Mail Order Matron (Brides of Beckham Book 9)

BOOK: Mail Order Matron (Brides of Beckham Book 9)
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Mail Order Matron

 

Book Eight in the Brides of Beckham

 

By Kirsten Osbourne

 

Copyright 2013 Kirsten Osbourne

 

Kindle Edition, License Notes

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Amazon.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

At thirty-four, Julia had given up on love.  She had spent sixteen years nursing her sick mother, and now that her mother had passed on, she had no idea what to do with herself.  She answered an advertisement to be a mail order bride, knowing she needed a new beginning.

 

Edward, a Kansas farmer, had been alone for six years since the death of his wife.  He was sick of eating his own cooking, tired of living in filth, and more than anything, he was lonely.  He sent off a letter to try to find a bride, hoping against hope someone would answer it.  When Julia stepped off the train, she was nothing like he'd expected her to be.  Could a marriage based on mutual loneliness work out?

 

 

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Prologue

 

September 1870

 

 

Julia stood facing Joseph under the oak tree where he’d asked her to marry him just three months before.  “I’m so sorry, Joe.  I have to take care of Mama.  At least for a little while.”  Julia clung to his hands, her eyes begging him to understand.  “The doctor said she’ll either be better or she’ll be dead in a year’s time.  If she dies, I’ll never forgive myself if I don’t take good care of her.”  She hated asking him to wait for her, but she didn't feel she had a choice.

Joseph gathered her close, kissing the top of her head.  “I don’t want to wait, but I’ll do it.  We’ll get married a year from today, right?” 

Julia nodded, her eyes filling with tears.  “Yes, one year from today.  We’ll marry and have a dozen kids.”

He laughed.  “I don’t know about a dozen, but half a dozen sounds good.” 

They talked for a few more minutes while she thought about how she was the luckiest woman alive to have found such a perfect man.  She was only eighteen, and she knew he was the right man for her.  One year, and she’d be his wife.

She slowly walked home wishing things had been different for them.  She’d loved Joe since they were in school together, and the idea of not marrying him when they’d planned upset her, but truly there was nothing either of them could do about it.  Since her mother had been afflicted with polio, she had to take care of her.  She just thanked God it wouldn’t last too long.

Her mother was an unhappy, demanding woman now that she was so ill and taking care of her on a regular basis was already bringing Julia down.

 

*****

 

October 1885

 

Elizabeth Miller leaned back in her chair in the parlor of the Long House in Beckham, Massachusetts.   Her butler and man about town, Bernard, had brought her a letter from Seattle.  Elizabeth knew well what that meant.  Harriett was either staying in Seattle or coming home.  She fully expected her friend and employer to stay where she was, because she would never run away from her responsibilities unless it was absolutely necessary.  If it was necessary though, she would be on the first on a train back to Beckham, and then Elizabeth would be out of a job and back living with the demon horde, her ten younger brothers and sister.

Elizabeth said a small prayer before she opened the envelope.  She adored Harriett, and hoped that all was well with her, but she also didn’t want to go back home.  Her job had given her something to look forward to every day, and a way to escape the reality of her home situation.  She loved her parents with everything inside her, but they had become lax in discipline with their youngest eight children.

 

“Dear Elizabeth, I hope this letter finds you well.  I know you are doing well with the business, because I know you wouldn’t do anything less.  I want to let you know that I’m deeding the house and the business into your name.  You are no longer my employee.  We’ll continue as we have been, of course.  You can keep all the income from the business, and the upkeep of the house and servants will continue to be paid from the fund I set up for that purpose.  Thank you again for taking on a job that could have been temporary and for keeping on the servants.  I appreciate it more than you will ever know.  Let me know if you have any questions regarding the running of things.  I will write again soon.  Yours, Harriett.”

 

Elizabeth flipped the letter over and looked for a bit of personal news, but there was nothing.  She frowned.  She was happy to hear she’d be keeping her job and the house, of course.  Who wouldn’t be?  But she still wanted to know how Harriett was making out in Seattle.

She picked up a second letter from her desk and read it.  Hmmm.  A thirty-eight year old widower with no children, miles from his nearest neighbor.  Who would want to marry him?  He was a poor dirt farmer, with no real hopes of being anything more in his life, but he enjoyed working the land and planned on doing it for the rest of his life.

She sighed.  Surely there was someone who would suit him.  She’d write to the man and let him know she was looking for someone, but that it could take a while.  She wouldn’t tell him that he wasn’t exactly a matrimonial prize.  Certainly he already knew that.

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

August 1886

 

Julia stood over her mother’s grave barely listening to the words the preacher was intoning.  The doctor had said her mother would either recover or die within a year.  Sixteen years later, her time taking care of her was finally over.  She knew it was horrible of her to even think it, but she was relieved, even as she was consumed with grief.

The sicker her mother had become, the angrier and more critical she’d become.  The last sixteen years had been extremely difficult, and she resented the years she’d given her mother.  She knew she’d done the right thing, but that didn’t seem to be enough.  She wanted back the years that she had been criticized and yelled at.  She wanted to go back to being eighteen with her whole life in front of her.

Glancing up, she could see Joseph standing with his wife and four children.  He’d waited two years for her, but had finally given up.  How could she blame him?  She kept asking for one more year, and he finally told her he couldn’t agree to that.  He needed a wife, not a woman who could see him for fifteen minutes a day with her mother bellowing at her from the other room the entire time.

She quietly dropped her handful of dirt onto the coffin and stood smiling as people shook her hand and offered their condolences.  The whole time her mind was racing.  What now?  Her entire adult life had been devoted to caring for her mother.  She had the small house they’d lived in.  Money wouldn’t be a real issue.  She wasn’t rich by any means, but she wasn’t a pauper.  What she was—was alone. 

Joseph took her hand in his.  His wife and children had walked off to their wagon.  “I want you to know how sorry I am.  I hope you understand I just couldn’t keep waiting for you.”

Julia nodded, her blue eyes clear.  “I appreciate the fact that you waited as long as you did.  Most men wouldn’t have.”  That much was true.  She did appreciate how long he’d waited.  She wished he’d waited forever as he’d once said he would, but of course, that was something a woman could never ask for.

“What will you do now?”

She shrugged.  “I have no idea.  I’ve put so much time into caring for Mother that there wasn’t really a world outside.  I’ve barely been to church in the last sixteen years.  I don’t know anyone anymore.”  She sighed.  “You don’t need to hear my troubles.  I’ll clean out mother’s things and go from there.”

“I hope you have only good experiences from here on out.”

She nodded gravely.  “Thank you.”  She turned to greet the next person, wondering if she would ever be able to stop loving Joseph.

As she slowly walked home, she thought about what she could do with the rest of her life.  She was thirty-four years old.  She had no trade.  No marriage prospects.  No real skills unless one considered cooking and cleaning.  Julia walked from the cemetery on the outskirts of town to the small house she’d grown up in which was on one of the main streets. 

Many people had baked cookies and cakes and casseroles.  She didn’t have a place to keep them from getting bad, so her first order of business was walking and giving away all but one of the casseroles.  She couldn’t eat them all even if she wanted to, and one of her mother’s primary complaints about her had been her thickening waistline.  She’d protested that she couldn’t help but gain weight when all she did was stay in the house, but her mother had just become angrier.  “So you’re blaming the fact that you’re fat on me?  Don’t you talk to me that way!  You’ll respect me!”

Julia forced the memories out of her head while she picked up the casseroles.  She made the slow walk across town carrying six of them.  She’d carefully labeled who the dish needed to be returned to for each one, but there was only one place in town she knew of that could consume that many casseroles. 

She didn’t want to set the dishes down, so she gently kicked the back door of the orphanage, hoping it would sound as if she was knocking.  When an older woman, Rebecca Spivey, who had worked there when she’d volunteered just after finishing school, opened the door, she smiled.  “A lot of different people brought me casseroles when my mother died.  They’re going to go bad if they don’t get eaten.”

Mrs. Spivey smiled, clasping her hands to her bosom.  “Julia!  It’s been ages.”  She took the casseroles and set them on the counter before turning to hug Julia.  “I’m sorry to hear about your mother, but so happy to see you.”

Julia smiled and accepted the woman’s invitation to sit.  “She just died two days ago, so I’m at a loss for what to do next.”  She shook her head.  “I know I’ll pack up her things and donate them.  Money isn’t really a problem, but all my friends have moved on.  I really don’t know anyone anymore.  Mother resented every minute I spent anywhere but with her.”

Mrs. Spivey frowned.  “I always hated that you devoted all your time and energy to her.  At least for the first month or two, she still let you come here, but after that you were her slave.  You should have hired someone to come in, if only for a few hours per week, so you could have time to do the things you wanted to do.”

“Mother didn’t want that.  She said that if I wasn’t with her, she had no idea what kind of shenanigans I’d be up to.”

“Once her things are packed, you’re welcome to come back here.  We can always use the help.  I know volunteering is probably not what you’re thinking about doing, but at least you wouldn’t be alone all the time.”

Julia nodded.  “I’m certain you’ll be seeing a lot more of me as I work through what I want to do next.”

“Have you thought about marriage?”

Julia laughed.  “I was all set to marry before Mother got sick.  Who would I marry now?  Joseph married thirteen years ago.”  She’d never forget the day he’d come to her and told her he was going to start courting Mary.  She had cried and cried.  She’d understood of course, but that hadn’t made her feel any less terrible about it.  The man she loved had given up on her and was off to marry someone else.

Mrs. Spivey nodded slowly before standing up to get something.  She came back and put the local newspaper in front of Julia, pointing to an ad.  “It’s in there every day, and has been for years.  Wording is a little different now, but I think that’s what you should do.”

Julia looked at the advertisement, her eyes widening with surprise.  “Mail Order Bride agency needs women who are looking for the adventure of their lives.  Men out West need women to marry.  Reply in person at 300 Rock Creek Road.  See Miss Elizabeth Miller.” 

A mail order bride?  She’d heard women did things like that, but there was an agency for it right here in Beckham?  Was she that desperate to get away?

Julia’s eyes met Mrs. Spivey’s.  “I’ll think about it.  I’m not sure if I’m quite that desperate yet.”

Mrs. Spivey shook her head.  “I don’t see it as desperation.  You’re not doing it for money.”  She took Julia’s hands in hers.  “You have lived with your mother doing nothing but caring for her for years and years.  You can’t have happy memories in that house.  I’ve met your mother and can only imagine the way she’s talked to you over the years.”

Julia didn’t respond, but her eyes dropped.  She tried not to talk badly about her mother, but it was difficult at times. 

Mrs. Spivey continued, taking Julia’s lack of response as agreement.  “You’ve spent so much time in that quiet house.  You need a fresh start.  I don’t think you should even stay in Beckham.  This is what you need.”

Julia shrugged.  “I’ll think about it.  I really will.”

“Think hard about it.”

They talked for a little longer, Julia’s mind flying over the things her friend had said.  She walked home, and worked on crating up her mother’s things for an hour or two.  There was nothing she wanted from the vast assortment of clothing and belongings.  She just wanted everything out of her way so she could move on with her life. 

The more she thought about the idea of being a mail order bride, the more the idea had potential.  No, she didn’t need to do it financially, but she needed to get away.  She needed to do something just for herself for the first time in her life, but was being a mail order bride the way to do that?

She argued with herself as she methodically stuffed everything in crates.  What kind of man would want a thirty-four year old plump wife anyway?  What kind of man advertised for a mail order bride?  Yes, she knew there were fewer women out West, but why wouldn’t they just travel to the East for a while to meet someone and take her back with them?

Once she’d finished crating everything, she glanced at the clock.  It was time for supper, so she wandered down the stairs to the kitchen.  She had kept one of the casseroles for herself and put it in the oven to heat up.  She leaned against the work table, eating a cookie from the few she’d kept, imagining what kind of man would look for a wife through a mail order bride agency. 

She pictured a dashing banker meeting her at the train station, his blond hair bright in the sunlight.  He would know her immediately, and their eyes would meet.  He’d approach her and take her into his arms…

She laughed aloud at herself.  She was actually daydreaming.  She hadn’t done that in years.  Her mother had been firmly against it.  She’d been against humming and singing while you work as well.  If you had time to hum and sing, then you weren’t working hard enough.  During her first year of taking care of her mother, she’d still been prone to singing while she hung out the wash, because there her mother couldn’t hear her.  The habit had died off as the song had left her.  She’d had no reason to sing.

She’d given up on all of her childish fantasies of happiness years ago.  For some reason, her mother had been offended that Julia could be happy while her mother had been on her sick bed.  She shook her head.  She had a right to dream all she wanted to dream now. 

She pulled her dinner out of the oven and sat at the table quietly eating.  She hadn’t been allowed to eat at a table in a long time.  Her mother had insisted that she carry her own food upstairs on a tray so they could eat together. 

By the time she finished eating, she decided she would go see Elizabeth Miller up on Rock Creek Road.  She wanted the life she’d given up for her mother back.  She’d go first thing in the morning before she lost her courage.  She wondered how long it would take to find a man who wanted to marry her.  Hopefully not long.

 

*****

 

The walk to Rock Creek Road only took a few minutes.  When she arrived she knocked on the door and waited, somewhat impatiently, for someone to come to the door.  A young man in his mid-twenties opened the door for her.  “May I help you?”  He was tall with blond hair and blue eyes.  He fit the fantasy she’d had about the banker who ran to meet her as she stepped off the train.

“I’m here to see Miss Miller.”  She straightened her hat and tried to look as if she had business at a house that was obviously owned by someone who was extremely wealthy.

“Yes, of course.  Is she expecting you?”

“No, she’s not.  My name is Julia Jordan.”

He nodded briefly and opened the door wide for her.  “Follow me please.”  He led her back along the long hallway and stopped in front of a door off to the left.  Knocking once, he pushed the door open.  “Miss Miller?  I have a Julia Jordan here to see you.”

Julia was surprised when she saw the young woman.  She didn’t even look old enough to have finished school yet!  Why would a woman her age be running a mail order bride agency? 

Miss Miller stepped forward and shook her hand.  “It’s so nice to meet you, Miss Jordan.  Are you here about my advertisement?”

“Yes, I am.”

Miss Miller nodded at the butler.  “Bernard?  Would you be certain that fresh tea and cookies are brought to us please?”  After the door closed behind the man, she indicated the couch and took her spot behind the desk.  “So tell me why you want to be a mail order bride.”

Julia had been hoping that question would not be asked of her, but she couldn’t answer it with anything less than complete honesty.  “I was engaged to be married years and years ago, but my mother contracted polio.  I put off the wedding for a year to take care of her, because the doctor told me within a year she would either be fully recovered or dead.  I put him off for another year after that.  He eventually found a wife, and they’ve had four children.  I’ve been taking care of my mother for sixteen years now.”  Julia sighed heavily.  “She died just three days ago, and I find that I’m all alone in the world.  I’m thirty-four years old and have no job interest and no marriage prospects.  I just don’t want to be alone forever.”

Miss Miller nodded sympathetically.  “Of course you don’t.  Who would?”  She turned to her desk and flipped through a stack of letters.  “I have an idea of a man who might suit you very well.”  She found the letter and handed it to Julia turning back to her desk while the older woman read.

Julia glanced at the letter in her hand, surprised there was a possible husband with a letter just laying there.  “Dear potential bride, I’m a thirty-eight year old farmer who is seeking a wife.  I moved to Kansas to make a go of farming ten years ago with my wife, but she died five years ago.  I have no children.  I would like a wife who doesn’t mind that I plan on farming for the rest of my life.  I have no ambitions to make a lot of money.  I just want to work my land.  If that idea appeals to you, then you may just be the bride for me.  I’d like a woman who is at least thirty.  I don’t mind if she’s been married before and looks really aren’t important to me.  I need a woman who wants children and isn’t afraid of hard work.  If you are willing to take on a farmer in the middle of nowhere, please reply.  Sincerely, Edward Allen.”

BOOK: Mail Order Matron (Brides of Beckham Book 9)
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