Humbled by the harrowing expedition, Garth resolves to keep Letty safe-though the courageous beauty is unwilling to give an inch when it comes to trusting him. Still, despite her defiant resistance, he's ready to stand with her as she faces the truth about her missing sibling. And by the time they reach California, Garth is determined to stake his own claim on the lovely Miss Letty-if only she will let him...
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Gold Rush Bride
Women of the West Series
By Shirley Kennedy
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Shirley Kennedy
All rights reserved.
Boston, Massachusetts, May, 1852
With her mother beside her, Leticia Tinsley sat across the desk from Mr. Addison Winslow, manager of the State Street Bank and Trust Company, and waited for him to speak. Judging from the silver-haired banker's solemn expression, she expected nothing good. Why had they been summoned to the bank?
With a sigh, Mr. Winslow sat back in his chair. "Your account is severely depleted. There have been no new deposits since" — he bent to check figures in a ledger — "January twelfth. That's over four months ago. As you know, he'd been sending deposits every month, so I must say, this is rather unusual."
Margaret Tinsley gasped and grabbed her daughter's hand. "There must be some mistake."
Letty gazed in disbelief. "Are you sure? My brother would never forget to send a deposit."
Mr. Winslow frowned in sympathy. "Have you heard from Charles lately?"
"No we haven't." A flicker of apprehension raced through her. Granted, mail from California was slow and uncertain at best, but they hadn't received a letter from Charles for months, and that was indeed worrisome.
"Hmm, strange." Mr. Winslow thoughtfully tapped the tips of his fingers together. "I've never known Charles Tinsley to neglect his duties. There's no more honorable, dependable man on this earth, though I must confess" — the banker gave them a rueful smile — "when he told me he was joining the thousands of idiots heading for the gold fields, I was highly skeptical. Told him he was a fool. As it turned out, I was mistaken."
Letty nodded briskly. "We were all mistaken." A horrible thought struck her. "Tell me, Mr. Winslow, what would happen if, for some unlikely reason, you don't receive any more deposits from Charles?"
"Well, now ..." The banker frowned, deep in thought. "We can stretch the money out, but you'd have to cut back considerably. Let one or two servants go, move to a smaller house, that sort of thing."
"I see." Letty tried not to show her shock and dismay. How had this happened? Her family had never been rich, but they'd always led an easy, comfortable life. Even after her father, Dr. Marvin Tinsley, died unexpectedly of a heart attack, her older brother's job as curator at the Boston Museum of Natural History enabled them to maintain their respectable standard of living. Of course, that was before the staggering news of the gold discovery in California that completely changed their lives.
Having dutifully issued his warning, Mr. Winslow arose from his desk. "We must remain optimistic. I'm sure Charles's next deposit has simply been delayed."
"Of course it has. I'm sure we'll hear from him soon." Letty had to force the words out. She must sound confident for her mother's sake but couldn't shake the feeling that something bad had happened to her beloved brother.
Men turned their heads, as they always did, when Letty, neatly gloved hands clasping the reins, drove the family two-seater Runabout along the cobblestone streets of Boston at a measured pace. She made a pretty picture with her delicate-featured face, slender figure, and blond ringlets peeking from beneath her stylish bonnet. She would much prefer to be a passenger, but after Charles left, she had no choice but to learn how to hitch their two horses to the Runabout and drive herself. "Mr. Winslow's right." She flicked a glance at her mother beside her. "We worry too much. We'll receive a letter any day now."
"We'll be fine." Always an optimist, Margaret added, "God will provide."
"Of course He will." Maybe. Letty would never forget the turmoil when her older brother announced he was quitting his job at the museum and going to California to search for gold. She and her mother were thunderstruck. How would they live? Her sister, Millicent, was only eighteen, still single and living at home. At ten, William, her younger brother, attended a costly private school.
Despite his mother's tears and sisters' pleas, Charles couldn't be dissuaded. "I'm going, but you've nothing to worry about. There's enough in the bank to keep the family comfortable for at least a year. By then, I will have reached California and found my share of those gold nuggets they're talking about."
Letty had not understood Charles's unreasoning optimism. She'd jammed fists to her hips and inquired, "Are you insane? I can't believe you'd do this. You're the last person in the world who'd sail to a strange land thousands of miles away on a crazy, half-cocked search for gold." She loved her brother dearly and had always admired and respected him for his easy-going nature and quick intelligence. All the ladies loved him. Tall, with a handsome face, gray-green eyes and a full head of wavy dark hair, he was considered quite the catch. However, at thirty-one, he was still a bachelor, happy with his work as curator at the museum. At least she'd assumed he'd been happy.
Charles didn't waver. "Did you ever think I might be tired of cataloguing fossils all day? I'm going, Letty. It's time I broke free, did something crazy."
The wild gleam in her brother's eye signaled his determination. Clearly, he wasn't about to change his mind.
"So if it doesn't work out, you'll come home?"
"Of course, but it will work out. I'll be sending money soon as I stake my claim and find gold." He smiled at her fondly. "You're the reliable one. You'll be head of the family. Take care of Mother. You know how fragile she is. Millicent's a bit of a scatterbrain, but quite capable of looking out for herself. As for William, our little brother will be just fine." Charles paused and, as an afterthought, inquired, "You're not thinking of marrying any time soon?"
She'd laughed. "You know the answer to that." At the age of twenty-eight, she'd long since accepted her lot as a confirmed spinster. She'd been engaged once, but Aaron Tyler, her beloved and the first mate aboard the brig St. John, went down with his ship when it sank just off Cohasset. A hero, they said. Tried to save others with no thought for himself. She would treasure little memories of Aaron the rest of her life: the warmth of his embrace, their picnics together when he laughingly taught her all his sailor knots "just in case you ever go to sea." Now the love of her life was only a name on a monument in the Cohasset Cemetery. She'd never get over his loss, even though men still cast longing eyes in her direction. She tried to get interested, but in her heart she had no desire to look for another man. Until she died, she'd be faithful to Aaron's memory.
Charles had given her a smile full of confidence that he was doing the right thing. "So you see, it will all work out. You've nothing to worry about."
Letty couldn't argue. Millicent had so many beaux she would doubtless soon be married. William was a constant delight and no trouble at all. She'd run out of arguments and sighed in defeat. "I see you're set on going and nothing will stop you."
Charles nodded with relief. "I'm glad you understand. Look at the bright side. I will find gold, Letty. In my heart, I know I will, and when I do, just think what the future holds. We'll be rich. Mother will never want for anything again. We'll live in a fancy house on Beacon Street with a dozen servants, a fancy carriage and four matched horses. You'll have clothes and jewels and anything you want."
Never had she seen her brother so excited, so bursting with enthusiasm. Despite her misgivings, she hadn't the heart to discourage him. "I believe you, Charles. Don't worry about a thing. I'll be here to take care of the family."
How her family had celebrated the day they received that astounding letter from Charles. After leaving Boston and sailing around the Horn, he'd arrived at the mining town of Empire, California and staked his claim. After only a week of digging, he discovered a vein of gold worth thousands, and there was more to come. After that, his generous deposits to their account had more than provided the family with an ample income. The thought never crossed her mind they wouldn't continue.
As Letty turned the horses onto their street, her mother sat straight and pointed. "What's that in front of our house?"
"It's one of those fancy barouches." The closer they came to their house, the more Letty could see the carriage parked in front wasn't the ordinary kind most of their friends drove. Two fine white horses were hitched to the four-seater. A top-hatted driver sat on a small, high seat upfront. "Looks like we have visitors, but I can't imagine who."
Inside, they were greeted by Molly, their young parlor maid. "There's a gentleman to see you. He's got a package. He said he'd wait, so I put him in the parlor."
Mother frowned in puzzlement. "Who could it be? We weren't expecting anyone."
"Then let's find out, shall we?" Letty and her mother entered the parlor. Because of the fancy carriage parked outside, Letty had assumed whoever was visiting would be dressed in elegant clothing, but no such thing. Their visitor, a pudgy-faced man of small stature, age thirty or so, wore the ordinary clothing of a clerk, or maybe a bank teller. Nothing fancy about him. In fact, his unremarkable face and thinning head of sandy hair gave him a bland, commonplace appearance. He was sitting on one of their fruitwood side chairs, a large package resting on the floor beside him.
When they entered, he stood and gave them a tenuous smile. "Ah, this must be Mrs. Margaret Tinsley and her daughter, Leticia."
Letty nodded. "That's correct, sir, and you are?"
The smile disappeared. "My name is Mathew Hastings. I work for Mr. Garth Morgan."
Mother's eyebrows raised in surprise. "The Morgans of Beacon Hill?"
"The very ones." A wry smile played on Mathew Hastings's thin lips. "The very rich Garth Morgan whose father founded the Morgan Shipping Line. We've just returned from California." He glanced at the sofa. "Perhaps you should sit down? I'm afraid I've brought bad news."
Oh, no. Fear clutched Letty's heart. This visit must have something to do with Charles. They seated themselves on the sofa, across from their visitor. She took her mother's hand and held it tight. "Please, just tell us."
"Well, then." Looking very much as if he'd like to be elsewhere, Mathew Hastings cleared his throat. "As I'm sure you know, your brother, Charles, owned Golden Hill, a mining claim at Empire, in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California."
"Yes, of course we know. Please do go on."
"I don't know if your brother ever mentioned my employer?"
Letty thought hard. "Garth Morgan? Charles may have mentioned him in his letters, but I'm not sure."
"Mr. Morgan owns several hotels in California. One, the Alhambra, is located in Empire. When he first came to Empire, your brother met my employer, and they became good friends. That's why Mr. Morgan was most distressed when ..."
Letty held her breath as their visitor cleared his throat again.
"... there's no easy way to tell you. Your brother has disappeared."
Disappeared. For a moment, the word didn't sink in. When it did, Letty turned to her mother who had gasped and turned pale. "Are you all right?"
Mother closed her eyes and nodded. "I'm fine. Let's hear the rest."
Letty didn't want to hear the rest but she must. "Please continue, Mr. Hastings."
"From the day your brother staked his claim, he worked dawn to dusk, digging, running his sluice boxes. Before long, all that hard labor paid off and he struck a rich vein of gold. Golden Hill was high up the mountain and hard to get to, but we saw him every few days when he came down to Empire for supplies. Then, around the middle of October, as best I recollect, Charles stopped coming into town. At first, we didn't notice. Gradually we realized we hadn't seen him for a while, at least a week, maybe two. Finally, we got worried enough that we climbed to his claim and found it deserted. Nothing left but an empty tent and indications his possessions had been ... well, disturbed."
"What do you mean by disturbed?" Letty braced herself.
"Clothing scattered. Cot overturned. Papers strewn about. Obviously they were looking for something."
Hastings heaved a deep sigh, obviously reluctant to provide details but knowing he must. "I'll be honest, ladies. When gold was first discovered, you couldn't find a safer place than the diggings. By that I mean where men staked their claims around the gold mining towns. You could leave a thousand dollars worth of gold in your tent all day and not have to worry. Not anymore, I'm afraid. The gold fields are a dangerous place now, what with bandits, thieves and robbers everywhere. There are ruthless men out there who'll steal you blind and kill you in the blink of an eye if they have to, or even if they don't have to."
Letty found it hard to speak over the lump forming in her throat. "So you're saying that's what happened to Charles?"
Hastings nodded. "Sorry to say it looks that way. We couldn't find a trace of him. Your brother was just gone. As you know, his claim had yielded a small fortune, although it was just about played out when he disappeared. He was a trusting man — kept a lot of gold in his tent and didn't even own a weapon. Rumor had it that the notorious bandit, Juaquin Marietta, was in the area at the time. If I were to guess, I'd say Marietta and his men broke into Charles's tent in the middle of the night, robbed Charles of his gold and ..."
"Killed him?" Letty could hardly choke the words out.
"Yes, killed him and hid his body."
"My son is dead?" Mother spoke in a strangled voice. "How can you be sure? Maybe they kidnapped him and are holding him captive."
"I don't believe so, Mrs. Tinsley. Bandits seldom take prisoners. Besides, there was blood in the tent — lots of blood."
Letty put her arm around her mother's trembling shoulders. "There's no hope?"
For a moment, their visitor bowed his head, as if searching for something positive to say. When he looked up, his expression told them he could not. "Death is commonplace in the California gold fields. Accidents, diseases, malnutrition, murder. If Charles Tinsley is still alive, it would be a miracle. My advice is to accept the fact he's not."
A wave of grief struck Letty so hard she could hardly breathe. And they must simply accept that Charles was dead? No! "What you're telling me is that Charles is dead, disappeared without a trace, and there's nothing to be done?"
Their visitor gave a regretful shrug. "Empire, California, is a rough-and-tumble mining camp with a wild and lawless reputation. Violence is common. There's at least one murder a day in Empire. Hardly any murderer is caught, and even if he is, punishment is highly uncertain. Could be death by hanging or nothing at all." He looked down at the package at his feet. "Mr. Morgan wanted you to have Charles's personal effects. Items we collected from his tent — clothing, writing implements, his diary, that sort of thing."
Letty took a moment to collect herself. This was no time to be looking at items that would surely bring back heart-wrenching memories. "Thank you, Mr. Hastings. We shall go through them later."
"Well, then." Hastings rose to leave. He'd done his duty. Plain to see he was eager to escape. "Mr. Morgan sends his sincere condolences. If for some reason you need to talk to him, you'll find him at 151 Cambridge Street, his residence on Beacon Hill."
Letty held her tears in check with rigid control. "Please convey my thanks to Mr. Morgan. How kind of him to let us know." She accompanied their visitor to the door, thanked him, and said good-bye.
Returning to the parlor, she found her mother still sitting on the sofa, pale, shaken, and beyond tears. "Charles is dead?" She looked up at Letty with searching, grief-stricken eyes. "This is so sudden. I can hardly believe it."
Letty looked for words. None were adequate. "I can hardly believe it either, but it must be true." She offered her hand. "Come along, let's go upstairs. This is a horrible shock. You need to lie down. I'll get a cool cloth for your forehead."
As if in a daze, Mother allowed her to lead her up the staircase. At the top, she paused. "This Garth Morgan, did Charles ever mention him?"
"Now that I think about it, I believe he did in one or two of his letters."
"He was supposed to be a friend."
Excerpted from Gold Rush Bride by Shirley Kennedy. Copyright © 2016 Shirley Kennedy. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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