The New York Times bestselling author of Whiter Than Snow delivers a novel about the secrets and passions of three generations of women who live in a Victorian Colorado house
It's 1880, and for Nealie Bent, seventeen, the splendid Victorian house under construction in Georgetown, Colorado, is like a fairy tale come to life. She dreams of living in "the Bride's House," as she calls it, with Will Spaulding, the young entrepreneur sent from the East by his grandfather to learn about the mining business. Will is not the only one who courts Nealie. Charlie Dumas, a miner who lacks Will's polish, wants to marry the hired girl, too, and although Nealie rebuffs him, Charlie refuses to give up. Ultimately, Nealie must deal with lies, secrets, and heartache before choosing the man who will give her the Bride's House.
For the motherless Pearl, growing up in the Bride's House is akin to being raised in a mausoleum. Her father, robbed of the life he envisioned with Nealie, has fashioned the house into a shrine to the woman he loved. He keeps his daughter close. When the enterprising young Frank Curry comes along and asks for Pearl's hand in marriage, Pearl's father sabotages the union. But Pearl has inherited her mother's tenacity of heart, and her father 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. Their legacy and the Bride's House's secrets force Susan to question what she wants and who she loves.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.54(w) x 8.08(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
SANDRA DALLAS is the author of ten novels, including Whiter Than Snow, Prayers for Sale, Tallgrass and New Mercies. She is a former Denver bureau chief for Business Week magazine and lives in Denver, Colorado.
Read an Excerpt
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.”
“Fact is, when it comes to cooking, Mrs. Travers’s second to Ma Judson and not much better than the Grubstake.”
“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 she could between herself and the big man.
“I’m grateful to you, Mr. Dumas,” she said formally.
“Aw, won’t you call me Charlie?” he asked. “You did last week. Do you remember?”
Nealie remembered all too well, because it had been a magical time, and she was beside herself with joy. The two of them had sat together on chairs in the balcony of the opera house, watching a traveling troupe of performers. Charlie hadn’t exactly thought to invite her, but Nealie had hinted so obviously that she wanted to go that he finally understood and bought the tickets. He sat restlessly on a chair that was too small for him, but Nealie was captivated by the performance and especially the star, an actress from Denver, who pranced about the stage, her satin dress and paste diamonds shimmering in the glow of the gaslights. Nealie grabbed her companion’s arm and said, “Oh, Charlie, I never saw anyone so lovely.” She smiled at him as if he were an actor himself, not a miner whose fingernails were black with grime and who smelled sour in his ill-fitting black suit.
“I don’t remember that I did,” Nealie told him now as she stood on the street corner, straightening her skirts.
“Well, I do. Besides—”
Nealie didn’t want to hear the “besides,” because she knew it meant “Besides, you know how I feel about you.” “No besides,” she said brusquely. “Thank you for the escort, Mr. Dumas. I’ll see you at the supper table.” She pulled away.
“I could carry your basket.”
“It’s not heavy,” she said, not thanking him.
“No bother. I’m going that way.”
“No,” Nealie said forcefully, and walked away. She did not look back but knew that he did not follow her, because she no longer felt the stifling presence of the big man.
Charlie Dumas was a nice enough fellow, probably the nicest she had met in Georgetown—in her life, even—and she could do worse than marry such a one as he. After all, Charlie worked hard setting charges in the Bobcat Mine, and he didn’t drink or gamble away his wages. Instead of spending his spare time in the pool halls, he prospected a little, and there was talk that he had a bit of money put away from a silver strike he’d made in Leadville. In fact, it was said that Charlie had discovered the Black Mountain Mine and sold it to H.A.W. Tabor, the silver king, but Nealie paid no attention to the gossip. Similar was told about everyone in Georgetown. Besides, a man who was well fixed wouldn’t work underground if he didn’t have to, would he?
She had to admit that Charlie was generous, buying tickets to that opera house performance when he didn’t want to go himself, and she had been flattered when he began to court her. Except for his nose, which had been smashed in a mining accident, he was not such a bad-looking fellow, either, with his thick blond hair and deep-set blue eyes. Charlie was easygoing, too, slow to anger, and he was liked by the other boarders.
But Nealie had grown tired of his presumptions, the way he followed her on her walks, pretending to come across her by accident. When there was an amusement in town, such as a boxing match or a band concert, he’d announce to the table at the boardinghouse that he was escorting Nealie, discouraging the other men from asking her out, not that there was anyone else among the boarders with whom she’d care to associate.
Charlie’s table manners were against him, and Nealie couldn’t imagine eating in a fine restaurant such as the dining room of the Hotel de Paris with him. He drank his coffee from a saucer and stirred everything on his plate into a mess before shoveling it into his mouth with a spoon. He was kind in his way, bringing her specimens of ore that he found in his wanderings in the mountains or presenting her with a special oil to waterproof her boots, but he knew nothing about presents that appealed to a young girl’s heart—hothouse flowers, books of poetry, kid gloves as smooth as custard. Not that anybody had ever presented her with such gifts, Nealie thought, smiling to herself. And what would she do with a book of poetry anyway?
Nealie wondered then if Charlie could read. She herself had worked so hard to get a little schooling that she couldn’t abide a man who couldn’t read. But he must, because in Georgetown, Charlie Dumas was not considered stupid. In fact, men had a way of seeking him out and asking his advice on mining.
Nealie mulled over the big man as she made her way back to Mrs. Travers’s boardinghouse. She’d given Charlie a good deal of thought already, but now she pondered whether she ought to encourage him, not that he needed it. She didn’t love him, and at times, she came close to detesting his ways. Although she had no right to expect anything more than Charlie, she did dream of better, and in an odd manner, she thought she deserved it. She couldn’t have said why, because she didn’t even know she thought that way. If Charlie were the best she could find, then she might just as well have married one of her pa’s friends in Hannibal, Missouri. She hadn’t run away just to hook up with a miner and live in a one-room log cabin with a dirt floor. She wasn’t going to wear herself out scrubbing clothes and butchering hogs and caring for a bunch of squalling babies, an old woman at thirty. There had to be something else for her, although she wasn’t sure just what it was.
Nealie had a vague sense that life had more to offer her than work as a serving girl in a boardinghouse. It was not a thought fully formed, however, and if it had been, Nealie would have been surprised at it, for she was of humble and penurious origins and had no cause to think so highly of herself. Had she been more conscious of the effect she had on men, she might have used her freshness and unusual good looks to advantage. But she was not aware that men turned to stare at her and wouldn’t have believed it if someone had told her. After all, her father had said savagely that she was as ugly as a pig’s foot and had proclaimed her curious pale red hair to be the mark of the devil, and he’d whipped her for it. Whipped her and worse. No, Nealie Bent considered herself no better than plain. And although youth and innocence were marketable commodities, she did not consider that she possessed them and could use them to her benefit.
The girl paused then, her hand on the fencepost of Mrs. Travers’s boardinghouse, and looked back over her shoulder to see if Charlie was trailing her, but he was gone. And of course, there was no sign of the stranger. Nealie doubted that she would see him a second time, and she put him out of her mind.
“You’re dawdling again,” Mrs. Travers called out from the back porch, and Nealie straightened up and hurried into the house through the back door.
“It was muddy,” Nealie explained, setting down her basket on a table whose wooden top had been scrubbed until it was smooth and almost white. The kitchen was neater than the yards outside that were stacked with piles of lumber and cordwood. A black cookstove occupied one wall of the kitchen, a kindling bucket beside it. Across from it was a dry sink painted bright orange and a walnut pie safe whose tin panels were punched with hearts and the initials ET. A wooden icebox stood next to a door that led into a tiny pantry that was filled with dishes and platters and foodstuffs—sacks of dried beans, tins of flour, cones of sugar wrapped in blue paper, a bag of coffee beans.
“I was all right early on, but by the time I came home, the street wasn’t froze anymore, and the mud was deep enough to swallow me up,” Nealie explained. “Charlie told me a story about a man in the street in mud up to his neck.”
“And he was sitting on a horse.” Mrs. Travers waved her hand dismissively. “They tell it every year during runoff. It’s 1881, and Georgetown’s been here for twenty years. You’d think we’d have decent streets by now.” She paused. “So you waited on the corner until Charlie Dumas came along. Am I right?”
“You are.” Nealie didn’t look up, although she knew Mrs. Travers was staring at her. The widow had taken a personal interest in Charlie’s courtship and had told Nealie she’d best make up her mind soon or Charlie would find himself a girl who was not so particular. “I’d be real sorry to lose you, but I have to admit he’s a good man. He treats you like the Queen of Turkey,” she’d said.
“Then marry him yourself,” Nealie had retorted.
“I would, but he’s not partial to a woman old enough to be his mother. Besides, he means to marry you if he has to tear the stars out of heaven.”
Nealie had laughed, since she was good-natured and fond of the woman who was almost a mother to her.
Nealie wouldn’t have left home if her real mother had been alive. They had protected each other. But her mother had died, and after a year, Nealie had fled the farm in Missouri. She could have gone up the river to Fort Madison, Iowa, or even Galena, Illinois, but her pa likely would have found her and fetched her home—dragged her back was more like it, because she wouldn’t have gone willingly. So instead of running off to one of the neighboring towns, Nealie had saved up the coins she’d earned scrubbing for neighbors and working as a hired hand during harvest, supplemented them by stealing the money her father had put away for next year’s seed, and one day when she’d been sent into Hannibal for supplies, she’d purchased a train ticket to the place everyone was talking about—Denver. And then because she was afraid her father would follow her even there, she’d bought a ticket to go forty miles farther to Georgetown. She’d never heard of the place, but she’d always been partial to the name George. She’d thought it was a sign.
When she reached Georgetown, Nealie was bewildered. The depot was crowded with bearded men in muddy boots, talking and gesturing, noisy as schoolboys. Here and there stood frightened women, their hair covered by dirty squares of cotton, clutches of crying children clinging to their skirts. Those women babbled in languages Nealie didn’t understand. She saw men in tailored suits and starched shirts, soft felt hats on their heads, and she turned her face from them, because she had seen such in the gambling halls in Hannibal. And she knew to stay away from the women who were dressed in flashy clothes cut low in the front, their hair arranged in fanciful swirls. One of them looked over the girl and smiled through lips that were tinted an unnatural red, but Nealie didn’t smile back. She knew well enough about prostitutes, because her father had prophesied that if he didn’t beat the devil out of her, Nealie would become one of their sisterhood someday.
And then there was Lidie Travers. Nealie hadn’t noticed her, although the woman had seen Nealie as she climbed aboard the train in Denver, probably taken by the young woman’s odd looks. The woman had watched the girl, who looked like someone’s daughter or perhaps a bride. She saw Nealie step off the train in Georgetown and look around, lost, because until that moment, Nealie had not considered what she would do once she reached her destination. Her plan had been just to get away. The girl wondered if she could afford a room for the night, and she removed from her pocket the little string bag that served as a purse and began to count her money.
Just then, a man who’d been looking over the crowd spotted Nealie and moved toward her, all but hidden from her behind a fat woman who was shoving her way through the throng. As the man reached Nealie, his long fingers grabbed her purse, and he slid away through the disembarking passengers. Nealie was too startled to cry out, and the crook was nearly gone when a strong hand grasped his arm and wrenched it behind his back. “Thief!” Mrs. Travers called in a loud voice. “He stole this woman’s purse.” She held him, because Mrs. Travers was a strong woman; lifting iron pans and carrying trays of food had toughened her arms as much as if she’d worked with a hammer and drill. Within seconds, the purse snatcher was surrounded by a crowd of men, because even in that rough town, a robber was despised, especially one who preyed on women.
Two of the men hustled the thief off to jail, and Mrs. Travers returned the purse to Nealie. “It’s best not to be so public with your money,” she warned. “A place like this attracts the worst men there is.” Then when the girl looked alarmed, Mrs. Travers added, “The best men, too, but sometimes you can’t always tell the difference.”
Nealie thanked her. “Georgetown sounded so nice, the name and all.”
“You’re here because you like the name?”
“I was always partial to ‘George.’”
Mrs. Travers laughed. “Some are here whose reasons for it aren’t any better. You don’t have kin in Georgetown? Friends?”
Nealie shrugged, watching the woman, who was not pretty. She wasn’t even handsome and never had been. But she had a strong face.
“Are you running away?”
“I’m seventeen. I can do as I please.” Nealie wasn’t seventeen, but she would be in six months.
“Oh, don’t you worry. I’m not for sending you back if you don’t want to go. I’m just asking. Do you have a place to stay?” Before Nealie could answer, Mrs. Travers said, “I didn’t think so. Well, I’ve got a room off the kitchen. You could sleep there a night or two till you get your bearings.”
“I’ll pay,” Nealie said. “I’ve got a little money left.”
“Save it. But if you’re of a mind to, you might help me cook supper.”
“For your family?”
“I run a boardinghouse.” She looked Nealie up and down. “I don’t suppose you came here to cook for a bunch of miners, but if it suits, I could give you room and board and something besides. You could help me until you figure out why it is you’re here.” It was doubtful that until that moment, Mrs. Travers had ever considered hiring a girl, but Nealie appeared strong and good-natured, and Mrs. Travers was a capable judge of character. She was practical, as well, and undoubtedly, she knew that a young girl waiting on the table would attract business. It was possible that Mrs. Travers also believed the girl might be good company for her. The woman was a widow with no children, and Georgetown was a lonely place, with few females and those who were there too overworked to sit down for a chat.
Lydia Travers had come to Georgetown five years before, after her husband died, the brute. She’d run a boardinghouse in Kansas City, not just an eatery like the Georgetown boardinghouses, but a place that provided beds as well as meals. She’d run it with Lute Travers, worked her fingers to the bone, while he drank up the profits and fisted her, to boot. She was not yet forty, but she looked ten, fifteen years older, thanks to the poundings Lute gave her. Then he died, passed out in the street and drowned with his face in the mud, and Mrs. Travers sold the boardinghouse and moved to Georgetown, vowing she’d never take another husband.
Nealie thought over the proposition for so long that Mrs. Travers said, “Well, come and stay anyway. You don’t want to get mixed up with the likes of her, a sorry girl, if you take my meaning.” Mrs. Travers nodded her head at the woman in the fancy dress who’d smiled at Nealie.
“I know about such,” Nealie said. She added quickly so that Mrs. Travers wouldn’t think she was acquainted with them, “Their kind was at home. And I’d be obliged to accept your offer, missus.”
“Travers, Mrs. Lidie Travers,” the woman introduced herself. By then, the crowd had thinned out. Mrs. Travers picked up her bags and looked around for Nealie’s luggage.
“Oh, I don’t have anything but my extra dress, and I’m wearing it under this one,” the girl explained. “If Pa had seen me leaving with a box, he’d have tied me up in the barn and switched me good.”
“How did you think you’d manage without so much as an extra handkerchief?” Mrs. Travers asked.
Nealie laughed at the idea. “I never had even one handkerchief, so I guess I can get along just fine without an extra. I didn’t think about packing, not that it would have made a difference. I never had much. I had to get away is all, just had to.”
The girl was so fierce that it was obvious she carried some secret. Perhaps she’d been beaten, or even worse. But Mrs. Travers only nodded and didn’t ask questions, because she had never been one to pry into what wasn’t her business. Perhaps she thought that in time, the girl would tell her where she’d come from and why, but until then, Nealie’s past was hers to keep.
Without a word, Nealie took one of Mrs. Travers’s bags from her, and the two walked out of the station into sunlight bright enough to hurt Nealie’s eyes. The sun warmed her back, and the air was so thin and dry that Nealie felt as light as a blade of grass. Sounds of hammering swept down from the mountains, and the distant boom of a dynamite charge made the girl jump. A fog of smoke from the smelters hung over the town, but that did not bother Nealie, because it brought only a little haze. She liked the bustle, the sense of importance.
And now, just two months after her arrival, Nealie felt more at home in Georgetown than she ever had on her parents’ farm.
Copyright © 2011 by Sandra Dallas
Reading Group Guide
1. What do you see as the immediate appeal of Will? Of Charlie? Would you have chosen Will or Charlie as Nealie's husband?
2. Do you believe Mrs. Travers knew Nealie was pregnant? What were the options and limitations of an unmarried pregnant woman had in 1880.
3. What was the real reason Charlie married Nealielove or money? What evidence do you have for your opinion?
4. Why did Charlie want to control Pearl? Why does any parent want to control their child?
5. Do you believe Frank's motivations for pursuing Pearl were mercenary or genuinely emotional? Did they change from his initial relationship with her?
6. Why did Pearl remain in the Bride's House after she discovered her father's role in Frank's breaking the engagement?
7. Describe what you think Pearl's reaction would have been in finding and reading the documents in the strong box. Would she have forgiven her father for keeping secrets?
8. Describes Pearl's strengths and weaknesses as a mother.
9. If Peter had lived, would Susan have married him? Would it have been a happy marriage? If she chose not to marry him, would she have regretted that choice?
10. What do you think Susan's daughterher baby has to be a daughter, of coursewould be like?
11. What ways are the three womenNealie, Pearl, and Susanalike? In what ways different? With whom did you most identify? With whom did you feel the most sympathy?
12. Should the secrets have been kept? How would the women's lives have been different if they had known about the documents in the strong box?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Bride's House is an engaging history of 3 women who are bound by ties of their love for a house, the mining town in which it stands, and a secret that none of them know that they share. Each of the women is distinct, 3-dimensional, and true to her time and social status. Sandra Dallas also paints a vivid picture of what Georgetown looked like in its early days, and follows the mining town's ups and downs from the late 1800's through the mid 20th Century. I started reading the book while waiting for a mid-morning flight to Wyoming, and couldn't put it down (except for the minor interruption of a rocky flight in a 2-engine turboprop) until I finished it at nearly midnight.
This was a fascinating book that I truly could not put down. I love the author's style of staying slightly detached from the characters giving each scene a stronger emotional impact with what she didn't say. This book reminds me of some of Nora Lofts' work, and I was thoroughly drawn in by the way she tied together the different tales set in the Bride's House. But the author didn't play fair with her readers. She cheated. We were there for everything that happened in Pearl's life. We saw everything she went through, felt the emotions, saw everything as she saw it. So it was contrived and inexplicable to throw it at us at the very end that we had somehow missed a major happening in Pearl's life. I loved this book right up until the end, which absolutely ruined the rest of it for me.
Just finished reading The Bride's House! Sandra Dallas is one of my favorite writers. Her stories depeict strong women facing and fighting challenges. This book was wonderful! I haven't found a book in her series that I haven't thoroughly loved! I have a copy of True Sisters which I am about to start. I am excited to jump into yet another of Sandra's works. I encourage everyone to enjoy her work!!
I enjoyed this book very much. It really makes you think about things and how live was like in the late ninteenth century and early twenth century.I am thinking about reading another book by this author
Ms. Dallas never disappoints. I loved this newest novel that spans three generations of mothers and daughters, all sharing similar challenges and thwarted love. I liked the more realistic view of love and marriage that was explored - the reasons why we do things, the mistakes we make out of inexperience or uncertainty, and the redemption of love and grace.
Our book group won copies of this book and a chance to chat with the author. While not something I ever would have picked up to read on my own it was well written enough to keep me fcused and the page turning despite my lack of interest in the particular times in which the book was set. It led to interesting discussions so I'd definitely recommend it, particularly as a group read.
It was a decent book. I liked the fact that it had different generations of the family that lived in the house and the different circumstances of love that each woman went through and how different they all were. Fairly good read, good enough to keep me going until the end.
I loved the premise of an old house where three generations have lived, but ultimately this book fell flat for me. Nealie was by far my favorite character - she had a lot of spunk for a woman in the late 1880s. Unfortunately I don't think that trait passed down to her daughter and granddaughter. They all find misfortune but never seem to rise above. Ultimately, I was hoping for more from the characters in this book, but I did enjoy the writing style. look forward to reading more by this author.
I wanted to get my hot little hands on a copy of this book when I first saw that it was up for early review. Alas I was not picked and disappointed I waited patiently for it to come in to my library. I loved the Diary of Mattie Spencer and this looked like a similar historical fiction work. The premise of this book is that there are three generations of women from the same family that inhabit a house called the Bride's House in Colorado. It is so named because the first woman Nealie was a bride when she moved in and became the first resident. I loved the first story of the love triangle between Nealie, Will, and Charlie. I couldn't put this part of the book down even though it followed a very predictable story. Naive girl falls for good looking cad who loves and leaves her in a lurch pregnant so that dull and dependable guy can bail her out. The secrets that these people keep set in motion events that affect the next two generations. The second part of the story focused on Nealie's daughter Pearl and her love Frank. The final and least interesting storyline to me focused on Pearl's daughter Susan and her beau's Peter and Joe. I don't think this novel was enjoyable as my favorite Sandra Dallas novel but it was still a good read.
When I pick up a Sandra Dallas book, I look forward to being soaked in a sense of place--that feeling of belonging and love of surroundings. What first sold me on her books: Buster Midnight's Cafe and The Persian Pickle Club, were the distinct characters and the perfect pace of the plot. The Bride's House sounded interesting. I love seeing old fancy houses in the west, they immediately set my mind to imagining what history the house has seen, wondering the circumstances behind its origination. I can understand wanting to write a story based on finding such a house, and was excited to see what Sandra Dallas came up with.The Bride's House almost didn't even feel like I was reading Sandra Dallas. The characters never came alive, the story meandered through three generations without much of a goal in sight. The ending was a bit contrived, which would have been fine if I'd been engaged in the story, but there wasn't much of a story or much depth in the characters to get absorbed in. The story/characters were "told" rather than "shown" if that makes sense.It was a pleasant read, but without much depth or substance--simply an average reading experience for me. I'm hoping this is an off-book and not a writing trend! I miss the magic I found in her first books.
I was lucky enough to snag one of my go-to authors as an early reviewer. I have read two other books by Sandra Dallas and enjoyed them. "The Bride's House" was a comfortable read; no violence, no sex, no real drama, no history to make it compelling. "The Bride's House" is just a nice story. In the way a grilled cheese and tomato soup lunch satisfies, so does this book. No surprises.I came to Sandra Dallas by way of "Tallgrass" which I really enjoyed. There she opened my eyes to a piece of history that I had not considered in much depth- Japanese internment camps, which I found fascinating! I then read Prayers For Sale, which was also a solid story, nicely told. I don't think The Bride's House measures up, but it does not dissuade me from reading Dallas in the future.
Sandra Dallas is a bestselling novelist whose works, puzzlingly, always seemed to have greater appeal to mainstream fiction readers than to fans of her chosen genre of historical fiction. When I saw her latest novel come up for review on LibraryThing, I figured it was time I picked up one of her books and learned what I¿d been missing.A sweeping novel of family ties, long-held secrets, and the continuing search for love, The Bride¿s House tells of three women linked by blood, circumstance, and the large white Victorian house in Georgetown, Colorado, that becomes home for each in turn. Though very different personality-wise, all are plain-spoken and eager to please, and all struggle to find happiness.For Nealie Bent, a 17-year-old runaway whose striking looks and vibrant personality attract the eye of local miners, the newly built residence symbolizes her desire to rise above her status as a hired girl at a Georgetown boardinghouse in 1880. She has her choice of men, preferring sophisticated engineer Will Spaulding over uncouth yet reliable Charlie Dumas (and who wouldn¿t, at seventeen?). Her choice, combined with Will¿s subsequent betrayal of her, is the novel¿s most predictable aspect.Pearl, a shy and plain spinster of 30 in the year 1912, is adored by her wealthy father, who relies on her so heavily that he chases away potential suitors. Her decision to pursue a romance with a handsome businessman sets father and daughter against one another and transforms her life ¿ not necessarily for the better.And for 18-year-old Susan, an heiress growing up in 1950s-era Chicago, the Bride¿s House brings back memories of childhood summers in the mountains, a time of intense peer pressure and her growing love for a neighborhood boy with big dreams. Outside politics don't play a strong role except in this section, which is set against the backdrop of the Korean War.While the characters are recognizable types, and sometimes behave in frustrating ways ¿ the devoted family housekeeper despairs of Pearl¿s excessive timidity, too ¿ they still have many surprises in store. The flowing style drew me in, and the emotional shifts in the plot had a way of raising my spirits then filling them with sorrow moments later.The women¿s choices are driven not just by their temperament but also by their social and financial situations and the prevailing mores of the time. ¿Georgetown doesn¿t seem like a place where conventions matter much,¿ Will tells Nealie early on, but that¿s never exactly true. Over the next 70 years, as rough-and-tumble shacks give way to elegant homes, the demand for silver rises and falls, and mining towns become ghost towns and then tourist attractions, attitudes loosen in some ways but not others. As she reveals in the acknowledgments, the novel¿s centerpiece is based on a house that she and her husband bought as a derelict and restored to its former glory. Her affection for it and for the region as a whole is ever-present; Georgetown, with its distinctive mountain charm, is not just a haven for fortune-seekers but also for dreamers and anyone yearning to start anew. With all three strands woven together, The Bride¿s House became a more complex story than I expected from such a straightforward telling. A comfortable novel about women¿s lives, it will resonate strongly with female readers, who will take away from it the pervading theme of how we¿re all shaped by our circumstances but shouldn¿t be defined by them.
So, what happens when you get an advance copy of a book in the mail from a publisher and it just happens to be the The Bride¿s House by Sandra Dallas? Well, of course you sit down to read the back cover and then you are so intrigued you sit down to read a few pages. The next thing you know you have finished the book ¿ in one night. That is what I did. Although I was already a big fan of her books I found the style of writing to be different than her other books ¿ wonderful in a slightly more lush style - and the story will resonant with women of all ages about the choices we make from the options that life brings to us. The three generations of women in this novel are ¿Nealie,¿ a battered but strong girl who strikes out on her own to build a new life in Colorado during the late 1800¿s and finds love with two very different men. Later comes another woman, quiet and dutiful who must find her own happiness as she lives a life shaped by her father¿s memories. Finally, there is Susan, a child of privilege who may have the chance to find her dreams in Georgetown, Colorado. The legacy of the house all three women have shared and loved is the tie that binds and the place of secrets ¿ ¿The Bride¿s House.¿ Will the house bring them happiness or heartache? With the Colorado mining industry as the historical background, Sandra Dallas weaves another tale of lives touched by love, misery, heartache, misunderstandings, loss and hope. A saga for those who enjoy her books and for anyone with a yearning for a touch of romance or a passion for historical novels. Beautifully written, the characters are voiced with understanding and love. Truly an effort worthy of the author¿s reputation for excellence!
As I began to read "The Bride's House", I was concerned that it would be a book that wasn't very good. I am so glad that I stuck with it. I knew Sandra Dallas from Prayers For Sale and was excited that I would have the opportunity to read her new book. Part I didn't seem like I was reading something from Sandra Dallas. As I got through to Part II, I was completely on board and anxious to read the rest.The book opens with Nealie Bent who has just moved to Georgetown, CO fleeing from a terrible home environment. She is naive and simple but lovable. She meets Lydie Travers at the train station and is taken under her wing and given a place to live and a job. It is there that she meets both Charlie Dumas and Will Spaulding both men who will change her life.Now, the legacy of The Bride's House begins with it's joys and sorrows and plenty of secrets. Each character is more captivating then the next and the reader can't help but become invested in each of them. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and would recommend it to everyone who likes a bit of history, a bit of drama and well kept secrets. In the end, Sandra Dallas does not disappoint. I am happy to have read this delightful book.
This is what Sandra Dallas does so well, write about strong women of the West. [The Bride's House] is the story of three generations of women who all love and live in "the bride's house" a beautiful Victorian house in the silver-mining town of Georgetown Colorado. Nealie, a hired girl, has longingly watched the construction of the house and is shocked on the night of her wedding to miner Charlied Dumas when he carries her across the threshold of "the bride's house." It is "the bride's house" where Nealie gives birth to her only child, Pearl. And it is the bride's housewhere Susan, Pearl's daughter, feels at home, even though she was raised in Chicago. In addition there is the big-hearted, boardinghouse owner, Lydia, who is the surrogate mother, employer, nurse, housekeeper and confidante.And there are a lot of confidences in the bride's house; most of them hidden for too long. Primarily, this is a book of loves and loves lost and how each woman perservers. But it is also about the life of a mining town once the ore has lost its value and becomes a tourist town.The prose was smooth and read quickly. My only disappointment is that the last third of the book seemed less developed. Both the development of Susan's character and the description of Georgetown as a tourist town suffered.Sandra Dallas fans shouldn't be disappointed.By the way, this book is based on a real Victorian house in Georgetown Colorado.
The Bride¿s House by Sandra Dallas is a novel about three generations of women whose lives are impacted by secrets and by their lack of power to control and direct their own lives, in many ways, because they were women. The setting of the story is fictional Georgetown, Colorado, a mining town, beginning in the 1880¿s and stretching for three generations.I struggled to pin down the specific genre of this book. Although it is historical fiction, I don¿t believe I would recommend it to readers of this genre. It is primarily a work of women¿s historical fiction in which the focus is on the love relationships of the main characters with particular focus on these characters finding a husband. However, it is not a romance. I had never read any of this author's work, and received this book through the Early Reviewers program, therefore had no idea what to expect. Dallas¿ writing reminds me greatly of Nora Roberts, Sandra Brown, and Andrew Greeley, especially their period pieces. Initially I was not encouraged. I rarely read the authors previously mentioned, but often did twenty years ago. I have not recorded these titles in my LT library because I don¿t remember them. They are enjoyable, light material to read, but nothing that lasts in my memory. However, I must say, that I did find it difficult to put the book down. The reading went easily and before I knew it, I was done. The author formed the three women as wholly distinct characters with unique situations and personalities, although they do face similar situations. The setting is well described and I did learn some small amount about the mining business. The plot is well constructed with some surprises and I found myself wanting to know how these women¿s lives progressed, even cheering for them to find happiness and love.In the end, I did enjoy the book, but would likely not read another book by this author. I would recommend this book to readers who are fans of authors such as Nora Roberts and Sandra Brown, and they do have a large readership. I have rated the book 3 stars, which in my rating system is enjoyable.
A pretty good read. Family saga (of the women in the family- the menfolk are mostly in background coming & going). Long-time secrets and skeletons in the closet. It wasn't my favorite Sandra Dallas (those were Diary of Mattie Spenser & Prayers for Sale) but I don't feel I wasted my time reading it either. If you love Sandra Dallas books or books about Women's Lives and Relationships you will probably enjoy this too.
This is another lovely western novel by Sandra Dallas. Three generations of women who live in one house in Colorado are chronicled. The house is based upon a house that Dallas herself purchased and remodeled. She has a blog that details the remodeling. While not a great literary masterpiece by any means, this is a really good book that is a pleasure to read. I definitely recommend it. I have really come to appreciate the writings of Sandra Dallas. She is one of contemporary America's literary treasures.
A gentle tale of three generations connected to the Bride's House, a Victorian mansion in a Colorado mining town. Hired girl Nealie falls in love with smooth Will. When she reveals her pregnancy, he tells her he's already married, so she marries miner Charlie Dumas instead. Her daughter Pearl grows up in the Bride's House with "father" Charlie. Well on the way to becoming an old maid, she falls hard for Frank Curry, but Charlie thinks he's after her money. Susan, Pearl's daughter, who spends her summers at the Bride's House growing up, completes the cycle by falling for a local boy who may or may not return her affections. While there's a little too much "telling" rather than "showing" by the author, this is a gentle but compelling read.
The Bride's House begins in 1880 with Nealie, a young woman who has escaped her abusive father by fleeing to the mountains, to a small mining town called Georgetown. There she finds herself falling in love and dreams of living with her husband in a beautiful, grand house called the Bride's House. But willful and naive, Nealie ends up living in the Bride's House under very different circumstances than she expected. The story continues through three generations of women who live in the house, concealing their secrets within its walls, and fighting for the love none of them are sure they deserve.One of the best books Sandra Dallas has written yet! She strikes the perfect balance between history and romantic novel, adding rich detail about the development of copper, silver and molybdenum mining in Colorado with plenty of betrayals, secrets and plot twists to keep the pages turning. While the women who inhabit the Bride's House are grandmother, daughter, and granddaughter, Dallas gives them all distinct personalities, allowing each to continue the story of the woman before her, but also to have her own unique story.The particular challenges of living in a mining town flavor the book and in this one Dallas explores the vast gap between the rich owners and the poor miners. Its always a pleasure to revisit Colorado's mining towns with Sandra Dallas!
The Bride's House is a wonderful story spanning three generations of women and the house in Colorado which had special meaning to all of them. The story is a good combination of historical fiction, romance and women's fiction. The three lead female characters are strong each with their own personality and likeable traits. I felt Ms. Dallas did a wonderful job developing the characters and told the story in such a way that it was hard to stop reading it.I have read other books by Sandra Dallas and The Bride's House is now my personal favorite from her collection.
I was really quite riveted by this story. I can't say I turned the final page having learned anything or had food for thought or cried, but I was entertained.It's about three different women during three different times in the same house, the Bride's House.Nealie's tale begins in 1880.. She falls in love with one man, marries another, but still ends up in the Bride's House. There's a bit of a moral in this part. "The grass is not always greener on the other side" kept popping into my head. The second tale is Pearl, Nealie's daughter. Whereas Nealie had some spunk and was a bit fearless (I mean it was 1880 and she ran away from home and just off and got herself knocked up right there in a field.. In 1880 that kind of behavior recquired a spark of rebelliousness), Pearl is spineless. She irritated me a bit, always cowtowing to her Papa, allowing him to "toss out" every one of her suitors. She also didn't seem to age.. I mean she doesn't marry till she's fifty, but her mentality didn't really seem that much older. She gave me a chuckle, however, in the one instance she did stick up to Papa.. "Papa, you would investigate Jesus Christ and find him a charlatan if He wanted to marry me!" LMAO!!!The last part is her daughter Susan and I was grateful this part was the shortest cause Susan is a user. She has a perfectly good man in an Air Force guy named Peter and leads him along with no intention of marrying him. He sticks up for her, he's there for her, he has courage. But what does she pine for? This gawd awful, spineless, draft dodging Joe. UGH. That last part prevents this from being a five star read. I hated Susan and I also found it utterly preposterous that TWICE in three generations, a man is willing to marry a woman preggers with another's brat. No way. However, it did make for enteraining reading. One tiny little quirk: Sometimes the book goes off on a "telling" spree instead of "showing." It worked well though because the book would have been immensely long if the author had not done this.
I really enjoyed the first part of this one.