Bride Ship Three
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Bride Ship Three
by Valerie Fletcher Adolph
Genre Historical Fiction
Tags bride ship, British Columbia, Canada, Fraser River Gold Rush, gold rush, Victorian, women’s history
Release October 6, 2014
Content Editor Nancy Canu
Line Editor Lisa Petrocelli
Cover Designer Cora Graphics
The year is 1862, and the Fraser River Gold Rush is at its height. Miners dominate the little town of New Derby, and they are eagerly awaiting the arrival of bride ships from England.
Scared, but eager for a new life, three very different young women step from a bride ship onto the rough shores of British Columbia. Elinor, the pampered adopted child of an elderly aristocrat, wants to escape her strict aunt and the stifling prospect of marriage, but her elegant manners are no preparation for the realities of frontier living. Clever Rosie, a prostitute since childhood, has chosen an uncertain future over prison and the workhouse. Janet has left the poverty of London, longing for a home and a husband, and a better life.
The three of them have formed an unlikely friendship during the hellish voyage. That friendship will be severely tested as they face discrimination, abuse, unlikely success, the possibility of love…and the threat of deportation. Will they be strong enough to survive in this rough new land, a land of gold miners, riverboats—and men unused to dealing with women who stand alone and face them as equals?
“You were crying”.
“I was not!”
“Tell me what the problem is.” He took her arm. “Tell me what you’ve been doing today, and why you’re wandering the street when you ought to be hard at work.”
“I have no job anymore.” With an effort she tried to make it sound less selfish. “Mrs. Bellows died, and Mr. Bellows was so distraught, poor man. It was so sad. We packed up as many of her things as we could, and Mr. Bellows left with it all, right away, back to San Francisco.”
“I’m sorry to hear it. This is a hard country for ladies. It’s hardly any time since my neighbor died. Some ladies just can’t take it here—no shops, not many other women, no family to talk to. It’s so isolated from the rest of the world.”
“It was hard for Mr. Bellows,” she said. “He must have taken a big loss on his hotel, but all he could think of was getting her body back to her family. People had been telling him for weeks to get her back to San Francisco, to good medical care, and he couldn’t seem to make his mind up to it. Now she’s dead, and he’s gone instantly.”
“When someone you love dies, nothing makes sense to you; you aren’t in your right mind. There’s no logic, your world shatters. You’re just broken and it feels as if nothing will ever put you back together. You can’t imagine being whole again.”
The lump in her throat became almost unmanageable. This wasn’t Mr. Bellows Jack was talking about. That whole relaxed exterior hid a man who was hurting. Suddenly she was consumed with the need to take away his pain. So strong was the feeling that she stopped walking and stood, trying understand it, wondering why it mattered to her that this man should be whole again.
Their arms were still linked, so he had to turn to face her when she stopped. Close as he was, he realized that something had changed. What, he didn’t know, but he was wise enough to leave it be. “Come home with me,” he said.
When Elinor and Jack reached Jack’s house, Janet was almost too excited to talk to them. She served watered down stew from the previous day but they hardly noticed because Janet herself had changed. Her hair was washed and shining, and she had painted and powdered her face so thickly that the cuts and bruises barely showed, her eyes outlined in black until they looked startlingly large.
Elinor tried to formulate a question that did not sound insulting, but Janet forestalled her. “I’m going to be singing in a saloon. Starting tonight. I’m so nervous. What if I forget the words?”
“I wouldn’t worry,” Jack said. “No one will notice.”
Janet giggled. “Rosie arranged it all. It’s that new saloon on Ames Street. And I might live there, if my singing works out.”
She burbled on, full of how Caroline had shown her how to do her hair, how to paint her face. She would have to buy her own paint and powder, but right now she was using Caroline’s. “It looks very fetching, doesn’t it? Do you think they’ll notice the cuts under the veil?”
“No, they won’t see a thing.” Elinor was fascinated by the face paint. She wondered how women put it on—what did they use?
“You look most alluring,” Jack said. “I’m afraid I’m going to lose the best housekeeper I ever had.”
“But you’ll get another one,” Janet teased, with a nod to Elinor.
To her surprise Elinor blushed.
“Oh, my goodness, I didn’t mean...” Janet blurted.
Jack took a chance. “I would be honored if Miss Munstead would share my home, share my life.”
Janet held her breath, her mouth open in surprise.
Elinor did not answer. The need to heal him was still confusing her, and the thought of a place to live—how convenient when she was losing her room at the hotel. It was too convenient. Yet what about this warmth and caring she experienced near him?. Was this love? Should she say yes to get a place to live? Should she say yes because she cared about this man?
“No,” she said.
He knew he could not ask her again. It cost him too much, too much in pain, too much in self-respect, which had mattered to him once. Mattered to him until this stuffy, opinionated girl had thought that miners with sacks full of gold at the assay office were lining up for free food.
It was done. Over. He had not been looking for a wife. He had not even been looking for a housekeeper—he had managed perfectly well on his own. He wanted to tell her to get out. Get out of his house, get out of his life.
He sat gazing into the fire while Janet collected the plates and took them to the scullery.
A hand on his knee, tentative. He sat forward, sharply aware of her touch.
“Please ask me again, now we don’t have an audience.” Her voice was soft, muffled, almost sounding lost.
He had never heard her voice without its self-assurance. Even when she asked questions it had been with that slight hint of condescension.
He asked her again, properly, on one knee—actually on both knees, he realized, because that was how he landed when he slipped off his chair.
Elinor looked at him, saw past his confusion and hurt to a depth of feeling that sent a tingling wave through her body. This was not caring for him, this was love. Nothing else mattered. She responded to him fully, her yes almost unheard as his lips covered hers
Janet, dishes washed and dried, came back into the room to remove the tablecloth and backed out quickly.
“Well, I’ll be off to the saloon.” She did not wait for an answer.