Mail order bride ramona, p.1

Mail Order Bride: Ramona, page 1

 part  #2 of  Orphan Brides Go West Series

 

Mail Order Bride: Ramona
 


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Mail Order Bride: Ramona


  © 2016 by Vivi Holt

  All rights reserved under the Pan-American and International Copyright Conventions

  This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part, in any form or by any other means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or hereafter invented, without written permission from the publisher.

  Ramona

  By Vivi Holt

  Orphan Brides Go West: Book 2

  www.blacklabpress.com

  Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  About the Author

  October 28, 1886

  Chapter One

  Ramona

  Ramona Selmer leaned back against a sturdy pile on Pier A, and gazed out over the New York harbor. The water lapped soothingly against the shore below, sending a cool breeze up through the gaps between the boards of the pier. An enormous statue across the harbor gleamed brilliantly across the water, and Ramona squinted against the glare of the sunlight reflecting off its surface. The copper-tinted lady liberty stood tall and proud, waving a flame above her graceful head, which was crowned in long spikes while one arm cradled a book. The statue had opened officially today, dedicated to the people of New York City, a gift from the state of France. Although Ramona had been watching the progress on the construction of the statue every chance she got in the year since it had arrived by boat from France, her excitement had swelled during the past few days as the unveiling approached. The entire landscape of the New York harbor had changed because of this one piece of art, and people lingered along the shoreline gazing at it and pointing with soft smiles. Ramona loved its name – the Statue of Liberty. It was a marvelous day. A day that was a long time coming, and Ramona had relished every single celebratory moment of it.

  Pushing herself to her feet, she sighed dreamily and, taking one last glance at the statue perched on the tiny Liberty Island, began to make her way back down Broadway Street. She had to get moving if she was to get to her audition on time and then home to the West Village for dinner. She also wanted to do a quick walk down the long line of theatres on Broadway, as she always did when she was in the city. Broadway was her dream. She’d taken dance, voice, and drama lessons every chance she got from when she was four years old. And ever since she could remember she’d auditioned for every show on and off Broadway that she could find.

  Ramona’s mother had worked hard over the years, scraping together the money for formal lessons whenever possible. The rest of the time Ramona practiced at the park with friends, or in their tiny apartment. At the age of nineteen she was starting to despair whether she would ever realize her ambitions, but her father had encouraged her not to give up hope. He’d called her his little Broadway star. And so she kept the dream alive, fanning the flame whenever possible by tramping down Broadway Street and staring at the colorful posters, and through the doorways imagining what lay within. Picturing herself the star of a hit show, her fans lined up at the door waiting to catch a glimpse of a graceful pirouette or plié

  Ramona skipped past the theatres, a small satchel bouncing on one shoulder. She stopped at an intersection and sighed deeply, taking one last look down the street at the sparkling foyers and colorful posters, and turned down a side alley. She pushed her way through a thick, red timber door and into a darkened room. It took a few moments for her eyes to adjust to the dimness, but once they did she could see the outline of the small, musty theater. Black shadows of the backs of empty chairs lined the space, row upon row, and in the front sat three figures who were perched forward watching a young girl tap dance across the stage followed closely by a yellow spotlight. As Ramona made her way to the front of the room, the song ended and the girl’s dance was over. She tick-tacked off the stage, and the three men seated in the front row shuffled papers and murmured together quietly. One of the men lifted his head and spun it back and forth, shouting “Ramona Selmer?”

  Ramona ran quickly to stand in front of the stage.

  “Yes, sir. I’m here.”

  “Great. When you’re ready, Ramona.”

  He smiled at her, then returned to writing in his notebook. His round spectacles were perched on the end of a long, pointy, nose, and his waistcoat was partially unbuttoned. Ramona walked to the side of the stage, and up the stairs, her heart pounding loudly in her chest. Sitting down, she quickly removed her shoes. Reaching into her shoulder satchel she pulled out a pair of pink, scuffed ballet flats. She smoothed her long skirts, and removed her sandals, then pulled the slippers on over the pale pink stockings that covered her legs and feet. Ramona stood quickly and delivered the sheet music she had been carrying in her satchel to the pianist. Laying her satchel down on the side of the stage, she walked confidently to center stage with a smile on her face.

  Ramona brushed her hair behind her shoulder. She wanted the director to see her face. Maybe he’d remember her then. As she waited for the music to begin, she lifted her arms in a graceful pose and tilted her head to stare at the seats in the back of the room. For a single moment, she felt like a glamorous Broadway star, dancing in a theater filled to capacity with elegant folks, out for a night on the town, their shining dresses, sparkling jewels and bright faces lighting up the night. All of them had bought tickets to be here. All of them were here to see her, Ramona. They had come to hear her sing, to watch her dance, to cry with her over some tragedy and to celebrate with her when she found love.

  Glamour was what Ramona craved. There was little of it to be found in her life off stage, in the one bedroom West Village apartment she shared with her mother, Maria. But on stage things were different. When she was on the stage, she could be anything or anyone she wanted to be. The music began, and Ramona’s lithe frame floated across the stage, leaping and spinning as she performed the routine she’d rehearsed a hundred times. Her movements slowed as she opened her mouth to sing a lilting song, full of longing and sorrow.

  She danced and sang as though everything she had done for the past fifteen years was in preparation for this moment. Her chance to audition for this show. Under her feet the boards shook and creaked but her voice held steady. Her soaring soprano filled the room, the sweet notes hitting the back of the auditorium as Ramona closed her eyes and let her voice shine. She raised her arms and threw her head back dramatically for the final note, letting it hang in the air about her.

  The casting directors turned to each other and whispered, casting furtive glances at the girl waiting so earnestly on stage. Finally the man with the spectacles leaned forward and gave his appraisal. “You have a beautiful voice Ramona. And it’s almost there.”

  Ramona cupped one hand above her eyes, to shield them from the glare of the spotlight.

  “Yes?” Her large brown eyes opened wide. “I know I can manage the part, if you just give me a shot. I’ll work so hard, really I will.”

  “Maybe next year, dear. You can come back then and try again,” he said, while his colleagues stared at the notebooks on their laps and studiously avoided Ramona’s gaze.

  Ramona nodded and left the stage, thanking the directors for their time.

  Next year.

  Ramona took a deep breath and held her head high. Those words were something to cling to, at least. She pushed her way through the heavy door and stumbled out into the fresh fall evening. Next year. That wo
uld give her a year to practice, perfect, and hone her craft. Of course I’ll be twenty by then, and practically an old maid in Broadway terms! She trudged along the pavement as she headed through downtown New York, her long dark curls and dancer’s silhouette illuminated by the street lamps that were coming on all over town as the dusk of evening crept in from the bay. She shivered as the night air brought a chill with it, a reminder that winter was just around the corner.

  It doesn’t matter how long it takes. I’m not going to give up, Ramona told herself. I know mother wants me to get married and start a family, but I don’t care if I die an old spinster, as long as I can sing and dance, and people love me and applaud me, that’s all I really want from life. She heaved in a deep breath of the fresh New York evening air.

  She told herself that next time it wouldn’t just be an audition. Next time the director would really see her. He wouldn’t be able to take his eyes off her. She’d show him how good she could be. Then he’d chose her. Then she’d be a Broadway star, just like her Father had said. She picked up her pace as she made her way home to Washington Street in the West Village, eager to tell her mother all about the statue’s unveiling and her audition. When she reached their building, she saw her best friend Elizabeth arriving from the other direction. Elizabeth was heading inside with a bag of groceries tucked under one arm. Ramona guessed she was on her way home from the hotel where she worked with Ramona’s mother. They usually walked home together.

  “Elizabeth!” called Ramona, waving wildly at her and running up to greet her.

  The two girls hugged, and Elizabeth begged, “Tell me all about it. How did it go? Did you get the part?”

  Ramona glanced at her feet, twirling one foot around in place on her tip-toe.

  “No, I didn’t get it.”

  “Oh,” Elizabeth’s face dropped.

  “It’s OK though, because he said I should come back next year. So, that’s positive, I think.”

  Elizabeth smiled again, “Yes, of course. That’s great news. And, it gives you another whole year to get ready.”

  “Exactly!” said Ramona.

  “You going in?” asked Elizabeth, propping the door to the building open with one foot as she rearranged the grocery bag onto her hip.

  “Yes. I have to help mother with a load of ironing tonight for the hotel. They make her bring it home with her on Sundays because there’s just so much of it she can’t possibly finish it during her shift. Do you know where she is?”

  “No. Actually, I didn’t see her at all today. It doesn’t seem fair that she has to bring all of that laundry home,” frowned Elizabeth as she slipped through the doorway.

  Ramona closed the door behind them, and followed Elizabeth up the stone stairwell.

  “It’s not. But we need the money. Mother can’t afford to lose this job, so she just does whatever they ask her to. I wish I could whisk her away from it all, like in a fairy tale or something, you know?”

  “Hmm yes, if only we could all live in fairy tales.”

  “Although, I’m not sure I’d like to end up sleeping for a thousand years, or having someone feed me a poisoned apple,” Ramona shivered.

  “Very true,” said Elizabeth, and the two girls laughed together.

  “Speaking of fairy tales and romance, how’s Arthur?” asked Ramona, raising her eyebrows.

  Elizabeth blushed, and smiled shyly, “He’s well. You know he graduated from college last month, and he found a job over at Lowell and Sparks. He’s going to be an Associate Attorney. He says we can get married next year, once he’s saved enough for a place of our own.”

  “That’s great news,” said Ramona, hugging her friend. They soon reached the third floor, where both of the girls lived directly across the hall from each other. Ramona unlocked the front door to her apartment.

  “Mother!” she called, flying through the doorway. Elizabeth followed sedately behind.

  The apartment was dark and cold. No fire was lit and there wasn’t any food warming on the stove. The curtains lay still beside open windows, through which the frosty night air was gently blowing. The apartment looked empty, and everything was in its place. Everything except a note, a square of white on the dark timber table. Ramona hurried over to it, dropping her satchel on the floor with a bang.

  Dear Ramona,

  The last few years have been awful hard for me here. All alone, without your father or anyone to help me. I’ve done the best I could to be a mother to you, but you’re grown now and don’t need me any longer. You have your own life to live, and so I’ve decided to live mine.

  I met a man. I know this will be difficult for you to understand. It was difficult for me to tell you. I couldn’t face you, knowing how you’d react, but there it is. I’ve met someone. He has a steady job, and is a kind man, and we’re getting married. He doesn’t want children, and so I told him I didn’t have any. It doesn’t matter that you’re grown, he doesn’t want extra mouths to feed. So, you’ll have to learn to take care of yourself now.

  You’re a good girl, and I love you. I hope we will see each other again someday. I’m sorry I couldn’t leave you any money to live by. I don’t have any to speak of, but maybe Mr. Flannery will let you stay on in the apartment for a while, at least until you find a job. You can ask at the hotel, seeing as how I’ve left my job there – maybe they’ll give it to you.

  I hope all your dreams come true. Who knows, perhaps one day I’ll hear about you performing on Broadway.

  I’ll be in living in Austin, Texas. It’s a growing town according to Art. That’s his name – Art Franklin. I’m going to be Mrs. Art Franklin. Doesn’t that sound strange? He works at the new University of Texas there, as a history professor. We’re going to live in a nice little cottage with a white picket fence. It’s the kind of life I’ve always dreamed of so I know you’ll be happy for me.

  All my love,

  Mother

  “Who’s the letter from?” asked Elizabeth.

  Ramona let the letter fall to the ground. It drifted slowly, in a lilting waltz to the aged floor boards. She’s getting married? What would Papa think?

  It had been five years since her father had taken his own life. Ramona shook her head. She still remembered that day - there was a clear blue summer sky and a cool breeze bringing temporary relief from the stifling humidity. Ramona had come home to find her mother, Maria, wailing and screaming as she tore at her own clothes.

  “Your papa has left us!” Maria had cried before dropping to her knees and burying her head in her hands.

  Ramona was fifteen at the time. Old enough to understand what had happened. Even so, she never could figure why he’d done it. Her father had been addicted to gambling. His debt with the local bookkeeper had grown and grown. He became distant and easily angered by Ramona and her mother. Then, he lost his job, and try as he might, had not been able to find another one for three long months. The burden of it had become too much for him to bear. He left Maria and Ramona all alone in the world, with nothing to their names but a slew of bad debts and a lease on a shoddy, broken down apartment in the Village.

  Despite all this, Ramona still remembered her papa as a kind man. A flawed man, but one who was full of love and encouragement for Ramona. She felt a haze of dizziness and nausea come over her. She fell to her hands and knees on the floor as deep sobs racked her body.

  How could Mother consider marrying again without me there, standing beside her? How could she marry a man I’ve never even met, and leave me here all alone?

  “Ramona! Ramona! What is it?” Elizabeth’s voice broke through the haze that was threatening to overwhelm her.

  Ramona looked up into her friend’s concerned face, and stood slowly to her feet. She picked up the letter with trembling hands. Reading it over again. Maybe she could find some deeper understanding of what her mother had been thinking. Ramona knew nothing about the man her mother had run off with, other than that he was a professor from the University of Texas, and lived in Austi
n. Along with the note she’d left Ramona a few dollars, but no further clue as to how to contact her.

  Ramona felt devastated. She stumbled to the other side of the single room apartment and sat on her bed in shock.

  I’m completely alone now.

  She glanced up at the door. Rent was due the following day. And their landlord, Mr. Mason, was not a kind man. He would be banging on her front door by midday if Ramona hadn’t already been downstairs with a month’s advance payment. Her mother had told her to ask him for some leeway in staying there, but Ramona knew that it would be a hopeless cause. Mr. Mason had thrown old Mrs. Hill out on the street only weeks earlier when her arthritis had gotten her fired at the garment factory where she worked. Ramona had tried to follow her onto the street, but the old lady had disappeared into the crowd before she got downstairs. If Mr. Mason wasn’t able to find it in his heart to be lenient with that kind, old lady, Ramona knew he wouldn’t help her.

  She walked to the closet and pulled out her purple satin bag with the green bow. It was time to pack. And this time she would not be filling the bag with ballet shoes and a glittering stage outfit, but with everything she owned.

  “Ramona! Answer me, what is going on? Are you all right?” asked Elizabeth, clutching at Ramona’s arm and tugging at it in an attempt to secure her attention.

  “My mother has left me,” Ramona said, her chin quivering.

  “What do you mean?” asked Elizabeth, letting go of Ramona’s arm.

  “She’s gone to Texas to marry a professor. I’m all alone in the world. I have to get a job. I’ll never be a Broadway star now. I have nowhere to live. I…” Ramona was babbling, and the feeling of dizziness and nausea returned as she gulped in deep breaths of cool air.

  “Oh Ramona. I’m so sorry. You can stay with us. I’m sure Mama and Papa won’t mind. Honestly. Come on, let’s go and ask them.” Elizabeth placed her arm around Ramona’s shoulders, and guided her gently toward the apartment door and into the hallway.

 
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