Saturday, December 8, 2012

"Love's Second Chance" by Ellen Lynn

Love's Second Chance
Ellen Lynn

My dream was to live in Portstown, the Big City. All the excitement and glamor of life seemed to be there. Here, on the family farm, I seemed to be missing the thrills of dates; the romance that filled the lives of other girls. At a very early age I knew what I would do—take a secretarial course at business college and find a job in the city. My mirror told me I had the looks to find Romance and all I needed was the chance to get away from our little country village.

At school I became the star pupil and my reward was the best job that came to the registrar's placement office. It was Portstown!

Portstown was a port city and I was to be secretary to an executive of the Portstown Shipbuilding Yards, Inc. Even I, a simple little farm girl, had heard of the Drake family who owned this tremendous enterprise. Immediately my imaginings began to form vivid, delightful pictures. My boss would be handsome Tom Drake, son of Benton Drake, who would at first be impressed with my efficiency and skill, then gradually notice my beauty, and finally fall madly in love with me.

It was from this wonderful realm of unreality that I awakened to be introduced to my real boss, Mr. Samuel Olney, one of the 2nd vice presidents of the corporation. He was a pleasant enough man, smiling and roly-poly, but a far cry from the vision I had so enticingly evoked in my mind. From its lofty heights my heart dropped to my toes.

The next weeks initiated me into the business world, which meant hard work and little time for day-dreaming. There was many an hour, exhausted and lonely, when I thought of our pretty little farm in the country and of my kind, loving parents waiting for me to give up my adventure and return to the family hearth. But a stubborn streak made me go on with what I had started and do the best job I was capable of doing. It won me many compliments and tributes—but no Romance. The men around me were far from the glamorous, romantic creatures I had conjured up in my dreams. As I gazed from the immense plate-glass windows of our offices onto the docks where our old ships came for servicing and our new ships started their trial runs, I smiled at the conglomeration of men working in the yards—but not one the Big Romance I longed for. And the men in the office were just as assorted, and just as remote from my desires.

It was about four months later—when a bronze-faced, golden-haired sea-god walked into my office. My heart must have recognized him before my eyes did because it seemed to flip over inside of me. It seemed minutes that we just looked at each other without a word. I spoke first.

"Is there something I can do for you?" I asked in my most businesslike manner.

He gave a little laugh and said: "Why, yes. I'd like to see Mr. Olney." Again he gazed long into my eyes and then said, "I am Pete Rand." In a sort of daze I announced him to my boss and ushered him inside. Back at my desk I was making a resolution: That will be my big Romance! Peter Rand! He's all I dreamed of.

Mr. Olney made it very easy for me. He brought Peter Rand out to my office and said: "Susan, meet Captain Rand. Pete, this is Miss Hamburg. She will show you the lists you asked for. Susan, please help Captain Rand in any way he requires? Thanks."

Alone together, we both laughed. "That sounds like an order, Miss. My first requirement is that you have dinner with me tonight. Will you?" He was so boyish, so uncertain, I felt my self yearning to hold him in my arms and reassure him that I would go to dinner with him—in fact, anywhere. "This," I thought to myself, "is falling in love at first sight!"

We knew almost at once we were in love. It was thrilling, heady, blissful. Alone in my room I knew my quest for a big Romance, with wealth, social position, luxury, luckily had failed—Pete was just a new captain on a new ship—But I was madly in love. We were engaged a week later and decided to get married just as soon as we could.

The day Pete had an appointment to see Mr. Drake, senior, I was a bit worried. Pete looked disturbed but I couldn't get him to tell me what was bothering him. Quite by accident, I was in the ante-room of Mr. Drake's office when the interview with Pete was taking place and I could hear their voices through the slightly open door. I didn't pay any attention; I was looking at a magazine while waiting for Mr. Drake's secretary. There seemed to be some discussion about life boats. I heard Pete say "You mean those condemned life boats from the OTARO."

And then everything happened so fast—it seemed as though the entire world dropped out from under me. Pete was kissing me goodbye in my office: he was taking his new ship out on a trial run with a skeleton crew. "See you tomorrow, darling," he murmured. And then in my ear, "I love you."

Was it one, two o'clock the next morning, that I woke startled from a deep sleep? A storm was crashing at my window and the telephone was jangling at my ear. When I picked up the receiver I heard the message with my ears, but it somehow wouldn't sink into my brain. Pete drowned? Pete dead? Why, no! I don't believe it? I'm having a nightmare! All I could remember then was driving out in Pete's little car, speeding toward the docks, skidding, and then blackness...

The blackness was still upon me two weeks later as I lay in a hospital bed recovering from my physical injuries. There was a weight on my heart kept there by the image of Pete, holding me in his arms, smiling lovingly at me. Then there was another man standing at my bedside—two men. Mr. Olney was introducing me to a young man who suddenly made me think of Pete. The same deep, blue eyes—but this man had black hair—Pete was blond. "Susan," Mr. Olney was saying, "This is Tom Drake. He saved your life when your car overturned. He wants to talk to you."

I grew rigid. Tom Drake was Mr. Drake's son—and Mr. Drake killed my Pete!

"Miss Hamburg,—Susan—I hear you told the district attorney that my father's responsible for Pete Rand's death—the drowning of the crew. I just want you to know that you must be wrong. He would not compel Pete to take on board defective life-boats. My father is the most honorable, kind-hearted man alive. He wouldn't endanger human lives to protect a mere investment in life-boats. Please tell me the whole conversation."

As Tom spoke I noticed his troubled expression, the warm, sad look in his eyes but the thought of Pete—drowned—filled me with fury and despair. I sat up and screamed, hysterically, "I'll make your father pay for this. I heard them talking about ballast and lifeboats. Pete didn't want those lifeboats... The four of them from the OTARO." Tom left the room and the nurse tried to calm me.

It was months later, a week before the case was coming up for trial, that Tom Drake called on me at the place where I had found a new job. As before, in my hospital room, I was startled by his reminding me of Pete. They had the same gentle, blue eyes, the same hint of a twinkle. He looked long into my eyes, just as Pete had done the day we first met. I was annoyed with myself for the catch in my heart as our eyes held. He spoke softly, gravely.

"Susan. Forgive me, but I always think of you as 'Susan' not 'Miss Hamburg.' Before you go to court there's something I want you to know. I've been spending all these months investigating the tragic drowning and I've sent divers down to the hulk. Will you go down with me. Are you brave enough?"

I agreed.

The ship was down thirty feet. Tom gave me a suit and helmet and held me close as we went down—down and into the hulk. There I saw four lifeboats with the name OTERA. They had been used as ballast only.

Why did I feel a sense of relief? Was it because I wanted Tom and his father not to be guilty of Pete's death?

When we came up, I wept in Tom's arms. He told me I had really saved his father when I had mentioned the word ballast. That was the clue he needed.

In his car I spoke. "Tom, I'm sorry for everything. I hope you and your father will forgive me."

Tom didn't answer. Instead, he stopped the car and gently drew me into his arms. His kiss was long, sweet, thrilling. "I had to prove dad's innocence to you, Susan, so you'd be free to love me—as I have learned to love you."

My love for dear, sweet Pete had taught me to know love again for another fine, wonderful person—Tom Drake. I had grown up.