Sandra Dallas The Bride's House

ISBN 13: 9780312600167

The Bride's House

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9780312600167: The Bride's House
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From the New York Times bestselling author of Whiter Than Snow and Prayers for Sale comes a novel about the secrets and passions of three generations of women who have all lived in the same Victorian home called the Bride’s House.

It’s 1880, and for unassuming seventeen-year-old Nealie Bent, the Bride’s House is a fairy tale come to life. It seems as if it is being built precisely for her and Will Spaulding, the man she is convinced she will marry. But life doesn’t go according to plan, and Nealie finds herself in the Bride’s House pregnant---and married to another.

For Pearl, growing up in the Bride’s House is akin to being raised in a mausoleum. Her father has fashioned the house into a shrine to the woman he loved, resisting all forms of change. When the enterprising young Frank Curry comes along and asks for Pearl’s hand in marriage, her father sabotages the union. But he underestimates the lengths to which the women in the Bride’s House will go for love.

Susan is the latest in the line of strong and willful women in the Bride’s House. She’s proud of the women who came before her, but the Bride’s House hides secrets that will force her to question what she wants and who she loves.

Sandra Dallas has once again written a novel rich in storytelling and history, peopled by living, breathing characters that will grab hold of you and not let you go.

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About the Author:

Award-winning author Sandra Dallas was dubbed “a quintessential American voice” by Jane Smiley, in Vogue Magazine. She is the author of Whiter Than Snow, Prayers for Sale and Tallgrass, among others. Her novels have been translated into a dozen languages and optioned for films. She is the recipient of the Women Writing the West Willa Award and the two-time winner of the Western Writers of America Spur Award. For 25 years, Dallas worked as a reporter covering the Rocky Mountain region for Business Week, and started writing fiction in 1990. She lives with her husband in Denver, Colorado.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER 1
 
SOMETHING CAUSED MEN TO STARE at Nealie Bent, although just what it was that made them do so wasn’t clear. Her body was more angles than curves, and her face, too, had all those sharp planes, far too many to be pretty. She was too tall to suit, and with her long legs, she took strides that were more like a man’s than the mincing steps of a young girl. The dress she wore, one of only two she owned, was faded yellow calico, threadbare at the wrists and neck and of the wrong color to complement her pale skin. Her second dress was no better.

Still, men turned to look at Nealie Bent, for there was no question that the tall, thin girl was striking, or at least peculiar-looking, with her eyes the color of the palest blue columbines late in the spring, her hair such a pale red that it was almost the hue of pink quartz, and her face as freckled as a turkey egg. It could have been her youth that drew their attention. After all, Georgetown itself was still young, and youth was highly prized. Most of the young women there were already old, worn out from the work a mining town demanded of them and from childbearing. The Alvarado Cemetery was full of babies, with here and there a mother buried beside her newborn in that forlorn spot. Like all the mountain towns, Georgetown was a hard place, and folks there had a saying: Any cat with a tail is a stranger.

The same might be said in a slightly different way for a young woman, because any female with youth, such as Nealie, was new in Georgetown. But she would age quick enough. Still, for now—and for a few years hence, perhaps—the girl’s youthfulness matched the spirit of the town, a place that was mightily attractive to those seeking to make their fortunes.

If it wasn’t Nealie’s youth that drew glances, then it might have been her air of innocence, and innocence was in even shorter supply in Georgetown than youth. But in that, the girl’s appearance was a sham, for Nealie’s short life had been a hard one. Though she knew more about the dark side of life than most her age, there was not even the hint of those hardships on Nealie Bent, and she appeared as fresh and guileless as a newborn.

So no one could put a finger on exactly what it was that made men take another look at Nealie, not that anyone in that town bothered to analyze. But no one doubted that they turned to stare at her as she passed them on the broad board sidewalk or paused in her rounds of shopping to peer into store windows at the delectable items she could only dream about buying.

Will Spaulding was no different from the rest of the men in his admiration. He’d seen the girl as she filled her basket from the bins of apples and onions and potatoes. And now, as Nealie stood at the counter of the Kaiser Mercantile store, talking quietly with Mr. Kaiser, Will measured her with his eyes. She was five feet eight inches, only two inches shorter than he was. Will’s eyes wandered over Nealie, taking in her slender build under the shabby dress, until he became aware that Mr. Kaiser was watching him and clearing his throat.

“I said, ‘What can I do for you, young man?’” the storekeeper repeated. The girl had placed her purchases in her basket and was turning to go, not sending so much as a glance at the man standing next to her.

Will cleared his throat, but he didn’t speak immediately. Instead, he stared at the girl as she left the store and walked past the large glass window, leaving behind her soapy scent and the tinkling of the bell that announced customers. “Who is she?” he asked, as if he had the right to know.

“Oh, that’s Nealie Bent,” the older man replied, a look of bemused tolerance on his face. “You’re not the first to ask. Did you come in for something or just to stare at the ladies?”

Without answering, Will turned away from the door and looked at the shopkeeper. He removed a list from his pocket, laying it on the counter and smoothing it with his hand. “I’m working up at the Rose of Sharon, and I’ll be needing these things.” He turned the list so that Mr. Kaiser could read it.

“We take cash,” Mr. Kaiser said, which wasn’t exactly true. He extended credit to those in town who needed it, as well as to good customers such as Nealie’s employer, but he did not extend the courtesy to strangers.

“I’ll pay it.” Will’s voice sounded as if he was not used to his credit being questioned. The older man moved his finger down the list, tapping a broken nail beside each item as he pronounced it out loud: “Three pair work pants, three work shirts, cap, boots, jacket, gloves, candlesticks, candles.” He droned on, and when he was finished, he said, “Yep, you work at a mine, all right. You a trammer?”

“Engineer. For the summer.”

The young man’s voice carried the slightest bit of authority as he corrected the misimpression, and Mr. Kaiser looked up and squinted at him, taking in the cut of his clothes, which made it obvious that Will was too fashionably dressed to be an ordinary miner. “You somebody’s son?” he asked.

Will appeared taken aback at the impertinence, but he replied pleasantly enough, “Grandson. I’m William Spaulding. My grandfather’s Theodore Spaulding. He owns half of the Sharon.”

“Owns mines up in Leadville and Summit County, too,” Mr. Kaiser added. Like everyone in the mountain towns, the shopkeeper was caught up in the mining fever and was as sure of the names of prominent investors as he was of those of his own customers. And well he might be, because outside capital was the lifeblood of the mining industry. Without development money, the gold and silver deposits were all but useless. Theodore Spaulding was not only a man of wealth but one respected in mining circles for his understanding of ore bodies and extraction methods. That did not make his grandson anything more than a trifler, however. “So you thought you’d see what goes on underground, did you?”

“I’ve already seen what’s underground. I have an engineering degree, so I know about mining, you see, at least theoretically. The old man thought I ought to get some practical experience for the summer. I’ve only just arrived.”

“You’ll get it.” Now that he seemed satisfied about his customer’s identity, Mr. Kaiser returned to the list. “I reckon we got everything you need.” He moved around behind the counter, taking down boxes and holding out shirts and pants for sizes. He told Will to try on the heavy leather cap, then nodded, because the fit was right. Then he handed the young man two pairs of boots and told him to see which ones suited. Will sat down on a kitchen chair propped against the cold potbellied stove and removed his fine shoes. He clumped about on the floor in the stiff boots, and settled on one pair. Then he set his shoes on the counter and said that with all the mud on the streets, he might as well keep the boots on.

“Socks. You’ll need plenty of them, because the Sharon floods, and you don’t want to get your feet wet. Worst thing there is, wet feet in a mine. If the water doesn’t rot your feet, it’ll give you pneumonia.” Mr. Kaiser placed four pairs on top of the pile of clothing. He checked the list again, then pulled a dark blue bandana from a drawer and set it on top. “Present,” he said.

“Splendid! It will look grand.”

“It’s not for looks, Mr. Spaulding. You’ll need the handkerchief to wipe your face when it’s slashed with muck and cover your mouth and nose after a dynamite blast so’s you won’t get the miner’s puff.”

“Then I thank you, sir.”

Mr. Kaiser licked the tip of the lead pencil he kept behind his ear and wrote the charge next to each item on the list, totaled the amount, and turned the paper toward Will, who pulled the money out of his pocket.

“There’s one other thing I’m needing,” the young man said, as he watched Mr. Kaiser wrap the purchases in brown paper and tie the bundle with string. “A boardinghouse. I’m staying at the Hotel de Paris until my cottage is ready. Once I move in, I’ll need a place to eat, because I don’t fancy cooking for myself. Nor do I want to dress up every night for supper at the hotel.”

“Georgetown’s got a plenty of eateries.”

“Somewhere clean where the food is good.”
“That narrows it some.” Mr. Kaiser thought a minute. “You might try the Grubstake up on the hill. The bosses prefer it, since it’s a good bit tonier than the others. Ma Judson’s place is up on Main. She sets a good table. Then there’s Lydia Travers’s house on Rose Street. If I was you’d, I’d board with Mrs. Travers—Lidie, she’s called.”

“She’s the best cook?”

“I didn’t say that.”

Will waited.

“Fact is, when it comes to cooking, Mrs. Travers’s second to Ma Judson and not much better than the Grubstake.”

“Cleaner, then?”

“Not so’s you’d notice.”

“Then why should I take my meals there?”

Mr. Kaiser studied the young man a minute and chuckled. “That’s where Nealie Bent works.”

Will reddened, and the shopkeeper added, “You wouldn’t be the first to pick Mrs. Travers’s place because of Nealie. But I ought to tell you she’s all but spoke for by Charlie Dumas. He’d marry her in a minute if she’d have him.”

Will took his bundle and started for the door, ignoring Mr. Kaiser’s last words.

“Best you take no notice of her, Mr. Spaulding,” Mr. Kaiser called after him. “It’s certain she took none of you.”

The young man grinned and turned back to the counter where Mr. Kaiser stood fingering the canned goods.

*   *   *

But in fact, Nealie Bent had taken considerable notice of young Will Spaulding. She had caught sight of him as she ran her hands through the bin of potatoes to find ones that were firm, with no rotten spots. She had glanced up and observed him through her pale lashes, taken in the young man’s face, which was strong with no soft places, a little like a good potato. He was clean shaven, a nice thing, because Nealie was not partial to whiskers. Will’s eyes were a deep brown with flecks of gold the color of aspen leaves in the fall, and his brown hair fell across his face in waves. He might have been the handsomest man she had ever seen, and certainly, he was the best dressed in a town where few wore anything but faded work shirts and rusty overalls.

She admired Will’s jacket, a thick corduroy the color of a mountain sheep, that was handsomely tailored to fit his shape, not store bought at a place like the Kaiser Mercantile. He wore tight-fitting trousers that were better suited to a big city than a mining camp, and his shoes—Nealie had to keep herself from smiling—were of leather as fine as a glove and wouldn’t last a day in the muck of the Georgetown streets.

The man was a stranger and a well-fixed one. And not for the likes of you, Nealie told herself as she pushed so hard at a soft spot in a potato that she broke the peel. She hastily placed the spoiled potato back in the bin, hoping Mr. Kaiser wasn’t watching her. He was a bad one to tease, and she would die of mortification if he remarked on the way she had appraised the new fellow.

Such a man wasn’t likely to notice her, she told herself. Nealie was not aware of the effect that she had on men, and if she had been, she would have been bewildered. Still, she wondered, as the young man came up to stand beside her at the counter while Mr. Kaiser wrote down her purchases on a piece of brown wrapping paper, what it would be like to be courted by such. Her mind wandered to thoughts of carriages and roses in the winter and diamond rings. But not for long. She could more easily find a gold mine than attract a man like this stranger, and so she turned her attention to Mr. Kaiser, double-checking his addition in her mind, because she was smart with numbers. Nealie considered questioning one of the figures so the young man would turn and look at her and maybe wish her a good morning, but she blushed at the thought, and without a word, she signed beside the amount entered in the ledger on the page that bore Mrs. Travers’s name.

Then wishing that instead of her soundless cotton shift, she owned a satin petticoat with a ruffle to wear, a garment that would create a soft whish as she moved, Nealie turned to the door, shifting the basket from hand to arm to free her other hand for the handle. She went out then, forcing herself not to turn around for another look at the young man, and walked past the big window without so much as a backward glance. She would think about him later, for what was the harm in dreaming about matched horses and diamonds as thick as stars?

At the corner, she confronted the mud, slick as treacle, that was the street. The runoff from the snow had turned the dirt streets into a wet mass as thick as fudge. Although it was May, spring—or what passed for spring—had not quite reached the high country. Houses bore bare spots where the wind had scoured off the paint, and yards were covered with patches of late snow. But the drifts high up on the peaks were melting, and water cascaded down the gullies and through the streets. Although Nealie wore serviceable boots instead of slippers, she did not care to dirty them. It was an unpleasant chore to scrape off the mud that clung to them like glue and to oil the leather. She looked for dry spots in the muck or a board placed across the street for pedestrians, but such was not available. Nealie sighed and was just about to step into the brown stew when a man grabbed her arm.

“I’ll carry you across, Miss Nealie,” he said.

Remembering the man in the store, Nealie felt a wave of disappointment at the voice. Yes, Charlie Dumas could carry her as easily as if she was a feather. Charlie was a giant of a man, with the strength of a mule, and he could have picked up her and Mr. Kaiser and the stranger all at the same time and transported them across the street. But Nealie didn’t want Charlie, who stood there with the neck buttons of his union shirt unbuttoned and his baggy pant legs tied to his boots with fuse cord. He snatched off his wide-brimmed hat, which had been rubbed with linseed oil to make it hard, and grinned at her. Charlie was altogether too familiar, and for reasons she didn’t quite understand, she did not care to see the stranger come out of the store and find her in Charlie’s arms. But it was that or muddy her boots and maybe her skirts, too. Besides, if the stranger had not noticed her in the store, he surely would pay no attention to her on the street. So Nealie said she was obliged and let Charlie lift her as easily as she did her basket and ferry her through the muck.

He walked slowly, furrowing his brow as if thinking of a way to prolong the trip through the mud. Then his face lit up, and he stopped in the middle of the street. “Did I tell you I saw a man down by Taos Street in mud up to his neck? I told him that was deep muck.” He grinned at Nealie to make sure he had her attention. “That man told me, ‘Stranger, it wouldn’t be so bad if I wasn’t sitting on a horse.’” Charlie guffawed as he watched Nealie hopefully, to see if she found the joke funny, and she laughed politely, although she’d heard the tale two or three times already.

On the other side of the street, she escaped from Charlie’s hold and struggled to stand up, putting as much distance as...

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