Read Head in the Clouds Online

Authors: Karen Witemeyer

Tags: #Christian Fiction, #Christian, #Historical Fiction, #Ranches - Texas, #ebook, #Texas - History - 1846-1950, #Fiction, #Romance, #book, #Historical, #Governesses, #Ranches, #General, #Religious, #Texas, #Love Stories

Head in the Clouds

BOOK: Head in the Clouds
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Head
IN THE
Clouds

Books by
Karen Witemeyer

A Tailor-Made Bride
Head in the Clouds

Head in the Clouds
Copyright © 2010
Karen Witemeyer

Cover design by Dan Thornberg, Design Source Creative Services

Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

Published by Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Avenue South
Bloomington, Minnesota 55438

Bethany House Publishers is a division of
Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Printed in the United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Witemeyer, Karen.

      Head in the clouds / Karen Witemeyer.

           p.     cm.

      ISBN 978-0-7642-0756-3 (pbk.)

      1. Governesses—Fiction. 2. Ranches—Texas—Fiction. 3. Texas—History—1846– 1950—Fiction. I. Title.

      PS3623.I864H43       2010
      813’.6—dc22

2010016353

To my mom.
We’ve shared so many dreams.
I pray you will share my joy as this one comes true.

And to my second mom, Hilda.
You shared your son with me and believed in my abilities
while I floundered in uncertainty.
You’re welcome to raid my book closet anytime!

A man’s heart deviseth his way:
but the Lord directeth his steps.
P
ROVERBS
16:9

Prologue

C
ISCO
, T
EXAS
—A
PRIL
1883

Tonight is the night.
She could feel it.

Adelaide Proctor stared at the man across from her, so many flutters dancing in her stomach she couldn’t possibly eat a bite of the apple pie he’d just ordered for her. The secret smiles he’d sent her that morning over breakfast at the boardinghouse, his request to dine with her so they might discuss the future …

The future! How could it be anything else? Henry Belcher was finally going to propose.

“Is the pie not to your liking, my dear?” He set his fork down and glanced up at her. Always solicitous, that was her Henry.

“I’m sure it’s delicious,” Adelaide said, looking down at her lap and fiddling with the hem of the white tablecloth. “It’s just that you mentioned you wished to discuss something with me this evening, and I’m afraid my curiosity has stolen my appetite.”

“Of course. How thoughtless of me.” He pushed his plate of half-eaten pie to the side and reached across the table, holding his hand palm up. “I should not have kept you in suspense all through dinner.”

With a hitch in her breath, Adelaide drew one arm from her lap and eased her fingers into his. His thumb rubbed the back of her hand—an intimate gesture that infused her with hope. And if it didn’t stir her deeper emotions … well, what did that matter? Not all marriages were based on a grand passion. She and Henry shared something much more likely to last: common interests and mutual respect. If carefully cultivated, she had no doubt such attributes would bloom into love.

“You have come to mean so very much to me over this last year,” Henry said, his tone oozing sincerity. “Every month when I start my route anew, I long for the day the train brings me to Cisco so that I might see you again. You’ve been so loyal to me, ordering books for your classroom or yourself. I can’t tell you how much your generosity has stirred my heart.”

Adelaide met his gaze, her own heart stirring. “I love to read, and I … I try to instill a similar value in my students.” She gently squeezed Henry’s fingers and watched as his mouth curved into a warm, masculine smile. “You always go out of your way to find just the right books for us. Other peddlers try to foist only their most expensive volumes. But not you. You care about your customers. I could tell that right from the start.”

“I care about
you
, my dear.”

Adelaide’s pulse hummed through her like a whirligig picking up speed. Before the T&P brought Henry to town, she had despaired of ever finding a husband. She’d signed a two-year teaching contract that precluded her from marrying within that time frame. The few suitors who had demonstrated interest when she first arrived lost patience and married elsewhere. But all her waiting was about to pay off.

Henry reached across the table with his other arm and cocooned her hand within both of his. “I care about you a great deal, Adelaide. That is why I’ve been reluctant to spoil our dinner with the news I must share with you.”

“Spoil our dinner?” Unease slithered through her. “What do you mean?”

“I received word from the home office. I’m to be promoted from salesman to regional manager.”

Relief so keen it nearly hurt washed over Adelaide. “Henry,” she scolded, “shame on you. You had me thinking the news was going to be dreadful. A promotion is cause for celebration. I’m so proud of you.”

Henry patted her hand in a way that felt less like reassurance and more like sympathy. “You don’t understand, darling. I’ll be working in Fort Worth permanently. I won’t be traveling the rail lines any longer. There will be no more visits to Cisco.”

Adelaide didn’t care if she left Cisco. Didn’t he realize that? She’d gladly resign from her teaching position and move to Fort Worth if it meant having a husband and family of her own. She’d yearned for such a blessing since the day her father died.

“It breaks my heart to think that I’ll not see you again.” Henry’s expression was so somber it frightened her. Was he not going to propose? Could he be so unsure of her answer that he’d not risk asking her to choose him over her students?

Yes. That must be it.

How could she embolden him without being too brazen? Adelaide nibbled on her lip and leaned forward in her chair. “With all the tales you’ve told me about Fort Worth’s burgeoning society—the concerts, the fancy hotel dining rooms, the parties of the wealthy cattle barons—I would think you’d be pleased to settle in such a town.” She lowered her lashes. “
I
would be happy to call such a place home.”

Adelaide peeked at Henry to judge his response. His sad smile remained fixed, his eyes unchanged. After a year of acquaintance she should have been able to decipher his mood better, but in truth, if she tallied all the days she’d actually spent in his company, they would barely add up to a couple of weeks. That’s what came from stepping out with a traveling book salesman. Riding the rails was his business. She’d only seen him once or twice a month. Yet, in those few days, she’d come to believe that Providence had brought him to her.

Henry released a heavy sigh and then slid his hands away from hers as he sat back. “I wish I could take you with me.”

Why can’t you?
Adelaide withdrew her hand and fisted it around the dinner napkin in her lap.
He’s leaving me?

Before the panic could fully claim her, Henry smiled—a beatific expression void of all worry and disappointment. “Who knows?” he said. “Fate may bring us together again.”

Adelaide loosened her grip on the napkin and successfully inhaled a full breath. Everything would be fine. It would. Something was holding Henry back, but he still cared for her. He wouldn’t have hinted at a future together otherwise. Perhaps this was simply the Lord’s way of testing her commitment.

As she looked across the table at Henry, she straightened her spine and nodded. They would meet again one day. She’d see to it. It didn’t matter what obstacle kept him from offering for her tonight. They would overcome it. The happy ending she’d longed for was within her grasp. She’d not let a little distance or a hesitant suitor steal it from her.

Chapter 1

O
NE MONTH LATER

The grandest adventure of her life waited on the other side of these tracks. That or the most humiliating debacle she’d ever created. Either way, there was no going back.

Adelaide Proctor drew in a deep, hope-filled breath … and nearly choked on the pungent odor of cattle dung wafting up from the stock pens farther down the rail line. She sputtered and wrinkled her nose but stepped forward nonetheless. It was of little consequence that Fort Worth smelled like manure or that gray clouds darkened the afternoon sky. She had traveled there to capture her dream, and nothing would deter her.

Adelaide waded across the depot platform through a sea of people who bustled about with energetic purpose. Returning travelers hurried to greet loved ones. Station attendants unloaded mailbags and other cargo. Hotel drummers plied newcomers with solicitations, each representative promising finer accommodations than the last. Adelaide drifted through them all, uncertainty dimming her excitement.

A gust of wind swirled around her and tugged at her straw bonnet. She smashed it back down on her head and stopped for a moment to adjust her hatpin. As she wiggled the pin into place, the locomotive behind her let out a burst of steam, its loud hiss startling her into motion. At a loss over which way to go and already missing the simplicity of small town life, Adelaide allowed herself to be swept along with the crowd.

It certainly hadn’t taken long for the first pangs of homesickness to hit. She’d only left Cisco a few hours ago. Aunt Louise would be
tsk
ing up a storm if she could see her. One would think that a young woman who had spent four years in Boston furthering her education and polishing her social graces would be right at home in a place the size of Fort Worth. Yet Adelaide remained a country girl at heart. No amount of social polish or book learning had been able to change that. Much to Aunt Louise’s everlasting consternation.

“Pardon, ma’am.” A boy no older than fifteen wheeled a cart loaded with trunks and leather bags into her path. She sidestepped to let him by. He nodded his thanks but didn’t pause in his work and soon disappeared into the crowd.

The image of his young face stayed with her, reminding her of her former charges. Boys with McGuffey’s readers on their desks and lizards in their pockets. She bit back the wistful sigh that rose in her throat, surprised to find that it tasted suspiciously like regret.

Adelaide straightened her spine and lengthened her stride. Regret? This was no time for second thoughts. It was time to chase her dreams. Henry was somewhere in this city, and she aimed to find him. She would teach again someday, if not in a schoolhouse, then with her own children. Hers and Henry’s. Her heart gave a little leap at the idea. Today was once-upon-a-time for her. The first page in a story that promised to lead to happily-ever-after.

“Have a place to stay, miss?” A man wearing a green uniform approached her with a salesman’s smile. “Clark House is the nearest hotel to the depot,” he said, his discourse well rehearsed. “It’s only a few steps away on Main Street. Guaranteed clean rooms. Fine dining. Respectable lodging for a young woman like yourself. I can even cart your luggage for you.”

Clark House.
Something about that name sounded familiar. Adelaide tipped her chin up to get a good look at the drummer. Her father had taught her to take a man’s measure by looking him straight in the eye. Unfortunately, few men were short enough to make that task as simple as it sounded, so she had to settle for assessing him at an angle. The cap he wore bore the words
Clark House
etched into a brass oval above the brim. He looked legitimate.

“Is there a livery stable near your establishment?”

Before he could answer, a man in blue appeared at her elbow. “Afternoon, miss. If a livery is what you need, the Day Hotel is the place for you. Freighter’s Wagon Yard is around the corner and Turner’s Livery is right across the street. Plenty of options to help a lady like yourself get around town.”

“Thank you, but I—”

“Turner’s Livery is actually closer to Clark House, miss,” the man in green insisted as he shot a glare at the interloper. “I’d be happy to show—”

“Ack. Don’t believe a word either of these fellas is tellin’ ya, lady.”

Gracious. Now there was one in red vying for her attention. Adelaide turned from one to the next. They were like park pigeons, pecking at each other in hopes of winning her crumb. And the longer she put off her decision the hungrier they became, edging closer and closer. Adelaide retreated a step.

“What you need is a room at the Clayton,” the red one said. “Our rates are much lower than these other rackets. We got good food, too.”

The men jostled each other as they tried to sell her on their establishments, their words running together. Adelaide’s gaze darted back and forth. Her breaths grew shallow and came a touch too fast, making her dizzy. Then one statement rose above the rest to grab her attention.

“I assure you that Clark House’s restaurant offers the finest fare in town. All of Fort Worth’s elite dine there.”

Now she knew where she had heard that name before—from Henry. When the boardinghouse fare was not to his liking in Cisco, he would rave about the sophisticated dishes he ate in Fort Worth, his favorite being the beefsteak at Clark House. So tender it would dissolve on a man’s tongue before he could chew it.

Adelaide made her decision. If Henry frequented the restaurant at Clark House, that’s where she’d stay. Who knew, the staff might even be able to provide his address.

“I’ll be staying at Clark House, gentlemen.”

The man in green smirked at his competitors, then tugged his vest over his waistband and straightened his face before turning his attention back to her. He nodded with a regal air. “Excellent. I’ll make the arrangements.”

The other men grumbled under their breath but ceded the victory, fading back into the crowd to hunt some other unsuspecting traveler. Adelaide snapped open the ball clasp on her handbag, feeling better now that the pigeons had fluttered off, and dug out two baggage tickets. She handed them to the Clark House drummer along with a couple of coins. “If you would be so kind as to fetch my trunks, I’ll collect my mare.”

“Very good, miss.” He pocketed the coins and pulled out a small writing tablet. “Your name, please?”

“Adelaide Proctor.”

His pencil moved across the paper. “I’ll see to it that your room is prepared and that a key is waiting for you at the front desk.” He flipped a page and scribbled some more. “If you take this note to Turner’s Livery, they’ll give you a discount on boarding fees.” He tore off the page and extended it to her. “Just go a block past Clark House. It’ll be on your right.”

“Thank you.”

The drummer headed toward the baggage car, leaving Adelaide to find her way to the stock area. Now that the crowd had thinned, she had a clearer view of the railcars. Plotting a path toward the rear of the train, Adelaide crossed the wooden platform to where a rail worker was unloading horses from a ventilated boxcar. She recognized Sheba’s glossy black tail and haunches as the mare skittishly backed down the ramp. The livery owner in Cisco had urged her to sell Sheba to him before she left town, but she couldn’t bear to do it. Her father had given her that filly the summer she turned sixteen. The same year he died. Sheba connected her to the only parent she’d ever known. She couldn’t possibly sever that tie.

Reaching the edge of the platform, she lifted the hem of her mustard-colored traveling dress just enough to safely descend the steps to the hard-packed dirt near the tracks. The handler led Sheba to a trough, and Adelaide let her drink her fill before walking her down to the livery.

In an effort to apologize for stuffing her into a smelly stockcar for the last several hours, Adelaide borrowed a curry comb from the stableboy and gave Sheba a thorough brush down.

“What do you think, girl? Is this a good place to make a new start?” Dust billowed out of Sheba’s ebony coat as Adelaide applied the comb in long strokes.

“I know Henry’s not the romantic hero I’d always hoped would sweep me off my feet, but he’ll be a good provider.”

Sheba snorted, unimpressed.

“Oh, hush.” Adelaide pulled up a wooden stool and stood on it to reach Sheba’s mane.

Even if Henry was not as passionate as Charlotte Brontë’s Mr. Rochester or as chivalrous as Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy, he had his charms.

It was high time she let go of her girlish fancies anyway. She’d waited years for a hero to walk out of the well-worn pages of the books she read by lantern light and capture her heart. But he never came. He always seemed to find someone prettier, or more biddable, or with better bloodlines. Well, she was tired of waiting. Tired of being passed over. She would shape her own destiny. She might not have found Mr. Heroic, but Mr. Satisfactory would do just fine.

After checking in to her room at Clark House and rinsing off the travel dirt, Adelaide changed into a lemon gingham dress that lightened her mood with its cheerful hue and headed down to the hotel dining room for supper.

No tables were available when she arrived, so she took a seat in the adjoining sitting room. A young girl perched on the edge of a red plush settee in the center of the room, blushing prettily as her swain wooed her with clumsy compliments. A more sophisticated couple stood conversing in the far corner, apparently discussing the merits of the landscape painting that dominated the wall beside them. Adelaide couldn’t help but notice how the woman’s gloved hand rested securely in the crook of the gentleman’s arm, and how he smiled at her with comfortable intimacy.

Envy flared within her. She turned away. Tucking her ankles beneath the base of her chair, she directed her gaze to the floor. There was nothing so awkward as being the only unattached female in a room of couples.

A discarded newspaper lay on the parlor table near her elbow. She snatched it up, hoping for a distraction. Her eyes roved back and forth across the page, but the words didn’t penetrate her mind.
Oh well.
Pretending to read served her purposes, too. She’d just hide behind the
Gazette
until her table was ready or the lovers left. Whichever came first.

Her chair was positioned in such a way that she could view the entrance to the dining area through the sitting-room doorway if she twisted her head to the side just a bit. And leaned back several inches. And hooked her foot around a chair leg so she didn’t lose her balance while she teetered on the edge of her seat.

The headwaiter rarely looked in her direction, but she planned to be ready with the most pitiful, pleading, puppy-dog expression she could muster if he did. She wanted nothing more than to slink off to her room, but the ham sandwich she had packed for the train ride had long since disappeared from her stomach. If she were to wrangle an early table, she’d be able to gulp down a quick meal and make her escape. After all, the sooner this day ended, the sooner she could set about the task of finding Henry. Then
she
would be the one whose hand rested on a gentleman’s arm and who swam in a flood of adoring glances. Yep. As soon as she found Henry, everything would be better.

“Have a good evening, Mr. Belcher,” the headwaiter intoned from the restaurant’s entrance. “I hope the food was to your liking tonight.”

Mr. Belcher?
Adelaide’s heart pounded.
Henry?
She shoved the paper into her lap. The crinkling sound deafened her to the man’s response. She leaned to the side and craned her neck to see his face, but two patróns blocked her view. Willing the woman and young boy to get out of the way, Adelaide leaned farther, needing to see him. He was the right height, and his pomaded hair glistened just like Henry’s… .

The oak chair leg bruised her foot as she pulled farther away from her support. If he would just turn around …

Plop.

Adelaide fell onto the floor in a graceless heap. Face aflame, she shot up as fast as possible, ignoring the gasps and titters from others in the room.

“Oh my. Are you all right, dear?”

The woman from the dining room left the boy’s side and came to assist her. Adelaide waved off her concern, the crumpled newspaper rustling in her hand.

“I’m fine, really. Thank you.”

“Well, if you’re sure …”

She began to nod, but the mystery man turned around at that very moment, and she froze with her chin tipped at an odd angle.

At the sight of his familiar features, happiness burst inside her. “Henry! It
is
you.” She had found him on her very first day in town. God had led him right to her. How marvelous!

She moved toward him, but her steps slowed as the color drained from his face. Somehow she had expected a flush of pleasure, not deathly pallor. It must’ve been the shock of seeing her outside their usual setting.

“Miss Proctor, how delightful to see you again. Are you taking a holiday?”

His voice sounded odd, rather squeaky and pinched. Dots of perspiration stood out on his forehead. Adelaide struggled to make sense of his reaction. He had always been confident and controlled. Had she really flustered him so badly? Before she could think of a way to politely ask what on earth was the matter with him, the kind woman who had come to her aid edged around her to stand next to Henry.

“You know this young woman, dear?”

Did she call everyone
dear
?

Henry took a handkerchief from his coat pocket and dabbed his brow. “Yes. Miss Proctor teaches school in Cisco, one of the stops along my old route. She was one of my best customers. Has a hankering for novels, as I recall.”

He gave a forced little laugh that did nothing to make Adelaide feel better. In fact, a sick feeling settled in the pit of her stomach.

“I see.” The woman smiled with guarded warmth. She reached out to clasp the hand of the boy who stood watching the adults with wide eyes, and drew him to her side. Then she placed her other hand in the crook of Henry’s arm. Just like the elegant woman in the sitting room.

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