Adela's Prairie Suitor (The Annex Mail-Order Brides Book 1)

The Annex Mail-Order Brides

Book 1

Adela’s Prairie Suitor

Elaine Manders

Copyright ©2015, Elaine Manders

All rights reserved

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events or persons is purely coincidental.

Scripture references are taken from the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible.

Table of Contents

Women had few opportunities for higher education during the 1800s. Coeducation was as controversial as suffrage. Then in 1879, Harvard College admitted twenty-seven female students. They weren’t allowed to take classes with men because the faculty thought women would be too distracting to the male students. The building used to teach the women became known as the Harvard Annex.

Despite their valiant efforts, the women were never awarded Harvard degrees, and the Annex later became Radcliffe College for Women. Harvard didn’t award degrees to women until 1963.

I wondered if these pioneers in women’s education gave in to the conventional wisdom of the day that the highest calling for every woman was to marry and have children. This is where my imagination took me.

Chapter 1

Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1881

If Adela Mason was the swooning type, she’d faint.

She had more fortitude than that, but the now familiar words on the letter she held threatened to make her knees give way. The answer to all her prayers was now within her grasp, if she dared take it. She ordered her trembling hand to still so she could reread the letter.

The man who’d penned it offered her the desire of her heart—a home of her own. Since she was already an old maid at twenty-four, this was her last hope. All she had to do was give up the chance of the best education available to a woman. Leave this luxurious townhouse and the best friends she’d ever known. Marry a man she’d never met. Become a mail-order bride.

He didn’t send a proposal of marriage as might be expected; but rather, invited her to visit his Kansas farm so he could “court her proper.” The proposal was understood, and there was no question she’d go, though she knew nothing about him outside of a few letters. His mother would serve as chaperone.

A mother—she’d have a mother again.

Living on a farm was a cherished dream, and until now, an impossible one. What happy days she’d spent growing up on the small farm in rural Pennsylvania. Until her parents died, and she had to move to Philadelphia to live with her strict Puritan aunt and uncle.

Byron had sent her money for the trip out, and that spoke of his sincerity. Besides, God wouldn’t send her to a man not of His choosing. If the Lord opened a door, she had to have the faith to walk through it.

She gazed through the lacy curtains of the front window where the tall maples displayed leaves of gold and red. Her glance slid to the grand brick pillars anchoring the wrought iron fences that lined the townhouse yard.

The beautiful, red brick colonial was within walking distance of the Annex. Lady Galenshire, Carianne Barlow’s English grandmother, paid for this lovely house, as well as the tuition for its inhabitants. She paid for their clothes and servants and everything else young, society ladies needed. And much they didn’t.

Their sponsor expected much in return. They must conduct themselves in an exemplary manner and excel in their studies. Lady Galenshire’s representatives came frequently to make sure the young ladies held up their end of the arrangement. This was Adela’s dilemma. She was failing in two subjects, and no amount of catching up would help. She would be asked to leave before the next term.

But what did it matter? This place, as beautiful as it was, wasn’t home. Adela’s gaze lifted to a flock of birds spreading over the deep blue autumn sky on their way south for the winter. They would stop at various places to eat and rest their wings.

That was what this house was to Adela—a resting place. She and her friends would have to leave at some point. Adela sooner than the others.

Her friends would arrive at any minute, back from the Annex. The prospect of leaving them marred Adela’s happiness like a speck of dirt on an otherwise perfect painting. She’d grown to love them like sisters. In many ways, they were closer than sisters.

Adela turned from the window to trace a path around the room. She hadn’t told Carianne, Ramee, and Prudie about corresponding with Byron. Something told her they wouldn’t approve, and it would be hard to leave without their blessings.

They must be wondering why she wasn’t in class at the Annex today. The Harvard Annex was the building set aside for women to take classes taught by Harvard instructors. She and her three housemates, indeed all the women enrolled in these courses, were guinea pigs in an experiment to see if they could stand the rigors of Harvard College. It was a test in coeducation.

Adela suspected the experiment would fail—not because the women couldn’t pass the course, but because the Harvard men feared these radical ideas would diminish the college’s reputation.

In any event, Adela wasn’t cut out for academia. She’d barely passed her classes last year. Accounting was the only subject she showed any promise in. Perhaps she could become a bookkeeper if Byron didn’t propose. No—she refused to entertain that possibility.

Familiar voices sounded at the door, and Adela scampered to her favorite chair. It fit her like a comfortable pair of shoes. Homey and sturdy, its dull brown velvet upholstery worn in places, it looked out of place in the otherwise elegant parlor. She shoved the envelope between the chair’s cushion and side.

The door burst open and her friends piled in. All three gave her a piercing glance. “Why did you skip the lecture, Adela?” Ramee sent the question over her shoulder. Honey blonde curls bounced as she shrugged out of her cape.

Before Adela could open her mouth to answer, Carianne crossed the floor and pressed her cool palm to Adela’s forehead. “Are you ill?” Light brown tendrils framed Carianne’s heart shaped face, and her hazel eyes softened with concern.

Adela shook her head, dislodging her friend’s hand. “I’m well, dearest. I just had…something to do.”

“Well, you missed nothing.” Prudie removed her hat from her rich auburn hair and rolled her beautiful emerald eyes. “Professor Hogshead spent over half the time telling us what he’d teach us if our delicate feminine minds could absorb it.” She flopped into her chair so hard the ruffles of her petticoat flew up. Prudie wasn’t one to waste ladylike manners on them.

Ramee laughed as she settled on the arm of Prudie’s chair, laying a hand on her shoulder. “She refers to Professor Hodgestead.”

“I agree with Prudie. There wasn’t much to be gained from the lecture.” Carianne went about gathering their hats and wraps.

Adela slid her hand into the crevice, grasping the letter as her heart raced. She had to tell them before they scattered to their rooms. She scooted to the edge of her seat and swallowed. “Do you remember back in the spring when Carianne brought in that magazine with the advertisements for mail-order brides?”

Ramee shoved off her perch. “I remember.
The New England Prattler
it was.” She wagged a hand at Carianne. “You recall the one with the photograph of the Casanova Cowboy on the cover?”

They all enjoyed teasing Carianne over her infatuation with the handsome cattle baron who incited gossip by squiring beautiful socialites from Boston to Washington when he came east to lobby for western ranchers.

Having put away the hats and wraps, Carianne looked up from the newspaper she’d retrieved from the Chippendale occasional table. She folded the paper and grinned while crossing the room to stand before them. She was the best natured person Adela knew and always ready to laugh at herself. “I do recall. That issue happened to have an important article on the state of the economy.”

Ramee grinned, tilting her head at a jaunty angle. “Of course. We always go to the
to learn about the state of the economy. Do you still have that issue?”

“That’s about like asking old Hogshead if he still has a copy of the
,” Prudie said.

Laughter rang out around the room, and Carianne smacked Prudie over the head with the folded newspaper. “I think I can find it.”

She made her way around the sofa. Adela shot out a hand, the one not clutching her letter, to stop her. “No, Carianne, I don’t need the magazine.” She turned to Prudie. “You found those ads for mail-order brides in the back, and we dared you to write an answer as a lark.”

Prudie harrumphed, a mischievous glint in her eyes. “I remember, and I made you all write one. We each selected an ad and vied to see who could come up with the most ridiculous proposal. As I recall, I won.”

Ramee leaned over the back of the sofa. “I showed mine to Jackson, and he was so incensed, he tore it into tiny pieces.”

“That didn’t stop him from rushing to New York and ignoring you all summer.” Carianne ran her fingers along a seam of Adela’s chair. “All our replies were silly. I used mine for scrap paper, so I’m certain it found its way to the waste paper basket long ago.”

Prudie leaned back, her hands locked behind her head. “I burned my answer to that mail-order bride ad. There was enough incriminating information in that letter for my enemies to hold it for blackmail, assuming I ever have anything they’d want.”

Any other time Adela would have enjoyed her friends’ banter. She was always the quiet one, listening in the corner. But not today. She moistened her dry lips.

“I mailed mine.”

A heavy silence fell, and three sets of hazel, blue, and green eyes bored into Adela. “Are you saying you actually responded to one of those desperate men?” Prudie’s voice shrilled with accusation.

Adela felt heat rushing up her neck. Her skin was so fair the slightest blush made her cheeks flame.

Carianne asked her favorite question. “Why?”

Adela got to her feet, standing as straight as her five-foot-two inch frame allowed. “I’ve never had your ambitions. Prudie, you intend to help run your family business. Ramie, you expect to find businessmen to help you with your fashion designs, and Carianne, you wish to please your grandmother. I’ve never had any real purpose for my education. All I’ve ever really wanted was to get married and have children.”

“I’ll concede you’ll need a husband if you want children,” Prudie said, “but that’s all I’ll concede.”

Ramie came up on the other side of Adela, shifting from one foot to the other as if she stood on hot coals. “Dearest, we all expect to marry one day, but what’s wrong with Harvard men? That’s why we go to those boring receptions.”

Adela suspected many of the women flocked to the Annex with secret dreams of marrying a Harvard man—Ramee included. “That’s all well and good for you. You have a beau, but I don’t favor Harvard men, and none have shown us much interest.” For the most part, the men they’d met at those receptions looked down their noses at the Annex ladies.

Ramee wasn’t deterred. “They were suspicious of us at first, perhaps, but they now know we don’t threaten their precious college. This is a new term. They’ll get used to us in the three years we have left.”

Adela wrung her hands as she turned away. “You forget you all are younger than I am. I’ll soon be twenty-five years old. That’s a quarter of a century. I can’t wait for prospects.” She stiffened her spine and swung back to face them. “Besides, I’ve always wanted to live on a farm as I did as a child. Mr. Calhoun has described his farm just as I remember when Mama and Papa were alive—the clean air, the scent of newly turned earth. The chickens and pigs. The cows and horses.” She’d not had the pleasure of riding a horse in all the years she’d been with her aunt and uncle. The preferred transportation in Cambridge was the carriage.

Her friends sent questioning glances to each other as if they thought she might be dangerous.

Carianne hooked Adela by the crook of the arm and tugged her to the sofa, forcing her to sit. “Tell us about Mr. Calhoun.”

Adela lifted the envelope and took out the folded pages. “His name is Byron. Have you ever heard a more romantic name?” A photograph fell out on her lap, and she held it up to Carianne. “He sent his picture along with the tickets.”

Carianne examined the photograph, and Adela bit her lip, hoping they wouldn’t find fault. She wanted her friends to like this man.

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