Authors: Ashley Merrick
Tags: #Historical, #Romance, #Fiction, #Forever Love, #Victorian Era, #Western, #Fifth In Series, #Saga, #Fifty-Books, #Forty-Five Authors, #Newspaper Ad, #Short Story, #American Mail-Order Bride, #Bachelor, #Single Woman, #Marriage Of Convenience, #Christian, #Religious, #Faith, #Inspirational, #Factory Burned, #Pioneer, #Indiana, #Sisters, #South Bend, #Widower, #Two Children, #Burn Scarred, #No Romance, #Name-Only Marriage, #Financial Security, #Best Friends Daughter, #Mother Disappointed, #Adversary, #Community, #Family Life
ndia was disoriented
at first when she woke the next morning to rays of sun streaming in through a window that was framed with soft, sheer curtains. She stretched, slowly eased herself out of bed and padded to the window to look outside. By the time they’d reached the house the night before, it had been too dark to see well. Her jaw dropped as she took in the view. The house was set on the bank of St. Joseph’s river, which was main river that ran through South Bend. Richard had explained during one of their meals on the train that the name South Bend referred to where the river bended. The river was a main route for transportation and he explained that they used it quite a bit for their business. India had also learned that her new husband and his family were very well off, indeed. Their wagon and carriage business was the largest in the country. India couldn’t quite grasp what that meant, though. She was just happy to feel secure. For the first time in a long time, she wouldn’t have to worry about what she’d be able to afford to eat.
There was a slight chill to the air. She felt the windowpane and it was ice cold. The sky outside was overcast, more gray than blue and made India wonder if they might see a bit of snow at some point. The children would probably love that. India smiled to herself. She was like a child when it came to snow, too. She loved to see the flakes drift down, especially as the holidays neared. It always put her in a festive mood.
She pulled a thick wool sweater that her mother had knit for her on over her nightgown, and then padded downstairs. Richard was already in the kitchen, adding some logs to the wood stove in the corner. He looked up and took in her thick sweater.
“I’m sorry about the cold. I’m usually up much earlier than this. It was good to be back in my own bed.”
“It’s fine. It looks like it’s cold outside today.”
“I think we might see some snow. That’s the feeling I got when I went out to feed the horses a few minutes ago. There’s a wetness to the air, if you know what I mean?”
“I do. Shall I make us some coffee and breakfast?”
“That would be great. There’s coffee in the cupboard, a water kettle on the counter by the stove,a bowl of eggs on the counter and bread in the drawer below.”
India got busy heating up water for coffee and slicing bread for toast. Fifteen minutes later, she had scrambled eggs, buttered toast and hot coffee ready for them. Just as they finished eating, the children came downstairs and she made a second batch of eggs and toast for them.
“After everyone is washed and dressed, I thought I’d show you a buggy you can use and you can follow me downtown so I can show you around. You can meet Julia’s teacher and then do some shopping at the mercantile, if you like. It looks like the kitchen needs stocking up.”
Thirty minutes later, Richard introduced her to Dusty and Daisy, the two horses that would be pulling her buggy. He showed her how to put on their harnesses and get them situated with the buggy. The children rode with Richard while India got familiar with the horses and handling the reins. It wasn’t too difficult and after a few minutes, the horses found their rhythm and India relaxed a little as she followed closely behind Richard’s buggy. They weren’t far from the downtown area and just fifteen minutes later, India turned onto Main Street and saw the schoolhouse up ahead. They both tied the horses up outside the front door, and then India followed Richard and the children inside. A few children were already in their seats and a pretty, young woman smiled when she saw them. She walked over to say hello and Richard made the introductions.
“India, this is Sarah Morgan, Julia’s teacher. Sarah, India and I have recently married.”
Sarah smiled and held out her hand. “Welcome, India. I hope you’ll love living in South Bend. You won’t have to worry a bit about Julia. She’s an excellent student, and is especially good at math.” Julia smiled shyly.
“That’s wonderful to hear. It’s very nice to meet you, too, Sarah.” India shook her hand and immediately liked the other woman. Sarah had a friendly and warm way about her and when she’d praised Julia’s math skills, the little girl’s face had lit up.
“Julia, either myself or India will be back to pick you up at the end of the day.”
“I’m happy to do it,” India volunteered. Now that she knew how to get to downtown and where the school was, she’d be happy for something to do that afternoon, to feel useful.
“If you could, I’d appreciate it. I have a meeting this afternoon that may go on for a while.”
They said their goodbyes to Julia and then walked outside. The mercantile was just half a block away on Main Street, so they walked over together and went inside. The store was large and seemed to have just about everything India could imagine needing. Richard introduced her to Irene and Jim Thorton, the older couple that ran the store. India gathered up a few staples that she’d noticed they needed, such as flour, milk, potatoes and sugar. Richard then took her to the shop next door and introduced her to Evan Cutler, the butcher he preferred. India selected a large chicken. For her first meal here, she’d decided to make her signature dish, the chicken potpie. She had the recipe memorized and knew it would likely appeal to everyone.
Richard carried her bags to the buggy and settled Sammy into the passenger side seat.
“Do you have everything you need?” he asked.
“Yes, I think I do.”
“And you’re sure you don’t mind getting Julia later this afternoon?”
“Not at all. I’m happy to do it.”
“Thank you. I’ll see you later tonight, then.”
non-stop during the ride home. He pointed out every bird that he saw and place that he recognized.
“That’s our church. We go every Sunday.” He pointed to a neat, white building with a picket fence around it and pretty stained glass windows. “Do you go to church?” he asked, peering up at her under the longest lashes India had ever seen on a boy or a girl. Sammy was a handsome boy and she could already tell those big eyes were going to melt her heart. He seemed immediately accepting of her, unlike Julia who was understandably cautious.
“Yes, I go to church most Sundays. I’d be happy to go with you.” That answer satisfied Sammy.
“Good. Look, a squirrel!” He leaned so far to the right that India was afraid for a moment that he might fall out of the buggy. She slowed a bit and pulled him closer to her.
“Be careful, Sammy. We don’t want to lose you.”
hen they arrived home
, India brought the bags inside and Sammy followed close behind. She found him some toys to play with, and then went into the kitchen to put everything away. She decided to make some bread first. She’d noticed that they’d used up most of the bread earlier that morning and she enjoyed making bread. She found a large bowl, mixed together all of the ingredients, and then set it aside to rest. It would need to double in size before she would knead it and let it rest again before baking it. She decided to make a special treat for dessert, a chocolate cake. She hoped that Richard wouldn’t mind, but she thought it would be nice for the first dinner she was going to cook for them.
While the cake was baking and Sammy was still busy with his toys, India decided to explore the rest of the house. She made the children’s beds and straightened out Richard’s, which seemed like it had been half made. She had already made hers earlier. It was a habit she’d grown up with, to make her bed as soon as she got up in the morning. She poked around, and found some cleaning supplies, a mop and a broom in a closet by the kitchen. She went through the whole house, dusting and then sweeping and mopping the floors. Once that was done, she could smell the cake and knew it was ready to come out of the oven.
Sammy’s eyes widened when he saw her set the cake on the counter.
“Is that for lunch?” he asked.
India chuckled. “No, honey. We’re going to have that for dessert tonight after dinner.”
“We used to have dessert all the time, when my mommy was here.” He looked suddenly sad, and his bottom lip quivered. India realized she had to do something quickly or he would start to cry.
“It’s okay to miss your mommy, honey. Try to remember the happy things about her.”
He sniffled. “Like her cake?”
“Yes, that’s a happy memory. Are you getting hungry? How about a toasted cheese sandwich for lunch?”
“I love cheese sandwiches.” He was suddenly happy again and smiling. India wished that it was that easy for her to stop feeling sad. She wondered how her mother and Beth were doing, and hoped that they were settling in well in their new home.
“I’ll get lunch started for us. Why don’t you go and wash your hands?”
Sammy wandered off while India got busy in the kitchen making lunch for the two of them.
The rest of the afternoon flew, as she finished baking the bread and made a thick chocolate frosting for the cake. She had just finished frosting it when she realized it was time to go get Julia.
Julia was just coming outside of the schoolhouse as they pulled up in the buggy. She was about to climb in when India slowed the buggy to a stop, and then got out and tied up the horses.
“I need to stop back into the mercantile quickly. I forgot to get butter earlier.”
Sammy climbed out of the buggy, and then the three of them walked towards the mercantile.
“Did you have a good day at school?” India asked.
“It was all right, I suppose.”
“Just all right?” India notice that Julia sounded a little bit irritated.
“Tommy Haskell sits behind me and he keeps pulling my hair. It makes me really mad.”
India smiled. “How old is this Tommy?”
“He’s my age, seven.”
“Did you tell him to stop?”
“Yes, I did. But he still keeps doing it.”
“Young boys often do that, especially when they like a girl.”
“Eeew. Well, I don’t like Tommy Haskell. At all.” Julia stomped her foot for emphasis and India tried not to smile.”
“Try to just ignore him. If that doesn’t work, we can always see if the teacher will move your seat. Or tell Tommy to stop bothering you.”
They went inside the mercantile, and India quickly found some butter and brought it to the counter. There was a pretty blonde woman just ahead of her, and after she received her change and turned to leave, she stopped short when she saw India and the children.
Her face lit up. “You must be India!” she exclaimed. “I’m Laura, Richard’s sister. I am so happy to meet you.” She smiled and India was pleased to see that his sister was much friendlier than his mother. Perhaps they could be friends.
“I am. It’s so nice to meet you, too. We just arrived last night.”
“Well, I won’t keep you. You’ll meet the rest of the family on Thanksgiving in just a few days. I look forward to talking more then.”
“Aunt Laura is really nice,” Julia said as Laura left the store.
“She seems it.” India paid for the butter, and then they were on their way and home soon after.
“Do you like to cook?” India asked Julia when they went inside. Sammy immediately went off to find his toys while Julia stood there, seeming a bit unsure.
“I used to like to help my mother sometimes.”
“Would you like to help me? I’m going to make a chicken potpie. You can help me roll out the dough.”
India quickly mixed together the ingredients for the piecrust. Once the dough was ready, she broke it into two halves and showed Julia how to roll it out. Once the pie was filled and the crust crimped all around the edges, there was quite a bit of extra dough.
“What we do with that?” Julia asked.
India smiled. “I have a little project for you. Do you know where the jam is kept?”
“What kind? Strawberry or raspberry? We have both.”
“What’s your favorite?”
Julia thought for a moment. “Raspberry, I think.”
“So get the jam, and then what you are going to do is to make these scraps into a big ball. Roll it all out, then spread the jam on half and fold the dough over to cover it completely and seal the edges. Then we’ll bake it in the oven, too, and after it cools, slice it into little pieces and we will have raspberry tarts.”
For the first time since she’d met her, Julia looked excited.
“I’ve never had raspberry tarts before, but that sounds good.”
“Oh, they are. You’ll see.” When they were both ready, India put the potpie in the oven, and slid the raspberry tart next to it on a small pan. The pie would take at least an hour to cook, but the raspberry tarts only need about a third of that time.
Richard walked through the door about ten minutes after she’d taken the pie out of the oven when the smell of baking was still in the air. He stopped short for a moment, and sniffed before taking off his coat and hanging it up.
“Something smells good.”
“We’re having chicken pot pie for supper,” India said.
“And raspberry tarts!” Julia said excitedly.
“And chocolate cake, too,” Sammy added as he ran over to give his father a hug.
“The pie still needs to cool so we will probably be able to eat in about fifteen minutes or so,” India said.
“Perfect. I’ll be in the den until then. I have a letter I need to finish up.”
A little later when they all sat down to dinner, Richard asked how her day had gone.
“Good. I met your sister this afternoon. I forgot to get butter earlier, so we stopped back into the mercantile after I picked up Julia. She was very welcoming.”
Richard looked thoughtful for a moment. “Laura’s great. I expect that the two of you will get along well. She’s about your age and was just married last year. Her husband, Jason, works with us. He’s a manager in the factory.” He paused for a moment, and looked as though he was about to say something else. India smiled to encourage him to continue.
He sighed and then said, “I should probably explain something about my mother. You may have noticed that she wasn’t quite as welcoming last night. She was hoping, actually insisting is more like it, that I would marry the daughter of one of her friends, Olivia Thompson.”
India wasn’t quite sure what to say to that, so she said nothing.
“I’ve known Olivia since I was a child. She’s a beautiful woman, but I have no interest in marrying her. I think my mother was hoping that I would change my mind and come around. She was less than thrilled when I told her I was going to meet you in Massachusetts and hopefully get married.”
“I can understand why she would be disappointed, then. Hopefully, now that we’re married she will come around.”
“I’m sure she will, eventually. Just to warn you, though, it may take a while.”
India smiled. “That’s all right, we have time.”
aura woke abruptly
in the middle of the night to the sound of a small child crying quietly. She was confused at first, but after a moment when she woke a bit more fully, she realized what it was. Richard had told her about Sammy’s occasional bad dreams. She slid out of bed and made her way quietly down the hall and saw that Richard and Julia were already there. Richard was bending over Sammy, talking quietly to him until the crying stopped.
“Are you able to go back to sleep? Or do you want to come sleep in my bed?” Richard asked.
“Your bed,” came the tearful reply. Richard scooped him up and carried him down the hall, followed by Julia, who stopped outside her bedroom and turned to India. “This happens a lot,” she said.
“That’s all right. Good night.” India’s heart went out to both children, who were both still missing their mother so much.