(If you aren’t caught up in the series, don’t blame me if you accidentally read a spoiler.)
“But what is it?” If my mood slid from happy to aggravated in those four little words, I justified it. Brides were given particular emotional license, weren’t they? This side of hysterics, of course. I adjusted my smile.
“Special delivery, ma’am,” the boy replied. He was tall and he self-consciously swiped at the long brown hair hanging over his eyes and repositioned his hat to contain it better. “Direct from New York.”
He studied the paper in his hand while I leaned over the veranda railing, trying to read it, too. “This here is Idyllwild, California.” The boy took a long look around us. “And the delivery is for a Mr. and Mrs. John Wyman.”
Carefully, I tucked John’s note back into the envelope. I’d been interrupted no less than three times trying to read it, but it seemed privacy in the middle of nowhere was scarce.
He looked up at me expectantly and the driver stayed on the seat of the wagon, eyes fixed on the horses in front of him. The pair had come all the way up the gravel drive to the Idyllwild Inn entry.
But I didn’t live here.
“I’m Mrs. Wyman,” I began. “Or rather, I will be by noon. But we live down that side road, there.” I pointed helpfully across the meadow to something that was once a logging road but now reduced to a rutted, overgrown, and unmarked trail. “That is,” I said, “we’ll live there once we return from our wedding trip.”
Where was everyone? How did I end up the only person available at the entire Idyllwild Inn for the delivery boy? Another privilege of being the bride, I supposed.
“Where ya’all going?” The boy had perked up at the word wedding and the driver slid his eyes in our direction.
“New York.” I rolled my eyes at the wagon.
The boy grinned. “Funny, that.”
Whatever was in the wagon had to be from my mother-in-law. What timing. Our wedding and our trip had been pushed forward, and she must have shipped the gift from New York long before our notice reached her.
“Well,” I said. “You’ll have to deliver it to the cottage. Ten or twenty minutes down that road, on the left. No one is there right now but the door is unlocked.”
“You’ll sign for it?” The boy was already up the large, wide steps to the veranda and I met him at the top.
I signed the slip and handed his pencil back. “It’s from a clock company?” I eyed the crate in the wagon. “It’s huge.”
With a tap on his hat brim, the boy hopped down the steps and clambered back into the wagon. “Our guess is a grandfather clock,” he said. “We’ll set it in the main room and let you figure out the rest.”
“Thank you.” My words were lost as the driver got the horse moving over the gravel and turned around.
“There you are, Miss Brown!” called a gay voice at my shoulder, Hattie. The girl, rarely out of her maid uniform, wore a deep green gown and her bright red hair, released from their normal coronet of braids and mob cap, adorned her small Gibson-girl figure like a light on a slender candle. She was beautiful, but saying so would make her blush and drop her stunning green eyes in embarrassment.
Instead, I kept my observations to myself and let her critical gaze take in my simple, gray morning dress. Narrow skirted with a slight puff in the sleeve, it was nothing compared to the gown waiting for me, and she knew it.
“What are you doing out here?” Hattie looped her arm through mine. “You’re supposed to be getting dressed!”
I tucked the note into a pocket. “They pulled up right as I looked out the window and the dogs tried to eat the poor boy’s shoe when he tried climbing from the wagon.” I bent to fondle the ears of a basset hound and he thumped his tail once on the wooden planks in acknowledgment. “Everyone else is running around like a chicken. Just as well. It turned out to be another wedding gift.”
The note was from my fiancé. John had sealed it with yellow wax, the way he used to do when he was away from town. Our courting days. I’d managed at least three readings. I sighed. It would have to be enough for now.
“Oh, how exciting!” Hattie steered me through the empty lobby and toward the guest room halls. “We are going to have so much fun setting up house for you while you’re gone. What’s this one? Too big to be a fountain pen and too small to be a buggy.”
She didn’t wait for an answer as we stopped at a hotel room door.
“Charlotte’s been running the staff ragged this morning,” Hattie continued, opening the door, “and Karine got her cake into boxes with one hand while mixing a green mayonnaise for Lindley’s chef with the other.” She held to door open. “The woman is in her element.”
Feminine exclamations greeted our appearance and several hands reached for me at once.
“Loveda! At last!” This from Molly, wife of the esteemed Mr. Lindley and dear friend. Her smile revealed a small gap between her two front teeth that only I noticed. Everyone else’s eyes went directly to Molly’s round belly. “I’m itching to see you in this dress, hurry up!” She handed me a button hook.
Emily went immediately to the large bed in the stately room and opened the long box on it. “Maybe you refuse a veil,” she said, pulling out something sheer, silky, and altogether decadent, “but I won’t have you miss out on the finer parts of holy matrimony.”
As the wife of our local Sheriff MacDougall, Emily was quick to pounce on any feminine opportunity in a town full of dust, leather, and daily grind.
“It isn’t appropriate for a widow marrying the second time around, Em,” I said, obediently unbuttoning my shoes. “Where are the children?”
Emily shook a pair of silk stockings at me. “With the folks and heaven help them. I’ll take them in hand once you’re ready.” Her blonde head nodded along with Molly’s brunette pompadour. Motherhood was serious business.
Hattie pulled me up and went to work unbuttoning my dress.
“I think it’s far more grand than any old veil,” Del cried from her wheeled chair. A striped satin hatbox completely filled her lap and the hat within waved white plumage into her violet eyes. “Besides, your first marriage doesn’t count. And you can take this with you to New York and show all those highfaluting women what class looks like!”
Del’s chair caused people to underestimate her, but we knew better. And while she was the local school mistress, Del’s defining gift was as a pianist. Del had been practicing for my wedding day for weeks.
I nodded at Del while Hattie tackled my corset. “I hope I can keep up. John spent the weekend down the hill being fitted for a tuxedo. Can you imagine?” For one glorious moment, I stood in my silk chemise and did just that. “He’s taking me to several swanky supper clubs while we’re with his mother in New York.”
“That’s not all he did this weekend,” Molly said, taking my corset from Hattie and trading it with a new one. “My Lindley says Mr. Wyman stood up at Karine and Mr. Bouma’s wedding at the Justice of the Peace on Monday.”
“You should have seen them all when they came back,” Hattie said. She gave my corset a yank that knocked the breath out of me. “Karine Halvorsdatter Torkelson Bouma. There’s a name for you.” She gave another yank and I grabbed the bed post to stay on my feet. “They were as rosy and happy as any couple can be.”
“But Monday was Labor Day,” Molly said. “The office was open?”
“For Karine,” Hattie huffed, “everyone is open when she says they are open. And closed, too. Mr. Bouma sent off our last guests yesterday and locked the door behind them.”
I sat on a tufted stool and unrolled my stockings. It was odd, leaving my beloved little hotel behind. Having Karine and her new husband take over made it bearable. They loved it as much as I did. Whether Hattie would stay on as the best maid we’d ever had, was yet to be seen.
Clearing my throat, I handed the stockings to Hattie and said, “I hear Mr. Deal made it up the hill.”
Her face flushed crimson and she said, “Yes. Now remember, Miss Brown.” She tossed the stockings onto the bed and took the pair from Emily. “You have three suitcases, a trunk, and four hatboxes already packed on the White Owl. You won’t have to change into a going away dress after the luncheon of course, but your hat should go back into this box before you get on Lindley’s coach. Far too dusty.”
“One whole case full of your embroidered handkerchiefs, no doubt,” Emily teased.
I met Molly’s eyes and we shared a resigned smile. Hattie would not be with us long.
“The Owl is washed and polished,” Molly said, watching that I rolled the silk stockings up straight. “The coachman even shined the harness and added bells.”
“It’s like a fairy tale,” Hattie sighed. She held one of my cream, satin-heeled shoes as though it were made of glass. “And the train tonight! How lovely for you, Miss Brown!”
“The Santa Fe de Luxe,” breathed Del. “It doesn’t even sound real.”
“Your own private Pullman sleeping car,” Emily said, her dimple appearing, “and the dining car is supposed to serve the finest meals.”
“Don’t tell Karine,” Hattie warned, helping me tie the garters in place. We all smiled and she said, “I’ll press your cunning little wedding flowers for you while you’re gone.”
All eyes went to the two bouquets in silver vases on the bureau. Pink and white lilies with violet, mauve, and pink flowers crowded around them, offset by green ferns and flowing green and silver ribbons.
“That reminds me,” Molly said. She waddled to the bureau, there was no other way to put it. One hand on her belly, she added a spray of greenery to my bouquet. “This is from our garden, Loveda. Rosemary. For remembrance.”
Her smile was wistful as she re-secured the ribbons. “I want you to remember us while you’re traveling the big world and come home quickly.”
“Molly.” My eyes misted. “How could I ever forget? Idyllwild is home. We’ll be back before you know it.”
She rubbed her belly. I wasn’t going to be here when the baby came but there was nothing to be done for it.
“September 5, 1912 will always be a happy day,” Hattie said, reaching for the wedding dress. “A nice, quiet Thursday wedding.”
Del made a face and covered it by fussing at the hat in her lap.
“What?” I asked.
Del looked up. “Nothing.”
“It’s a shame both Mack and Winters are away on business,” Molly said. “I know they aren’t happy to miss your wedding, Loveda.”
I waited until Del colored. She refused to look at Molly and recited, “Monday for wealth, Tuesday for health, Wednesday the best day of all. Thursday for losses, Friday for crosses, and Saturday, no luck at all.” Del clasped her hands together. “Yesterday would have been better, is all.”
“Poppycock and rubbish,” I said with a toss of my head. Hattie leapt to be certain my hair stayed in place. “I won’t live a life on superstition. My last wedding was on a Monday and let me tell you, the day of the week has nothing to do with the quality of your marriage.” I reached for the dress on the bed and dug into the pocket. “Or the calibre of your husband.”
“What’s that?” Emily asked.
“A note from John.” I walked to my wedding dress and tucked it into a new pocket. I wanted his words with me.
“Wait, Miss Brown, and let’s do this properly,” Hattie said. She and Emily began systematically wrapping me in layers of bridal perfection. First the Japanese silk petticoats, then the satin underskirt, the gauzy overskirt, a draping shirtwaist and lace collar combined several shades of mauve and complimented extremely well with the bridal bouquet.
“You’ve had plenty of unsavory characters ruin a perfectly good day in Idyllwild for you,” Del muttered. “And I don’t think a wedding would stop them.”
“Fiddlesticks,” Molly said. “Stop. You know they moved the wedding forward at the last minute. We couldn’t have done this a single day sooner.” She handed Emily one of my shoes. “Sit down, Loveda.”
Emily got to work fastening the high heels on my feet and Hattie prepared my head for the hat.
I held my hand up and admired the large emerald on my finger. Diamonds around the band winked back at me.
Molly rummaged through the pile on the bed and found my white gloves. “Lindley is the best man,” she said. “He won’t let so much as a fly buzz out of place today.”
Del surrendered her comments along with the hat. Wide of brim but somewhat reasonable in the crown, the organza masterpiece was sheer veil, egret feathers, ten-inch wide loops of silk ribbon, and tiny iridescent beads. It took several hat pins to secure it properly. I had a matching parasol packed away in the traveling trunk.
Del rolled up next to me and Emily perched on a stool in front of me and blocked the mirror. “Rouge,” she said, staring into my eyes.
Molly handed her a little pot.
“Don’t forget to take your other bag when you leave today,” Hattie said, watching intently. “It has all of your cosmetics inside. And use them. They were good enough for Cleopatra.”
“Yes, mother hen,” I said.
“Don’t move, Loveda!” Del scolded.
Molly wrestled the gloves on up to my elbows and fastened more buttons. Del helped Hattie on with hers. Emily went back to painting my lips.
“I don’t want you worrying about Charlie while you’re gone, Miss Brown,” Hattie said. “We’ve got great adventures planned for him and he’s over the moon about a treehouse. I imagine he’ll spend all his hours there. He’s already inventing a pulley system for taking meals up.”
“And he’ll have school lessons to do,” Del said, positioning Hattie’s hat over the red curls. “He’s reading well enough.”
“He’s guessing well enough you mean,” I said. “And he hasn’t any use at all for a pencil.”
Charlie was ours. John’s and mine. Ten years old, rambunctious, and an avid tree-climber, we’d taken the boy in and given him a reason to call Idyllwild home. Young Charlie wanted to fly airplanes when he grew up, and that was incentive enough for him to remain in school.
For at least another day.
Del grinned. “There are ways to learn that don’t always involve a pencil. There. Hattie, you look just lovely.”
And she did. Her gown echoed mine but fell in simpler lines and she hadn’t nearly as much piled on top of her head.
Emily helped me stand beside her and we all gazed into the cheval mirror.
Hattie’s smile crept wider and the gleam in her eye made her look suddenly much older than her tender sixteen.
“Well.” Molly wiped at her eye. “I’m off to welcome our guests and make sure they’re seated.” She took my hand. “Be ready at high noon. You don’t dare keep a man like Mr. Wyman waiting.” She took another long look at me. “You are just the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen. I can’t wait to make your wedding photographs.”
“I’m going to the children,” Emily said. “Don’t touch your face.”
“And I’ll get ready at the piano.” Del smiled up at me. “The violinist is a nice touch.”
The women left and Hattie tugged at her glove. “Another minute or two, and we’ll follow them.”
I began to recite the multiplication tables to myself.