Authors: Lorena Dove
Mail Order Bride
Sweet Land of Liberty Brides
Copyright 2015 by Lorena Dove. All right reserved
This book or any parts thereof may not be reproduced in any form, except for legitimate quotes for review purposes. It may not be stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, electronic or mechanical, or otherwise copied without the prior written permission of the author, except as provided by United States of America copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination. Real place names and public names may be used for atmospheric purpose. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions or locales is completely coincidental.
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“What is your name, child?” asked the large, imposing woman towering over the small creature crouching at the edge of the street. “Goodness gracious, a person could break her ankle stumbling over you!” Mrs. Forsythe waved her handkerchief at her face and peered over her thick glasses.
The small girl froze in place, her hand stretched out toward a dirty biscuit she was trying to scoop up off the sooty, mud-covered street.
“R-R-Rosa,” she stammered, looking up with tears in her large brown eyes.
The giant of a woman stood over Rosa, her thin lips set in a grim line, the flowers on her elaborate hat twitching disapproval in time to her shaking head. Rosa cowered beneath her, drawing herself into an even smaller bundle of calico and long black hair. The woman’s shadow grew over Rosa as she leaned down. Rosa trembled and closed her eyes tightly shut.
“Rosa. Well then. Ahem,” said the woman. “Let me help you with those. Where’s your mother?”
Rosa opened her eyes to see the thin lips curled into a genuine smile as Mrs. Forsythe reached across her to retrieve one of the errant biscuits. She burst into tears of relief and self-reproach.
“M-m-mama’s inside the church, and I’ve dropped her basket!”
“Did she buy you all these biscuits?” asked Mrs. Forsythe with one eyebrow raised.
“No, Ma’am! Mama sells biscuits and today I’m helping. Or I’m supposed to be …” her words trailed off as she fumbled with the ruined goods. “She works hard to bake enough and now these are ruined,” Rosa paused to wipe off her tears. “She’ll be sad.”
Mrs. Susan Forsythe was hardly accustomed to scrambling around in the dirt at the edge of the street. Her normal Sunday practice was to go directly home after church to rest up from her busy week at the milliner’s shop, paying no attention to the street vendors who didn’t have the money for a permanent stand in the market, much less a spacious storefront like hers.
Whatsoever ye do for the least of these, ye do for Me.
The pastor’s sermon text echoed in her mind as she considered the dark-haired waif.
“Hand me the basket while you pick up the rest of them,” she directed.
“Rosa? Rosa! Where are you?” The rising voice came to their ears across the church courtyard as a petite woman dressed in black rushed about looking this way and that for her daughter.
“Over here!” Mrs. Forsythe waved and pointed down at Rosa.
“What’s happened?” Giovanna said in her heavy Italian accent. “Are you hurt, Rosa? The biscuits are covered in soot!
a! What bad luck!” Giovanna’s natural temper and talkativeness were winding up into a tirade.
“I’m sorry, Mama. I stood by the steps liked you asked, but I saw a kitty and thought if I could catch it and bring it home, Pearl would have a friend. I didn’t mean to trip and drop the basket, Mama! I’m so very sorry.” The tip of Rosa’s nose was the only part of her face not streaked with soot or tears as she stood twisting her small hands in her dress.
Giovanna’s heart went out to her daughter, so delicate and frail but always concerned about her kitten and any other animal she saw. “Don’t you worry now, Rosa, I can bake some more, and these we can feed to Pearl.” Giovanna wiped away Rosa’s tears with the apron of her skirt and kissed her tenderly on her forehead.
Rosa buried her face in her mother’s black shirtfront, then smiled and looked up at the woman who had helped her.
“Hello! I’m Susan Forsythe,” the woman said briskly with her hand outstretched. “When I wasn’t tripping over her, I was just helping your daughter with the fallen biscuits.”
“Giovanna Ransoni.” Taking Mrs. Forsythe’s hand, Giovanna tried to make light of her losses even though she hadn’t the money for more flour with a day’s wages lost in the dirt. “I made these biscuits to sell, but I’m afraid they’ll have to be eaten by the animals now.”
“Could I buy half your basket right now, if you’re selling?”
“God bless you, Ma’am!” Giovanna said, astonished at the generous offer coming from this stern, stout woman. “But they’re all broken and dirty.”
“Never you mind! I can brush them off and use them for a pudding. Mr. Forsythe will never know,” she said with a wink. “On second thought, give me all you have.”
Mrs. Forsythe pressed some money into Giovanna’s hand and scooped up the biscuits into her shawl, tying them into a tidy pouch. “I don’t like to see food go to waste and these look delicious—at least, they did!” With a quick turn to step into her waiting carriage, she called out, “Take care, little Rosa! Good-bye, Giovanna!”
The driver loosened the brake and chucked the reins on the horse’s back. As the carriage lurched away from the curb and down the street, Giovanna said, “Rosa, what do the letters say?” She pointed to the sign on the door of the retreating buggy.
“F-O-R—For—S-Y—Forsythe MILL-IN-ER-Y. Forsythe Millinery, Mama.” Rosa looked up at her mama and smiled after she puzzled it out.
! Such a smart girl, my Rosa. One day, you’ll teach me to read in English, too,” Giovanna said. She looked down at the crumple of bills in her hand, pushed them into the pocket under her apron, and hurried home to count them in private.
Giovanna made her way the next morning through the crowded streets of Clarksburg to the other side of town, selling biscuits and looking for the hat maker’s shop. She walked down Main St. and crossed the bridge over Elk Creek, enjoying the view of the water rushing by with the West Virginia mountains in the background.
So like Calabria, only much greener.
She found a building with a wooden sign hung perpendicular to the street and painted with a jaunty hat. She made out the capital letters
They matched what she had seen on the carriage. She opened the door slowly, intending to just peek inside, only to be announced by a loud ring of a bell.
Mrs. Forsythe’s head shot up from her work at the counter.
“May I help you?”
“Good morning, Mrs. Forsythe.”
“Oh! Giovanna! Good morning. How is Rosa today?”
, I mean
good, thank you! I brought you freshly baked biscuits since you have paid for them already.”
“Why, thank you!” Mrs. Forsythe beamed. “Please, come here and sit.”
Not realizing the full extent of the sacrifice it represented, Mrs. Forsythe was never-the-less intrigued by Giovanna’s honesty and work ethic that seemed equal to her own. “Tell me about yourself; I’m rather fascinated to see a mother alone selling biscuits on the streets of Clarksburg. What does your husband do? He must be a lucky man indeed.”
,” Giovanna swallowed to clear the lump in her throat. “Francesco—Frank—I lost him to the coughing sickness. What do you call it? The doctor said
. Rosa was just a baby, and I sell my biscuits now to take care of her. That’s all about me,” replied Giovanna, looking down at her shoes pointing out from under the dirty hem of her dark dress.
“Oh! I am sorry,” said Mrs. Forsythe. “Well. You have family here then to help you? ”
“My husband’s brother, he gave us a room above his store. He is working to bring the rest of the family from Italy. He and Frank came first to America to find work in the mines. Frank and I had just married and he didn’t want to come without me. My mama begged me to stay with her until he was settled…” Giovanna’s voice trailed off. “Now, I am here with my Rosa,” Giovanna said simply.
She picked up her basket and stood to go. “You’re very kind. Thank you for helping Rosa yesterday and—and for the money,” she said, her warm smile returning to her face. “I just wanted to thank you, and now I should be going.”
Mrs. Forsythe watched Giovanna make her way out the door and down the street. She was charmed by Giovanna’s sad eyes and beautiful smile. Her heart ached for the lonely young woman so far from home, working hard to raise her daughter, and yet grateful and honest.
Unable to get Giovanna and Rosa off her mind, Mrs. Forsythe took it upon herself to visit them. Giovanna and Rosa lived in a cramped but clean room above her brother-in-law’s store in a neighborhood where many had come from Calabria and other regions in the south of Italy.
Giovanna was a busy young woman who used her many skills to eke out a living. She cooked, cleaned, sewed, baked and did chores all while raising a well-mannered daughter without complaint.
She did her best to be a good hostess, making Mrs. Forsythe some tea and offering her a slice of lemon cake out of several she was planning to sell that day. Rosa played quietly nearby with a cloth doll and Pearl curled up on her lap.
“This is delicious, thank you!” Mrs. Forsythe said. “You must be wondering why I’ve come. I’m worried about Rosa.”
Mrs. Forsythe could see that Rosa was a weak child with a cough that racked her thin body, but Giovanna was unable to find the money for anything besides food and the rent her brother-in-law insisted she pay. Rosa needed to see a doctor, as Giovanna feared her illness would only make her weaker unless diagnosed and treated. Some even said that Rosa was infectious and should be kept locked inside the house, away from other children. This made Giovanna’s black eyes flash with anger, but she kept Rosa away from other children to spare her strength.
“I worry, too,” Giovanna said. “She’s all I have in the world since Frank has gone. We had such plans for our family—a house of our own to raise Rosa in, send her to school, keep her happy …. Now, I just wish for her health and money for the rent,” she said quietly.
“You deserve all that and more,” Mrs. Forsythe said. “Don’t you wish for a man who would take care of you and love you?”
A shy smile crept over Giovanna’s face as she looked at the reflection of her twenty-nine-year-old face in the adjacent glass door. “I do wish for a husband,” she said. “But only if that means Rosa will be happier too.”
“Of course she would be!” exclaimed Mrs. Forsythe. “Find yourself a man of means who will take care of both of you.”
“Who would want to marry a dull-looking widow like me, when Clarksburg is full of beautiful young girls ready for marriage?” cried Giovanna in dismay.
“Then you must go where there aren’t so many eligible women. Besides, you’re not so dull looking as you believe, if you could get some decent rest.”
Mrs. Forsythe shuffled some papers up out of the large bag she carried. “Every week letters arrive at St. Rupert’s Church from preachers out West containing excerpts from the matrimonial newspaper in San Francisco.” she said. “My own sister answered one, and moved to Kansas City to be married last year.” She paused in her excitement, scanning Giovanna’s eyes for any sign of interest. Unsatisfied but not dissuaded by her blank expression, Mrs. Forsythe plowed ahead.
“Here look, I’ve brought you some letters. The light is poor where you’re sitting, so I’ll read them to you.”
Giovanna nodded slightly, and lowered her eyebrows as she strained to listen, grateful that Mrs. Forsythe so tactfully skirted the fact that she couldn’t yet read English.
First Mrs. Forsythe read a letter from her sister telling how happy she was as the wife of a man who owned the largest livery in town.
“Now, Giovanna, we’re going to read through some of the rest of these and see if there is anyone acceptable,” Mrs. Forsythe said. Most were unsuitable to either Giovanna or Mrs. Forsythe, until they came to one that said:
“258 – A gentleman of 32 years, 5 feet 10 inches, owns a farm outside of town. Desires the companionship of a loving, intelligent and responsible woman between 20 and 28, to take care of his farm and home. Kindly write to Laars Gundersen, c/o Pavente General Store, Faring, Dakota Territory.”
“But it’s only for women younger than 28,” said Giovanna looking at Mrs. Forsythe in consternation.
“Oh, he’ll never be able to tell, Giovanna! How would he know if you’re a year or two past his age of preference?” replied Mrs. Forsythe, smiling at Giovanna’s honesty. “Now, I think we should start with this one. I’ll write whatever you want me to say in reply.”
Giovanna rose at dawn in time to bake fresh biscuits and sell them to the men heading to work. She looked at Rosa sleeping in the bed they shared, and thought about her and Frank’s dream of a home of their own as they had travelled to America. Their trip had been delayed until they could save money for two fares, and the ocean journey had been miserable for her at seven months pregnant. Rosa was born early just a few days after they arrived in New York. Then came the journey to Clarksburg and the terrifying sight of Frank becoming weaker with coughing by day and fever each night. By Rosa’s first birthday, Giovanna was taking her to visit Frank’s grave. Giovanna sighed as she packed her basket, kissed Rosa on the cheek and slipped quietly out the door.
Giovanna returned home at noon and gasped at the sight of her daughter lying sprawled on the floor. She rushed to check her breathing and felt her forehead burning with fever. Sweeping Rosa up in her arms, she ran out of the apartment and down the street to Mr. Vincenza, the druggist. He had given Rosa some medicine once before, but he was no doctor and Giovanna feared it would be too late.