A historical novel, a love story, set in Sacramento, California, in 1870. Assumed an orphan, MaryJo finds her father, but her very existence threatens to rip apart his happy family, which is all that she has left. Will accepting the marriage proposal of David, her stepbrother but nevertheless a virtual stranger, resolve the delicate family issues or create new ones? Was it love at first sight or a lie? Will the delicate fabric made from tangled threads of family pedigree and history unravel and destroy them all? Will the crises they have to face shatter their faith? Is it possible for them to live happily ever after, pursuing their dreams and keeping the secrets?
September 15, 2014: Epublished for Amazon.
March 20, 1870
MaryJo stood in the shadows at twilight near the riverfront at the Sacramento River wharf, watching the people depart from the charming Chrysopolis dual-paddlewheel riverboat. She had learned that he would be returning from San Francisco on this steamer today. It had been a taxing day and she was fatigued. How she hated waiting!
She held the beautifully crafted leather case containing the only daguerreotype photograph of her parents, taken when they were newlyweds. She rubbed her fingers over the embossed leather cover with tenderness, thinking of the day her mother gave it to her to remember them by. She wondered, with her thoughts rambling as she waited. If this man is my father, Charles Jonathan Jones, has he changed much? Will I be able to recognize him at all from this picture, among this crowd of people? I've never seen him, except for this old tintype. He was so young then, when they married. But he's dead, isn't he? If he is alive, then he doesn't even know he has a daughter. I remember every word Mother told me all about their life together when she gave me the photograph as she lay dying. Why had she gotten sick? Mother had always helped the doctor and had never gotten ill herself. Why this time?
Loneliness hit her hard once more. She whispered to God, “Why was she taken away when I need her so?” MaryJo had one letter from her father to her mother. It was the only one her mother had ever received, left behind for her when he left that sad day in August 1852. She knew it by heart.
My Dearest Josie,
I will miss you so much, my sweet wife, my love, my life. I know that in your condition, you will be safer here waiting for me than with me as I try to make a home for us―our home. Mother Molly will take care of you, with your father watching over you, keeping you and our unborn child protected. I promise I will get established quickly, build a house, and send for you in a few months.
I promise to write to you every week. I will miss you every minute. I wish I could bring you with me now, but it would not be safe for you. I cannot bear this separation any easier than you can, my precious wife. All my love forever―
Your loving husband,
There were no other letters, ever. Mother thought he was dead. Had he abandoned them? Mother always wore her wedding ring, which she had given to MaryJo with the photograph. She told MaryJo that you only get married once in this life, so he must have died or he would be there with them. She loved him so. She made MaryJo love him too, telling her wondrous stories of their brief life together. Tears came to MaryJo’s eyes as she longed for a love of her own, like her mother had.
She quickly dried her tears to clear her sight as she looked over the slowly disembarking passengers.
MaryJo’s mother had died just last year, in the coldest winter she could remember. Perhaps her mother’s death made it colder for her. MaryJo had taken a job at the new boardinghouse in Auburn where they had been residing. There she saw a newspaper, The Sacramento Daily Union, left behind in a vacated room. Someone had encircled an advertisement and written on it “See Charles J. Jones at 10:00 o’clock Thursday morning.”
On seeing the paper, her breath had caught as she stood frozen, unable to believe her eyes. She ran her fingers over the writing and pondered it. That was her father’s name and he had headed to the city of Sacramento. Could it be he was still alive? No, it was probably just a coincidence; it was a very common name, but was it possible? Could it be him, really be him? She felt an internal urging to find out, with Sacramento being so close to Auburn, just about thirty-five miles. She knew she had to see for herself. What if he is?
Could he be so close? Had he always been so close at Jones Shipping & Freight? Why was this newspaper left behind when a guest departed? Could he really, truly be alive? She must go there to find out! Would that be as pointless as a wild-goose chase at the fair? Then her heart felt heavy as she realized that her father might not want her. Maybe he had left them. The letter of love, had he meant it? Maybe he had been seduced by another woman? No, could that be? That would be so heartbreaking, but she had to find out.
So there she stood, waiting to see if this man could be her father. . .and if he was, then what? Would he accept her? Or would she always be alone? So many questions. She shivered, wondering if it was from a chill or trepidation.
As the people departing the riverboat passed by, she thought of her mother’s description of him: Handsome, kind, confident, respected, gentle, thoughtful, generous, godly, soft spoken but commanding.
When one man crossed the plankway to the dock, she could not deny the likeness to the tintype photograph; it was the same man, her father. He was not quite as slender, but he looked the same, a handsome man still. Her eyes teared up. Now what? What should she do?
She decided to follow him along the cobbled street. What should she do? She could not very well walk up to him and say, “Hello, Father!” now, could she? Would he stop by his office this late or go straight home? He outdistanced her as she could not keep up with his long strides. Suddenly aware of her foolishness as the crowd thinned, a woman walking alone around Sutter’s Embarcadero would be easy prey for the depraved. She hoped her simple hat and cloak would be obscurant. This bustling city was intimidating, being the state capital and so much larger than the city of Auburn.
Fear gripped her as she saw men noticing her. This huge city was still in its rough-and-tumble times. She must think of her safety first. She knew where he worked, for she had stopped by there earlier today and found out he would be returning from a business trip to San Francisco on the Chrysopolis this very evening. Without delay, she must rent a room here and get off the streets. Rough looking men were watching her, making the hairs stand up on the back of her neck. Was it too late? Would anyone follow her? She offered a quick prayer for God’s protection. She quickened her step to get closer to the couple ahead of her so it would seem likely that she was with them, even mouthing a soundless comment in their direction to imply a communication, silent words as if talking to them. It seemed to help. She followed them into the Orleans Hotel, not hesitating to also secure a room for herself. Tomorrow she would meet him somehow.
“Lord, help me through this. You know his heart and mine. You know my dreams, my desire for family. Please direct my path and words, and give me understanding.”
She tossed and turned. Why couldn’t she sleep? Fear? Excitement? How should she tell him? Would he believe her? Accept her? Throw her out? Should she be angry? All she could think about was why did he leave her wonderful mother? Well, maybe she would decide to be very angry when she found out what happened eighteen years ago!