Quinn Stockton pulled her cloak tighter around her shoulders and braced herself against the brisk March wind as she trod down the street. She remembered how only a short time ago she'd never walked to town, much less on a street such as this. Then she was driven anywhere she wanted to go in her father's buggy behind two prancing stallions.
Thinking about what life was like before hurt too much so she shook her head and looked at her surroundings. Last night's light snow covering made the bleak houses look almost pristine. As she trudged forward, not bothering to lift her skirts to prevent them from getting wet, she fought threatening tears. What was she going to do now? Barrington's Mercantile had been the last business on her list. Her last hope of finding a job within walking distance of home.
Home. She shuddered when she thought of the shabby place where her family now lived.
How had the Stocktons come to this? Though they'd only been in this house six months, it seemed like a lifetime since they'd lived on one of the better streets in Philadelphia. Now they were in a ramshackle cottage on a street she and her sisters were afraid to walk down at night. A cottage their father's cousin Otis never let them forget he allowed them to use rent free until Papa got back on his feet. Why he'd made this arrangement with their father, she didn't understand and Papa wouldn't say.
But Quinn knew Papa would never be the same again. After her mother's death three years earlier, Papa turned to drink and had no interest in work. Things began to spiral downward for the Stocktons and Papa ended up broke, sick and jobless. For the last six months he'd lingered in bed in one of the two bedrooms in Cousin Otis's run-down cottage. The doctor said his bad heart would soon take Rodney Stockton out of this world, not only because he was too sick to get well, but also because he'd lost his will to live.
What would they do when something happened to Papa? Otis had made it clear that when Rodney died, the Stockton sisters would no longer be welcome in this house unless they could come up with the monthly rent he planned to charge. This worried the sisters daily.
Reaching the house, Quinn turned into the back yard. She wasn't ready to face her sisters since there was no way she could hide the fact she was depressed. Not only because she didn't find work, but also because Edna Barrington had been brutal and insulting. It wouldn't have been so hurtful if Mrs. Barrington had told her about her niece coming to live with her and stopped with that. But the storekeeper went on to say she didn't want a drunk's daughter working in her store and added since Quinn was near destitute she might be tempted to steal from the items in stock.
With Edna Barrington's words still stinging her, Quinn took a deep breath and stopped at the woodpile near a shed. They always needed more wood in the house and had a rule when anyone went outside they were to bring some in. She filled her arms with the split logs they used to cook and heat the house. As she stepped onto the porch and stomped the mud and snow off her boots, Deborah opened the back door.
"Thank you," Quinn muttered and dropped the split wood in the empty box beside the big iron cook stove, the only source of heat in the house. Straightening, she turned to face her eldest sister. "Were you going out?"
"I was headed to get wood. Thanks for getting some."
"I'm glad you split those logs yesterday. It looks like it's going to be cold for a while and we'll have to keep a fire going." Deborah nodded and closed the door. "How did it go at Barrington's?"
"I was afraid of that." Deborah sighed. "I might as well tell you up front, Otis came by to talk with Papa."
"What did he say?"
"They sent me out of the room, but I heard raised voices. I tried to listen, but couldn't understand them."
"Doesn't Otis realize Papa shouldn't get upset with his bad heart?"
"Really, Quinn, do you think Otis cares?" Deborah moved to the stove, opened the firebox and placed wood inside.
"Probably not." Quinn removed her cape and hung it on one of the hooks near the door. "Where's Marlene?"
"She's delivering the dress she sewed for Mrs. Rogers. What happened at Barrington's?"
Quinn decided it was best not to tell her sister how Edna Barrington referred to the Stockton girls as daughters of a drunk. "Mrs. Barrington's niece is moving to town and she says she'll have to let her work in the store. She couldn't afford to hire an outsider."
"You shouldn't have to be the one looking for work. After all, I'm the oldest."
"You know I like getting out and doing things more than cooking and sewing. Besides, somebody has to be here with Papa."
"Marlene will be here."
"But if she picks up more sewing, she'll have to be in and out and you know we can't leave Papa alone."
"I guess you're right." Deborah moved the pot of stew from the back to the front of the stove where the fire was hotter.
Quinn turned her head sideways as she got the makings of biscuits from the shelf beside the stove. "How's Papa?"
"I checked on him a few minutes before you got home and he was sleeping." Deborah picked up a wooden spoon and stirred the stew.
The back door rattled and Marlene stepped inside. "Hello, sisters." She dropped an arm full of wood into the box. "Mrs. Rogers loved the dress."
"Wonderful," Deborah said. "Did she order another one?"
"No, but Prudence Elliot was there and asked if I'd make a party dress for her." She wasn't smiling as she usually did when she sold a dress.
Deborah eyed her. "You don't seem happy about the work."
"You know Prudence used to be one of my friends, but it seemed she couldn't wait to throw it in my face that she wanted the dress so she could wear it to Ellen Simpson's birthday party."
"What did you say?"
"I wanted to tell her we might have lost our money, but we were still the same people who used to go to all the parties, too. But I didn't." Marlene shrugged. "I simply measured her and wrote it down, then she left."
"I would've had to remind her we were once part of her group," Quinn said.
Marlene shrugged. "When Mrs. Rogers paid me she said she was glad Miss Elliot was there so I could get another job. She also politely told me I shouldn't call her Prudence any longer, but to refer to her as Miss Elliot from now on."
"The damn women in this town are vicious," Quinn snapped.
"Watch your language, Quinn," Deborah chided.