Read Josephine: Bride of Louisiana (American Mail-Order Bride 18) Online

Authors: Cindy Caldwell

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, #Subterfuge, #Massachusetts, #Privileged Childhood, #Louisiana, #Speaks French, #Plantation, #Mississippi River, #Father, #Charade

Josephine: Bride of Louisiana (American Mail-Order Bride 18)

BOOK: Josephine: Bride of Louisiana (American Mail-Order Bride 18)
8.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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Josephine: Bride of Louisiana
Cindy Caldwell
Prickly Pear Press

C
opyright
© 2015 by Cynthia Caldwell

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

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http://bit.ly/CindyCaldwell

Chapter One

J
osephine pulled
her coat around her and tightened her scarf against the chilly September air. She’d known it would be cold as the fall sun set earlier and she’d brought a pair of gloves, the last ones she had, the others having worn through the fingertips. She felt the crinkle of the newspaper in her pocket as she reached for them and her heart sunk at the thought of actually following through with Roberta’s suggestion.

Her roommates had stayed home as Josephine headed to the impromptu meeting Roberta had called for previous employees of the factory. They’d all speculated about what Roberta would say--when they would rebuild the factory, when they could return to work--and now that she’d actually heard what Roberta had to say, she couldn’t for the life of her figure out what she’d say to her roommates.

After the fire, they’d all scoured the newspapers and shops to find temporary work, but with over a hundred women out of work at one time, the number of jobs available wasn’t even close to the number of women who
needed
jobs.

None of them had thought to look at one of
these
kinds of newspapers and she shivered, even in her warm coat, at the thought. They’d always been clear that she’d be marrying into a wealthy French family, either from home--which was what her father still called France after emigrating decades before--or to a French-American.

Josephine shook her head at the memory, that opportunity having slipped through her fingers after her father’s death and her mother’s following closely behind. It had soon become apparent that her father’s lifestyle far exceeded his means, and when her mother died, she and her cousin Michelle had had to find their way on their own. They’d always dreamed of going to France, but that would take money and they’d yet to save enough for one ticket across the ocean, let alone two.

She stomped her feet outside the door of the building she lived in, looking up at the light coming from the small apartment she shared with too many girls. It was too small for their number and they’d learned to keep their heads down lest the landlord find out how many of them actually
did
share the apartment.

At least that wouldn’t be a problem anymore if they all followed Roberta’s advice. As she trudged up the stairs, she removed the newspaper Roberta had given her from her pocket, and she paused outside the door and unfolded it.

“The
Grooms’ Gazette
,” she said quietly as she reached for the door handle. As she pushed it open, she was met with several pair of wide eyes and each of her roommates stopped, as if frozen in place.

She pulled her gloves off and stuffed them in her pocket, put the magazine between her teeth as she shrugged off her scarf and coat and hung them on the coat rack. She closed her eyes for a moment as she grasped the newspaper. She forced a smile and turned, smiling at Michelle and two of her other roommates, Chevonne and Dacey.

“What is it, Josephine? What did Roberta say? Are they working on the factory already? When can we go back to work?” Michelle wrung her hands as she peppered Josephine with questions.

Josephine sat down at the small kitchen table and held the magazine under the table for a moment. “I don’t know how to do this except to just tell you all what Roberta said.” She looked down at her hands. “The factory is finished. It won’t be rebuilt and we’ve all lost our jobs. Permanently.”

Michelle leaned on the back of a chair and Chevonne clutched her grandmother’s bag more tightly. It seemed she was never without it anymore. Josephine wondered what was in it for an instant and then pressed forward.

“She did have a suggestion for us, though, and I brought home some advertisements.

She gritted her teeth as she laid the newspaper on the table in front of her friends. She had no idea what
she
thought about all this and couldn’t imagine what they would think.

“What?” Michelle said as she picked up the newspaper and flipped through it. “She gave you this?”

“Yes. Her friend is a matchmaker and she’d like to help us. Roberta got the magazine hoping we all might find...um...positions.” Agreeing to become a mail-order bride didn’t strike Josephine as a job...or a position...but it wasn’t really a wife. What should she call it?

“Well, I’ll be. I’ve heard of this before but I’ve never seen an actual magazine for it, with advertisements.” Michelle scanned the page, smiling several times. “Look at this one.
45-year-old man, not completely bald and with money, seeks a friendly, happy woman over age 30 to raise my 12 children.”

Chevonne burst out laughing, her hand over her mouth. “What? Twelve children? I can’t even imagine bearing that many children, let alone raising them. I have more important things to do.”

“What other kinds of offers are there?” her friend India asked.

Michelle ran her finger down the ads. “I don’t think I would mind raising children. But yes, there are several, but sometimes the rest of the offer isn’t that great.”

Josephine tapped her finger to her lips. Her voice was quiet when she spoke. “We don’t truly have many choices, do we?” She stood and crossed her arms over her chest. “But, if we have to start over, why don’t we make it the best situation we can? Everybody’s going to be applying to these advertisements, I bet, and we should decide quickly and get our letters off.”

Josephine crossed to the window. She rested her forehead on the cool glass and looked down at the busy street, the piles of horse manure covering the streets and people shoving on the boardwalks. Maybe leaving the city wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.

“Michelle, maybe you all could find some possibilities,” Josephine said, pushing herself back from the window.

“We can cross off some of the obviously horrid advertisements and maybe sit down after supper and decide? I’d hate to see us all respond to the same ones.” Michelle set the newspaper back down on the table and sat down, hunching over it with a pencil in her hand. “I’ve always wanted to visit some different places.”

Josephine reached for the few potatoes and cabbage that would be supper and began to peel them. A pot of water was already warm and she plopped them into the water, wiping away some stray strands of her honey-colored hair with the back of her hand. She leaned on the sink for a moment as her thoughts turned to the promises that she’d believed as a child, that she would marry a fine, upstanding man. That’s what all of her practice was for--her French lessons, her dancing lessons--although she seemed to have two left feet--and her cooking instruction, wasn’t it? It had never crossed her mind at the time that it was all pretend, all an illusion, and that years later she’d be considering marrying a man she’d never met and moving somewhere she’d barely heard of.

She reached for another potato. At least maybe wherever she went she could eat something besides potatoes.

“Josephine, I think you may want to take a look at this. It just might be great for you.”

Josephine laughed as she scraped the knife over the potato. “Great for me? Can’t imagine that.”

“Don’t be like that. Do you know where Louisiana is?” Michelle stood and crossed over to her cousin.

“I don’t think so. Isn’t it somewhere south? Far away? By the ocean?”

“I’m not sure. Something like that. But listen to this.
Seeking cultured, sophisticated, lovely young lady to wed owner of plantation in Louisiana.

Josephine laughed and shook her head. “Michelle, that hardly describes me,” she said as she held up her rough, red hands. “What makes you think I should answer that one?”

Michelle’s grin spread and her eyes sparkled. “Let me read the rest.
Must speak French.

Chapter Two

P
ierre opened
the envelope and set the letter opener back down on the desk. He moved to the big leather chair behind it and plopped down, turning the letter over and dropping it on the desk. Leaning back in the chair, he ran is hands through his black, wavy hair and sighed. He closed his eyes for a moment, images of the plantation flashing through his mind. The fields of cotton surrounding the outer acreage, the wooden swings in the weeping willow trees, the house with the huge, white columns on the front porch and the two-story house that he called home were all he really had ever known.

He looked around the room slowly and stood, crossing to the mahogany bookshelf that covered one of the walls from floor to ceiling. “The library” his mother had always called it before she died. Yes. His father’s library.

He tugged at his vest and cleared his throat, throwing a glance at the letter on the desk. He knew he should read it and the sooner the better, in case there actually
was
something he and his cousin could do to save the plantation.

He reached for a frame on one of the bookshelves and ran his hand over the cool glass, his eyes squinting as he tried to recall the face on the photograph in his memory. Every year, it became more difficult to conjure any real memories of his mother--he’d been only ten when she’d passed away of influenza--and now, twenty years later his heart was heavy as he realized he could barely remember her voice at all.

He wiped away some dust on the frame with his sleeve, smiling as he realized Bernadette was not the meticulous cleaner she once had been. She spent most of her time in the kitchen these days, cooking up his father’s favorite French dishes which left little time for dusting.

If he could just find a way to make the plantation profitable again, he’d be sure to get her some help with the housework, and his lips curved up in a smile even at the thought.

The photograph replaced gently on the bookshelf, he tugged at his vest and pulled down the cuffs of his white shirt. A knock on the door intruded into his thoughts.

“Come in,” he said, turning toward the door and leaning back against the bookshelves, his arms crossed over his chest.

“Pierre? Have you received the letter yet? Bernadette mentioned you might have.”

Jerome, Pierre’s cousin, was more like a brother to him and had recently returned from a stay in France to help with the plantation. He smiled as Jerome sat down in the leather chair opposite his father’s massive desk.

“I think so, yes.” He reached over to the envelope and picked it up, turning it over slowly in his hands.

“And what does it say?” Jerome leaned forward in his chair, his eyes trained on the letter.

Pierre sat down in the chair next to Jerome and leaned back, his ankle resting on one knee. “I haven’t read it yet.”

“Mon Dieu, Pierre, why not? This could make all the difference in the world. We may be able to save the plantation. Isn’t that what you want?”

“Of course it is. I love it here as much as you do. I’m just not sure about this...proposal. Not sure it’s the right thing to do.” He leaned forward, his elbows on his knees as he continued to turn the envelope over and over. He stopped, looking over the letters on the front. It was addressed to him, of course, Pierre Depardieu, manager of The Willows, the largest plantation of its kind surrounding New Orleans.

“Pierre,” Jerome said as he stood and paced in front of the window, his hands behind his back. “When your father was given this land as a young man it was his intent--as he has told both of us many times--for it to be a legacy for the family. We must do whatever we can to make sure the plantation stays in your hands.”

Raising his head slightly, Pierre looked up at his cousin. Long legs and a straight back, with pitch-black hair, Pierre thought they looked a bit alike--not enough to resemble each other as brothers, but certainly enough to look like cousins.

They’d grown up on the plantation together, playing among the fields until they were old enough to help. Pierre had fond memories of those times and had welcomed his cousin’s offer of assistance when Jerome had returned from France.

“I realize that you are more intimately familiar with the issues at the plantation as I was away for several years, but I do believe that with some good decisions we can turn things around, keep the plantation in the family and make it one of the most profitable businesses on the Mississippi.

Pierre sighed. He had thought he’d done a good job managing the plantation since his father had left for France. Surprised as he’d been at the suddenness of his father’s departure, he’d been training at his father’s side, watching and learning since he was a boy. But recently, things had changed. There weren’t as many numbers in the profit column and although he couldn’t figure out why, it was a fact and the plantation was going to be in trouble soon without a change in the way they did business or an influx of money to support it.

“I think you should just open it, Pierre. It’s better to know than to not know,” Jerome said as he rested his hand on Pierre’s shoulder.

Pierre let out a sigh and sat back down in the chair, pulling the paper out of the envelope and flattening its creases against the desk. He took one last look at Jerome and then turned to the letter. The dull ache in his chest that had been almost constant for the past several months turned to more of a pounding

Jerome began to pace, and in a moment said, “I can’t stand this, cousin. What did he say?”

“It’s not from Father,” Pierre said as he moved his eyes down the page.

Jerome strode over to the desk, gabbed the envelope and squinted at the return address. “Mon Dieu, Pierre. What could the Bank of Paris want from you?”

“It says that Father did ask about my inheritance, and the special clause that Mother included, and they say it’s non-negotiable.”

Jerome turned toward Pierre, his brows furrowed. “What clause? I thought you were just asking for your inheritance a bit early, to invest into the plantation.”

Pierre looked up at his cousin, his stomach knotted. This was not the news he was hoping for, and he felt a twinge of guilt that he hadn’t shared this information with his cousin before now. His father had thought that maybe the stipulation could be altered and Pierre had hung his hopes on that.

Now, though, he’d have to tell Jerome the truth--that the money wasn’t coming and why.

“Jerome,” he started, pushing himself up from the desk. “There won’t be any money coming from my inheritance, not any time soon. We’ll have to find another solution.”

“I don’t understand, Pierre. Uncle seemed fairly positive that it was possible.”

Pierre looked down at his fingernails and then up to the ceiling. He cleared his throat and said, “I hadn’t mentioned that there was a stipulation for my inheritance, and Father did think it could be resolved, but apparently it can’t.”

The chair creaked as Jerome sat down hard, his breath whooshing out. “What is this stipulation, Pierre? You must tell me.”

Pierre sat back down, his chin in his hands and his elbows on the desk. He’d been hoping he’d never have to tell his cousin but that was unavoidable now. He hoped that Jerome would understand the dilemma and together they could look for alternatives.

“It’s a ridiculous clause that my mother attached to my inheritance.” He sat back in his chair, looking at his fingernails. “She stipulated that I couldn’t access any of those funds until I was married. And to a French lady, one of social breeding, no less. The entire thing is absurd.”

There. He’d said it. Now they could move forward. He looked up at Jerome, expecting to see confusion. He hadn’t anticipated the smile that he was met with.

“Jerome? Why are you smiling? We need to figure out how to--”

Waving a hand in the air, Jerome stood. Leaning on the desk toward Pierre, he said, “No
, mon frere
, this is easy to fix.”

Pierre picked up the letter and looked at it again. He threw it on the desk and said, “No, it’s not negotiable. I can’t get my inheritance.”

Jerome shook his head slowly, his grin growing even wider. “Of course you can. You just need to get married.”

BOOK: Josephine: Bride of Louisiana (American Mail-Order Bride 18)
8.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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