Jessamine glanced up from the book she was reading, sitting in the garden of Madam Wigg’s Foundling Home and School. As usual, she was alone. How she was going to travel across the country and marry a stranger, she didn’t know, but she’d already sent a letter to Mr. Robert Samuels in Nowhere, Texas. She wasn’t sure what she’d hear back, but she hoped he would accept her. He seemed like a good man from his ad, and she wanted to be married to a good man.
Her goal was to start a school in Nowhere, so she could get the grant money Wiggie had offered them, and help spread Wiggie’s ideas of modern education and inclusion for everyone. She hoped that Nowhere didn’t yet have a school, but if they didn’t, there would be more work for her. She didn’t mind hard work.
She hoped the parents in Nowhere didn’t mind an education heavy on literature and lacking in the maths and sciences. Math had always hurt her head, and as for science… Jessie gave a delicate shudder. Who liked science anyway? It was just a waste of time in her opinion. Why bother learning it when they could spend those hours lost in the works of Shakespeare?
One of the other girls was headed toward her, a letter in hand. “You have mail, Jessamine.”
No one knew she preferred to be called Jessie because she was someone who spent most of her time alone. Most of the other girls had been in the school since infancy, but Jessie had gotten there as a young teenager, already feeling like an outsider. “Thank you, Tillie.”
Tillie nodded. “Is that the letter from your potential groom?”
Since Jessamine had never gotten a letter in the time she’d been at the orphanage, she assumed it was. “I believe so. We’ll see if he wants me.”
Tillie sat down beside Jessie, looking interested. “I want to know what it says.”
“I’m a little afraid to know.” Jessie turned the letter over and over in her hands, wondering if she was being accepted or rejected. When her parents had died in a fire, she’d been sent to her grandmother, who had died a month later. She’d then gone to an aunt who had refused to take in another mouth to feed. And then an uncle who had wanted nothing to do with her. It had taken six months for her to end up in the orphanage, and by then, she’d felt like she would never be loved again. Rejection had become a way of life, and one she didn’t want to go through again.
“Aren’t you going to open it?” Tillie seemed impatient to know what it said.
“I’m scared,” Jessie said quietly.
“Well, then give it to me, and I’ll do it!” Tillie snatched the letter back from her. “I’m assuming you want to know what it says after I know?”
“Just tell me if he wants me or not.” Jessie got up and walked over to a tree, not wanting anyone to see the fear on her face. It was enough to admit to herself that she was frightened. It was something else to allow others to see the very real emotion on her face.
Tillie looked down at the letter, reading silently. After a moment, she grinned. “He sent you money and a train ticket. Sounds like he wants you!”
Jessie felt her heart plummet into her stomach. “He wants me?” It was hard to believe anyone would want her around. She was the orphan no one had ever wanted. Well, no one but Madam Wigg who accepted everyone.
“He does. Get over here and take your letter and read it. No reason to be afraid now. Looks like you’re going to Texas.”
Jessie took the letter from Tillie and read it silently to herself. The ticket was for three days hence, and she was going to be a bride in Texas. Who lived in Texas anyway? Was it still overrun in a war?
She remembered there had been a war fought with Mexico, and she knew Texas had been on the side of the confederacy during the War Between the States. That’s all she knew. Hopefully she could figure out more before the time came. Surely there was a book on Texas history in the library. Knowing all she could about her future home was important to her.
“I guess I need to go pack.”
“Yes, you really do!” Tillie smiled. “Do you want help?”
Jessie considered for a moment before shaking her head. “No, I’ll do it myself.” She didn’t relish the idea of anyone else going through her things.
“All right. You have fun!” Tillie wandered off in the direction she’d come from.
Jessie got to her feet and headed to her room. It was going to take a lot of time and effort to get her belongings packed and ready to go. She hoped it would be enough time. Robert Samuels was waiting on her.
* * *
On the day of her departure, Jessie sat on the side of her bed, looking about the room that had been her home for the six years she’d been in the orphanage. It looked bare because her roommate had departed before her. It seemed odd that she felt sad to leave when it hadn’t been a terribly happy place for her. But no place had really been happy since her parents’ death.
As she stood and gathered her things to leave for the train station, there was a knock on the door before Madam Wigg came in. “I have a wagon waiting to take you to the train station. Are you ready?”
Jessie nodded. “I think so. I’m nervous, but I think that’s a normal reaction to getting on a train to travel halfway across the country and marry a stranger.”
Wiggie nodded. “A very normal reaction.” She held out a small package wrapped in brown paper. “Since you’re leaving on your birthday, I thought a birthday going away gift would be nice.”
Jessie took the package. “May I open it on the train?”
“Yes, of course.” Wiggie stepped forward and hugged Jessie, who felt strange. She wasn’t someone who enjoyed physical touch a great deal. Or maybe it was that she was no longer used to it.
“Thank you for the gift. I appreciate it.”
“I hope you’ll write to me when you arrive in Texas. I know you have never felt terribly comfortable here, but I’ve always cared about you.”
Jessie smiled, not believing the older woman, but appreciating her efforts. “Thank you, Wiggie. I’m grateful for the time and care you’ve always shown me.” She tucked the package into her carpet bag she was taking on the train and moved aside as a man came into her room to carry her trunk out. “I will make certain I write you as soon as I arrive, so you know I’m safe.”
“Thank you.” Wiggie looked at her with a sad look. “I do wish I’d known how to help you better.”
Jessie nodded. “You gave me everything I needed.” Except love. She’d needed love.
“I did. But I’m not sure you knew it.” Wiggie watched her walk away, a sad look on her face.
An hour later, Jessie was sitting on the train that would take her all the way to Chicago, where she would change trains for her trip to Texas. She was on a train bound for Nowhere, and she couldn’t help but feel a bit of excitement stirring in her stomach. A new place to go. A new person to love. She hoped things were better for her than they’d always been since the day her parents had died.
As soon as the train started moving, she opened her carpet bag and found the gift Wiggie had pressed into her hands. She carefully untied the string and found a leather-bound journal with her name embossed on the front. “Jessamine’s Journal.” Yes, Madam Wigg had known her better than she’d ever realized.
* * *
Robert paced nervously back and forth in front of the train station in Nowhere. He was the barber in the small town, and he enjoyed a thriving business. Why, people from Bagley drove all the way to Nowhere to get their hair cut. He lived in a small apartment above his shop, and he knew he was ready for a wife and children. This Jessamine sounded like the person he needed in his life. He only hoped she’d be able to deal with his shyness. He was good around men, and the shop was always filled with laughter and fun, but around women, he was always a bit tongue-tied.
The train would be there any minute, and he wasn’t sure he was ready to meet her. Yes, he was dressed in his Sunday best, and his hair had been combed perfectly. He’d even trimmed it himself the night before. His mustache had been combed neatly as well.
He took deep breaths, trying to settle his nerves. When the train pulled into the station, he watched for his young lady to step onto the platform. He saw an older couple he’d known his entire life, followed by a young man he didn’t know at all. And then, looking like a vision in violet, a young woman stepped off the train. Her eyes going directly to him. His Jessamine.
Her lips curled up at the corners, but it seemed like it took an effort for her to smile. She looked tired. He walked toward her, the flowers he’d picked clutched tightly in his hand. “Miss Stewart?”
“Yes, I’m Jessamine Stewart. Are you Robert Samuels?”
He nodded, a shy smile on his lips. “Yes. It’s nice to finally meet you. Do you have a trunk?” He looked around, too embarrassed to actually make conversation when it was easier to discuss the business at hand. He thrust the flowers toward her. “Oh, these are for you.”
Jessie looked at the drooping flowers he held out with a smile. They’d probably been clutched just a little too tightly, and they all wilted as a result. “Thank you. My wedding bouquet.” She desperately wished there was a place for her to bathe before the ceremony, but he had given her to believe they would marry the minute she disembarked from the train.
He looked everywhere but at her face. “Is there a trunk?”
“Yes, it should be with the other luggage.” She walked to where four trunks were on the platform. “That one is mine.” She pointed at the one that was most scuffed, a little embarrassed. But she was an orphan. Surely he didn’t expect her to have the nicest things.
He lifted the trunk and carried it to his buggy, which was not far away. Thankfully. He wasn’t exactly a strong man.
Jessamine watched the small, wiry man who was about to be her husband, heft the trunk into the back of his buggy. He wasn’t the man she’d always dreamed of marrying, and he didn’t seem to talk much, but she couldn’t picture him hurting her either. There was good in that.
He turned to her and helped her into the carriage. “I plan to go straight to the pastor.”
She nodded. “That’s fine. I’d rather we be married before we’re alone together, so it makes perfect sense.” As she said the words, she wondered how the other girls who were marrying were handling their first encounters with their husbands. It was awkward and strange to think she would be expected to share the man’s bed that night. She couldn’t imagine feeling like they were in love by then. Or even like they knew one another.
He drove to the church, still unable to meet her eyes. He was baffled by her beauty. There was something truly special about the woman beside him, and he knew he would never be quite good enough for her. Hopefully she wouldn’t regret agreeing to marry a small-town barber. She should have found herself a king. Her beauty was suited for royalty.
He pulled up in front of the small church in town. “I talked to the pastor, and you can use the church as a school if you wish.”
“Oh, that’s good.” Inside her stomach was doing flips. She already had a school building! “I would like to start the school as soon as possible. It’s already October, and school shouldn’t start so late in the year.”
“All right.” He couldn’t believe how shy and tongue-tied he felt around her. He hoped she didn’t plan to consummate the marriage that night because he was relatively certain it would be too much for him to attempt. He was too nervous around her.
He helped her down from the buggy and led her into the church where Pastor Johnson was waiting for them. “Pastor, thank you for meeting us here.”
“Yes, of course, Bob. As long as I get my free haircut, I’m happy.”
Bob? She’d had no idea he was called Bob. Interesting.
“This is Jessamine,” he said softly, blushing as he spoke her name.
“It’s nice to meet you, Jessamine. Our community is happy to have a teacher.”
Jessie nodded. “I’m happy to be here,” she said softly. It was odd to be welcomed when she’d never been wanted anywhere. Maybe life here really would be different.
“Are you ready to get started?” Pastor Johnson asked. “My wife is holding lunch for me.”
“Yes, of course,” Bob said, clearing his throat.
The wedding was fast, and before she knew what had happened, the pastor was pronouncing them husband and wife. “You may kiss your bride.”
Bob turned to Jessamine, leaning down and quickly kissing her cheek. He wanted a real kiss, but he didn’t want their first one to be in front of anyone. He would have to wait until later—probably much later.
It was only a few minutes before they were on their way to the barber shop and his apartment above it. She recognized the striped pole and remembered what he’d told her he did for a living. “We’ll be living above the shop?” she asked, looking at the building.
He nodded. “It’s comfortable.” The quarters would be tight, but surely that would be conducive to them feeling easy in each other’s company very quickly. He wanted that for them.
She looked up at the windows that looked down over the main street there in town. She hoped it was roomier than it looked, but either way, she’d make it work. She was there to be a good wife and to start a school. She could do both and do it happily.
He led her to the apartment so she could explore, before going back down to the buggy to carry up her trunk.
Jessie stood in the middle of the small parlor, looking around her. It wasn’t huge, but it was big enough they wouldn’t be tripping over one another all the time. She looked at the kitchen and saw there was a nice stove. She was pleased she wouldn’t have to cook over the fireplace. That would make things easier. Why, there was even a pump at the kitchen sink. She wouldn’t have to leave to get water, which would be very easy.
She poked her head into a bedroom that was obviously his. The covers were thrown over the top of the bed, but the bed not truly made properly. And she saw that several of the drawers in his chest of drawers were empty for her, as well as half of the wardrobe. He had obviously worked hard to prepare for her arrival.
She looked into another room and found a second bedroom. She wondered if she could possibly talk him into letting her sleep in there until they were more comfortable with one another. She had a feeling it wouldn’t work, but it was always worth a try.
She opened the last door and found a small bathroom. There was even a water closet. It would help a great deal for her not to have to run outside to use the outhouse in the middle of the night. Everything she needed was there.
Bob walked back in with her trunk, a bit out of breath. “Do you have rocks in this thing?”
“Books,” she said, answering honestly. “Lots and lots of books.” She hoped he didn’t mind being married to a girl who read all the time, because there was no way she was changing her entire personality to suit him.
He put the trunk into his bedroom, and she frowned, feeling as if that answered her question. He expected them to consummate the marriage immediately, whether she felt comfortable with him yet or not.
“Your apartment is very nice,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting the bathroom, but that will make things so much better.”
“Yes, I had that put in when I decided to send for a mail-order bride. You have every right to all the comforts I can provide.” He didn’t meet her eyes as he spoke with her, and she couldn’t help but wonder if he didn’t like her enough to look directly at her. Had she already done something to offend him?
“Well, your wife appreciates it a great deal.” She opened her trunk and began the tedious process of folding her things and putting them into drawers. “While I unpack, maybe you can tell me about your food preferences? I’d love to be able to cook your favorite meals.”
He shrugged. “I always eat the special at the diner.”
“The diner? There’s a restaurant in town? You don’t expect to continue eating there now that you’re married, do you?” she asked.
“I wouldn’t mind. I’m used to it. They might think I’m dead if I don’t show up three times a day like clockwork.”
Jessie laughed softly. “Well, I hope you like my cooking enough that will no longer be necessary.”
“Me too.” He couldn’t imagine her cooking could be half as good as the diner’s. Beautiful women couldn’t cook, could they? No matter. He’d eat burnt food for every meal if it would make her happy.