by Bonnie Leon
Is love enough to overcome the tragedies and hardships thrown at them?
In the spring of 1856, Emmalin Hammond decides the Oregon Territory is not the place for her and chooses to return to her Philadelphia home. But mountain man, Jacob Landon, has other ideas. With an unexpected profession of love, he asks her to marry him and share his life in the Oregon wilderness.
Before they can marry, a string of misfortunes tests her desire to step into the role of a pioneer woman. Though determined, Emmalin soon recognizes she may be deceiving herself. Is the life she’s chosen out of reach?
The sun slid behind the mountains, and evening bird song quieted as Emmalin and Jacob approached Deer Creek, the town she had grown to love and thought she’d never see again. Henry barked at something in the brush and darted off the trail.
Trepidation nibbled at her joy as Emmalin grasped Smoke’s coarse mane more tightly as if the dappled gray could provide the steadiness she needed.
Earlier today she’d been in a wagon set on returning to Philadelphia and the life of ease she’d had there. The idea made her stomach ache. Then Jacob caught up with her, convincing her to go with him to his burned-out place on the river—leaving Mr. Henderson to continue to Oregon City without her.
As she and Jacob stood where the blackened forest ended and the heavy greenery of woodlands closed around them, he had asked her to be his wife, to rebuild the cabin destroyed by fire, and to start a life together. It had been a beautiful moment, a dream, but now reality drew near. Did she have the strength required to be a pioneer wife?
“Almost there,” Jacob whispered as they moved past the grist mill. The paddles slapped the water, the wheel groaning as if in tune to Emmalin’s emotional disquiet.
A cat, perched on the top step of the schoolhouse, stood, stretched out its lean golden body, and yawned. It eyed them as they rode toward her father’s mercantile. Her father. Heaviness seized her as she replayed the last months. Her mother had died of fever, and Emmalin set off with her uncle to Oregon Territory in search of a father she didn’t know existed until her mother’s death. Emmalin had only been in Oregon City one day when her uncle was killed in a freak accident. With the help of Jacob, a mountain man, she traveled to Deer Creek and found her father.
Anger simmered inside her as she thought about Collier breaking off their engagement only to follow her to Deer Creek when he discovered she was now a wealthy woman.
Emmalin took a deep, steadying breath. While her life had been riddled with suffering, good things had also come about. Good things like discovering she was an heiress to her uncle’s fortune. And good things like Jacob Landon.
The mercantile was dark, but lights glowed from within Margaret’s café. Jacob maneuvered Smoke to a stop in front of the café, dismounted, and tied the horse to a hitching post. Henry padded up to the door and waited.
“I’ll bet Margaret’s got something good to eat,” Jacob said as he reached up to help Emmalin down.
“I hope so. I’m starved.” She swung her right leg over the horse’s back and dropped to the ground, standing in Jacob’s arms for a brief moment, wishing she could remain there feeling the safety of his strength.
His lips had settled into a soft smile as he gazed down at her. Though drawn in by his love, she stepped away. A public demonstration of affection would be improper. Her mother would have been shocked by such a display.
“Are you ready?” Emmalin took his hand.
Jacob gave it a squeeze. “I am if you are.” He grinned. “Have to admit, I’m a little nervous to face Samuel. I might work for him and have known him a while, but I didn’t tell him about my feelings.”
“He’ll be happy for us. He thinks very highly of you.”
“That’s good to know.”
Emmalin pressed a hand to her stomach, trying to quiet the sudden flurry of butterflies. How would her father accept the news? The last he knew, Emmalin was headed north to Oregon City to join the wagon train going east.
And what of Mr. Henderson? What would he think when she didn’t arrive at the campsite? When Jacob had come for her, she’d been so surprised and had behaved recklessly, taking off on a whim with a mountain man the way she did. Mr. Henderson must think her mad.
Jacob held the door of the café open, and Emmalin moved inside, the aroma of roasting meat and vegetables greeting her. Her father sat at the table nearest the kitchen with their good friend, Margaret. They looked up, surprise on their faces.
Samuel stood, looking taller than his six-two height. Her father’s blue eyes were dark with interest. “Emmalin? Jacob?”
Margaret bounced to her feet. “I can hardly believe what I’m seeing.” She tucked chestnut brown hair off her face. “I thought you’d be miles from here by now.”
“I was.” Emmalin glanced at Jacob. “But Jacob caught up to Mr. Henderson and me. And, well, he took me to his place on the river.”
“What about Philadelphia?” Samuel asked. “I thought you were set on returning to your fancy life?”
Emmalin felt the jab and accepted it, remembering how that life had betrayed him many years before. “Jacob convinced me I was making a mistake.” Emmalin tossed a quick smile at Jacob before turning back to her father.
Jacob stepped forward. “I meant to ask you properly, but all of a sudden, I knew what I needed to do and there was no time.” He removed his hat. “I’d like to ask you for Emmalin’s hand in marriage, sir.”
The question hung in the air.
Samuel furrowed his eyebrows, then finally broke the silence. “Marriage? What in tarnation?”
“I know it’s sudden, and I do apologize. I should have come to you before asking her, but I was up at my place when I realized what a fool I’d been. I had let her go without telling her how I felt, so I went after her.”
Jacob stepped closer to Emmalin. “Samuel, I love your daughter and I want to marry her. I’ll do my best to make her happy.”
Samuel looked from Jacob to Emmalin, then to Margaret, who stood with her hands pressed together, an expectant expression on her face. He finally settled his gaze on Emmalin. “This is what you want?”
“With all my heart.”
“All right, then.” Samuel reached for Jacob’s hand. “You have my blessing.” The two men shook, and Samuel let out a laugh. “I was beginning to think you’d never come to your senses.” He slapped Jacob on the back in a friendly way, then moved to Emmalin. “And I’m sure glad you’ll be sticking around.”
“This is where I belong.” She looked at Jacob. “When he came for me, I knew.”
Jacob took Emmalin’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “I’m already working on our home.”
“Oh,” Margaret said in a gush. “Thank the Lord! I was thinking you two had missed out on the beautiful gift God had given you—each other.” She pulled Emmalin into her arms. “I’m so happy for you. And thankful you’ll be living here. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to manage without you.” She held Emmalin away from her, the fine lines in her face deepening with her tender smile. “Deer Creek is better with you in it.”
Emmalin’s heart swelled. “Thank you. It feels like home.” Her eyes suddenly filled with tears as she realized what had almost happened. “I nearly made the biggest mistake of my life.”
Margaret gave Emmalin’s cheek a pat, then moved toward the kitchen. “You must be hungry. I made chicken and vegetable pie. There’s plenty.”
“Sounds good.” Jacob draped his coat on a hook on the wall, then placed his hat over it. “I’m starved.”
“Chicken pie sounds perfect,” Emmalin said as she removed her cloak and handed it to Jacob who hung it next to his.
“Have a seat, you two, and I’ll get you some.”
Emmalin and Jacob took their places at the table while Margaret spooned dinner onto dishes, setting the steaming plates in front of them. “There’s chocolate cake when you’re done. I was feeling low, so I did some extra baking. Now it feels like a celebration.”
Joy bubbled up inside of Emmalin and she sent a “thank you” heavenward.
“Coffee?” Margaret asked.
“Yes. Please.” Emmalin took a bite of chicken.
“Sure.” Jacob scooped up a forkful of the vegetable pie.
Margaret filled their cups, then refilled hers and Samuel’s. She set the coffeepot back on the stove. “Oh, Mr. Henderson. What became of him and your luggage?”
“He’s on the road north. I figure I’ll ride up in the morning and let him know what’s happened,” Jacob said.
“But what about your things, Emmalin? How will you manage?”
“I’ll be fine, Margaret. I didn’t pack all my clothes and necessities. After all, so much of what I wear here wouldn’t be acceptable in Philadelphia.”
A look of surprise touched Margaret’s face.
“So many of the people there don’t know a thing about being practical,” Emmalin said in a hurry, hoping not to offend her dear friend. “And whatever I need I can purchase from the mercantile. Expense is no concern.”
“Oh, of course,” Margaret said.
Jacob shifted in his chair.
Why did he look so uncomfortable?
Samuel rested his elbows on the table. “So, when do you two plan to have this wedding?”
“I figured around the end of summer.” Jacob glanced at Emmalin. “If that’s all right with you?”
“I have the cabin to build. It’s a big job.”
Emmalin held back her disappointment. September seemed so far away.
“You can get it done sooner with some help. I know several men who’d be more than happy to give you a hand,” Samuel added.
Jacob’s mouth became set. “I guess we’ll see.”
“At least we have plenty of time to plan the wedding and make your dress.” Margaret reached across the table and patted Emmalin’s arm.
Emmalin pressed a hand to her chest. It all seemed so real now. She was actually going to become Jacob’s wife. Here in the wilderness of Oregon. Feeling disquieted, she glanced toward the windows, dark now that the sun had set. How was she going to manage? She’d been here less than a year. Could she truly step into the shoes of a pioneer woman?
“I’ll get busy downing more trees and building us a good sturdy house.” Jacob leaned back in his chair and circled his arms behind his neck.
“Can we have chickens and a garden? And perhaps some roses too?”
“We can have anything you want. It’s going to be your home.”
“This is going to be a glorious summer.” Margaret clapped her hands together. “I have so much to teach you, Emmalin.”
Emmalin caught a glimmer of what it could be. It seemed almost perfect. She couldn’t imagine a better beginning. Margaret would continue to teach her all she needed to know about keeping a house, and her father would steady her and help her with things like farming. And Jacob…well, Jacob would love and watch over her. With him at her side, she could do anything.
As long as they stepped into their future together, they would have the strength they needed. She reached for Jacob’s hand and grasped it. He smiled at her and dropped a kiss to the back of her fingers.
Yes. All would be well. This was right.
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Emmalin stirred, caught in those moments between sleep and wakefulness. She reached her arms over her head and released a slow breath. A sense of well-being settled in her. She rolled onto her side and snuggled beneath her quilt. Just a little more sleep.
All of a sudden, she was wide awake, her thoughts tumbling backward to a restless night. Her mind had spent the hours jumping from plans, then dreams and the what-ifs of her future. There’d been little time for sleep.
And then she remembered Jacob and hugged her pillow. They were getting married!
Emmalin pressed a hand against her tumbling stomach as it all came back in a rush. Their ride across the meadows and into the hills east of Deer Creek where Jacob had told her he loved her. She never thought she’d hear those words from him. And their first kiss…it had been so tender, as if out of a dream.
She sat on the edge of the bed and dropped her feet to the floor. The wood was hard and unforgiving. Cold. The air was chill. What had happened to the previous day’s warmth? She stood and moved to the window and lifted the floral cotton drapery.
Emmalin studied dark heavy clouds. The smell of rain was in the air. Had she yielded too quickly? She had been completely deceived by Collier…and others. Her mother and father had lied to her. All her life she’d believed her father had died. Her grandfather and her uncle had known the truth and they hadn’t told her.
Her mind edged toward a question she didn’t want to ask. Could she trust Jacob?
She pushed her feet into silk slippers, padded to the armoire, and lifted out her dressing gown. She threw it on, then tied the gown in front only now aware of a throbbing headache. She massaged her temples as she headed for the door.
The aroma of coffee and warmth from the woodstove was a comfort. Her father had kindly thought of her before heading into town. She opened the firebox on the stove and added wood, then poured a cup of coffee and stirred in milk and sugar. It was just what she needed. She sipped the coffee as she moved to the rocker near the open hearth and settled into the chair. Resting her head against the wooden back, Emmalin closed her eyes, breathed deeply, and attempted to quiet the uneasiness humming through her. Why the anxiety? Of course she could trust Jacob. He had no reason to deceive her. She should feel nothing but bliss.
Perhaps the unease was simply because the realizations and proclamations of love had happened so suddenly and unexpectedly. Jacob had literally swept her off her feet. It had been so romantic, like a love story. But real life held no promise of a happily-ever-after ending. Rather, it was full of obstacles and privations.
Of course Jacob loved her, but had she made the right decision? She’d not taken adequate time to give thought to what she was agreeing to. Life as a pioneer wife sounded romantic, but it was more about hard work, taking risks, and facing dangers with determination and grit.
There was no need for her to rush into marriage. She was financially capable of caring for herself. With her inheritance, she was now a wealthy woman. A life of luxury could easily be had. She rested a hand at the hollow of her throat where she felt the rapid pattering of her heart.
Jacob’s handsome face, his hazel eyes that made her catch her breath, and his charming smile swirled through her mind. He was the finest man she’d ever known. Of course, she should marry him.
Comfort and wealth meant nothing without him. But choosing him meant living in the Oregon wilderness, far from creature comforts. Even Deer Creek was a fair distance from Jacob’s place, taking more than an hour on horseback, and there were no neighbors to call upon in time of need. Was she truly prepared for such an existence? There would be no turning back.
When Jacob asked her to share his life, she’d been swept up in the magic of it all. It had seemed like a grand adventure. But in the light of day, she couldn’t ignore its harsh realities. There would certainly be hardships and danger aplenty. Plus, there would be things to fear. Emmalin knew that all too well.
She opened her eyes and took another sip of coffee. Oh, how she loved Jacob. Was love enough to overcome all they would face?
“Howdy, neighbor,” came a call from outside.
Emmalin startled, nearly spilling her coffee. She’d been so wrapped up in her thoughts she hadn’t heard anyone approach. She pushed out of her chair and walked to the door. When she opened it, her friend Charity bounded up the steps. “Charity. What a lovely surprise.”
“After hearing the wonderful news, I had to come.” Wearing a bright smile, Charity gave Emmalin a massive hug. “I’m so happy for you.” She stepped back. “I had no idea. I mean I wanted you and Jacob to fall in love, but you didn’t say a word.”
“When I set off from town yesterday, I had every intention of traveling to Oregon City and signing on to a wagon train. Though I must admit my heart was heavy at the thought of leaving. And then Jacob came along and, well, I couldn’t resist his charm.” She laughed.
Charity clapped her hands. “I want to hear all about it.”
“I was just about to make some breakfast. Would you like to join me?”
“I’ve already had breakfast, but I’ll take a cup of coffee.”
Emmalin stepped inside and held the door for her friend. “Do you take cream and sugar?”
“Just black.” Charity dropped onto one of the hardbacked chairs.
Emmalin filled a cup with coffee and set it on the table. It was nearly nine thirty, too late for a real breakfast. A slice of apple strudel would do well. She cut a piece, placed it on a plate, and sat across from her friend.
Charity studied her with wide blue eyes. “Are you all right? I don’t mean to be rude, but it’s late and you’re still in your nightdress.”
“I’m fine. I just didn’t sleep well, with all the excitement.”
Charity brushed a strand of blonde hair off her face. “I wouldn’t have slept a wink. I’d be over the moon.” She smiled. “Have you set a date?”
“Sometime in the late summer. There’s a lot to be done.”
“Of course.” Charity glanced around as if looking for someone. “I’m surprised Jacob’s not here this morning.”
“He’s hunting down Mr. Henderson who has all my luggage and has no idea what became of me yesterday after I rode off with Jacob. It seems inappropriate to just let him keep wondering.”
“Oh yes. I heard about how Jacob chased after you.” Charity leaned forward. “How romantic. And he asked you to marry him there at his place on the North Umpqua?”
“He did.” Emmalin couldn’t help but smile at the memory. “He took me quite by surprise. In recent weeks we’ve both known that we love each other but refused to admit it to ourselves. It all just seemed so complicated. And I truly couldn’t entertain such an idea without Jacob announcing his feelings to me first.”
“Thank goodness you did the right thing. I’m so happy for you. The two of you belong together.”
“Yes, we do. Tomorrow we are going out to his place and finalize plans for our home. He’s building it himself.” A swirl of excitement felt as if it might lift her off the chair. Their home. It didn’t seem possible.
“It’s all so perfect. Jacob is a good man and so handsome.” Charity brightened with a delighted smile.
“That he is.” Emmalin set her fork on her plate. “It’s just all quite unexpected.”
“Everything will work out. And the surprise of it all only makes it more romantic.” Charity sighed. “I wish I had a suitor.”
“I thought you and Pastor Miller were courting.”
Charity frowned. “I don’t know how he feels about me, or if he feels anything at all. We’ve shared a few picnics and he once took me to dinner at Margaret’s café. But he’s still not made his intentions known. I’ll likely stay an old maid forever.”
“You’ll find someone who is perfect for you. And perhaps it is Pastor Miller. He’s rather reserved and doesn’t seem the type to blurt out his feelings in a rush. He just needs a bit of time.” Emmalin eyed Charity’s trousers. “Of course, it might help if you dressed a bit more modest.” She smiled sweetly to lighten the criticism.
“I know you’re right, but I’m not about to be someone I’m not. I wear what’s appropriate to the task. And this morning I had work needing done in the barn. A dress would have been completely ridiculous.”
Emmalin pressed her lips together, holding back a response. How she loved Charity, but her choices might be the end of her. “I hope he comes around. You are a perfectly lovely woman and would make a fine wife.”
“I do hope he can love me, just as I am. Otherwise, I’ll never have a home of my own or children. I’ve always wanted children, lots of them.” Her tone had turned wistful.
Children. Emmalin’s mouth went dry. She hadn’t thought about that part of marriage. Of course, Jacob wanted children. But she didn’t know how to be a mother.
“You and Jacob will have beautiful babies.”
And then what would she do? All of her life, she’d known that when the time came for her to be a mother, she would have a proper nanny to help her. She’d never imagined a wilderness life where mothering would be something she did on her own.
“Emmalin. Are you all right? You’re white as a ghost.”
“I’m fine.” She took a drink of coffee. It went down in a large, hot gulp. What if she and Jacob did have a lot of children? She couldn’t possibly manage. Two or three little ones would be adequate.
“Are you certain you’re not ill? You look awfully pale.”
Emmalin cast what she hoped was a convincing smile at Charity. “I’ve never been better.”
Smoke splashed through the shallows of the Umpqua River and lunged up a trail leading to the roadway. Jacob pulled back on the reins when they reached the top of the bank. Smoke stopped, and he stroked the horse’s neck. “You’re in high spirits today.” He sat back in the saddle. “Likely feeling my happiness.”
Jacob didn’t feel completely happy. He’d rather be spending the day with Emmalin instead of tracking down Mr. Henderson. If he kept up a brisk pace, he might have time to ride out to Samuel’s when he got back to town. Emmalin would be looking for him.
His gaze swept across the rolling countryside. Deep green grasses danced in the breeze as shadows of sun and clouds drifted across the meadows. He was reminded of a lush green carpet he’d once seen in a fancy hotel in Oregon City.
What was the name of that hotel? Maybe Emmalin would like to visit there one day after they were married. He was sure it wasn’t as fancy as the hotels in Philadelphia, but it would likely please her. They could dress up, eat at a fancy restaurant, spend an evening at the theater, and then retire in luxury. Maybe he could arrange something like that for their honeymoon. It could be a surprise.
His mind returned to the previous day. When he’d gone after Emmalin, he didn’t know what to expect from her. She was wealthy with no need of financial support from him. A life of plenty awaited her in Philadelphia. Even with doubts taunting him, he couldn’t let her leave the Umpqua Valley without telling her how he felt. If he let her go, he would likely never see her again. He had to take the risk.
Thank the Lord he’d found the courage. Still, worry niggled at him. Emmalin loved him now, but how would she feel when she was actually living in a rustic wilderness cabin instead of a Philadelphia mansion?
His mother had managed to find contentment in a small cabin alongside the river. She hadn’t been an heiress, but she had lived a congenial life in Canton, Ohio before setting out for the Oregon Territory to be a missionary with his father.
Jacob smiled, imagining how pleased she would be to know he’d found someone to love and who wanted to spend her life with him. Even in the midst of life’s practicalities, his mother had always been a bit of a romantic. She was the one who introduced him to poetry and the pleasure of getting lost in a novel. His father was a good judge of character and would be well pleased with Emmalin.
Jacob set his eyes on the gray sky. His parents knew of his good fortune. He was certain of it. But what of his native family? Those who took him in after his parents died. Would they ever know? Heaviness wrapped itself around his heart. They were likely imprisoned at the fort in Grand Ronde. On his search after the fire, he didn’t find them, but did discover that most of the local natives had been detained at Grand Ronde. At least it was in Oregon Territory, close enough to travel to. But that was for another day, today was a time for jubilation.
Jacob turned Smoke back onto the road, tapped him in the sides, and settled into a relaxed gallop. The horse skillfully maneuvered the rutted lane. Furrows had been cut into the soil by the many wagons that had traveled through.
Black, white-face cattle grazed on a hillside, likely part of the Anderson family’s herd. They had a sprawling ranch that took most of their time to maintain. They were rarely seen in town. In years past, he’d helped them run cattle south. The journey to the California stocks was arduous and slow. Though the money was good, he probably wouldn’t make the trip again, now that he was getting married.
Married. The word sizzled in his mind. It was almost too wonderful to believe that Emmalin was going to be his wife. He wasn’t sure what a woman expected of a husband. He mostly knew the native way, which might not set well with Emmalin. He’d be needing God’s guidance on how to be a respectable husband.
He spotted a wagon ahead. It must be Mr. Henderson. Jacob tapped Smoke lightly with his heels, and the horse picked up his pace. “Hello there. Mr. Henderson?” The wagon kept moving. “Mr. Henderson,” Jacob hollered more loudly.
The driver looked over his shoulder, then pulled back on the reins as Jacob rode up alongside the wagon. The aged man smiled at him. “Hi there. I been wondering what happened to you and Emmalin.”
Smoke danced and Jacob pulled up on the reins. “We’re getting married.” He smiled broadly.
“Hah! Can’t say I’m surprised, the way you two looked at each other yesterday.”
“It took us a while to get our feelings worked out, but we finally found our way.” Jacob thumbed his hat up a notch. “I was wondering if you’d mind keeping Emmalin’s trunks with you until you get back to Deer Creek.”
Mr. Henderson glanced at the back of the wagon. “Sure. I’ve got room for them plus the load I’m picking up in Oregon City.”
“I’m obliged. Thank you.”
“Anything I can do for a young couple in love. It’s been a long while since my wife and I were starting out, but I haven’t forgotten what it’s like.” His blue eyes twinkled with mischief.
“When you get back to Deer Creek just leave the trunks at the store. I’ll take care of them.”
“Sure thing. When you two planning on getting hitched?”
“After I get our house built.”
Mr. Henderson nodded. “Let me know if there is anything me and the missus can do to help out. Probably won’t be all that long before you have a family to look out for.”
“Sure hope so.” Jacob grinned. “As we grow, I’ll have to add on to the cabin.”
“Me and Mrs. Henderson had a whole passel of kids. They all have families of their own now. They been a real blessing to us. I hope you two can find as much joy.”
“I’m counting on it. And I know Emmalin will make a fine mother.”
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