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By Judith McCoy Miller
Barbour Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 1997 Barbour Publishing, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Charlie Banion stared down at the list of names scribbled on his calendar; Mary had scheduled five interviews starting at one o'clock. Allowing a half-hour for each, he could still catch the four o'clock train and be in Florence for dinner. Hopefully this group would be better than the last. He had been at this three days now and still hadn't met the quota he needed for the remaining railroad jobs. No doubt the boss was going to be unhappy with his lack of success.
Might as well get a bite to eat before I start again, he thought, wishing the afternoon was already behind him. Tapping his pencil on the large wooden desk, he leaned back in his chair and wondered why it had been so difficult to find the employees he was looking for this time. It was easy enough locating general laborers to lay track, but now they needed some good, reliable men with mechanical skills to keep the trains running. His attempt to find the caliber of employees they were looking for had failed, especially when the applicants were told they would have to relocate to smaller towns.
"Sitting here thinking about it isn't going to accomplish anything," he mumbled to himself, walking toward the office door.
"I'll be back in time for my one o'clock appointment, Mary," he said, striding past the secretary's desk.
"Yes, Sir. I'll put the file on your desk," she answered. He didn't even glance her way as he nodded his head up and down in affirmation.
"Isn't he the most handsome thing you've ever seen?" Mary inquired of the short, round brunette sitting at the desk across the room.
"I guess. That is, if you like single men who are six feet tall with broad shoulders, wavy black hair, and slate gray eyes," she answered, both of them giggling at her response.
"He doesn't seem to notice me at all," Mary complained, "even though I take forever primping for work when I know he'll be around."
"Maybe he's got a gal at one of the other stations or back East somewhere," Cora volunteered, aware that most men found it difficult to overlook Mary Wilson, even when she didn't primp for hours.
"I'd even be willing to share him with one of those eastern society women. At least until I get him hooked," Mary responded, pushing back from her desk. "Guess I'll go to lunch too. Maybe I can find a seat next to Mr. Banion. Keep an eye on things until I get back," she ordered Cora, who sat looking after her with a look of envy and admiration etched on her face.
* * *
Tessie Wilshire stared out the window of the clacking train, unable to keep her mind from racing. The newly bloomed columbine and wild flax were poking their blossoms toward the sun after a long cold winter. Fields of winter wheat appeared in shades of bright green, giving the countryside the appearance of a huge well-manicured lawn.
In about three months this will be a sea of golden yellow ready for the threshers and harvest crews, she thought. She had forgotten the beauty of these wheat fields and the Kansas prairie. It was hard to believe that she had been gone so long, and yet, things hadn't changed so very much. I've missed it more than I realized, she mused, trying to keep herself from thinking about the upcoming interview.
Always a pretty child, Tessie's age had enhanced her beauty even more. The red hair of her youth had turned a deep coppery shade, and the freckles of her childhood had finally given way to a flawless creamy complexion. Her bright blue eyes were accented by long golden lashes, and her full lips turned slightly upward, punctuated by a small dimple at each side.
"Topeka. Next stop Topeka," came the conductor's call as he made his way down the narrow aisle between the seated passengers.
Tessie felt herself stiffen at the announcement. In an effort to relax, she took a deep breath and said softly, "I'm going to be fine. I know this is where God wants me."
"Watch your step, Miss," the conductor instructed, extending his hand to assist Tessie as she stepped down from the train.
"Thank you. Could you tell me where I might find Mr. Banion's office?" she inquired, pulling on her gloves.
"He would be in the stationmaster's office, Miss. Just go in the main door and turn to your right," he replied, thinking it had been a long time since he had seen such a beauty.
Tessie clicked open the small brooch pinned to her lapel. The timepiece hidden inside revealed the fact that she had only a few moments to spare. Quickening her step, she turned and walked toward the office identified by the conductor.
* * *
"Is the last one here yet, Mary?" Charlie Banion called from the stationmaster's office.
"Haven't seen anyone. You want me to show him in when he gets here?" she asked, posing against the doorway to his office in an effort to gain his attention.
"That'll be fine," he answered, not looking in her direction. Only one more left, he thought, and I'll be out of here. At least the afternoon hadn't been a total waste. He had hired three of the last four applicants. If they didn't need a doctor so badly at the Florence train yard, he would be tempted to call it a day.
* * *
Seeing the look of frustration on Mary's face as she returned to her desk, Cora shrugged her shoulders at the other woman. "Maybe he's not feeling well," she offered.
"Right!" came Mary's sarcastic response as she plopped down in her chair and watched a beautiful redhead walking toward the door.
"Good afternoon. I'm Tessie Wilshire. I believe Mr. Banion is expecting me at three o'clock," she announced, glancing from Mary to Cora, not sure which one was in charge.
"Don't think so. The Harvey Girls are interviewed next door in the restaurant office," Mary answered in an aloof tone.
"I'm not sure what a Harvey Girl is, but my appointment is with Mr. Charles Banion for three o'clock. I received a letter over a month ago scheduling this appointment," Tessie replied, fearing there had been a mix-up and she had traveled to Topeka for nothing.
"Mr. Banion doesn't interview for Mr. Harvey. I don't think they're even taking applications right now. The new women finished training yesterday, and they're leaving on the next train," Mary advised haughtily, irritated by the woman's persistence.
"I'm trying to explain to you that my appointment is with Mr. Banion. I have never heard of Mr. Harvey," Tessie said, trying to hold her temper but wishing she could shake some sense into the secretary's head.
Hearing the commotion in the outer office, Charlie walked to the doorway. "What seems to be the problem, Mary?" he asked, locking eyes with the gorgeous redhead standing in front of the secretary's desk.
"She says she has an appointment with you, Mr. Banion. I told her the Harvey Girls are interviewed next door, but she won't listen. Keeps insisting she's to meet with you," his secretary answered, her exasperation obvious.
"Mr. Banion," Tessie said, extending her hand, "I am Dr. Wilshire, and I believe we have a three o'clock appointment."
"Indeed we do, Miss ... uh, Dr. Wilshire. Please come in," he replied, ushering her into his office and then turning to give Mary a glare.
"I didn't know ...," came the secretary's feeble reply as the door closed behind them. She slowly slid down into her chair, her jaw gone slack in astonishment at the turn of events.
"How was I supposed to know?" she hissed at Cora.
"It'll be all right. He'll understand. Anybody could have made the same mistake," Cora replied, attempting to cheer her friend.
* * *
"Have a seat, Dr. Wilshire," Charlie offered, moving to the other side of the desk. "I must admit that I'm as surprised as my secretary. I didn't realize you were a woman ... well, I mean I realize you're a woman, but I didn't know ...," he stammered.
"It's quite all right, Mr. Banion. I gather you've not studied my application," she said, giving him a bright smile that caused his heart to skip a beat.
"To be honest, I've been conducting interviews for several days now, and I must admit I didn't look at any of the files for today's interviews," he responded, somewhat embarrassed by his lack of preparation. "I usually don't take such a lackadaisical attitude, but interviewing is not a job I particularly enjoy. After several days, it loses absolutely all appeal," he continued in an attempt to redeem himself.
"I'm sure it can become quite tiring," she stated. "Of course, for those of us being interviewed, it's a very important appointment," she said, a hint of criticism edging through her soft tone.
"I realize that, and I do apologize. If I'd done my homework, it would have saved everyone needless discomfort," he answered, flipping open her application file.
"I can assure you that Mr. Vance is aware I'm not a man. I met him on one of his visits to Chicago, and we've written on several occasions. When he discovered I was from Kansas, he encouraged me to apply for this position," she responded, realizing Mr. Banion was flustered and somewhat embarrassed by the whole scenario.
"So you've already met the president of the Santa Fe. He's always on the lookout for capable employees," Charlie replied.
Watching as he hastily read through her file, Tessie settled back in the overstuffed chair. Although the office décor was masculine, it was an inviting room. The large desk was of a rich mahogany with matching chair. A table along the north wall was ornately carved from the same wood and held several stacks of papers and files, the only site of disarray throughout the office. Oil paintings in ornate gilded frames were tastefully displayed on several walls. Tessie noticed a picture of Mr. Vance and several austere looking gentlemen standing in front of a locomotive. In the picture, Mr. Vance appeared somewhat younger and much more pompous than the man she had met in Chicago.
"It seems your application is in order, and I have only a few questions, Dr. Wilshire," Charlie commented, startling Tessie, who had become absorbed in her surroundings. "Sorry. I didn't mean to alarm you," he said, noting she had jumped at the sound of his voice.
"I must have been daydreaming. The trip was more tiring than I anticipated," she responded, bringing her eyes directly forward to meet his. "What questions did you wish to ask me?" she inquired with great formality.
"I have a list of specific questions I ask the men applying for positions with the railroad, but I don't think those would apply to you," he said with a smile, hoping to ease the procedure. "Why are you interested in working for the railroad?" he asked.
"I believe it's where God wants me to practice medicine," she quickly responded, sitting so straight that she appeared to have a rod down her back.
"Well, that's one I've not heard before. I've been told it's where someone's wife or mother wants him to work, but I've never heard the railroad being where God wanted anyone," he said with a chuckle.
"You needn't laugh at me, Mr. Banion," Tessie retorted, her cheeks turning flush and her back becoming even more rigid.
"I'm not laughing at you, Dr. Wilshire, and I'm not doubting the honesty of your statement. If you say God wants you with the Santa Fe Railroad, who am I to argue? Besides, your file reflects the necessary credentials and a letter of recommendation from Mr. Vance. There's really nothing for me to do except tell you the job is yours if you want it," he said, hoping to complete the interview without making her an enemy.
"Since you've offered the position, I have a few questions for you, Mr. Banion," she responded, her voice lacking much warmth.
"Please, call me Charlie," he requested. "I'll be glad to answer any questions if you'll grant that one concession," he said while giving her a beseeching look.
"Fine," she responded. "I need to know when I am to report for the position, what the living accommodations are in the community, and of course, what my salary will be," she answered without using his name in any form.
"Well, Tessie—may I call you Tessie since you've agreed to call me Charlie?" he asked, watching for her reaction.
"That will be fine," she replied, though not meeting his eyes.
"Good, because we'll probably be seeing quite a bit of each other, and I much prefer being on a first-name basis with people. I don't hold much stock in ..."
"Mr. Banion ... Charlie, I've agreed we'll be on a first-name basis if I accept the position. If you'll answer my questions, I'll be able to decide if I want to accept the offer," she interrupted.
"You told me God wants you working for the Santa Fe, Tessie, and I've offered you that opportunity. You can hardly turn it down, can you?" he said with a grin. "Oh, all right. I'll answer your questions," he continued, seeing that she was becoming exasperated with him. "The position begins immediately. You can catch the four o'clock train if I'm through answering your questions by then. If not, you'll have to catch the ten o'clock. The salary is $150 a month, and the railroad furnishes your house. No choice on the house; it belongs to the railroad."
"You don't really expect me to begin today, do you?" she queried, her eyes wide in disbelief.
"Yes, I thought you understood that when a position was offered, employment was immediate. Isn't that what your letter stated?"
"Well, yes, but I didn't think it—I suppose I should have made arrangements," she stated, her voice full of hesitation.
"Are you accepting the position, Dr. Wilshire?" Charlie inquired with some of the formality she had exhibited earlier.
"Yes, but I'll need to make arrangements to have my belongings sent if I must start immediately," she answered, hoping he would grant some leniency.
"It's not my rule. I'd allow you as much time as you need, but it's a rule enforced for all new employees. There's no problem about your belongings, though. The railroad will ship them for you free of charge. Just a little added benefit," he remarked, not sure she was convinced he couldn't bend the rule.
"We have about thirty minutes before the train leaves. Have you had a chance to eat?" he asked.
"No, but I'm not hungry," she answered. "I'll wait until I get to Florence."
"Well, in that case, perhaps you'll join me for dinner?"
"You're going to Florence?" she queried.
"Sure am. I'm the operations manager, which means I spend a lot of time there keeping things on schedule, so you'll be seeing a lot of me," he responded with a grin, hoping she would be pleased.
"I'll need to purchase a ticket and send word to my family that I've accepted the position. Since you're going to Florence, I suppose you'll be available to answer any other inquiry I might have," she said with a question in her voice.
"You can be assured that I will make myself available to you whenever and wherever you request," he answered, his gray eyes twinkling.
She wasn't sure if he was making fun of her but decided it wasn't important enough to bother with. "If the interview is over, Mr. Banion," she began, rising from the chair.
"Charlie. Remember you said you'd call me Charlie," he reminded, coming around the side of the desk. "As far as I'm concerned, the interview is over, but you need not rush to buy a ticket. Your travel on the railroad is free. Another benefit of the job," he said, escorting her to the door.
"May I at least buy you a cup of coffee after you've sent your message home?" he invited as they walked through the outer office.
"I suppose that would be acceptable," she replied, though her voice lacked much enthusiasm at the prospect.
"I'll meet you next door at the Harvey House when you've finished," he responded.
Had he not been looking at her back and observed the slight nod of her head, he wouldn't have known she even heard him speak. Staring after her as she walked across the room, he was unable to remember when he had been quite so impressed with a young woman.
"Did you have any letters you needed me to take care of?" Mary asked, attempting to regain Charlie's attention.
"What? Oh, yes, I need to get a letter written to Mr. Vance advising him of the new employees I've hired," he responded.
When he had finished dictating the letter, Mary's worst fears were confirmed. He had hired the stunning redhead, and the possibility of snagging a marriage proposal out of Charlie Banion was going to be more difficult than she had anticipated.
Excerpted from Woven Threads by Judith McCoy Miller. Copyright © 1997 Barbour Publishing, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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