Mail Order Bride: Bitter & Pregnant, An English Widow Heads Off to Her Cowboy Rancher In California (A Clean & Wholesome Historical Romance), page 1
Mail Order Bride: Bitter & Pregnant, An English Widow Heads Off to Her Cowboy Rancher In California
(A Clean & Wholesome Historical Romance)
Copyright 2015 Enduring Hope & Love Press
Synopsis: A stubborn and pregnant English widow makes the long journey to California in the hopes of safe haven for she and her child, and intent on not marrying her mail order fiancé because he is merely a means to an end. Her companions are a young married couple – the man is one that her husband saved before he fell into the ocean and drowned, so she has a hatred for him at first. When they all arrive they are met by a far different man that the woman had come to know through a couple of letters, and she is quick to try and figure out, if she can, what on earth is happening.
Jeanne Harrow had been feeling ill for weeks, she couldn't figure out why, and the worst part of it was that her husband was nowhere to be seen. He worked for a shipping company and was usually gone for long periods of time, but he had simply gone over to France to try to set up a new partnership with a company based there. He should have been back by now and perhaps even off on another task. This concerned Jeanne and as she lay on her bed to wait for her stomach to settle, she heard a knock on the door.
She groaned, stood up, waited for her head to stop spinning and went to answer the door. A young man was standing there, hat in his hands and a frown on his face. She recognized him from the shipping company's warehouse and she recognized the face as one that was ready to deliver some bad news.
"Oh no," said Jeanne. "What's wrong?"
"Your husband didn't make it home," said the young man. "Mister Harrow went down on a ship that was crossing the Channel. I'm sorry."
"He could swim," said Jeanne, angrily. "What do you mean he went down? He could swim!"
"He couldn't swim enough I guess," said the young man. "He might have gotten dragged down."
Jeanne felt that she should be sad, but all she felt angry. "Did anyone even try to save him?"
"Yes, and Mister Harrow saved me," said the young man.
"So it's your fault that my husband is dead," said Jeanne, and she slammed the door in his face. He tried to say something, but Jeanne couldn't hear him through the door and her heavy sobbing. She slid down to the floor, her head swimming with sadness and nausea, and she spent the rest of the night there.
The next few weeks were especially hard on her, with the sickness coming and going without warning and people coming from her husband's company to try to make some sort of amends. After some time insisting that they simply bring her husband back, she acceded to their request to at least give him a proper memorial service. She went to the ceremony, her eyes dry and as she looked around at all the people who had come to see her husband off she felt a deep loathing for each one of them.
It wasn't their fault she knew, but each one was a reminder of what she had once had and was now lost to her. She needed to leave the country and she needed to do it quickly. The only problem was that she had no place to go and no desire to deal with the rest of Europe. That only really left the Americas and she didn't have nearly enough money to get over there. She could only see one solution, and so she walked up to her husband's old boss and slapped him.
"You killed my husband," she said. "You're the one who sent him to France!"
"Missus Harrow, we couldn't have known that your husband was going to die," said the boss. "If there's anything we can do to help you through this time, please let us know."
"I want to go to America," said Jeanne. "I want to forget all of this."
"I emphasize with your situation but I can't just send you over there without a plan," said the boss. "That'd be akin to homicide, leaving you there without any idea of what you're doing."
"Fine," said Jeanne. "I'll figure out what I'm going to do and then I'll do it. You'd better be ready with a fast boat for me."
"We will be," said the boss.
"Good," she said, and then she stormed off. She had said all she needed to say and she also needed to vomit.
Half a world away, Joseph Clauson sat on his fence and watched the animals milling about below. There were cows and sheep, which was a controversial decision but one that had proven quite lucrative. He knew this ranch would be his only legacy, as an accident years before had left him unable to father a child, but he still ached for something more. He had looked into adoption, but having a child without a woman seemed wrong to him.
He had no options left and he got down off the fence and walked back to his modest home. He had built it with enough rooms for a family, but the family would never exist. He sat down at a table and his head ranch-hand, a man named Jack, walked in with the week's mail.
"The usual, boss," said Jack, and he left.
Joseph shivered, since Jack had always struck him as oddly dangerous, but he put those feelings aside and looked through the mail. Despite Jack's claims, there was one thing that was new. It was some sort of broadsheet, filled with names, addresses, and descriptions of people who wanted to get married. He was about to throw it away when a listing caught his eye.
An old man was seeking a younger woman to marry and subsequently, leave his fortune so that his brother wouldn't be able to get it. If a man could do that in one of these, Joseph reasoned, perhaps he could find a woman who needed a husband and father for whatever reason. He found a pen and paper and started writing, describing himself and his desires as truthfully as possible.
The next morning, he sent it off with Jack and he hoped the man would get the mail to where it needed to be. Once that task was done, he dressed for the day and went back to watch his cattle and sheep and hoped for the best.
Jeanne had gone over a hundred plans in the days since her husband's memorial but she still couldn't figure out how she could convince her husband's old boss, whose name was Thackery, to pay for a trip to America. She couldn't decide if he was being stingy or overly careful, but all of it could be undone if she could only figure out a reason to go to America.
The difficulty was compounded by the fact that Jeanne was still feeling overly sick and there seemed to be nothing to do about it. She had tried any number of medications and treatments and was beginning to think that she may be cursed. The only thing she hadn't really tried was going to a doctor, out of fear for what the doctor may find, but then she realized that she might be able to convince a doctor to tell Thackery that Jeanne needed to go to America for her health. She was now in the waiting room of Doctor James Donner and she walked back to his office when called. She sat down on the examination table and kept her hands folded primly in her lap.
"Hello, Missus Harrow," said Doctor Donner. "I was sorry to hear about your husband. He was a good man and he helped me out more than once."
"Perhaps you could help me," said Jeanne. "I want to leave London and go to America and Mister Thackery has said he'll help me, but only if I had a plan. I was thinking perhaps, that you could write a prescription for me."
"That would be unethical," said Doctor Donner. "Now, I'm sure you have more of a reason to be here than simple attempted skullduggery."
"I do," said Jeanne, her ire raised. "I've been sick for well over a month. I think it's the damp London air."
"If it is, then we'll see about getting you moved," said Doctor Donner. "What are your symptoms?"
"I feel very nauseous almost all of the ti
"All right," said Doctor Donner. "Any tenderness?"
"Now that you mention it, there is some tenderness," said Jeanne, blushing. "You know, when I say it all, it almost sounds as if... oh no."
"Yes, Missus Harrow," said Doctor Donner writing it all down. "Tell me, have you noticed the lack of any events?"
"Oh no," said Jeanne. "Are you saying that I might be with child?"
"I am," said Doctor Donner. "Congratulations. Or not, as the case may be."
"I can use this," said Jeanne. "I can use this somehow. Thank you, Doctor Donner. I'll square my account with you before I head to America."
"No rush," said Doctor Donner. "In fact, just forget about it. Like I said, your husband helped me quite a lot."
"One last thing. Can I get it in writing?"
Doctor Donner wrote his diagnosis of Jeanne and handed it to her and as she left the doctor's office with a newfound goal, and as she walked by a newsstand, something caught her eye. It was a broadsheet with a list of names on it, along with their locations and some light description. Jeanne purchased it and took it home to look it over, and discovered that it was designed to help men in the American west find wives.
She had heard of such things before, but had never seen one, but now she had a perfect way to get Thackery to pay for her trip. She poured over the broadsheet that night and found a man she deemed ideal and the best part was that he was on the western coast of America, in California.
She had no intention of actually marrying or even meeting him. She jotted down his information and took a coach to Thackery Shipping. Most of the men paid her no heed, though a few tipped their hats to her and in the office Thackery was working out some plans when Jeanne came in. He saw her, smiled, and offered her a chair.
"Hello, Missus Harrow," said Thackery. "What can I do for you?"
"What can you do for us," corrected Jeanne, and she handed over the papers with the diagnosis and location on them. Thackery took them and Jeanne continued. "I am with child and a child can't grow up without a father. I've been in correspondence with one Joseph Clauson in California. He wishes for a family of his own and I have offered to become his wife."
"I see," said Thackery. "An instant family, I suppose. Well, I can't really stand in the way of love and I do have an oath to keep -- except I can't very well send a pregnant woman to America all by herself."
Jeanne was taken aback. "Excuse me? Why not?"
"It wouldn't be proper," said Thackery. "I'll make all the necessary arrangements. I'll even send your man a telegraph to let him know you're on your way. I know how expensive those can be. I'll send your assistant by when I've figured out who to send with you."
"Thank you so much," said Jeanne, already thinking of ways to ditch her assistant. "I eagerly await their arrival."
The next day, Joseph was eating his breakfast when someone started knocking on his door. He answered it and recognized the visitor as Henry, a young man from the telegraph office. He was holding a paper and was quite out of breath.
"Why don't you come in and take a seat," said Joseph. "You look bushed. Did you run all the way here? I thought that you people had horses."
"We do, but I can't ride one bit," said Henry. "You have a message all the way from England!"
"Read it to me," said Joseph, sitting down to continue his breakfast. "Help yourself to the juice and toast. Don't touch the bacon."
"Mighty kind of you," said Henry, gathering up a plate full of toast. "Only my boss said I wasn't to read it; I had to give it to you and not put my stupid nose in the private business of our customers."
"I see," said Joseph, and he took the letter. Almost instantly, Henry was over his shoulder. Joseph didn't mind. The letter was from a man named Thackery, who was sending Joseph what he termed an "instant family", namely a pregnant widow. She would be there as soon as possible, probably arriving on train. She was named Jeanne Harrow and Thackery described her in some detail. Those details made Henry whistle.
"She sounds like a good 'un," said Henry, who had somehow obtained a piece of bacon.
"She does," said Joseph. " You know, last night I prayed and this just goes to show you. He's looking out for us."
"I'm going to pray for a hundred dollars and a horse," said Henry. "A race horse."
"He's God, not a genie," said Joseph with a laugh. "I guess I'll have to get the rooms ready for them. Thank you, Henry, and you're welcome here any time."
Jeanne was in the midst of packing when there was a knock at the door. She answered the door wordlessly, opening it to find two people. One was the young man her husband had saved and the other was a serious looking young lady. She surmised that Thackery sent these two as her wardens, and she attempted to shut the door in their faces. The young man was cleverer than he looked and his foot blocked the door's closure.
Jeanne threw the door back open and forced a smile.
"Well, look who it is," said Jeanne. "The young man who killed my husband. I'm not sure I want you coming along with me. I haven't even met the new one and I'd hate for you to kill him, too."
"There's no call for that, Missus Harrow," said the young man. "I volunteered to come with you on your trip. After all, your husband gave his life for mine. It's only right that I make sure you and his little one are safe."
"All right," said Jeanne, and to the girl, "I suppose you're here to keep me healthy?"
"I am," said the girl. "I've been training to be a midwife for years, ever since I could do it without fainting."
Jeanne asked warily, "How long has that been?"
"Almost a month now," beamed the girl. "Oh! Forgive me. My name is Francine O'Reilly."
"And I'm Horace Johnson," said the boy. "Now that we're all properly introduced, what can we help you with?"
"You can help me by leaving me alone," said Jeanne. "You know, you two could go off anywhere in the world. I'm sure Thackery gave you some money. Just give me what I need and you can be on your way."
"No can do," said Horace. "I promised the old man that I'd keep you safe and keep him knowledgeable about how you are and where you are."
"You could just lie," said Jeanne.
"I most certainly couldn’t," said Horace staunchly. "I'm a good honest boy and I aim to keep it that way! Also, I've heard things about California. Cowboys and miners and ranchers are very intriguing."
"They are," said Francine. "If I'm able, I'll be able to offer my services to all their wives, too. It's a new life waiting for all of us in California!"
Jeanne sighed. There was obviously no fighting this. At the very least, she could make the situation fun for herself. "All right, you two, but you must promise me one thing."
Horace and Francine asked, almost simultaneously, "Yes?"
"There's to be no hanky-panky on this trip," said Jeanne. "You're both very handsome young people after all. Why, I wouldn't be surprised if the two of you were to fall in love before we even reached California!" The two young people looked at each other and giggled nervously.
Francine blushed and Jeanne knew that the seeds had been planted. She could watch this drama unfold over the next several months and all it had taken was a few well-placed words. She grinned at the pair and gestured to her trunks, adding, "Well, then, you two can finishing packing for me. I'm feeling fatigued."
"Right you are, ma'am," said Horace and he and Francine got to work. Jeanne went off to take a nap. She was already starting to like this situation far more than she should, she felt, but it was all for a greater purpose.
She would get to California, these two would keep busy and she could forget England and all its associated terrors and shenanigans. She laid down dreamed of America, wondering how quickly she could ditch her keepers. As she slept, she started to dream of what may have happened to her husband. She watched from the shore as her husband's boat crashed into some unseen rocks.
Jeanne watched and saw Horace fa
She awoke in a cold sweat and looked around the room for something to calm her nerves. She was about to drink a little wine when she recalled that it wasn't good for children and the last thing she wanted to do was damage the only thing left of her husband. Instead, she walked over to the window and opened it, letting the cool air wash over her. After a few minutes, it became far too cold for her and she was glad that she was going to California.
It was supposed to be warm in California and Jeanne was looking very forward to that.
Joseph walked out of his home and saw Henry standing in front of his house with the oldest and most decrepit horse Joseph had ever seen. He looked at the beaming young man and Henry started to explain.
"I went out this morning and some old man was trying to sell this beauty of a horse to the glue factory," said Henry. "There's some fight left in this old nag and I'll train her and feed her and make her the fastest race horse you've ever seen, Mister Clauson!"
"I don't think there's enough food and training in the world to make that horse do much more than sleep," said Joseph. "There's no way she could win a race."
"Not yet," agreed Henry. "I was hoping you'd be able to keep her in your barn with the other horses. I promise I'll come by every day to take care of her and pay for all her feed. All I need is some time with her to make her the best she can be!"
"All right," said Joseph, laughing. "You can put her up in the barn, though I think selling her to the glue factory might have been the right idea. You name her, yet?"
"She's Matilda," said Henry. "On account of the fact that she can waltz. Watch this!"