Station Stop … Denver. Denver, Colorado.” The voice of the conductor carried into the berth Delia had slept in and a knock came to the door.
“Miss Waite? Denver.”
“Uh, yes, thank you.” She flipped the door open and smiled at the gentleman. “I’m ready. The trip was much faster than I’d expected!”
“The new steam engines make the trip from Philadelphia in about twenty four hours give or take. Track damage and weather can slow them down some, but it’s as fast as it’s ever been to travel these days.”
“I’ll say! And so comfortable, too! Why I spent yesterday gazing out the window and reading. I had lunch and dinner, went to bed early, and here we are already. It certainly feels almost like a miracle!”
“Do you have someone waiting for you at the station, Miss Waite?”
She looked down momentarily pretending to search for something in her reticule. It would be unseemly to tell the man the particulars of why she’d made the journey from Pennsylvania.
“Um, no. I’m taking the stage to Edenbrook.”
“Oh, well you best get a move on then. The stage fills up pretty quick.” The young conductor looked back over each shoulder. He lowered his voice. “If I were you I’d take a walk back to the last car. When the train comes to a halt, you’ll see the station house right outside the last car. The stage station is in a separate building, so when the engine becomes still you best hightail it into the place.”
“Well, thank you, conductor. Thank you for the information.”
The man stepped back and reached into his vest pocket for his pocket watch. He clicked open the timepiece and examined it, nodding.
“Yes. It’s eight a.m. The stage back to Edenbrook leaves at nine. That’s nine, sharp. There’s not another until three this afternoon. You can get your ticket, then have a cup of tea at the hotel restaurant across the street. You should then be in Edenbrook no later than ten o’clock.” He smiled, snapped the watch closed, and smoothed his vest.
“I appreciate the information and your kindness, sir.”
He cleared his throat. “Yes, yes. Well, you get along now. The nine o’clock fills up fast.” The conductor turned and continued his walk toward the front of the train.
“Station stop. Denver …”
Delia hurried through the cars toward the last one. She found a seat to perch on while the train pulled into the station. The whistle blew. The clackety clack of the wheels against the rails slowed and finally stopped. Once again a conductor’s voice called out. Delia opened the door and stepped into the final vestibule before the caboose. As the conductor had said, there stood the stagecoach stables. Right next to them was a small building, a house really, with benches outside under the extended roof.
Delia stepped down from the train and onto the gravel beside the tracks and hurried over to the building. She could claim her luggage after she purchased her stage ticket. She glanced back at the men unloading bags and trunks then turned back and pushed the door open to enter the main room where the ticket window was.
“Mm, hello. I’d like to purchase a ticket on the nine o’clock stage to Edenbrook.”
“Nine o’clock this morning, Miss?”
“Uh, yes. I’ve just gotten off the train from Philadelphia.”
“Well, welcome to Denver, miss, but the nine o’clock stage is all sold out. You’ll have to wait for the afternoon coach.”
“Oh. Oh, dear.”
“It’s not so very long, Miss, uh …”
“Waite. Excuse me. Delia Waite. I’m sorry to be so rude, but I’m surprised that the stage has no more room.”
“Not unless there’s a no-show, Miss.”
“Oh, my goodness.” Delia’s forehead gave in to a frown, and she looked around nervously.
“What’s your business in Edenbrook if I may be so bold to inquire?”
“I, I’m to be married.”
The ticket seller leaned forward, elbows on the counter, and spoke through the bars. The toothpick he sucked on was pushed to the side with his tongue, and he lowered his voice conspiratorially. “So, a mail order bride.”
Delia looked down. “Um, y-yes.”
“Well now, we get you gals all the time passing through on the way to other places. You’ve come a long way from Philadelphia.”
“Yes, but the journey went so much faster than I’d expected it to. But now there’s this delay. You know, my fiancé offered to come here to pick me up. I insisted however that I would meet him in Edenbrook.” She laughed in a sardonic manner.
“I’ll tell you what. You can leave your steamer trunk and other bags here at the station. Across the street …”
“Yes, the train conductor told me there’s a hotel over there where I might get a cup of tea.”
“You can get a whole meal there, Miss Waite. And we’ve got some very nice shops in this area. I daresay you can spend an enjoyable afternoon here in our fair city.”
“You’re very kind to help me figure out how I’ll spend the morning and early afternoon. I appreciate it.”
“Don’t you mention it, Miss. I’ll send my luggage boy out to collect your things.”
“Thank you so much. Oh,” Delia searched in her reticule, “I should purchase my ticket now. Wouldn’t want to get caught here overnight.”
“Oh, no, Miss. Your ticket is free of charge.”
“No! That’s too much, sir. I can buy my passage.”
“Yes, I know. But I hate to see a woman, especially one traveling alone, in a situation such as you’re in now. The stage company will take on the cost of your ticket.”
“I can’t allow such generosity, sir.”
“Yes, you can. And you will. Miss Waite, I insist. It is the policy of our company that no woman will be left destitute during her travels.”
“That’s a lovely policy and one that is quite appreciated by me, Mr. uh …”
“Jones. Zachary Jones. At your service, Miss Waite. Now. You run along and enjoy your time here.” He consulted a ledger type book on the countertop. “Hmm, let’s see. You have one trunk and two carpet bags. Is that correct?”
“It is, Mr. Jones. And all three are marked with my name.”
“Then move along, Miss Waite. As I said, the next stage is at three o’clock. Here is your ticket.” He passed the heavy paper ticket through the bars of the counter window.
“Thank you, Mr. Jones. Thank you so much.”
“It’s not certain that she’s arriving today is it, Jack?” Rowena Mackenzie shaded her eyes with her hands and scanned the area in front of the stagecoach station in Edenbrook.
“Well, she left Philadelphia yesterday morning, so I’d say it’s pretty certain, Aunt Ro.”
“I don’t see anyone on the porch.”
“Maybe she’s inside, out of the sun.”
“I imagine you must be right, Jack. She’s a lady after all. From Philadelphia. I do so look forward to discussing the city with her. Remember just five years ago I was still in Camden with Thomas.” She looked down suddenly.
“You know, I’m so grateful to you for relocating out here to help me, Aunt Ro.”
“What? Don’t be silly, Jack. I was beside myself after Thomas passed. Your kind offer to come out here saved my life. Honestly. I don’t know what would have become of me.”
“You’ve been invaluable to me, Aunt Ro.”
“You’re my own sister’s boy, Jack. You’re the one who’s been invaluable to me. You know your parents made the offer to move me in with them after, well you know, Thomas.” She looked out toward the tree line behind the stage stop. “But everywhere I turned, there were reminders of Thomas. I knew I couldn’t stay in Camden. When your letter arrived and extended your kind invitation, I had to come to Edenbrook. Being here has changed everything for me. I’ve been able to find happiness again. For that, I will always be indebted to you, Jack. I cannot thank you enough.”
Jack reached over and took the woman’s hand in his own and squeezed it. “The fact that you’ve found purpose and meaning in your life again is all the thanks I will ever need, Aunt Ro. Your happiness means much to me.”
They rode up to the station house porch. A few people milled around the building, waiting to see the familiar dust and hear the familiar harness jangle and pounding hooves of the horses.
After about ten minutes, the patience of the onlookers paid off, and the coach came into view.
Rowena looked excitedly at her nephew. “It won’t be long now, Jack.”
Jack said nothing, but Rowena saw the slow descent and ascent of his Adam’s apple in his throat. She patted his shoulder.
“Don’t be nervous, son. Just think of Miss Waite and how she must feel. Why, she’s just left everything and everyone she knows behind in Philadelphia.”
He nodded. “Of course, you would be sensitive to that, having gone through it yourself, Aunt Ro. But it’s exactly the reason why I feel a bit nervous. I don’t want Delia to feel she’s made a mistake. Oh, I know for the next few weeks everything will be a whirlwind for her. New surroundings, new people, an entirely new way of life. Miss Waite is a city girl. She’s about to become a rancher’s wife. I suppose I should have considered this before now, but how will she adapt? Will she be able to?
“Miss Waite’s letters showed her to be a virtuous woman with a devout faith in God and a strong character. I can only hope that these traits will make her transition to life here less difficult.”
“Only the good Lord knows how things will work out, Jack. Have faith in his plan. God would never steer you wrong. And you must remember, Miss Waite’s mother and I are girlhood friends. We grew up in Camden, and when Margie married Mr. Waite, she moved up to Philadelphia. But even just five miles away was far in those days when we were young and raising our families. But we always wrote. I met your betrothed once. She was just a little girl then. Brown curls and big blue eyes. She was adorable.” Rowena smiled. “It will be lovely to see her again.”
“See her? Why, Aunt Ro, you’ll be living with her.”
“We’ll see about that, son. Miss Waite might have other ideas. I reside in her new home. She might need to secure herself in the knowledge that she is the lady of the manor, so to speak. She might wish me to leave here. Your Willow let me know in no uncertain terms that when she was your wife, I would need to find accommodation elsewhere.”
“You didn’t tell me? Why not?”
“Jack, I didn’t want to make any problems. Besides, it would be easy for me to stay at Ruth’s boarding house.”
“This is my home, Aunt Ro. I say who lives here. Besides, Delia doesn’t strike me as the type to be threatened by the other ladies in my life that I love. I wrote her all about you and Ruth O’Hare. She expressed a strong desire to meet the two of you. I can’t believe she would ever want to send you from here. But if she has or ever gets that idea in her head, it will be the lady, herself, who leaves here.”
“Now, now.” Rowena laughed. “There’s no need to get territorial, Jack. I just want to give Miss Waite the opportunity to find her place here.”
“I know you do. And you can help Miss Waite to do that, Aunt Ro. But you’ll do it from the comfort of your home. Miss Waite wrote that she hoped you would show her the ropes of handling a ranch house. And since you think of everything, I told Miss Waite that would be the case. You will be her tutor in a manner of speaking.”
“I will do everything in my power to make Miss Waite’s first months here as easy as they can be.”
The fondness Jack held for his aunt shone on his face. He took her hand in his. “You’re so much like my mother. Sometimes I marvel that the two of you aren’t twins!”
“Well, there’s less than a year that separates us.”
“And you say you grew up with Miss Waite’s mother?”
“Yes, your mother, Miss Waite’s mother, who was Margie Jones then, and I were in the same class together. The three of us got into some trouble; I’ll tell you that much.” Once again, the woman chuckled.
“I’m glad you convinced me to write to Miss Waite, Aunt Ro.”
“Me too! I have a feeling about this union, Jack. I think the two of you will be very happy together. I just know it.”
“Well, let’s go inside and check if my future bride has arrived. We don’t want to keep her waiting.” Jack hopped down from the buggy with the easy grace of one who spent a great deal of time on horseback. He walked around to the other side to help Rowena down. Then they walked into the station house together.
No one was inside. The ticket seller sat behind the window, hunched over with puckered brow, writing in a book.
“Uh, hello? Excuse me, young man.” Rowena stood at the window, tapping her hand on the counter. “We’re looking for a young lady who should have been on the stage.”
“Is that so. Well, let me look at the passenger list … what’s the lady’s name?”
“Miss Delia Waite.”
“Hmm.” The man looked the list up and down and once again. “That name doesn’t seem to be here. But wait a minute. I just got a telegraph message about five minutes ago from the Denver station house.” He shuffled through a stack of papers on his side of the window. “Ah. Here it is. Yes, it says … Delia Waite, stop, unable to board early stage, stop, will be on three p.m. coach. Stop.” He looked up. “That’s all. I guess the early stage was full. There are only two a day.”
“Well, I thank you, Sir. Thank you very much.” Rowena turned to Jack. “She’s stuck in Denver, but she’ll be on the three o’clock coach. That is unless you’d like to take a ride. What say you, Jack?”
Jack’s eyebrows raised. The one big difference between his mother and her sister was Rowena’s penchant for adventure. She loved going forth and seeking out new and exciting experiences. His mother, on the other hand, was content to be at home and hear about all the fun.
“I don’t know, Aunt Ro. I think I’ll just take you home and come back and wait for Miss Waite myself.”
“Nonsense. I’ll stay with you. You can’t drive the girl back to the ranch without a chaperone. This might be the west, but etiquette still must be respected, Jack.”
“Then may I buy you lunch at the hotel dining room?”
“That sounds fun. I have some errands I can run also. Let’s see; it’s just about ten now. The stage won’t get here until about four. I’d like to avoid going back to the house before Miss Waite gets here.”
“Well, Jimmy and the boys have things under control at the ranch. I intend to make an easy afternoon of it.”
“I’m going to Fanny’s Fabric store. I have a hankering for a new dress.” Rowena looked at her nephew and winked. “Something I can wear to a wedding.”
“Settle down, Aunt Ro. You have time. It’s been arranged that Miss Waite will stay here in town with Ruth O’Hare at the Ladies’ Boarding House. Miss Waite is lined up to work for Ruth.”
“Oh, wonderful. Ruth is one of my favorite people. She was the first woman to invite me to have tea at her home when I was new here. She’s such a welcoming soul. I’m glad Miss Waite will have her near.”
“Me too. Miss Waite will live at the boarding house until the wedding. She and I both agreed in our letters that we might take some time to get to know one another well. The marriage proposal affirmation I received is not binding. There’s a chance, however slight, that Miss Waite might desire something else for her life.”
“Ah. I see. You’re worried that the lovely Miss Waite might desire someone else for her life. So like your mother in that, Jack. You, my love, are a worry wart!” Rowena threw her head back and laughed loud and long. When she looked back at her nephew, her eyes held tears of mirth.
“Are you finished with your laugh at my expense, dear Aunt?”
“I’m sorry, Jack. It’s just that you don’t see yourself as others see you. You’re quite the catch, dear.”
“I am?” Jack looked both ways on the main street and took his aunt’s elbow to guide her across.
“Don’t do that to yourself, Jack.”
“Don’t do what?”
“You know exactly what I’m talking about. Don’t think about Willow. She’s gone. Has been these four years. It’s time, dear boy, to move on. For once and for all.”
“It’s hard not to think about the last woman I was going to marry as I prepare to meet the next one I’m expected to.”
“Willow didn’t appreciate you, Jack. She was always looking for what she could get from folks.”
“She didn’t trust anyone. I don’t know why. Her whole life had been one of leisure and privilege. I knew I could make her happy with my money. It was everything else that always seemed to be lacking.”
“If you ask me, she’s just plain selfish. I don’t buy Willow’s sad story for an instant. She’s always been a self-centered, petty young woman as far as I’m concerned. The way she treated you at the end was appalling.”
“She meant nothing by it. She wasn’t ready to be married is all, Aunt Ro. She was only seventeen.”
“And she ran off to New York with that, that … grain salesman. What was she thinking?”
“She was thinking she wanted to go to New York. The salesman was her means of getting there. I daresay he was dust in the wind within a few months of getting back east.” Jack grinned.
“Don’t make a joke of it, son. That chit broke your heart. I just hope I never run into her; I’ll tell you that much.”
“Now, now. Aunt Ro. Calm yourself. Let’s focus on the future. How does that sound to you?
“You’re my nephew and my godchild. How can I say no to you? I’m sorry I mentioned that awful Willow, and you’re right. I should be preparing myself to meet your future wife.”
“Again. We’ll see about that. Once she sees what being a rancher’s wife entails, she might hightail it back to Philadelphia. Well, here we are.” Jack had stopped walking. He and Rowena stood outside the fabric store.
“Can you give me about an hour, Jack?”
“Yes, I need to talk to the blacksmith and also pick up some seed I was planning to get tomorrow. I’ll stop by Ruth’s place too, just to make sure everything is ready for Delia. I mean, Miss Waite.”
Rowena nodded, stood on tiptoe to give her nephew a kiss on the cheek then disappeared inside the fabric store.
Delia waited on the porch bench of the stage’s station house in Denver. It was a little after two, and she waited with the hopes of getting a good seat on the three o’clock coach. She embroidered a colorful bird onto a piece of dark wine colored velvet for the crazy quilt she’d been working on for a couple of months. It was fancy work, nothing utilitarian about it, and Delia enjoyed the craft.
As her hand brought the needle and silk thread through the heavy cotton, her thoughts flitted this way and that. Had it really been seven years since her papa had died? The time had passed so swiftly. Her mind traveled back to the fateful day she and Margie had lost father and husband. A lone tear made its way from her eye to the corner of her lips. The tip of her tongue darted out and swooped the salty droplet into her mouth. She sniffed, took a sharp breath, and sat up straighter. It would do no good to wallow in sorrow about things that had been. No good at all.
When she’d gone to visit her parents on that Friday evening, she’d known straightaway that something was wrong. Her father wasn’t in the house, and her mother had been frantic. The ice room walls at the brewery where Mr. Waite was employed had collapsed. The entire brewery had been destroyed. When Delia arrived, her mother had been frantically tying on a bonnet in preparation to brave the cold and run over to the factory.
When they got there, the ambulances were already taking men to the hospital or the morgue. Delia and Margie had fought through the crowd getting ever closer to the huge pile of rubble that had been the beer brewery. They stepped to the edge of the melee just in time to see Mr. Waite on the ground, on a stretcher. A medical attendant gently pulled a rough, moth-eaten blanket up to cover the man’s face.
Margie had fainted, and Delia had stood in shock. She’d held her mother’s inert form while waiting for more information.
That had been all. In the months that followed, Margie had taken in laundry and sewing to supplement Delia’s income from her domestic position with the wealthy Lukens family.
For six years Margie worked her fingers to the bone sewing and laundering the fine garments of the rich ladies of Philadelphia while her daughter took in extra work as a fill-in servant at various homes on her days off from the Lukens’ house.
Then Margie had quite unexpectedly met a gentleman banker who was a widow with no children. The man was lonely and well to do. And quite smitten with Mrs. Waite. Within a month of meeting the man Margie no longer took in work and Delia was able to go back to a half day off twice a month along with Sundays. Within three months, Mrs. Waite had become Mrs. Lindsey.
Mr. Lindsey, although not rich, had the means to support both Margie and Delia. His house, in a good, though not grand neighborhood, was not large; however, it was beautifully kept, and there were a cook and two servants.
In spite of that, Delia had refused to leave her domestic position. It was a good job despite the long hours. And she lived at the large townhouse sharing a room with a girl her age who hailed from Sligo, Ireland. Delia had felt strongly that her mother deserved happiness, and she wanted, in no way, to jeopardize that happiness. Indeed, if the opportunity presented itself, Delia felt she would do anything to add to her mother’s newfound joy.
Then the letter from Rowena Mackenzie had arrived.
March 15, 1880
It is with delight that I learned of your marriage to Mr. Charles Lindsey. How wonderful for you and Delia. I’m sure you are both well and happy. It is my intention to add to your joy if I may.
My nephew, Jack Bowdrie, is nearing thirty years of age. He’s a rancher having built up his business from the age of nineteen. He’s been quite successful with the twenty thousand acres he’s bought up over the years.
Since I’ve been here, in Colorado, keeping house for my nephew, I’ve grown to love this land and my new home. However, I’m not getting any younger. I will always help my nephew and godson, but I feel the time has come for him to find a wife.
I haven’t seen Delia since she was sixteen. I take it she’s all grown up now. However, I’m sure she’s not attached as you would have written to let me know. So I have a favor to ask of you. I want to advise my nephew, Jack, to write to Delia. I cannot think of a nicer young lady for him. When I first came here, he was engaged to a vile woman who left him at the altar. She then moved away to New York four years ago.
It seems to me that my nephew is ready to meet a new lady. He works a great deal, and I worry that the time will pass him by. So may I tell him about your daughter? May I tell him to send her a letter in the hopes that they will correspond?
I will, of course, wait to hear from you before I mention Delia to Jack.
Once again, I’m very happy for you, Margie. Take care of yourself, and please do not let too much time pass before you write to me again.
March 20, 1880
What a pleasure to hear from you! You sound well, and your idea of having your nephew write to my daughter intrigues me.
Rowena, I have been so worried about my Delia. She threw herself into work after her father died. For the five years before I met Mr. Lindsey, she would take any extra work she could find. We were not destitute when Mr. Waite left this world. But money was tight. Delia, though, hoarded and saved, pinching every penny until I feared she’d lost her mental faculties somewhat.
She needs a diversion. She is twenty-two years old, soon to be twenty-three on the eleventh of June. Her prospects here in Philadelphia are not good. I thank God and my lucky stars that I met Mr. Lindsey. But he’s older. I don’t want my girl married to an old man, and that is all I see around her. Men her own age or a little older tend to gravitate to the fresh-faced seventeen-year-olds. My Delia has a seriousness about her since her father was killed. I’ve heard that young men find it off-putting. She’s not a frivolous girl but a sensible, hard-working young woman.
Maybe if Jack writes to her, it will, at the very least cheer her up somewhat. We can only pray and see what develops, if anything, between them.
So, please, my dear friend, do tell your nephew to write to my daughter. I thank you for contacting me, and I do hope to receive another word from you before too long.
“What do you mean he’s going to write to me? Mother, I don’t even know the man. At all. Whatever would we have to converse about? The whole idea is foolish.” Delia Waite threw the baby’s dress she’d been sewing to the floor and stood up. In her frustration, she nearly knocked the chair she’d been seated in backward.
“Now, Delia. Don’t be that way. Please. Rowena is worried about her nephew, and I’ve been worried about you. You cannot spend your whole life working all the time. You’re a young woman. You don’t enjoy your life. All you do is work, work, work.”
“Mama! That’s what life is. Work! Hard work. You’ve said so yourself. We work hard to survive. We worship our God. Then, exhausted at the end of our lives, we go back to Him. Sometimes I don’t even see the point in any of it.”
“Delia! You blaspheme! God has a plan for each and every one of his children. Now, I’m putting my foot down here. Mr. Bowdrie is going to write to you. And you are going to write back. Is that understood?”
Delia, shocked at her mother’s outburst, nodded.
“If nothing else, correspondence will be something other than work. Why I haven’t seen you with a book in months; you have lost yourself in trying to escape your grief over your father’s death. You must move on with your life, love. Please. Do it for me?”
Delia sighed. “Fine, Mama. I’ll correspond with Mr. Bowdrie if that’s what you want. But please don’t expect anything big from it. Do I have your promise?”
Margie smiled, her face lit up with a mischievous glow. “Yes, I promise. But who knows, my girl, you just might fall in love.”
The sound of a carriage harness and hooves pulled Delia’s thoughts back to the present. She glanced up to see a vehicle approaching. Butterflies made an appearance in her stomach, and she swallowed hard to control them.
The stagecoach pulled up to the stable that stood across the yard from the station house. Delia stood up and stuffed her needlework into her sewing bag. She stepped off the porch and hurried to the stable.
“Hello, Miss. It will be about fifteen minutes before we leave for Edenbrook. Need to change the horses. But you can give me your ticket now if you like. As soon as the new animals are harnessed up, you can pick your seat. The ride will take less than an hour.”
“Well, alright. Thank you.” She handed the ticket to the reinsman and stepped back from the coach to wait. She was first in line and spent the following minutes gazing about and looking for the other travelers she would share the coach with.
The driver having left her to get his passenger list from the office arrived back.
“Looks like it’s just the two of us, Miss. Mick Delaney, at your service. The morning stage was sold out, but you are the only traveler this afternoon.” The man grinned and opened the door to the coach. “Your chariot awaits, my lady.”
Delia giggled. “How nice of you to take me and not make me wait until tomorrow, Mr. Delaney.”
“I cannot take full credit for that, Miss Waite. There are travelers waiting in Edenbrook to come here. I must take the coach there, even if you weren’t going now, I would still have to. So, as you can see, it all works out. Hop on in. Maybe you can get a little shuteye during the ride.”
She took his hand and stepped up into the coach thanking the reinsman. The coach seemed so roomy with no one else inside. Delia felt as if she rode in the lap of luxury and entertained a mind game in which she was a great lady traveling across the countryside in her crested carriage. Within ten minutes she’d dozed off rocked into slumber by the gentle swaying of the vehicle, and before she knew it, the coach had come to a slow stop.
“Edenbrook.” The driver’s words echoed down to her, and right away, he was at the door of the coach opening it. He reached in to help her, and Delia set foot in her new town.
“I’ll have your things brought over to the station, Miss Waite. Good luck, and thank you for using the Denver Stage Company.”
Delia looked up at the man. “Yes. I thank you, Mr. Delaney.” She surveyed the area and saw a carriage parked in front of the station house porch. She squared her shoulders and walked toward the station.
“Hello! You must be Delia! I’m Ro. Rowena Mackenzie.” The woman scrambled out from behind the vehicle and off the station house porch without waiting for the man who had stood beside her. She hurried toward Delia, and Rowena reached for the younger woman and embraced her. Then she put her at arm’s length and studied Delia’s face.
“You look more like your mother with each passing year I’m sure.” And she embraced Delia again.
When she was released Delia noticed that a youngish man had stepped down from the porch and stood just behind Rowena. He was of medium height with rusty brown hair and tan skin. There was a wiry grace to his movements. As he approached, Delia suddenly felt shy. Her eyes dropped, and her cheeks felt hot and flushed. This must be Jack Bowdrie. She’d had no idea he was so handsome, and she wondered if he found her appearance pleasing. She also wished she could remember what they’d corresponded about. Her mind was drawing a complete blank.
Their letter writing had gone on slowly for one year. A letter or two each month in which the couple had described their everyday lives, their hopes and fears, and their dreams of the future. They’d shared much, and Delia felt as if she knew Jack well in spite of the physical distance that had separated them. She closed her eyes. Her mind was a complete blank. She had no idea what to say to Jack Bowdrie.
“… and you know Jack already. At least by word.” Rowena stepped back and gestured to her nephew, once again pulling Delia from her thoughts.
“Ah, it’s very nice to meet you, Mr. Bowdrie.”
Jack extended his hand and nodded. “Miss Waite.”
Delia felt drawn into his deep chestnut brown eyes. Her breath caught as she placed her hand in his, and for a moment, it seemed as if all else had fallen away. She gazed at him, caught in a timeless moment.
“Well, now that we’ve met. I hope you’re not too tired dear to have tea and meet Ruth.”
“Ruth?” Delia tore her eyes from Jack’s and looked confusingly at Rowena.
Rowena blinked and then looked to Jack.
“Uh, Ruth O’Hare. Do you remember I wrote to you about her, Delia?” Jack was the one who now looked confused.
Delia thought for a moment. “Oh, yes. Mrs. O’Hare. The boarding house lady. I’m to work there am I not?”
Jack chuckled. “You do not have to work, but you will be staying with Ruth until, until, uh, we, um you know, until we decide what we wish to do in the future. Ruth went to finishing school with your mother and aunt in New Jersey. Of course, she married Eli O’Hare and moved out here almost immediately, but not before she’d attended your parents’ wedding. But they lost touch when Ruth came out west. When Aunt Ro and I went to Ruth to share the idea of you staying with her, she recognized your family name, she said. I knew a girl once who married a man named Edward Waite. Delia, do you recall I wrote to you about her?”
“Yes! I do. Of course I remember now. Of course I’m not too tired to meet Mrs. O’Hare. Besides, it would be rude to stay here tonight without having first met her.”
“Very good.” Rowena smiled and looped her arm through Delia’s. “Let’s head over to the boarding house. It’s just a block away, and Ruth lives in the cottage back behind the main house. The back house had been the servants’ quarters for many years. But when the homeowners left town some years ago, they sold the back house to Ruth who had been their housekeeper. Within time, after the former gentleman of the house had died, his wife sold the place to Ruth for a very good price. She then opened her boarding house for young ladies. She’s been very successful. A born businesswoman, I’d say.”
“How nice. I look forward to meeting her and working for her. I’m so used to working I don’t know that I could exist without doing so. I must occupy my days with hard work. It is almost like a meditation to me.” She looked deeply into the older woman’s eyes and smiled. Delia felt that Rowena understood the need she had to find solace in working hard.
“Well then, let’s head over there.”
Jack nodded, and the three headed over to the boarding house one block away. As they turned the corner, the large, three-story yellow clapboard house came into view.
“Oh, how lovely. And so big! My goodness.”
“Well, we have many young ladies moving out west these days, as you know,” Rowena offered. “Some pass through town and some stay here to work and meet a potential husband. And there are the mail order brides too.”
“Of which I am one in a way.”
“Yes, I suppose. With the difference being that we are family friends. Many of the young women who answer the advertisements in The Marriage Times come west with no knowledge of their futures except marriage. There have been occasions of lies, on both sides, about who certain individuals really are. You have no worries in that area. We will take care of you. Always.” Rowena lowered her voice and spoke into Delia’s ear, “No matter what happens.” She pulled her head back and nodded.
“Here we are.” Jack opened the gate onto the walkway up to the large front porch that was graced with rocking chairs.
“How pretty it is.” Delia took in the large rug that stretched from the stairs to the front door. The lace curtains in all the windows beckoned in a charming and welcoming way. She ran up the steps and turned around to smile again at Rowena and Jack.
“Hello?” The front door of the house opened, and a petite lady with blonde hair stepped out. “Rowena! Jack! Come in.” She turned to Delia. “And you must be my new ward.”
“I hope to be your new employee.” Delia laughed.
“Well I can use help, that’s for sure. But let’s get an idea of your plans before discussing that, shall we? Come. I’ll take you to the back house where you’ll stay, Delia. I’ll show you to your room, and you can see the big house tomorrow.”
“I’ll have my own room?”
“Well yes, dear. Of course you will.”
“I’ve never had my own room before. Not even when Papa was alive. I slept in the little alcove off my parents’ room. And at the Lukens’ I shared a room with two other maids.”
“Then I’d say you’ve paid your dues and earned your own!” Ruth smiled, and Rowena joined her.
“Alright. Take Delia back, Ruth. I need to pick up some seed from the general store. I’ll be back shortly. Does that suit everyone? Aunt Ro?”
“It suits us,” the three answered in unison, laughing.
Jack nodded and motioned for Delia to step outside with him.
“I’ll have her back to you in just a minute, ladies.”
“Take your time, dear. Delia, we’ll be in the kitchen waiting for you.”
“Thank you, Ruth. Thank you, Rowena.” Delia turned and stepped outside onto the front porch with Jack.
“I just wanted to reiterate to you our plan, Delia. The one we wrote about.”
“Yes, I-I remember … Jack. I’ll stay with Ruth, working at the boarding house until you and I get to know one another better.”
He nodded. “Mm-hmm. And I want you to be completely comfortable with any and all arrangements. You do not have to work at Ruth’s house. I can support you until you’re sure of our other, tentative plans.”
“You’re quite generous, Jack. But I need to work. It focuses me. I wouldn’t know how to be a lady of leisure.” She giggled.
“Whatever you’re comfortable with, Delia. So, now I’ll leave you with my aunt and Ruth. I have an errand to run. Then I’ll come back around to pick up Aunt Ro.”
“I’ll let her know.”
“Good evening then, Delia. I’ll see you tomorrow. Ruth will take good care of you in the meantime.”
He took hold of her hand and brought it to his lips. He kissed it gently and released it to turn and step down from the porch of the boarding house. Delia stood in the shade of the porch, her cheeks hot and flushed. She realized that Jack was a kind and generous man. He’d paid her way and made all the arrangements for Delia to move to Edenbrook. Marriage to Jack seemed to offer what could only be a good choice. He was handsome. He was intelligent, and he was a complete gentleman.
Delia leaned back against the open front door jamb, hugging herself and smiling. She said a little prayer of thanks for the blessings that kept presenting themselves to her. She then went into the house and back to the kitchen to sit with Ruth and Rowena. She felt peace in her heart that she hadn’t felt in a very long time.
After a week, Delia found that she was enjoying her new life. The work was hard, but no more difficult that she was used to. And Ruth was a fair and generous employer.
Delia walked back from the main house after hanging the sheets and other laundered items on the lines in the courtyard.
“I think this arrangement is going to work out just fine, Delia.” Ruth smiled as the younger woman entered the back cottage they shared. “You’re quite the accomplished homemaker.” Her smile increased, and she winked at her ward.
“Well, I have all the same jobs I’ve done before. I suppose the more you do the same chores, the quicker you’re able to get them done. I must say, though, I’ve never been compensated so handsomely for the work that I’ve done. I truly thank you, Ruth. It’s a pleasure working here. I hope, well …” Her words trailed off.
“I know you haven’t decided yet if you’re entirely sure of your imminent marriage, Delia. But I can tell you I’ve known Jack Bowdrie since he was nineteen years old and arrived in town looking for work. My husband, God rest his soul, took a shine to Jack, and the boy became to us like the son we’d never had. Eli was a ranch hand, and he took Jack under his wing. He taught him the job, and within two years, the two of them had bought a ranch together. They worked side by side for four more years. Then Eli had the accident and, well, that was that.”
“I’m very sorry for your loss, Ruth.”
“It was a difficult time. But Jack took care of me. Still does. My husband left his half of the ranch to Jack. Eli knew I had no interest in living out there, and he provided for me here in town. That’s how I had the money to buy this place. I, too, have the need to work much as you do. I could have stayed in our place out on the ranch or bought a small house here in town. Staying where Eli and I lived was not an option for me. Too many memories. But I took this cottage, then the main house, and I started my business. And I have to say if I’m not exactly happy, I am quite content with my life. I’m quite a blessed woman.”
“I’m so glad to have met you, Ruth. You’ve been very kind to me.”
“You make it easy, dear. You make it easy. Now, will you pick up this package at the spice shop for me when you go out on your break?”
“Of course. It’s the shop over by the church. Is that right?”
“The very one.”
“I’ll be about an hour. I have a few errands I want to run. Are you agreeable?”
“Yes, dear. Take your time.”
Delia tipped her pretty new hat to a pleasing angle and wrapped her long jacket around her shoulders. She hadn’t been downtown more than twice and then she’d been accompanied by Ruth or Rowena.
Her evenings had been passed in the parlor with Jack acting the part of the gentleman courting his lady. Delia smiled at the thought. She looked forward to seeing Jack that very evening for a dinner out at a restaurant.
She hurried through the gate of the boarding house and onto the walkway to head toward the church downtown and hence the spice shop. She wasn’t paying attention to where she was going, so intent on getting there as she closed the gate behind her and stepped forward.
“Oh! Excuse me. I’m so sorry.”
Delia looked up into the violet colored eyes of a striking young woman about her own age. The woman was tall and elegantly dressed. Delia felt a bit shabby in comparison.
“No, it should be me to apologize,” Delia stated, “I-I wasn’t looking where I was going.”
“I insist. It’s my fault!” The lady smiled again, showing a dimple on her right cheek. Her dark hair was a mass of shiny ringlets caught up at the crown of her head and cascading down over one shoulder. Her violet eyes sparkled.
Delia was sure she’d never seen such a beautiful woman. She wondered if the lady before her was a rich debutante or a famous actress who’s name she couldn’t place.
“How thoughtless of me.” The woman extended her hand. “Willow Freeman.”
“Miss Freeman. How very nice to meet you.” Delia took the proffered hand. “My name is Delia Waite.”
“Actually, I know who you are Delia. You’re the little bride to be, are you not? You’re going to marry Jack Bowdrie. I feel congratulations are in order.” She stepped back and smiled, enchantingly. “May I escort you on your errand, Delia? One of the lovely things about the west is our freedom. We women can stroll about town together or alone. We don’t have to wait for a man to be in the mood to accompany us. Do let’s you and I walk together and have a nice chat. Would you like that, Delia?”
“Why, y-yes. Yes, I would.”
“Good.” Willow placed her arm about her new acquaintance’s waist, and the two headed toward the church steeple in the distance.
“How do you know Jack?” Delia was somewhat confused as no one had mentioned Willow to her.
“Oh, we’re old friends. From years ago, really.”
“Then you must know him well.”
“Yes, one could say that. You must be concerned that you’ve made the right choice. Am I right about that? Here you’ve left behind your life in Philadelphia to come here and get married to a man you don’t actually know. How much can one really learn about another from letters alone? Do you agree?”
Delia nodded her agreement even as she was slightly taken aback that Willow seemed to know all about her. But then again, gossip was a main form of entertainment in any town. Although she hadn’t thought about it before the present moment, Delia now figured that there were probably others in Edenbrook who knew the story of her arrival in town.
“But Jack and I are not rushing into anything. You know? I’m living at the boarding house while Jack and I …”
“While the two of you get to know one another better. A very smart way to go about it if I do say so myself. If I were in your shoes, I would follow the same path, I’m sure. As I mentioned, I’ve known Jack Bowdrie for years, and he’s a wonderful human being. But Delia, marriage is a lifetime commitment. It’s not something to be taken lightly. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Oh, look, here we are at the church. Delia, we must make plans to see each other again. Do you like the Theater? I absolutely adore the Theater, and I just know we’re going to be the best of friends. I always have a sense about such things. Now, give me a hug. You must tell Jack about our meeting. The three of us must see each other soon. Promise me?”
“Y-yes Willow. Certainly. Whatever you say,” Delia said as her new friend twirled around to walk in the opposite direction.
She watched as Willow’s form grew smaller, and she wondered as to their meeting. Delia was impressed that so charming a creature would want to make her acquaintance. But everything about Willow that was impressive also intimidated Delia. She turned away and quickly made her way toward the spice shop. All was bound to turn out as Willow prophesied. The two women were destined to become fast and wonderful friends. Delia hoped that it was true. She’d been lonely for a female friend her own age.
At seven o’clock that evening, Jack knocked on the door of the little cottage at the rear of the boarding house.
“Hello, Jack. Delia will be down in just a minute.”
“Thank you, Ruth.” Jack walked into the parlor and sat on the sofa.
“Will you have a drink, Jack?”
“No, thank you, Ruth. We’ll be on our way in a bit.”
“Very well, son. Have a nice evening. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yes. Good night, Ruth. And thank you for taking such nice care of Delia. I doubt you know how much I appreciate it.”
“She’s a joy to have around, Jack. A lovely, lovely girl.” Ruth smiled again and left the room.
A few minutes later, Delia entered the parlor. As soon as she laid eyes on, Jack butterflies began fluttering around in her stomach. He looked so handsome in his dark suit with his dress-up cowboy hat.
“You look lovely, Delia.” Jack looked pleased with her appearance, and she was glad. She’d taken extra care to dress for dinner this evening. Her burnished gold dress suited her coloring exquisitely, and her dark brown tresses were arranged in a chignon low on her neck. Her honey brown eyes glowed.
“Thank you, Jack.”
Jack led Delia outside and helped her into the buggy. The night was mild for April, and the full moon was just coming up over the mountains. In ten minutes they were at the hotel. Jack handed the buggy off to the stable boy, and the couple walked inside to their table.
Once again, the butterflies in Delia’s stomach went haywire. Jack had pulled her seat out for her. He was so gentlemanly yet so strong and virile. As each day passed, the thought of becoming his wife was ever more appealing. She sat, and he helped put the chair in then went to the other side of the table and his own chair.
“You know, Jack, it almost seems like a dream. Do you experience a similar feeling? You and I sitting here having dinner together as a couple. It’s something I’ve imagined since early on in our correspondence. I’m so glad to be here.”
He gave her a brief smile and looked around the room. Delia noticed that some of the other diners were looking in their direction. Ah, that must be why Jack seemed so nervous. Indeed, he seemed to be looking everywhere but at Delia herself when the server approached their table with menus.
They ordered steak for two, creamed spinach, buttery mashed potatoes, carrots with a ginger glaze, and rolls of crusty bread. Jack had also ordered a bottle of French Cabernet.
Delia delighted in the delectable offerings that were presented to them. She decided that Jack would talk to her about his mood when he was ready. While she waited for him to open up, she would regale him with words of reassurance.
“You know, this restaurant is lovely, Jack. And the food is absolutely delicious.”
“Well, that’s good, Delia. I’m glad you’re enjoying it.” Jack poured a little more wine into her glass, then topped off his own. He glanced around the restaurant once more.
“I want you to know how happy I am to be here in Edenbrook. I, well, I look forward to getting to know you better. I’m grateful to have the opportunity.”
Jack looked at her and smiled shyly. “I feel we both are fortunate, Delia.”
With that, Jack appeared to relax a great deal. His shoulders relaxed, and it seemed that he allowed his attention to fixate on Delia instead of being all over the place.
“So, will you tell me more about the ranch?”
“I will, Delia. In fact, maybe tomorrow I could take you out to the place. I know Aunt Ro would love to see you. It’s not so far from town as to be inconvenient.”
“It sounds wonderful. I would enjoy it a great deal, I’m sure. I want to know all about the ranch and Edenbrook, Jack. If I’m to make my life here, I want to know everything.”
Jack chuckled. “There’s plenty of time for that. I know Aunt Ro wants to have a little welcoming party for you out at the ranch. She wants to invite family friends. You haven’t met any of the hands who work the ranch or any of the house staff.”
Delia almost dropped her wine glass. “House staff? My goodness, Jack! There’s a staff at the ranch house? Of servants?”
“Yes, servants. You just might end up as a lady of leisure after all.” He chuckled again.
“I don’t know if I can take a place among the high society ladies of Edenbrook, Jack.” Delia was sincerely nervous at the prospect of being raised up the social ladder. “Today I met a real lady. I don’t know what to say other than I don’t know if I could live up to all that is required.”
“Delia! I’m shocked to hear you speak so. The only thing you’re lacking in the way of being a real lady is money. And that’s where I come in. My ranch is second to only one other in the state of Colorado. In the last ten years, I’ve been able to make a great deal of money. Some have accused me of having a golden thumb.” He grinned from ear to ear.
She smiled back. “That’s wonderful to hear, Jack.”
“I’m glad you think so. And who is this lady you met today?”
“Actually, she’s a friend of yours. She is most striking with violet eyes and dark hair. Quite charming, also.”
“She seems to have made quite an impression on you.” Jack shifted in his seat.
“Oh she did, Jack. And she wants to meet us for an evening at the Theater. I think it would be delightful.”
“So you’ve fallen under the spell of Willow Freeman. Well, I daresay you’re not the first.”
Delia started. “You’re acquainted with her, I’ve been told. She mentioned that the two of you are old friends.”
“Yes. I’ve known Willow for many years. I’d heard she was back in Edenbrook. I haven’t seen her, though.”
“Then it will be all the more fun to meet with her for a night out. Don’t you think so, Jack? She’s going to call on me at the boarding house next week. She made me promise to ask you about the three of us spending time together. Oh, we can go, can’t we, Jack? She suggested the Theater. It would be so fun. Please say yes.”
“We will do whatever pleases you, Delia.”
She smiled again. Jack was kind to her. He seemed to want to please her and that, alone, gave Delia a thrill whenever she thought about it.
The rest of their meal went by pleasantly enough. When they were through, Jack escorted Delia back to the boarding house, then headed back to the ranch.
“I’m telling you, Aunt Ro, there’s something untoward going on. Out of the blue Willow has returned to Edenbrook? I’d heard from Joe Stewart that she was back, and I’ve been bracing myself to run into her. But who ended up crossing paths with her but Delia.”
Rowena said nothing. She continued kneading the bread dough seeming to withhold her opinion until Jack was finished with his tirade.
“I can’t help feeling Willow is up to something. She never does anything that has no reason to it.”
“Well, I did hear something about her father wanting her to settle down. You know and marry. Apparently, Mr. Freeman was finished with Willow running around in New York going shopping, and to parties and fetes while doing nothing in the way of trying to capture a rich husband. He thought she’d enchant someone from among one of the rich New York families. But alas, the rich residents of Edenbrook lack the refinement of the New York four hundred.
“Don’t misunderstand me, Jack. Willow is certainly beautiful enough to marry up even if, back east, she might be considered a little rough around the edges. She did grow up on a ranch after all. And certain refinements can be learned.”
“But she didn’t find a husband.”
“No, she did not.”
“And her father made her come back to Edenbrook?”
Rowena lowered her voice as if there were others around who might hear her speaking to her nephew. “Well, it’s being said that Mr. Freeman, who desperately wants grandchildren, threatened to cut Willow off unless she came home. Apparently, he felt she was groveling among the elite of New York. He was heard to say that if his daughter didn’t prove fine enough for the four hundred, then she should come home where she sat on the top of the heap.”
“I thought as much. She would never willingly come back, but now that she has, I imagine she’s scheming.”
“Yes. I don’t accept the idea that Willow ran into Delia by the power of coincidence. There’s something going on under the surface of things. She put the idea in Delia’s head about the three of us attending the Theater together. Delia is quite taken by her.”
“Does Willow know about your history with Willow?”
“No. Willow told her we were old friends. I want to keep as much about my former relationship from Delia as I can. I won’t be comfortable until I figure out just what it is that Willow is up to.”
“You don’t think she’d have the nerve to try and get you back, do you?”
“That’s exactly what I think, Aunt Ro. Now, I mean I’ve gone out of my way to avoid Willow. And, frankly, I believed she was doing the same where I’m concerned. But then she introduced herself to Delia. She introduced herself to the woman who has come out here to marry me.
“I know Willow well, Aunt Ro. She will not accept that her former hold on me has been broken once and for all. I’d resigned myself to be alone for my life until you finally talked me into writing to Delia. And now everything has changed.
“I’ve fallen for Delia, Aunt Ro. I’m sure about marrying her. I want very much to share my life with her. However, I don’t want to rush her or have her feel pressured. I want her to be completely confident and comfortable when, if, we become husband and wife.”
Rowena chewed her lower lip. “Oh dear. This could become complicated. If Willow has actually set her sights on you, Jack. There could be trouble. Serious trouble. Willow is a conniving woman. And Delia is so gentle and trusting. Oh dear. I-I don’t know what to think. Willow has the gift of drawing folks in and getting them to do what she wants them to do. I worry for Delia if Willow decides to cause problems.”
“If it were up to me, I would avoid any interaction with Willow. But Delia was so taken with her. I don’t know if it’s prudent to reveal to Delia the particulars of my past with Willow. Not to be redundant, but I want to know what Willow is up to before divulging anything of our past to Delia.”
“But what if Willow says something to her?”
“I must figure out how to approach the situation. I cannot avoid Willow forever. Edenbrook is not that big a town. Sooner or later we’ll be around each other.”
“So maybe the Theater idea is a good one. Is that a possibility?”
“No, but it might be the lesser of two evils.”
“What evils are you referring to, Jack?”
“We can go to the Theater where I have some control over the situation, or Willow becomes friends with Delia without my inclusion. I can’t allow that to happen. I don’t trust Willow.”
“Jack, I know she broke your heart. But it’s been four years. Surely you’re over her. You said you want to marry Delia.”
“I do want to marry Delia. And I’m over Willow. My fear is that she might want to cause trouble for me. You say her father wants her to marry. Her father and I were going to join our ranches. It would have been an exceedingly lucrative venture. But then Willow ran off. Luke Freeman and I waited. We put our plans on hold. For two years, Aunt Ro. Two whole years I waited like a dog for her to come back. Why, I waited for her to write a letter. One letter of explanation. But she never contacted me.
“And then her father told me she’d taken up with a gentleman in New York. A rich lawyer who was a lawyer in name only since he had no actual need for employment. I guess that didn’t work out for her. There were other … rumors. A mutual banker friend in New York wrote to me that he’d seen Willow at a salon party. She’d been there with her lawyer friend who is acquainted with my banker friend. The lawyer, it turns out, is a married man. Willow was living as the mistress of a rich older man. That securely ruined any chance of her marrying into the elite.”
Rowena gasped. “Jack, I’m so sorry. If your suspicions that Willow wants to cause problems prove true, it would be truly awful. Do you think there’s even a slight possibility that Willow is sincerely extending the olive branch to you? And to Delia? Maybe she honestly wants to be friends. Sometimes people turn over a new leaf. It’s quite possible that Willow is repenting in her way.”
“If only your words were true, Aunt Ro, but unfortunately I don’t believe that Willow wants to be friends with Delia or myself.”
“Then what, exactly, is the point of her approaching Delia would you say?”
Jack sighed. “I think she wants to hold our past relationship over my head. It’s clear to me that Delia has absolutely no idea of the details of my time with Willow.”
“A Tremendous Scheme Against Love” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Delia Waiter is a mail order bride from Philadelphia, who relocates to Edenbrook, Colorado in search of love. Through letters, a strong connection is created with Jack, a successful rancher in the west. Although Delia had some second thoughts about this arrangement, everything seems to flow smoothly between them. Only until she will realize that Jack is hiding things from her! Will his past stand as an obstacle to their relationship?
Jack Bowdrie’s last adventure with love left him heartbroken. However, he has decided to move forward and give it another try. No matter how hardworking and focused he has been for the last few years, now that his business has grown, he is finally ready to settle down. In Delia’s face, he seems to find everything he has been looking for. With each passing day, their courtship flourishes and the couple grows closer. Will their happiness last or someone else’s plans will get in the way?
Afraid to be hurt, Jack and Delia build their relationship step by step, cautiously, but soon a manipulative woman will appear on the horizon to mess with their plans. Willow has taken it upon herself to befriend Delia under the pretense that she and Jack are old friends. What is her real motive? Is the couple’s newborn love strong enough to face the challenges that will come ahead?
“A Tremendous Scheme Against Love” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.