Authors: Cynthia Woolf
The Brides of San Francisco 1
Copyright © 2014 Cynthia Woolf
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is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
Published by Cynthia Woolf
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Thanks to the winner of my contest Amy Bowens for suggesting that I do The Brides of San Francisco. Here is the first book.
Thanks to my Just Write group, Michele Callahan, Karen Docter and Cate Rowan, for all your encouragement.
Many, many thanks to Romcon Custom Covers for my beautiful book cover.
I want to thank all of my fans for buying my books and enjoying them. I couldn’t do any of this without you.
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April 28, 1865
RAP! RAP! RAP!
If only she could fix her problems with a needle and thread she’d be set. Nellie looked up from the socks she was darning toward the knocking on the front door.
Who could that be?
She set aside the socks, straightened her dress, checked her reflection in the mirror on the wall in the hall, patted her blond hair back into place and then answered the door.
“Mrs. Robert Wallace?” asked the soldier in dress uniform who stood at attention on her front porch.
Oh, God. No. Please. No.
“Yes,” she said, trying to keep the tremor from her voice. “I…I’m Mrs. Wallace.”
The young soldier handed her an envelope. “I regret to have to inform you that Lieutenant Robert Wallace was killed at the Battle of Appomattox on April 8, 1865. I’m sorry for your loss, Mrs. Wallace.”
Nellie didn’t know what to say over the lump in her throat. She always knew this could happen—from the first moment Robert joined, to his last farewell eight months before Violet was born.
“I, uh, thank you, Officer…”
“Black, ma’am. Sergeant Black.”
“Thank you for letting me know, Sergeant.” Her grip tightened on the door knob. “I…I have to sit down now.”
“Of course, ma’am. Do you need help?”
Nellie shook her head. “No. Thank you. I’ll be alright.”
The man saluted her, turned and walked down the sidewalk to the waiting carriage.
How many of these calls did he have to make today? Was I the only one? I doubt it. Not in a city the size of New York.
She closed the door and leaned against the wall next to it, her legs no longer able to support her, she slid to the floor. Tears left salty trails on her face, but for the life of her she couldn’t remember crying. Screaming, cursing God, yes, but crying, no.
Even though our marriage wasn’t what I’d dreamed it could have been when I was a child, I shall miss him. He had his good side, he was funny and could make her laugh. He was gentle every where except…no I will not think about that now. I endured and have two beautiful children.
How am I to tell Henry his father is dead? Violet was just a baby and didn’t know her daddy but Henry…
Her son missed his father something fierce. Robert had doted on Henry. They spent so much time together that Henry cried for days when his father left the last time.
And now I have to tell him his father is never coming home. How do I do that?
She wiped her cheeks with the backs of her hands, took the hanky from her apron pocket and blew her nose. No need to put it off. The task would be difficult enough, without waiting and making it harder. Perhaps she and Henry could grieve together. In any case, she needed to be strong for her son and daughter. She was all they had now.
Taking a deep breath, she mounted the stairs to the play room and her children.
March 4, 1867
As she approached the door to the office of Matchmaker & Co., Nellie Wallace stopped, took the hanky from her reticule, and wiped her suddenly sweaty hands. She wished she had a choice other than this one but with two children to support and no way to do it, she needed a husband. The ad said they were taking applications for wives to men in San Francisco, California. That was fine with her. The farther away from New York and Robert’s parents, the better—as far as she was concerned.
She straightened to her full height of five-feet-seven inches, smoothed her hands down the skirt of her black bombazine dress, and turned the knob to the office door.
“May I help you?” said a red-haired woman behind the desk in the middle of the room. She was attractive and not much older than Nellie’s twenty-eight years. She wore a lovely emerald-green skirt and jacket that looked spectacular. The white blouse with high collar and lace down the front was a wonderful contrast to the vibrancy of the suit.
The room was furnished simply. The desk, a couple of chairs and two file cabinets were the only pieces of furniture. A potbellied stove stood in the corner. The windows on either side of the door, and the window in the door itself, were covered with simple beige curtains.
“Yes, I’m here about the ad for mail-order brides for San Francisco.”
“Ah,” said the woman. “Yes, sit down, please.” She pointed to the straight-backed, wooden chair in front of the desk. “I’m Mrs. Selby. Margaret Selby, proprietor of Matchmaker & Co. and I’ll be helping you today. First tell me a little about yourself.”
After settling herself, she took a deep breath. “I’m Nellie Wallace. I was widowed two years ago. Unfortunately, I don’t have a means of support here in New York. I’m dependent on my in-laws for the roof over our head, but that is all. They do not provide expenses and my savings are about gone. I’ve got enough money to keep us, my children and me, fed and clothed for another year, but I need to find a husband.” She forced a smile. “San Francisco sounds like a wonderful place to me.”
Mrs. Selby cocked her head. “I didn’t describe the city in my ad.”
“It’s clear across the country from New York and that sounds perfect to me. I can’t take the memories or my in-laws anymore Mrs. Selby.” She squared her shoulders. “I want to be gone from here.”
“Call me Margaret.” The woman opened her desk drawer and took out a piece of paper. “What are you looking for in a husband, Mrs. Wallace?”
“Nellie. I’m Nellie. Well I need a man who is willing to take me and my children. One who is kind, gentle and understanding. Probably qualities that are difficult to come by if my previous experiences are any indication. Most men of my acquaintance are not interested in a woman raising another man’s children.”
“How old are you, Nellie?”
“Twenty-eight. I was married for ten years before Robert had the bad luck to die at Appomattox.”
“I understand. I’m a widow myself. You’re quite lovely and I don’t think I’ll have any problems matching you with a husband. I have a candidate here that I think would be perfect for you, except for one tiny thing.”
Nellie’s heart filled with apprehension. “What would that be?”
“Mr. Malone runs a saloon.”
“A saloon?” Shock brought up her chin and she stared. “What in the world does he need a wife for?”
“Well, Mr. Malone wants to expand his business interests and finds himself in need of a wife in order to be taken seriously by the business council in San Francisco. As a matter of fact, he requested a widow with children. It seems the business he wants to open is an emporium for families and it would be best if he had a family of his own.”
Successful, that’s more than I thought I’d ever find. I wasn’t even expecting a business man but a miner or a farmer
. “Tell me some more about Mr. Malone.”
“Well, let me see,” she rifled through some folders, chose one and opened it. “He’s a wealthy bachelor, never been married. He owns the saloon and has a home on Russian Hill,” Margaret looked up at Nellie. “It’s apparently a nice part of the city. He is looking for a wife who can serve as a hostess as well as direct the servants in the house.”
Slight apprehension filled Nellie. Servants. She wasn’t used to servants. She did all her own chores. “I’ve only got one servant myself, she does everything, nanny, maid, housekeeper. I do the cooking and together we keep the house spotless. I can’t imagine that instructing someone else how to do it would be that difficult.”
Robert and I had dinner parties sometimes, how different could it be?
“That’s the right attitude,” said Margaret with a nod. “Now, Mr. Malone is forty years old. He is six feet tall with black hair and gray eyes. Here is a photograph.”
Nellie accepted a tin type photograph, very new for the day. It was of a terribly handsome man in a dark three-piece suit. If Nellie had been the swooning type, she might have done so upon seeing the picture of Mr. Blake Malone, as it was printed on the bottom of the picture. As it was she had to concentrate not to let her mouth hang open.
She narrowed her eyes, “A man who looks like that should have no problem finding a wife. Why does he need a mail-order bride?”
“One could say the same thing of you. You are quite an attractive woman, Mrs. Wallace.”
“Men don’t want to marry someone like me. I have children. They don’t want to raise another man’s off-spring, at least not here in New York. Not a lot of men are here, because so many were lost in the war or left to find gold. Those that remain can take their pick of the available women.” She shook her head and pulled her reticule higher on her lap. “They don’t need to settle for a woman with a family.”
“Well, Mr. Malone needs an upstanding woman for a wife. Apparently, not a lot of single women of that ilk can be found in San Francisco, so he wrote to me. Do you think you’d be interested in Mr. Malone? I can wire him today.” Margaret leaned forward. “If he’s who you choose, he has already sent money to cover the passage for the woman and any children she may have. You would be leaving on the ship sailing on April first.”
Nellie thought about the idea and decided she needed more time. “In all honesty, I hadn’t expected to be matched today. I’d like to sleep on the matter. I’m almost sure my response will be yes, but I need to make sure.” She scooted forward in her chair. “I’ll return and give you my answer tomorrow.”
“Certainly. I understand perfectly.”
Nellie stood and extended her hand. “Thank you. Until tomorrow.”
Margaret took her hand with a firm grip. “Until tomorrow.”
Nellie thought she’d taken a step in the right direction. She walked out into the bright sunshine of a lovely early spring afternoon. She loved the seasons, and fall was her favorite. Crisp, clean air. Trees in the park changing color, getting ready for winter to come. She would miss it. From what she understood the temperature in California remained pretty constant. No seasons—no spring and no autumn. She’d get used to it, she assured herself.
When she arrived home the children came running.
“Mama! Henry pinch me!” squealed Violet.
Nellie took a deep breath, knowing that her daughter was prone to drama. She asked gently, “Henry. Did you pinch your sister?”
He stood there with this head down and his hands clasped behind his back. At the sight of his uplifted face, she was hard-pressed not to cry. He looked so like his father, with his blond hair and big brown eyes.