On the Trail to Moonlight Gulch
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by Shelter Somerset
Category: Gay Fiction/Romance
Description: It's 1886, and Chicago is booming, but for nineteen-year-old Torsten Pilkvist, American-born son of Swedish immigrants, it's not big enough. After tragically losing a rare love, Tory immerses himself in the pages of a Wild West mail-order bride magazine, where he stumbles on the advertisement of frontiersman and Civil War veteran Franklin Ausmus. Torsten and Franklin begin an innocent correspondence--or as innocent as it can be, considering Torsten keeps his true gender hidden. But when his parents discover the letters, Tory is forced out on his own. With nowhere else to go, he boards a train for the Black Hills and Franklin's homestead, Moonlight Gulch. Franklin figures Tory for a drifter, but he's lonely after ten years of living in the backcountry alone, and his "girl" in Chicago has mysteriously stopped writing, so he hires Tory on as his ranch hand. Franklin and Tory grow closer while defending the land from outlaws who want the untapped gold in Franklin's creek, but then Franklin learns Tory's true identity and banishes Tory from his sight. Will their lives be forever tattered, or will Torsten--overhearing a desperate last-ditch scheme to snatch Franklin's gold--be able to save Moonlight Gulch and his final shot at love?
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2012 2012
eBookwise Release Date: May 2012
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [485 KB]
Reading time: 301-422 min.
Love smacked Torsten Pilkvist in the face like a sack of flour. He knew the moment Joseph van Werckhoven stepped off the hansom cab. Normally, Torsten paid scarce attention to the boarders his parents took in for ten dollars a week at their six-bedroom row house in the North Side of Chicago. But this time, Tory, watching from one of the guest room windows upstairs, could barely peel his eyes off the stranger from New York City.
Mr. van Werckhoven had traveled to Chicago to oversee the opening of his family's downtown drugstore. According to the telegram from Tory's second cousin in Brooklyn, a long-time housekeeper for the van Werckhovens, the store would be the family's first outside of New York. The Pilkvists had prepared for the gentleman with far more effort than for any other guest that Tory could remember. Fortunately for Tory, Chicago had grown so rapidly the past few years that local inns, already bulging with lodgers, could hold few newcomers. The well-to-do Mr. van Werckhoven had limited options of places to stay.
Fifteen years after the Great Fire of '71, Chicago had mushroomed to more than one million residents, surpassing Philadelphia and Brooklyn to become the nation's second-largest city. Buildings rivaling cathedrals were being constructed downtown. Some people were calling them "skyscrapers." Only five years old when the fire had spread across the city, Tory remembered little of the calamity. But he would never forget the anguished faces of the adults. Even in his neighborhood of River North, which the flames had spared, residents, including his parents, wore their somber expressions as tangibly as their derbies and bonnets. Perhaps that was why Tory had developed a profound fear of fire.
Yet the enthusiasm to rebuild soon eclipsed the city's despair. Survivors had said the fervor for renewal overtook the city almost as quickly as the fire had. Resurrected into action, residents and ambitious newcomers alike lifted the city from the smoldering ashes. The building frenzy continued unabated and seemed to grow with intensity each passing year. Joseph van Werckhoven, like hundreds of thousands like him, had ventured to Chicago to capitalize on that unstoppable growth. Peering at him while he paid the coachman, Tory was delighted he had.
The New Yorker nodded to the coachman and, with a crocodile valise clasped in each hand, ascended the marble steps. Tory dashed to the upstairs landing to gaze through the balusters while his mother greeted the debonair stranger at the door. The setting sun hadn't played tricks on Tory's eyes while he'd gazed from the window. The newcomer radiated masculine good looks. Taller than average, he stood above Tory's five-foot-one mother by at least eight inches.
"Good afternoon. I'm Joseph van Werckhoven." He slipped off his gloves and top hat and bowed his head.
"Ja, of course, we expect you. Please come in. I am Anna Pilkvist." She opened the heavy oak door wider and gestured for him to enter fully.
A typical flush heated Tory's cheeks when his mother greeted their new boarder. Her thick Swedish accent, sticking to her lips like molasses, was not always easy for outsiders to understand. Mr. van Werckhoven, obviously a gentleman, seemed unfazed. He nodded in acknowledgment of her kind words and mentioned how fortuitous that Heloise had recommended their home to his family.
"It will be so much nicer staying in a pleasant home than a stuffy hotel," he said.
"So glad Heloise write us about you," Mrs. Pilkvist said, looking up at the guest through batting eyelashes. "Heloise say only wonderful things about your family."
Mr. van Werckhoven set his luggage on the mahogany floor and gazed about the narrow entrance foyer, his expression cheerful and earnest. "I must say, Heloise failed to do your home justice in her descriptions. It's quite lovely."
From Tory's crouched position, he detected a pink hue germinating over his mother's pale cheeks. He wondered if she might not be playing coy. She smoothed the front of her bustled skirt and blushed some more. Laying the gentleman's frock and hat on the sideboard, she called for Tory using what he surreptitiously referred to as her "party" voice.
Tory jumped to his feet, checked his reflection in the hallway mirror, and patted his hair to make sure the pomade still kept the unruly waves in check. His heart pounding, he descended the stairs, careful not to appear overzealous.
"We run bakery next to house," Mrs. Pilkvist was telling the new boarder as Tory made his way downstairs, his sweaty hand dragging along the wooden handrail. "My husband there now working."
"Heloise mentioned your bakery." Mr. van Werckhoven raised his nose elegantly and inhaled. "I think I can smell it now."
"Folks come from as far away as Hyde Park and Douglas for our tasty lussebulle and tartas." She giggled. "You come at good time. Supper will be ready in about an hour, and afterward you can try some of our treats. We like to have cakes with tea and coffee for our guests in the parlor." She turned to Tory, standing on the bottom step. "Torsten, come meet our new boarder, Mr. Joseph van Werckhoven. This is man Heloise write us about. Mr. van Werckhoven, this is my Torsten."
It was as if the soles of Tory's gaiters were nailed to the wooden step. He could barely compel himself to move forward and accept Mr. van Werckhoven's outstretched hand. The guest stepped closer. Tory, trying his best not to ogle the man's shimmering cocoa-colored eyes, finally shook his hand. He hoped that the stranger would not notice his sweaty grip.
The man's touch sent a tremor along Tory's arm. Alarmed by the sensation, he let his hand drop by his side like a dead weight.
"It's a pleasure meeting you." Joseph's smile revealed a large set of even white teeth.
"Heloise tell me all about how nice your home is in New York City," Mrs. Pilkvist said. "She say it's like a palace. I hope that you will find ours to your liking."
"Heloise flatters us," Joseph said. "But there's nothing more splendid than a well-suited home for one's family, regardless of size."
"Ours suits us good," Mrs. Pilkvist said. "We bought it five years ago. We used to stay in small flat above bakery. We rent it to young couple now. Then we see the new row houses be built, so we buy one from bank. At first we think it too big for our family, especially since Tory's two sisters each had one foot down the aisle, but Mr. Pilkvist come up with idea to take in boarders. Chicago growing so fast, we think to make money off it."
Joseph chuckled. "It does seem the entire world is moving to Chicago. The train here was packed full, and with the most interesting types of people. My father and I hope to achieve as much success here in Chicago as your family has."
"Ja, your store will do good." Mrs. Pilkvist giggled and blushed. "I have no doubt."
"I'll make sure to toast all of our prosperous futures at supper," Joseph said. "You still live here with your parents, Torsten?"
For a moment, Tory had no idea the stranger had addressed him. So mesmerized he was by the man's dignified manner and looks that every sound seemed absorbed by the papered walls. His chestnut pompadour flipped stylishly over the top of his head, and the thick, curly mustache, precisely waxed, accentuated his soft lips. His shoulders, broad and sturdy, held aloft his lean body like a statue. And the lavender cologne rose from under the banded collar of his Coulter shirt as if he'd stepped from a garden. When Joseph repeated himself, Tory shook to attention. "Yes, I do still live here."
"Then you'll be taking supper with us?"
"We all usually eat with the boarders," Tory said. "Except Pappa. He's often busy in the bakery."
"Good, then you can tell me about your wonderful city. I'm eager to learn more."
"We have three other boarders who come from elsewhere too," Mrs. Pilkvist said. "They maybe tell you what they discovered about Chicago."
Joseph eyed Torsten. "I'd much rather learn from a native."
Tory's mother lifted her eyes to the high ceiling. "I never quite think of it that way. Tory is only one among us who is born here. Even his sisters all born in Sweden, although just babies when we come to America." She looked back to the guest. "In the meantime, Mr. van Werckhoven, we show you upstairs where you stay. Torsten, follow me with Mr. van Werckhoven's things."
"Yes, Mamma." Tory reached for Joseph's valises, but Joseph kept him from lifting the larger one by laying his hand on top of his. Another tremor traipsed along Tory's arm.
"Please, let me get that," Joseph said. Their faces were close enough Tory could smell the mint on his breath.
Tory slid his hand from under Joseph's. With the smaller valise clasped in his shaky hand, he followed his mother and the newcomer upstairs.
* * * *
The supper table vibrated with chatter. After three days without a fourth boarder, everyone appreciated the fresh energy. The usual boarders (Miss Clair Schuster, a young woman about Tory's age from Wisconsin; Mr. Anthony Dunlop, a standoffish and painfully bashful thirty-five-year-old engineer from Scotland; and Mr. Abner T. Raincliff, a middle-aged banker from Indiana) sat in their proper seats around the table, riveted on the newcomer. His wealth and standing had not eluded them. Mr. Dunlop seemed even shyer in his presence, and Mr. Raincliff harbored a cutting envy in his blue eyes.
Yet Clair Schuster's ogling upset Tory the most. She had begun flirting with him the moment they'd met in the parlor. He'd been embarrassed for Clair when she'd asked about Joseph's marital status. With a slight flush, Joseph had replied to her naive question that, even at twenty-six, he was still searching for "the right person."
Joseph seemed to take little notice of Clair Schuster's coquettish head-tilting and impish giggles. Tory wanted to fling a spoonful of his mashed potatoes at her. She had lodged with them for five weeks, waiting for a vacancy at one of the women's hotels. She worked as an assembler at an agricultural implements factory downtown. Tory wanted her gone once and for all.
"I've never been to New York City," she said in her infuriating crooning manner. "Is it as big as they say? Bigger than Chicago?"
"Yes, it is a bit bigger," Joseph said with a paternal air. "But the buildings seem taller here. I have a feeling once this new steel frame construction takes off back east, New York, perhaps even Boston, will catch up in no time."
"The building where I work on Polk Street is eleven stories," Mr. Raincliff said boastfully. "If you go to the top floor you can almost see clear down to the stockyards."
"Nothing that big in Sweden," Tory's father said from the head of the table, where he was already working on his second helping of roast beef. His duties in the bakery were yet unfinished, but he had told Tory and his mother he wanted to dine with their latest guest. Joseph van Werckhoven was the most distinguished boarder to stay under their roof, and he refused to forego a meal with him his first night.
He appeared as charmed by Mr. van Werckhoven's presence as everyone else, which meant a lot to Tory. His father, often unfairly judgmental, could cause Tory embarrassment with his abrupt manner. "Of course," he went on, "Mrs. Pilkvist and me haven't returned to Sweden since we left over twenty years ago. But the Swedes swarming into Chicago today say little has changed there."
"I read in the papers about the famine a few years ago," Joseph said, his mouth downturned with genuine empathy. "Hit Finland too, I believe."
"Ja," Mrs. Pilkvist said, shaking her head. "That's why so many come here. From Finland, Norway... all over Scandinavia."
"It's good they have a place like America to come to," Mr. Raincliff said in his gruff yet jovial voice.
"We are fortunate," Mr. Pilkvist said.
"That reminds me." Joseph raised his glass of merlot. The crystal glinted in the candlelit chandelier above the table. "I vowed earlier to toast all of our prosperities." He raised his glass higher. "To Chicago and the United States." He peered at Tory. "And to new friends."
"Hear, hear," the diners said in unison and clinked their glasses.
Only the Scottish man, Mr. Dunlop, remained quiet. He had barely raised his wine glass. He rarely partook in the conversations at the supper table unless directly addressed, and even then he responded with one or two words. As an engineer working for one of the larger architectural firms in town, Tory thought he should have much to share about the new construction projects taking place, a frequent subject at the supper table. But he almost never communicated his thoughts.
In the company of a man like Joseph van Werckhoven, broad-shouldered and confident, Tory understood why the man from Scotland might find his words all the more restricted. Even his father seemed smitten by the New Yorker's charm.
"Maybe Miss Schuster show you the city," Mr. Pilkvist said, biting into a biscuit. "She's here in Chicago long enough to know her way about. Ja, Miss Schuster?"
"I would love to show Mr. van Werckhoven around." Clair's gray eyes shone as brightly as the new electrical streetlights downtown.
"A nice young lady for an escort would be first-rate," Mr. Pilkvist highlighted.
Torsten's face burned. He resented his parents forcing Clair onto the newcomer. She acted as simpleminded as a small-town girl could get. About the most intelligent sentence he'd ever heard the girl from Kenosha utter was speculation about how long it would be before every house in the United States got a telephone. A gentleman with the breeding of Joseph required a proper guide, one who knew the city as well as only a local could. Besides, Joseph himself had mentioned he wanted a native's view.
"You can go tomorrow," Tory's father said. "It would be good to go Saturday, before you have to focus so much on your work. Ja, Mr. van Werckhoven?"
"That would be fine," Joseph said, nodding toward Clair politely. But the tightness around Joseph's curly mustache betrayed his true thoughts, Tory believed. Or was Tory staking too much on implausible dreams? He was certain Joseph's expression lacked sincerity.
Clair's gray eyes fell to her roast beef and potatoes. "Tomorrow? But I have to work tomorrow," she mumbled toward her plate. "Mr. Deering makes us work Saturdays, sometimes even for a full day." Subsequently she brightened and flashed Joseph a smile. "I can show you around Sunday. Not even Mr. Deering expects anyone to work Sundays."
Despite the shyness he felt in Joseph's presence, Tory realized he had but one chance to cut Clair off. "I can show you around tomorrow," he said, his voice high. He cleared his throat and spoke deeper. "That is, if you prefer to see the sights on a Saturday, when most things will be open, rather than Sunday, when everything will be closed."
"Well?" Joseph flushed. "I suppose... hmm. I hadn't thought of that. Maybe you're right. Saturday might be best. I mean, if you think there'll be more things to do."
Mrs. Pilkvist dabbed the corners of her mouth with a cloth napkin. "Maybe Saturday better for seeing things," she said, nodding reflectively. "More places open."
"Are you sure?" Mr. Pilkvist inserted. "Sunday people aren't so pushy and you can take time strolling the avenues without getting trampled."
Mrs. Pilkvist giggled. "Young folks don't mind a little hustle and bustle, Gustaf."
"I suppose it might be nicer for you to see the city tomorrow rather than on Sunday," Clair said into her lap.
Tory smiled. "Then it's settled?"
Joseph stared directly into Tory's eyes from across the table. They held each other's gaze for what seemed an eternity. "It's settled," he said with a wide grin. "If you're sure you don't mind."
"Of course I don't mind."
"I'll look forward to it, then," Joseph said.
Tory barely heard the rest of the suppertime conversation. His mind cleaved to one thought: he and Joseph van Werckhoven, strolling together along the streets of Chicago.
* * * *
Upstairs lying in his bed after everyone had taken coffee and cake in the parlor, Tory continued to daydream about the newcomer. What would spending Saturday with Joseph be like? What should they do? Where should they go? And what about those stares he had given Tory at the supper table and later in the parlor? What had they meant? Could it be possible that Joseph was like him?
Tory had come across clandestine mentions of same-sex love while studying literature and the ancient Greeks at school. Men like Plato, Herodotus, and Walt Whitman wrote about their attractions to other men. Reading between the lines, he had instinctively known that they were referring to him. Some new type of doctors had even said it was a natural occurrence in nature, including in humans. They'd said that some American Indian tribes practiced it as part of their culture. Was it something Joseph van Werckhoven practiced too?
Tory had had encounters with boarders in the past. His first foray with a man had occurred with a boarder a month after Tory had turned sixteen. A twenty-five-year-old Michigan man settling in Chicago had asked Tory to help run his bath. Eventually he suggested Tory strip and get into the tub with him. Overcome with physical yearning, Tory had obliged him, although nothing had occurred between them afterward. The man had moved on five days later as if nothing had ever happened.
Nearly a year later, Tory had another one-time encounter with a boarder who had played footsy with him under the supper table. That night when Tory had carried tea to his room, as the man had requested, the thirty-year-old businessman from Ohio had commanded him, point blank like a bank robber, to shut the door and lock it.
And there were two times at the cabaret on 35th Street where men like him went searching for affection. Each a one-time affair, amounting to nothing more than two men seeking physical pleasure. Tory had always hungered for more.
Walt Whitman, his favorite poet, best delineated Tory's romantic notions. He had read the venerable poet's work so often he could recite many passages word for word. They flowed through his veins as easily as his blood.
When his father had found his edition of Leaves of Grass in his bedroom two springs ago, he had called it "Amerikanskt skrap"--American trash--and confiscated it. Luckily for Tory, his father had wasted no time incinerating it. If he had thumbed through it, he might have noticed the dog-eared pages where Tory had read the more erotic passages over and over.
He recalled one such passage now.
Whose happiest days were far away through fields, in woods, on hills, he and another wandering hand in hand, they twain apart from other men;
Who oft as he sauntered the streets curved with his arm the shoulder of his friend, while the arm of his friend rested upon him also
Might Saturday be that way with Joseph? Strolling the streets of Chicago, arm in arm?
He'd never had a special friend like the one described by Whitman. Now that he was burgeoning into a full-grown man (nineteen years old as of February), he yearned to stand on his own two feet and search for true love. His two elder sisters had found love. Why couldn't he?
Rolling to his side, he pictured Joseph in the room down the hall. He wondered what he might be thinking at that moment, what he might be doing. He dozed, giddy with anticipation for tomorrow.
* * * *
Tulips lined the median of the sun-soaked street. Passing cable cars rang their strident warning bells as they streamed down the tracks alongside stagecoaches and horsemen. Steam engines that powered the never-ending building spree screamed. Vendors shouted, policemen whistled, strollers laughed, pushed, grunted. Life coursed through Chicago's streets like the frothy rapids of mountainous rivers Tory had read about in dime novels.
The temperature was cool, a typical late March in Chicago. But the sun on Tory's grinning face warmed him. The dusting of snow from last week had already melted into a faraway memory. An expanding contentment nudged the residual anxiety from Tory. He felt alive, more a part of the city than he'd ever experienced. Walking alongside the dashing Joseph van Werckhoven pumped new life into him.
That morning, Tory had dressed with the utmost care. He'd washed his face and neck, not forgetting the backs of his ears. He'd waxed his hair with pomade and sponged limewater from his scent box on his chest and underarms before buttoning his shirt. When he'd come downstairs, his mother had commented that he looked and smelled more fit for a church service than a Saturday tour of the city. Joseph looked equally dapper. His mustache, freshly waxed, curled over his upper lip like a fancy scroll; his burgundy ascot anchored his oval face. Tory expected nothing less from the elegant man from New York City.
"There are many tall buildings, aren't there?" Joseph said as they meandered side by side down State Street. He peered at the recent construction. "Where will they find room to fit them all? I can't imagine them getting any taller."
"There's talk of adding land along the shore of Lake Michigan," Tory said. "I'm not quite sure how they'd go about doing it."
"In New York City," Joseph said, "they've built artificial islands."
"Are you from New York originally?"
"My family's lived there since before the Republic was formed."
"That's a long time. My parents have only been in America since the 1860s."
"Your family appears to be doing quite well for itself."
"Mamma always says my sisters and me take everything for granted."
"Will I have the pleasure of meeting your sisters? Do they still live in Chicago?"
"One's married in Washington, DC, and the other lives in Springfield," Tory said. "She's married to a teacher. They run a school together. I'm the only one left at home."
"You don't mind living with your parents?"
"No, not really. There aren't that many places available in the city right now, anyway. And my parents need help to run the bakery and boarding house."
"What about the apartment above your bakery?" Joseph raised his eyebrows. "Can't you move in there? It would give you some privacy, at least, away from all those boarders."
"We rent it to a couple from Peoria."
"Can't you ask them to leave?"
Tory enjoyed the tender yet masculine tone to Joseph's voice. His intelligence flowed unabashedly, without the weight of seriousness. "I suppose we could ask them," Tory said. "I never really thought much about it. Do you think I should move in?"
Joseph tilted his head toward the buildings silhouetted against the powder-blue sky. "Perhaps I should."
"If Father wants me to stay here for an extended period, I suppose I'll have to find a place. If it's as difficult to find housing here like you and everyone say, I might not have any other choice."
Tory's heart quickened. Saliva evaporated from his mouth. "You... you think you'll get to stay? For an extended period?"
"I don't know." Joseph kept his mouth taut, his head held upright. "I'll have to wait and see. It'll be nice to have someplace, just in case. I like the room I have now, but a man needs privacy, don't you think? And I do like your neighborhood."
"I'm sure arrangements can be made for you to stay in the apartment," Tory said.
"Do you think the couple you rent it to would be ready to leave?"
Tory tried to ease the excitement in his voice. "I'm sure they are. They've lived there almost two years. I don't talk to them much, but they must be on a wait list for someplace. Maybe they're having a place built. The apartment really isn't so bad. It has a kitchen, and two bedrooms, and plenty of sunlight. And Pappa even installed a water closet, although it's very small."
"I'll keep it in mind," Joseph said in a sober and reflective tone. "Depends on how well things go here, of course."
"I can't imagine they won't," Tory said.
"Look here." Joseph stopped before a construction site. "They're preparing the foundation for one of those steel-framed buildings. It's for a new hotel. See what that sign says? 'The Heathcliff House: Ten Stories of Magnificence.'"
They watched the workmen strategically lay dynamite sticks into holes drilled into the dirt. They then rushed into a hut near Tory and Joseph. A man shouted something. Seconds later, a chain of implosions ripped a hole in the earth. The street rocked. Yet scant debris spread beyond the construction zone.
The blast had frightened Tory. Fire, even the fleeting kind that came from explosives, terrified him. He had not wanted to show that fear to Joseph. While the men had prepared the dynamite, he'd willed himself to keep from grimacing, dreading the inevitable. Even after the dust from the implosion had settled, his body shuddered with horror. He breathed in relief that Joseph hadn't noticed.
"That was something, wasn't it?" Joseph said as they continued walking down State Street.
"Yes," Tory said. "My parents are proud that a Swede invented dynamite."
"Such a simple concept," Joseph commented. "The ideas of great thinkers always seem so obvious once they come up with them."
They walked along, shoulder to shoulder, while Tory pointed out interesting sights and mentioned what he knew about the growing city. Joseph seemed to adhere to his every word. They browsed the goods in a department store as large as one city block and as tall as six stories. Tory mentioned Marshall Field & Company was one of the largest stores in the world.
"I'm so glad that I have the chance to tour with a native," Joseph said once they returned to the street. "I did want to thank you for saving me."
"From Miss Schuster," Joseph said. "Not that I would have minded her company, but I fear she might not have known the little things that make touring interesting, like all that you told me about the department store and the buildings and other things."
A tinge of sympathy had poked Tory that morning watching Clair Schuster mope at the breakfast table and later slump out the door to her factory job, knowing that she was unhappy she couldn't spend the day with Joseph. But now he wondered if she had said something in retaliation to Joseph for his choosing to tour the city with him on Saturday rather than with her on Sunday. Although improperly forthright at times, she did not strike him as the sort of woman who sought vengeance. But one never knew.
"Did she do or say something to upset you?"
Joseph snorted. "No, nothing like that."
Relief softened the strain in Torsten's limbs. "A lot of women like her have moved to the city. They're as common as bees in summer."
"She's not quite my type," Joseph said.
What was his type? In the parlor yesterday, Joseph had mentioned he was single and hadn't met "the right person." But did that mean he wasn't dating anyone? "Do you have a girl back in New York?" Tory dared to ask.
Joseph, his firm mouth offset by his well-groomed mustache, waited a moment before answering. "No, I can't say that I do," he said flatly. "What about you? Surely you must have one, or maybe two or three stashed around Chicago somewhere?"
"Not me." Tory shook his head.
"But I find that hard to believe."
Torsten flushed. Had that been a cryptic response? He sensed something. Something emerging between the two of them. What had Joseph van Werckhoven alluded to when he expressed disbelief that Tory courted no women? What did he mask behind that grin?
Joseph held that same mischievous smile for another block. Sounds of traffic and people and the smells of smoke and food receded into the background as they walked. For a moment, the only reality for Tory consisted of him and his new friend. The city faded to a mere backdrop to their private world, a distant array of colors, smells, noises.
Had Tory really understood Joseph? Many times Tory had come across men who spoke in puzzling tongues. About the only men who made their intentions clear were the ones who ventured to the South Side cabaret. Joseph, too refined, would never behave so brutishly. Yet Tory wouldn't have minded a soft touch from him, a simple gesture of friendship.
Joseph might as well have read Tory's mind. A tingling burn raced down Tory's arm when Joseph placed his hand on his shoulder. He could feel the transference of heat even through his wool frock.
"Oh, look," Joseph said, pointing across an intersection to a street sign on a building. "Van Buren Street. That's where the family's drugstore will go. I believe that's it there, inside the lobby of that new building. Father said it would be a tall one."
"What do you say." Tory followed Joseph's gaze upward along the twelve-story building, his eyes squinting into the sun. The exterior of the building appeared on the verge of completion. Except for on the lobby level, workers had yet to install the windows.
"Come," Joseph said. "Let's get a peek inside."
They crossed the street, dodging carriages and pedestrians. The lobby was an empty shell. A few workmen were installing what looked like a reception counter. Joseph pointed out the two elevators, although after inspecting them they concluded no one had wired them yet. Next, Joseph escorted Tory through wide doors where the drugstore would be. Interior work for the store would begin Monday morning, Joseph said. He'd oversee the effort, which was what had lured him to Chicago. In the back, away from the windows, where the light grew dimmer, Joseph again placed his hand on Tory's shoulder.
"What do you say, Torsten? Do you like the store? Keep in mind it's still under construction. Use your imagination."
Tory swallowed hard, trying to ignore the quiver Joseph's touch gave him. "Such a big place." He steadied his voice. "I think you have a fine location. I'm sure everything'll look wonderful once it's done."
"It's much larger than I imagined," Joseph said in a hushed voice, as if he were thinking of nothing but success and magnificence. "This might be our largest store yet. Father made a grand find. No reason why this one shouldn't be the best one yet. Yes, I can indeed imagine myself staying in Chicago for an extended period, perhaps indefinitely. Won't that be grand, Torsten?"
A ruckus outside startled the two men, and their mutual smiles faded in a flash. Tory and Joseph hurried to the front. Outside, a hansom cab had collided with a vegetable cart. The cart owner, standing among his scattered melons and tomatoes, spit curses in Italian while the cab driver hurled back insults of his own. Tory understood enough Swedish to flush over the cabby's words.
Leaving behind one of the ugly sides to a fast-growing city, Tory led Joseph back onto the street, farther along Van Buren, toward the Chicago River, where he had read in the Chicago Tribune about a carnival on Taylor Street. He guided Joseph through a maze of people and vendor carts until they came to a large red-and-white big top.
The after work crowd from surrounding factories and offices filled the many kiosks at the carnival. The smells of hotdogs, pretzels, and roasted corn made Tory's stomach rumble. He suggested they get something to eat. They bought a bag of peanut brittle from a vendor wearing a clown outfit and sat on a bench to people-watch. Organ music grinded in the background.
"What a wonderful and unexpected treat," Joseph said, laughing. "I haven't attended a carnival since I was a boy. It reminds me of Coney Island."
"Once the weather warms, it'll be much nicer."
"It's perfect the way it is." Joseph gazed at Tory. Tory flushed. Their hands brushed each other as they shared the bag of peanut brittle. But Joseph appeared unfazed.
Flocks of pigeons gathered by their feet. Tory tossed them pieces of brittle. Joseph seemed amused. To Tory, their moment together was worth all the peanut brittle in the world.
Joseph spotted a game called Pitch Out, and, tossing the remaining crumbs in his hand onto the ground where the pigeons swarmed them, he encouraged Tory to follow him.
"Step up, step up," the vendor cried. "Get a baseball in the hole, win a stuffed animal. Five cents for five tries. Step up."
"I'll have a go at it." Joseph handed the vendor a nickel.
The first four throws came close to entering the hole cut in the catcher's glove, but on his fifth and final throw, the baseball entered the hole squarely. Joseph and Tory cheered. The vendor tossed Joseph a stuffed bear. With a grin, Joseph handed the prize to Tory. "For being such a grand host," he said.
Tory simpered. Cradling the bear, he held his tongue about his prized baseball skills. Tory, who played baseball with his chums at least once a week, most likely would have made each of the five throws. He valued Joseph's kindness more than his own ego.
"There's my favorite ride." Tory pointed to the mine train rising in the distance on the edge of the river. "I had no idea they had one of those. I rode my first one last year in Wicker Park."
"Well, then, come on." Joseph grabbed Tory's arm and ushered him along. After waiting in line for ten minutes, they paid the attendant four cents and climbed inside the car. A steam-powered pulley lifted them along the wooden track. From the top, the sprawl of the city astonished them. They both took off their derbies. Tory covered the stuffed bear with his hat and latched onto his elbows in anticipation of the freefall. In an instant, gravity raced them down the first and largest drop. Wind whipped at their faces. They rolled over two bunny hops until reaching a slow stop.
"I have to say," Joseph said as they climbed out of the car, "I hadn't expected this much fun when I set off for Chicago Thursday night. I thought it would all be dull work."
Tory's heart kindled while he absorbed Joseph's soft gaze. The nippy air seemed insignificant against the warm thoughtfulness flowing through him. They explored more of the carnival, and with a gentle tug, Tory suggested they best return home, since he knew his mother was preparing a special goose for supper.
As they headed home, Tory used the bustle of pedestrians as an excuse to brush against Joseph. The more he bumped into him, the more Joseph seemed to reciprocate by leaning closer. Eventually, he and Tory walked up Market Street with their arms hooked around each other's like old chums.
Like the two friends depicted in Walt Whitman's poem.