Sunday, March 12, 1888
Elle Bea Reynolds could hear the pounding of his feet on the ground behind her, could feel his hot breath at her back. Her chest tightened but she kept her gaze fixed on the stained wooden door that marked safety. Two more slippery steps and…
White hot pain pierced her woolen stocking and seared into the tender flesh of her calf. She whirled and kicked, only to have her booted foot meet nothing but air. The rooster, who only moments ago had chased her down with deadly intent, strutted away as if he had no care in the world.
Elle cursed. Loudly. If Elle’s mother had heard her unladylike stream of invectives— Elle didn’t finish the thought. Instead, she reflected on being thankful her mother wasn’t here to neither hear the words nor witness the mess Elle had gotten herself into.
Inside the house, Elle bent to examine the wound. There were several other long-healed scars alongside the bloody gash. In the time she’d lived here, she’d become adept at outmaneuvering the territorial cockerel; however, this morning she’d been distracted by her predicament.
Two years ago, she’d answered an advertisement in the Sun from a widow willing to pay a woman five dollars a week along with room and board for hard work and companionship. Elle had been living with her parents and five younger siblings in a one room walkup on West 47th street. Eager to make her way in the world and with the thought of earning five dollars a week, Elle applied and got the job. She didn’t know it at the time, but she’d been the only applicant.
Mrs. Barton had taught Elle how to collect eggs, milk the cow, and plant and harvest the potatoes and other crops she grew on the five-acre lot. Despite the back-breaking work, Elle loved the sunshine, the fresh air, and the space. She had a bedroom to herself, more than enough food, and money to send home to her family.
Elle had been contented until tragedy struck right after Christmas. Mrs. Barton’s health deteriorated while the elderly woman visited her nephew’s home. She died unexpectedly in January, leaving the farm to her citified nephew who had no interest other than to collect rent from whomever chose to farm it.
Although she’d be paying an annual rent for the property, all the proceeds from the crops and other produce would be hers to keep.
Elle suspected that Mrs. Barton’s nephew would balk at renting the farm to a man of her tender age, only twenty-two, much less a woman. As a result, she did something she knew was most likely illegal, although she never dreamed she’d be caught so soon. She signed her name phonetically, as L.B. Reynolds, instead of by her given name, Elle Bea.
She would have gotten away with it, perhaps for years, if it hadn’t been for the New York Central Railroad.