Amanda's heart lurched into her throat, and for one awful moment she thought that she would be sick. "Keeton – and Nate White." She thought, but she reprimanded herself only a moment later. "You're better off than most mail-order brides. You've known Nate for fourteen years. He's a fine young man, so quit panicking about it. You'll be fine."
But these thoughts were of little to no assurance to Amanda. "Pull yourself together Amanda Gibson," She thought sternly. "You've been through worse than this."
Amanda thought of her biological mother who had died when she was only seven. Amanda had memories of honey-golden hair, indigo-colored eyes, and refined features much like her own, as well as an angelic voice, her mother's, singing to her.
Mr. Gibson had been heartbroken when his wife had died. It was then that he had started drinking. Over the next five years this habit had gotten worse, and at the last of those five years Amanda had been beaten often.
It was after one of these instances that an elderly woman who lived in the same tenement building had found her, crumpled in a ball on the cold, dirty, wooden floor as dead as she was alive. The woman had somehow gotten her into her own room. There she had nursed her for some weeks, as Amanda had fought for her life.
The woman was poor, and not being able to keep Amanda, but refusing to turn her back over to her father, she had instead pressed a hard-earned coin into her hand and told her to find the Children's Aid Society, a then-new organization that would help her find a safe home, "with a mother." She had said coaxingly to sweeten the idea.
Amanda's eyes had glistened at the prospect.
She had been twelve then and now, fourteen years later; she still remembered the feeling of the cold half-dime as she had closed her fingers around it. She had thanked the woman and after being given directions she had ran out of the tenement building, determined not to return.
Amanda had found the Children's Aid Society, but her placement with the Zimmermann's in St. Joseph had been all but pleasant; they had wanted her only as a servant. After three months Ms. Hart, the agent who was in charge of placing Amanda, had taken her back to New York to be placed with a different family.
Her placement with Wallace and Martha Dunlap had been blissfully happy. They were kind and understanding people who had always taken good care of her and had patiently explained almost anything she had wanted to know; fueling her naturally inquisitive nature, though forever warning her against nosiness.
The Dunlaps lived in Keeton, New Jersey, which was where Amanda's first friends had lived, and still did.
Those friends were Charlotte Withers, then twelve, who had ridden the same orphan train as Amanda; Kenneth Keeton, then thirteen, who was the son of the town's founder and had always been snubbed because if it.
Nate White, who had been fourteen at the time, had taken the three outcasts under his wing, and the four had become the best of friends.
For the past eight years Amanda had been working as an agent for the Orphan Train, but this would be her last trip.
Amanda sighed nervously and began to tap her foot. Part of her wanted the train to speed up, and part of her wanted it to stop dead on the tracks.
"Ms. Gibson?" A small voice intruded on Amanda's thoughts.
Amanda turned away from the window and looked into the face of a young boy, who wore a pained expression on his young face
"Yes? What is it Michael?" She asked kindly, patting the empty bench space beside her, indicating that he should sit. Michael sat down on the bench and put his head on her shoulder before answering.
"Do you think someone will want me?" The seven-year olds voice was taught with anxiety. Amanda looked down into the boy's pleading brown eyes, her own troubles forgotten. "Of course they will. You're a beautiful little boy, and besides that, as one of the agents on this orphan train it's my job to make sure that you get a good home, and as long as I'm here I intend to do just that." She squeezed his shoulders, and he looked up at her with eyes so full of hope, that when she thought of his limp and mangled arm swinging lifeless at his side; her heart wanted to break for the boy.
Michael left, but was soon replaced by Ms. Hart, now in her sixties, who squeezed in beside her and gave her a questioning glance. "What's wrong?"
Amanda sighed. "By this time tomorrow I'm going to be married to a man that I haven't had a real conversation with in fourteen years," and feeling like a rider again she added, "And I'm scared half to death." Ms. Hart smiled encouragingly. "You'll be alright, you're a tough girl."
"Woman." Amanda corrected absent-mindedly wishing that she were as sure of that as Ms. Hart seemed to be.
Ms. Hart smiled. "Woman."