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Meet the author:
Cheyenne Territory, Wyoming
Catharine Olsen sipped the last of her tea from the bottom
of her cherished Blue Willow teacup, then carefully placed
it on the saucer on the table next to her. She leaned back on
the settee, shoving her curls away from her face, and slipped a
letter out of her Bible. Though she knew the words by heart,
she reread the letter, now worn and discolored from time.
It is hard for me to contain my joy that soon we shall
meet and you will be my bride. I feel like I already know
you well from our correspondence. I pray you will have
safe travel on the Union Pacific. You should have a day
to rest after the long, arduous journey. I will promptly
call for you at the hotel the next day. Until then, I remain
Had it been just yesterday when she stared from the train’s window at the prairie that seemed to stretch as far as her eye could see? The relentless wind whipped the unending gold-tipped grass, and there was not a tree in sight . . . just open fields with an occasional cabin dotting the landscape and perhaps deer or elk grazing in the distance. Peter had told her to keep a lookout for them, and maybe a herd of bison. She wondered how she would adjust to such surroundings after leaving her beloved Amsterdam with its lush meadows and myriad of tulips . . . and the memories, not all of them good. An image swam before her eyes, and her heart tightened. I can’t think about it today or I won’t be able to go on
. . . What purpose could it possibly serve?
Would her heart ever heal? A single tear slid down her cheek, but she hastily swept it away before her sisters could see. She sighed and glanced over at them sitting with their heads together, reading a newspaper they’d picked up at the last stop. She prayed silently that all would work out as she hoped, but she knew from experience that only the Lord could see what was in store.
“Next stop, Cheyenne!” the conductor announced as he walked the aisle. He lifted his pocket watch from his waistcoat. “In about ten minutes.” Passengers began to gather their reading materials, satchels, and personal belongings in preparation for their arrival.
True to the conductor’s word, the train slowed its approach at the Union Pacific depot. Catharine decided that it was one of the most beautiful railroad depots she’d ever seen. The impressive structure looked fairly new with its multicolored sandstone, stone arches, and steeply pitched roofs that resembled a castle. Peter had written in his letters that the stone was quarried from west of Fort Collins, Colorado. Along the opposite side of the train, the rail yard was a profusion of trains narrowly wedged between one another, which could make disembarking dangerous.
Finally, with a squeal of metal on metal and a belch of steam, the engine halted, then passengers immediately scrambled to the exits, happy to have arrived in Cheyenne.
“Finally! I’m ready to get off this train,” Greta exclaimed, but she lowered her voice after a stern look from Catharine.
“Stay close to me, girls. The train tracks are really close together, and walking could be treacherous.” Catharine led the way, and the conductor assisted them after reminding them to take care as they stepped off. The wind howled, scattering dust and debris and threatening to rip their skirts from their slight forms in the bright April morning.
All three paused a moment amid the throng of people and soldiers and looked about wide-eyed. A foreign soil and a foreign city. The contrast here in life and in customs would be hard at first, no doubt, Catharine thought. Straightening her shoulders, she motioned to her sisters to follow her into the depot. Greta and Anna struggled with their heavy satchels, huffing and puffing.
Catharine stopped to watch them, shaking her head. “I told you not to carry too much on the train. Will you two ever listen to reason?”
Greta laughed, and the vibrant sound echoed throughout the vast waiting room. “We will, dear sister, just as soon as you have something sensible to say. You’re such a worrier.”
“Don’t be mean, Greta,” Anna scolded her sister. “I wish I hadn’t stuffed all my paint into this satchel. I hope nothing leaked out. But I just couldn’t leave it behind.” The youngest of the three hiked her bag up to her chest and used her other arm to support it.
“Okay, let’s find out where we’re to go,” Catharine said, looking around the large room. “Peter has a room waiting for me at the hotel. I’ll just need to ask about further instructions.”
The waiting area was filled with travelers, some being greeted as they arrived and others bidding their goodbyes before their respective trains departed. Catharine and her sisters stood stock-still to admire the beautiful room with its large fireplace, making it appear homey and restful for the many travelers who milled about. The depot was enormous, and no expense had been spared on the elegant fixtures. Catharine admired the pine and red-oak carved woodwork and ample windows that flooded the room with bright light.
A group of soldiers in army uniforms stood milling about near the ticket window and openly admired the three young women. One offered to help with Greta’s bags, but when she started to say yes, Catharine stayed her by the arm. Greta smiled at the soldier and he shrugged with a grin, but his eyes followed them. Greta glanced back with a flirtatious tilt of her head.
Peter wouldn’t arrive until the next day, which would allow Catharine a chance to rest before their meeting. He would not be prepared for her sisters in tow as well. That was one little detail that Catharine hadn’t told him about, for fear of rejection. Peter had paid for her travel fare, and by closely watching her budget after her father’s shipping business failed, she’d managed to save enough funds for her sisters’ fares as well. Her parents’ untimely death at sea six months ago, during a buying trip to the Indies, caused catastrophic loss for his shipping company, and it hadn’t helped the situation when
Catharine scrutinized the ledgers and found that her father’s accountant had embezzled most of the profits, leaving them with very little to live on.
She tightened her lips in a fine line and looked around the busy depot for someone to ask about directions to their hotel. Over a window with metal bars across it was a sign that read Information, so Catharine spoke to the clerk there. “Excuse me, sir. Can you tell me where the Inter Ocean Hotel is?”
The clerk looked up and smiled at her and her sisters, straightening his bow tie. “The hotel’s one block north on Sixteenth Street, ma’am. Will you need assistance?”
“If you would be so kind, I would be most grateful. We have two large trunks that need to be transported.” As Catharine gave him her name to make arrangements for their luggage to be taken to the hotel, the clerk’s pen paused as he squinted over his spectacles at her. “So . . . you’re Miss Olsen.” He leaned toward the front edge of the window, then scrutinized her with an approving gaze.
“Yes, sir, I am, and these are my sisters, Greta and Anna.” Greta and Anna bowed their heads slightly in his direction, and his smile broadened.
“Well, it’s very nice to meet you ladies. Name’s Joe Willis.” He bobbed his head. “I’m to tell you Peter Andersen has a carriage waiting to carry you the short distance to the hotel
. . . but I don’t think he mentioned any sisters.” He studied the three of them, his eyes sweeping from one to the other. “Maybe I can be of assistance with your carpetbag there.”
Catharine smiled back. “I believe we can manage. If you’ll just see to it that our trunks are delivered, then we’ll be going.”
“Will do. You’ll enjoy your stay at the Inter Ocean. It’s one of our finest in Cheyenne, and I reckon Mr. Andersen spared no expense on your behalf. Welcome to Cheyenne, ladies.”
So here they were enjoying all the comforts the fine hotel had to offer while Catharine waited anxiously to meet her future husband. She had been mildly surprised but pleased that Peter had reserved a room for her at such an opulent hotel. That made her wonder about him. Isn’t he just an ordinary farmer?
Greta strode over to Catharine and plucked the letter out of her hands, rattling the Blue Willow china cup and bringing Catharine sharply back to the present. She gasped in horror and quickly reached to steady her prized china to keep it from tumbling to the floor. It held sentimental value for her, and she had always admired the Blue Willow pattern.
“Alstublieft, for goodness’ sake, Catharine!” Greta said with a pointed look at her older sister. “Pull yourself together. How many times are you going to read that letter? You’ll be meeting your beloved Peter in the flesh any moment now.”
“Langzaam aan! Slow down! Honestly, Greta, you act as though you were raised in a barn with the milch cows.”
Greta flounced over to the chair next to Anna. Her younger sister barely glanced up from the book she was reading, shook her head, and watched as the letter fluttered onto the rug. “Just leave her alone, Greta. If she wants to read it until it disintegrates, then let her.” She picked up the letter and handed it to Catharine.
Catharine glanced at her sisters and sighed. She folded the letter and placed it back in its proper place in her Bible. Lord, how am I going to be both mama and papa? Greta, for all her impatience and impulsiveness, was a bright, pretty, but not always logical seventeen-year-old. Anna, fifteen, was in her usual oblivious state to what revolved around her, being content to ramble outdoors, read poetry, and let others wait on her. It wasn’t that Anna thought they should, it was more that she felt she had much better things to do than the mundane. That included just about everything.
But Catharine held fast to her decision that no matter what, she would care for her sisters. She absentmindedly pushed back a curl from her eyes that had escaped its pins.
Now that they’d left Holland, she hoped that she could keep a tight rein on Greta’s adventurous spirit and offer motherly guidance to sweet Anna.
“I’m sorry!” Greta tucked her skirt under her bent legs. “It just seems that you can’t know the real Peter just by the letters he wrote.” She sniffed. “Ha! He could be an old widower with a bent back and a brood of children. I wouldn’t believe anything that was written to me in a letter. Best wait until you’re actually in his home and can see for yourself. On the other hand, maybe he’s a wealthy farmer, or he wouldn’t have put us in this grand hotel. This may not be as bad as I thought after all.”
“Don’t you have any faith at all?” Catharine answered gently. “I’m sure Peter is who he says. The truth comes out in what we write or say.”
“Did you tell him that you’d been married before?” Greta pursed her lips until the corners of her mouth lifted. “Greta, it’s none of your business what we discussed in our correspondence these last couple of months.” Catharine started to say more but clamped her mouth shut. She hadn’t meant to speak so sharply to her sister, and she wasn’t in the mood to argue with her today. She had more pressing matters on her mind.
Anna gave Catharine a quick squeeze about the shoulders, smoothing her red curls. “I thought we were going to read from Hebrews this morning. It does seem so appropriate, considering . . .”
Catharine opened her Bible. “I suppose there’s a little time before he arrives.” Catharine patted the spot next to her.
Anna snuggled up close, and Catharine’s heart warmed at the trust her sister placed in her. She must not fail her sisters, and she wouldn’t. They were depending on her.
She slid her finger to the passage marked by the lace cotton handkerchief that had once belonged to her beloved mother and read, “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing wither he went—”
Greta cleared her throat, interrupting her sister. “I have no idea what that means, but I’m sure you’ll be able to explain it to us.”
“I know!” Anna jumped up and leaned forward, hands on her hips. “It means Abraham obeyed the Lord without knowing where he was to go, ja?”
Catharine looked fondly at Anna’s maturing, round face and shining eyes and answered with a smile, “Ja, you are exactly right. I feel like we are doing the same thing as Abraham, stepping out in faith where God leads.”
“You mean you are stepping out and dragging us with you!”
“Nee! No. And I don’t appreciate the sarcasm or your tone of voice, Greta. Whatever is the matter with you? We discussed this thoroughly when I saw Peter’s ad for a bride, and we were all in agreement that we might have a better future in America.” Catharine stared at Greta, who squirmed under her scrutiny. “As I recall, Greta, you were hoping for a bit of adventure.”
Greta’s small mouth twitched at the corners. “Ja, ja! I know, but now that we are here, I’m having doubts. Why, there’s nothing here but brown prairie, dust, and cattle. It’s dreary, flat, and drab!”
“I’m sure it’s not that way year-round. We’ll miss our home, but I believe the Lord has led us all here for a fresh start.” Catharine reached over and patted her on the hand. “We must trust Him.”
Anna sat back down. “And we should pray that we can take the same faith that Abraham demonstrated to follow God’s leading—”
A sharp rap on their hotel room door made all three of them jump, and Anna giggled.
“He’s here!” Catharine hopped up, placing her palms to her burning cheeks. “Do I look all right?” She fussed with the hair pinned at the nape of her neck.
“You look wonderful, especially with the flush on your cheeks,” Greta said.
Catharine smoothed her skirts and bolted to the door to swing it open. “Hallo. You must be Peter.” Anna and Greta stood behind her.
Peter whipped off his brown hat, revealing a head full of thick, sandy brown hair with eyes the color of the ocean they’d just crossed. He had a mustache cropped close to his full upper lip, and he smiled back timidly at the three women assembled before him. “Good morning, ladies. Yes, I’m Peter Andersen.”
Catharine’s heart leaped to her throat, and her corset seemed to be cutting off all of her air supply. She pressed her hand to her abdomen as though it could pump the much needed air into her midsection. Why did her stomach feel strange? Would he know she was hiding something by the look on her face?
Catharine swallowed hard. He was deliciously handsome and tall, with eyes that pierced right through her. She chided herself for having foolish notions about falling in love. It was really all about Peter, who needed a wife. And she needed a new beginning. Simple as that. Best not to entertain such thoughts about him.
Peter shifted his weight in the awkwardness of the moment. “May I come in?”
Greta hastily stepped aside. “Pardon, forgive my manners.”
Catharine’s legs felt as stiff as peppermint candy sticks, but she was finally able to move forward to greet the man who was to become her life partner. “Peter! It’s so good to meet you at last,” she said, suddenly feeling reticent as she extended her hand.
But Peter stepped closer to her and tightly grasped her hands in his. “My dear Catharine, I’m so glad you’ve arrived!”
His chest expanded as he drew in a deep breath. Was it in anxiousness or agitation? Catharine couldn’t be sure and was almost afraid that he was going to bestow a bear hug on her, which would be unseemly since they’d just met face-to-face. She felt heat touch her face and flash down her neck as her eyes traveled up his towering frame. His warm smile was inviting, and the small cleft in his chin lent charm to his sharply defined jaw and tanned face. He swallowed, and she noticed his Adam’s apple move.
“Oh! Where are my manners? Do have a seat,” Catharine said, leading him to the nearest chair. She looked nervously at her sisters, fully aware that his eyes were following her. “Can I take your hat?” Her hand shook as she reached for the black Stetson hat, then placed it on the hall tree. Glancing back, she stifled a laugh at his hair flattened from the hat, which created a natural band all around his head. He seemed a tad uncomfortable in his dark suit with matching string tie. His wedding suit, perhaps? She doubted this was true farmer attire. The suit coat hugged his body, and it was easy to see he was well-muscled. “Peter, these are my sisters, Greta and Anna.”
His eyes held an expression of surprise, but he only bowed stiffly in their direction. “I’m happy to make your acquaintance.”
“Greta, was there any more tea, or do we need to ring for room service?” Catharine asked, trying to divert his questioning look for now. He would find out about her sisters soon enough. She hoped he would be in agreement to take them into his household as well, since he’d told her in their letters that his farmhouse was large.
Peter sat down and folded his long legs under the edge of the chair. “Please don’t go to any trouble for me. I thought perhaps we could go have some lunch. We’ve a lot to discuss before we marry.” His eyes held hers with a level gaze for a long moment, then traveled discreetly down her form.
Catharine’s heart thudded against her ribcage. Was he pleased at the way she looked or sounded with her accent? Maybe he didn’t like her freckles or red hair! More importantly, could she do this again?
Why were these doubts plaguing her now? She had felt so confident through their correspondence. But what if Greta was right? It had been a long time since she’d given her heart to a man, and she had made a terrible mistake before . . .