long she has been standing there and how much she heard.
“Of course, Miss Angel,” I say, and hurry away to do my duty.
When I return, I find that she and Luke have apparently introduced themselves to one another, and are now engaged in conversation. I deliver her coca-cola, then stand respectfully at a distance. I look for Brody and find him dancing the first dance of the evening with his beautiful cousin, Gloria Lynch. Then Luke leads Angel onto the dance floor.
After several more dances, when many of his guests are pleasantly tipsy on the contents of the blue glass, Mr. Myles steps onto the band platform and announces, “Now it’s time for the IT girl contest. I ordered it special for my birthday.”
There is much buzzing and smiling. Everybody seems to know what an IT girl contest is. Something to do with Clara Bow, no doubt.
“Take a look at all the lovely single girls in this room,” Mr. Myles goes on, “and decide which one you think has IT. You know what IT is, don’t you?”
The gentlemen look at each other and laugh knowingly. The ladies smile indulgently.
“Each gentleman has been given a scrap of paper and a pencil. You are to write – in secret if you please – this is not for ladies’ eyes – write your choice for the girl who comes closest to the IT of the famous Clara Bow!”
The people laugh good-naturedly.
“The winner will have the honor of dancing with the lucky birthday boy – who happens to be me, of course,” Mr. Myles goes on. “After that she may dance with the man of her choice. And that could be me as well!”
More laughter follows. The men begin searching the room for the IT girl. The single women are nudged to the center of the floor, and the married women stand around the edges.
“Look her over carefully,” Mr. Myles cautions. “Don’t make a hasty decision.”
The young women blush and giggle nervously. But one thing seems obvious to me, and probably to everybody: Angel will win. Who wouldn’t vote for her? I glance at Brody and see that he is writing on his paper. He folds it up and drops it into a clear punch bowl which his mother is carrying around. The other men are also making their decisions.
When the voting is finished, the band begins to play a low, cool crackling number I have heard on the radio. Mr. Myles begins pulling out the ballots, while Mrs. Myles tallies up the votes.
“Angela Temple!” he calls out the first vote, and everybody applauds. “And again, Angela Temple.”
The next five are all for Angel. Even if she were not the most gorgeous girl in the room, the men would probably vote for her out of deference to their hosts. Angel is obviously excited. She squeezes Brody’s arm, and smiles up at him. It appears she will win unanimously.
“Lorelei Starr!” I hear my name called and I whirl around to face Mr. Myles.
“What!” I gasp.
Mr. Myles pauses and seems bewildered. The guests are turning to each other and mouthing WHO? Oh, god, it has to be Luke. I find his face among the guests, and sure enough, there he is grinning at me.
Mrs. Myles comes to me and places an arm around me. “This is our Lorie. Isn’t she the berries?”
I wish I could disappear.
“It’s nice to have our servants noticed,” Mrs. Myles continues.
The people say, “Oh, the maid.”
Or they say, “Isn’t that swell?”
Or, “Lovely girl.”
“Continue with the vote!” Mrs. Myles orders.
Mr. Myles pulls out the next ballot. “Angela Temple!”
The party is back in the swing of things, the dear little maid forgotten, and I stand there not knowing whether to run and hide, or to be happy. No, not happy. I don’t know why, but I feel deflated again.
The next dozen votes are for Angel. Then there is one for cousin Gloria, who gets a nice
round of applause.
“Lorelei Starr!” Mr. Myles bellows again.
This time there is silence in the room for a moment, and all eyes turn to me once more. I could cry. Did Luke vote twice? There comes a burst of applause and cheers. Are they making fun of me? My eyes meet Brody’s. He is smiling and clapping. Did he vote for me? Then he walks to me and makes everything all right.
“Just relax and enjoy it, sweetheart,” he whispers. “They like you.”
I want to throw my arms around him, give him a kiss and tell him I adore him, but of course I don’t. I simply smile. He walks back to Angel’s side. Only then do I notice that she is not smiling. She is trying to keep a pleasant expression, but I have learned to read her face. She is annoyed.
In the end Angel wins the IT girl contest, of course, but I am the one everybody congratulates. They come up to me politely, telling me what a pretty little thing I am. They have always been of the opinion that there is too much class division in this great country. It’s good to see a working girl get noticed. Or some such thing as that.
“I would have voted for that comely maid,” I overhear one man saying, “if only I had known that I could.”
“So would I,” says another.
Then Brody is by my side again.
“Come on, Lorelei, it’s a Charleston,” he says, holding out a hand to me.
“Oh, Brody, I shouldn’t!”
“Why not? Angel is dancing with the birthday boy, and Roman is dancing with Gloria. So you’re my prize.”
“Sure, go ahead,” the people standing nearby, say to me.
“You earned it, dear.”
“Dance with the next master of the house.”
And so we do the Charleston, Brody and I. I am immediately so swept away with the excitement of the moment that I forget who and where I am. I don’t care who the IT girl is, or who is watching us or what they are thinking. Brody and I flail our arms, kick up our heels, and knock our knees together. I twirl my beads like I’ve been doing it all my life, and we laugh so hard we can hardly breathe.
When the dance ends I become aware that we have an audience circled around us, and they clap as we finish, red in the face from our efforts.
“You’re a natural dancer,” Brody compliments me, as our fans make a path for us. “You simply absorb the music, and let it move you.”
“I have a good teach…”
I stop in mid-word because Angel is suddenly in front of me, smiling of course.
“Lor…eee,” she coos. “I was looking for you. I need you.”
Only then do I realize that Brody and I are holding hands. I drop his hand and fall back to Earth. “Of course, Miss Angel. What can I do for you?”
“I need a minor adjustment, darling,” she says, still smiling. She leans over and whispers in my ear, “I think my brassiere has busted.”
The possibility of such an occurrence seems highly unlikely to me, but I don’t express that thought. Instead I say, “Let’s go check it out.”
“I don’t know what I would do without my personal maid!” she says to the people around us. “Lorie is the best maid in the world.”
Brody is no longer smiling as he watches this exhibition. In fact, there is an expression on his face that I have never seen before. I don’t know how to read it.
Then Luke is pushing his way to my side. “Ducky dance, Lorelei,” says he. “May I have the next one?”
With that, Angel tugs my arm and walks briskly out of the ballroom, into the foyer of the main house, and up the stairs to her bedroom, with me trotting along behind her.
Once we are alone she does not conceal her anger. Her blue eyes are shooting sparks. “Where did you meet Luke Wayne?”
“How do you know him?”
Because I am annoyed, I know I must pick my words carefully. After all, I can’t call her a nosy old lady.
“I have a personal life, Miss Angel, that has nothing to do with work.”
“And you meet airedales like Luke Wayne in this so-called personal life?” she sputters, and spits the p sound. “How is that possible?”
“Uh…let me see your brassiere, Miss Angel,” I say. “Maybe I can repair it.”
“Don’t be a bunny!” she comes back. “There’s nothing wrong with my…”
Suddenly she sinks onto the side of her bed, seeming exhausted.
I don’t fully comprehend her distress, but I feel I must swallow my sense of indignation for the moment, and try to calm her.
“Luke Wayne is related to an old friend of mine,” I say.
This could very well be true, so I don’t feel that I am actively lying to her. She just looks at me with those burning eyes, and seems to be waiting for more.
“This friend is Dr. Wayne, who went to the Appalachian Mountains to help the poor,” I go on, “and he has tended my family since I was a child.”
“Oh,” Angel says, her anger appearing to fizzle a bit. “So you are from a very poor
Of course she wants me to be poor, backward. For then how could I possibly be competition? But is this because of Brody? At the moment she seems more interested in Luke.
“Men like Brody and Luke….” She abruptly stops herself from finishing that sentence, and stands. She walks to the window, and picks up a new subject. “One day I will be the lady of this house. Don’t you think it’s a grand house?”
“Yes indeed,” I say.
“I can see a lot from this window,” she goes on. “Sometimes I see people walking together late at night down the long driveway.”
Oh..hh, she saw us. That’s why Brody didn’t come out to walk with me again.
“Men like Brody and Luke,” she gets back to her previous thought, “and Roman too, you know what I mean? Very wealthy men?”
I say nothing as I wait for her to continue. She still does not look at me, but remains at the window.
“They can have anything in the world they want, and that gets boring.” She hesitates before going on. “So men like that have flings with girls like you all the time, even after they’re married. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“Girls like me?” I say, my voice quivering with anger. “What do you mean by ‘girls like me’?”
She swivels on her heel and faces me, but she doesn’t attempt to explain herself.
“Yes, I am poor,” I manage to say, “but I don’t like what you are insinuating.”
She glares at me. I glare back.
“Are we through here?” I finally ask.
She nods, and I leave the room quickly. I go down the stairs and stand in the foyer trying to collect my wits before returning to the party. I take long, deep breaths to clear my head. Roman walks by holding the hand of a pretty blond girl, who looks to be no more than fifteen, but she has to be older than that to be invited to the party.
“Oh, it’s her!” the girl says when she sees me. “The IT maid!” She giggles and loses her balance. “Ooo..oops!”
Roman steadies her. “Lorie, my love, you’re quite the hoofer,” he says and winks at me. “And you said you couldn’t dance.”
He leads the girl outside where I imagine she needs the fresh air. I go back to the ballroom. Ellie and Marie fall all over me, hugging and congratulating me.
“We were invisible,” Ellie whispers. “And you brought us to light.”
“Yeah,” Marie says. “The guests are suddenly speaking to us, like they didn’t realize until now that we are actually people.”
Even Jill, with whom I have exchanged only a few words, comes by and pats me on the back. “On behalf of Marge and Delia, and all maids everywhere,” she says. “Nice goin’.”
At that moment Mrs. Myles slips over silently and says in a low voice, “Now, girls, you’ve had a bit of excitement, but it’s time to get back to work. Bring out the sweets.”
When Angel comes back to the party, she has taken off her head piece, and is wearing a different dress. It’s very short and very red. At midnight she and Brody get together for a waltz, and I watch her lay her little blond head against his broad shoulder. I try to turn my attention to something else, but I am riveted.
I think if I were lucky enough to become Brody’s bride, I would make him so happy in bed it would never enter his mind to have a fling with anybody else. At that moment I find him looking back at me over the top of Angel’s head. For a split second I imagine that I see my own pain reflected there. I turn away.
When the dance is over, Brody disappears, and Angel dances with Luke several times. Luke seems to have given up on me, and I am relieved. We don’t see Brody again. Angel comments that perhaps he had too much to drink, but I don’t think that’s true. He didn’t even seem to be tipsy. It’s after two-thirty when the last guest leaves. I accompany Angel upstairs, and ask her if I should lay out a nightgown for her.
“No, thanks. “But…Lorie?”
“Yes, Miss Angel?”
“Perhaps it would be best if…you know, if we forget about our earlier conversation. Capiche?” she says, and gives me an uncertain smile.
It’s the first time I’ve heard that word, but I get it. “Capiche,” I respond.
I go back to the ballroom to see if I can help clean up, but I find nobody there except Mrs.
Myles, and she is headed for the stairs on her way to bed.
“Just leave the rest of the mess until morning, Lorie,” she says. “I’ve sent the other girls to bed, and you may go as well. No need to get up before ten.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” I say.
I have almost reached the door when she calls to me, “Oh, will you check to see if all the candles have been outed on the terrace?”
It’s a beautiful night. A full moon throws its broad beams into the terrace. A few candles
have been left burning, and as I go around blowing them out, I think I hear music. I investigate and find the victrola by the sideboard has been left on. Paul Whiteman’s famous waltz, Three O’Clock in the Morning, is playing. Instead of shutting it off, I place the needle back at the beginning of the record, turn it up just a notch, and listen. I close my eyes, and imagine myself waltzing with Brody.
“One, two, three. One, two, three,” I whisper as I sway back and forth where I am standing.
“May I have this dance?” a voice comes out of the darkness.
I am startled and let out a cry. To encounter Brody in the moonlight while a waltz is playing – it’s surely a dream. But no, it’s actually him sitting there in the shadows, watching me.
“Sorry,” he says as he stands up. “Didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Why are you sitting here in the dark?” I ask.
“Just thinking,” he says, “and listening to the music.”
He takes my right hand. “We didn’t get to waltz together, did we, Lorelei?”
I am suddenly so weak, I feel as if there are no bones in my body.
“Place your left hand on my shoulder like this,” he says.
I do as he says.
“And I place my right hand here on your waist,” he says, as he does so.
Then he tells me how to move my feet.
“Glide, two, three,” he says, “glide, two, three. “That’s it. You catch on so easily.”
He hums along with the music as we dance. The smell and nearness of him are intoxicating. His right hand moves up my back to pull me close to him.
“Actually,” he says, “I was sitting here watching for you to come out.”
I close my eyes and rest my cheek on his chest. His heart is thundering. His breath is rapid against my forehead. Then we are no longer dancing at all, simply standing very close,
“Lorelei,” he barely whispers, and his lips are slipping down my cheek.
I raise my face to him, and our lips, upon touching, are slightly parted. His taste is sweet. He pulls me tight against him, and I slip my hands at last around that princely brown neck. Our lips meet again with passion. I have no thoughts, only feelings, as Brody and I cling to each other and kiss in the moonlight.
Suddenly our magic moment is shattered by a harsh voice. “Who is out here!”
Electric lights flood the terrace. We slacken our grip on one another, but stand rooted to the spot. It doesn’t occur to me to move away from Brody because I have been so cruelly jolted from this dream, I can’t think of anything except what I have lost.
It’s Mr. Myles. “What is this?” he cries, as he stands there studying us.
Brody finally steps away from me, and says to his father, “What are you doing here?”
“I could ask the same of you,” Mr. Myles says.
“We were dancing,” Brody says.
Mr. Myles walks closer, narrows his eyes first at me, then at Brody, and back to me again. I am uncomfortable under his scrutiny.
“I should go,” I mumble, then turn quickly toward the exit. I glance back only once and see Brody and his father still standing there, face to face.