Read Summer of Dreams Online

Authors: Elizabeth Camden

Tags: #FIC042030, #FIC027050, #FIC042040

Summer of Dreams

Cover
Title Page
Copyright Page

© 2016 by Dorothy Mays

Published by Bethany House Publishers

11400 Hampshire Avenue South

Bloomington, Minnesota 55438

www.bethanyhouse.com

Bethany House Publishers is a division of

Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan

www.bakerpublishinggroup.com

Ebook edition created 2016

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

ISBN 978-1-4412-6983-6

Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.

This is a work of historical reconstruction; the appearances of certain historical figures are therefore inevitable. All other characters, however, are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Cover design by Jennifer Parker

1

W
EST
P
OINT
, N
EW
Y
ORK
, 1886

Y
ou want me to do what to a birdcage?”

Clyde Brixton stood in the superintendent’s office at the United States Military Academy at West Point, not quite certain he understood the bizarre order correctly. Superintendent Draper sat behind the imposing mahogany desk flanked by two American flags.

“General White’s daughter wants a fountain added to her birdcage, and you are going to build it for her. Or would you prefer to have your disciplinary hearing now, instead of at the beginning of the next semester?”

Clyde swallowed hard. If the hearing was held before he had a chance to work off his demerits, Clyde would be expelled from West Point. No cadet was allowed more than two hundred demerits, and as of this morning, Clyde had just hit that dangerous number. He hadn’t expected the penalty for his jaunt to Washington to cost a staggering forty demerits, and his academic career was hanging by a thread. Working
off demerits was possible, but difficult. In Clyde’s case, it was going to involve pandering to the general’s spoiled daughter.

“You are going to build the general’s daughter a fountain in her birdcage, or we will proceed to an expulsion hearing immediately. Is that understood?”

After three years at West Point, Clyde knew there was only one correct response. “Yes, sir.”

“You have yet to demonstrate the ability to follow orders,” the superintendent barked. “You started collecting demerits your first week on campus by dismantling the Olsen canon and putting it on the dormitory roof, just to see if it could be done. Then came insulting the library’s collection of chemistry texts. Then carousing on the Fourth of July. You knew you had an appalling number of demerits, but you still went traipsing off to Washington on a lark. It was reckless and irresponsible.”

Not if Clyde wanted to get his patent filed before a rival team of inventors in Baltimore beat him to the patent office. Clyde’s design for a safety switch on an electrical fuse was a meaningful contribution to the field, but he had plenty of competition. Inventors bombarded the patent office daily. He couldn’t afford to wait the three weeks until a formal leave of absence was granted. He was only a year away from graduation, but he was willing to risk it all in exchange for getting that patent filed ahead of the Baltimore team working on a similar idea.

“Yes, sir. It was irresponsible,” Clyde said, but the triumph he’d felt when that patent-pending documentation had been handed to him still brought a surge of pride. It was hard to suppress the twitch of his mouth, the nascent beginnings of a smile.

Superintendent Draper noticed. “You think this is funny, Brixton? Maybe I’ve been too generous offering you the opportunity to work off the demerits. I can assemble the disciplinary council and proceed to a hearing immediately.”

“No, sir. I’m happy to work them off, sir.” Panic clouded the
edges of Clyde’s vision, and he fought to hold his breathing steady. “Please, sir. West Point is all I’ve got.”

He had no money, no connections, and his widowed mother was barely scraping by until Clyde could graduate and begin getting money to her. His only advantage in the world was a sharp mind capable of grasping the rapidly evolving concepts in engineering. It made him a valuable asset to the army and had earned him a coveted appointment to the U.S. Military Academy. He had already won the right to work alongside military engineers as they designed plans to lay telegraph wires beneath riverbeds, a task far more challenging than any of his peers had been awarded. What twenty-one-year-old student in the country had such an opportunity?

Although the other cadets sometimes grumbled about the stodgy military rules, bland food, and rigorous academics, Clyde loved it here. West Point had dormitories with roofs that did not leak and a mess hall with bottomless pots of nourishing food. They provided brand-new uniforms and shoes with no holes in them. He wouldn’t leave before earning that degree, even if it meant building the general’s spoiled daughter the Taj Mahal of birdcages.

“I will complete my final year without a single demerit, sir. And I will gladly build the general’s daughter a fountain for her birdcage, dollhouse, or any other toy she desires.”

For the first time this morning, there was a slight softening of the superintendent’s ruddy features. “Your engineering abilities are the sole reason we’ve tolerated you,” he said. “If it were up to me, you would have been kicked out after that stunt with the canon, but General White needs men like you in the Corps of Engineers. I’m warning you in advance: the general has no tolerance for impulsive or reckless engineers. So build his pretty little daughter a fountain for her birdcage, and if you impress him, perhaps you’ll have a shot at an appointment to
the Corps of Engineers. Otherwise, the army simply has no use for men like you.”

Clyde breathed a sigh of relief as he accepted a card with the general’s address. Building a child’s birdcage had no place within his ambitious daydreams, but he’d happily jump through whatever hoops were necessary to salvage his position at West Point.

Evelyn felt the muscles in her face tighten as she stared at the note from West Point, informing her of the imminent arrival of Cadet Clyde Brixton, who would assist her with the installation of a hydraulic pump for her fountain. Her jaw clenched, and she was tempted to rip the note to shreds, but to the outside world, she knew she looked as serene as a statue of the Madonna.

Evelyn was accustomed to suppressing any visible show of emotion, even though today had delivered a series of crushing blows, beginning with the letter from her father this morning. He had bluntly refused to pay her college tuition to Yale, even though the college was willing to admit her to next year’s class of freshmen students. All her life, Evelyn had hungered for the realms of pure elation that came from immersing herself in the world of learning, but if her father had his way, she would suffocate in the miasma of afternoon teas and the social obligations expected of a hostess. He insisted the study of science and engineering was unladylike and refused to send his only daughter into a man’s field for which she was biologically unsuited.

Biologically unsuited
. Those were the exact words he’d used in his letter. How would her father know about her suitability for anything? Over the past ten years, he had been in West Point less than an accumulated total of six months. Her childhood had been spent migrating like a seasonal bird among the houses of various relatives while he traveled the nation to oversee the
design and installation of the country’s most impressive engineering projects. Now she was eighteen years old and craved the chance to go to college, but it looked as though that would never happen—unless she could somehow convince her father she had a genuine aptitude for engineering.

Perhaps it had been a mistake to write to him for advice, but she’d thought engaging him in a correspondence on the design of a hydraulic pump, complete with a pressurized piston, relief valve, and a cistern, would demonstrate her technical abilities. Her pump had worked fairly well, but it had failed after only a few hours of operation, and prompting her to ask for his advice.

Instead of answering her question, her father apparently made arrangements to send an engineering cadet from West Point to install a proper pump for her. She glared at the note. Clyde Brixton would arrive this afternoon to inspect her work, make the necessary adjustments, and pat her on the head.

She wasn’t going to let him in. It was important to show her father she had no need for a West Point cadet to come riding to her rescue. Not that a successful hydraulic pump would win her father’s approval for college, but it
would
force him to admit she had a capable mind. With cool poise, she folded the note and inserted it back into the envelope. She opened the desk drawer with whisper-soft grace and deposited the note inside, closing the drawer soundlessly. No show of childish tantrum, no volatile emotions. She had a mission to accomplish, and pointless outbursts of emotion would not help remedy her failing pump.

She withdrew a fat volume on hydraulic engineering written by an English inventor who had designed the fountains at Buckingham Palace, then set to work revising her design. Even now, she could hear the trickle of water from the backyard, where her rudimentary pump labored to propel water up and over a series of rock formations she and her cousin had carefully designed.

The doorbell rang precisely at two o’clock, but Evelyn did not
lift her head from the pages spread out on the desk before her. The young cadet was punctual, but she had no need of his help. The scratching of her pencil did not even falter at the interruption.

The doorbell sounded again. It was Sunday and the maid’s day off, so there was no one to answer the door and send him away. She held her breath, hoping he would leave. She didn’t like being rude, but if she accepted his help, it would confirm her father’s belief that she was incapable of solving a rudimentary engineering problem on her own.

When the doorbell rang a third time, she sighed and closed the book on English fountain design. If the English could survive invasions from the Celts, the Vikings, and the Spanish Armada, she could handle a lone cadet from West Point. Besides, sitting here like a sulky child was needlessly rude to a young man who did not deserve her ire.

She set down her pencil and left the library, walking through the perfectly symmetrical hallway to the front door. Like all houses built in the Federal design, there was a rigid formality to the floor plan, with identically proportioned rooms on each side of the straight hallway. The redbrick home was shaped like a perfect box, an homage to the principles of rational design. Evelyn thought it an homage to lack of imagination, but her father’s position required a certain amount of respectability.

The doorbell had just rung for a fourth time when Evelyn opened the door to a young man in the gray uniform of a West Point cadet. He was quite handsome, with finely molded features, clear blue eyes, and dark blond hair cut short in military precision. His tanned face spoke of good health, and he looked like someone who enjoyed being alive. Were he not a West Point cadet, Evelyn would have found him attractive.

“Can I help you?” she said politely, even though she knew very well what he was here for, and she had no intention of cooperating.

“I’m here about a birdcage,” the young man said.

She wrinkled her brow in confusion. “A birdcage? Why would we want a birdcage?”

“I gather General White’s daughter has a birdcage. She wants a fountain installed in it. I am here to help.”

A reluctant laugh broke from her. To call her exotic experiment in the backyard a
birdcage
was the understatement of the century, but not entirely inaccurate. “Is my father really calling it a birdcage?”

He blinked in confusion. “Are you General White’s daughter?”

“I am.”

A flush stained his cheeks, and he stood a bit straighter. “M-my apologies, ma’am,” he stammered. “I assumed General White’s daughter was a child.”

So did General White
. “I’m sorry for the misunderstanding, and even sorrier that your Sunday has been pointlessly interrupted. I am quite capable of designing the necessary hydraulic pump and won’t keep you from enjoying the rest of your day.”

“Can I see it? I’ve never seen a hydraulic pump small enough to fit inside a birdcage, and I’m curious.”

There was no condescension in the young man’s face, only genuine interest, and Evelyn always felt an immediate connection with someone who shared her love of a clever design. It wasn’t the cadet’s fault her father was such a troglodyte about women’s education, so she opened the door wide. “Come on back and I’ll show you.”

Perhaps it was vain to be so proud of the architectural and technical marvel she and her cousin had been building in her backyard, but this project meant a lot to her. The
birdhouse
was actually a spectacular greenhouse that sheltered a variety of exotic plants, butterflies, and now hummingbirds. She and Romulus had been working on it for years.

“Here is my birdhouse,” she said as she opened the door to
reveal the enormous greenhouse. It was a paradise under glass, with soaring Gothic arches painted white and looking like the closest thing to heaven Evelyn could imagine. The glass panes glinted in the sunlight, and the inside of the greenhouse was filled with palms and lime trees imported from Florida, orchids from South America, and newly hatched swallowtail butterflies. The greenhouse’s latest residents were four hummingbirds Romulus had impulsively caught for her.

Hummingbirds were the most elusive of birds, seeming to appear from nowhere in a whir of buzzing sound, hovering in the air while sampling a bit of nectar, then zooming out of view just as quickly. When Evelyn had mentioned that she fancied a chance to study them more closely, Romulus had taken up the challenge, capturing four hummingbirds merely to prove he could do it.

Evelyn walked into the greenhouse, enjoying the look of wonder on the cadet’s face as he stepped inside and felt the warm air. He looked as though he had just stepped into an Arcadian paradise, which was rather how she herself felt each time she visited the greenhouse.

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