Mail Order Bride: Bitter & Pregnant, An English Widow Heads Off to Her Cowboy Rancher In California (A Clean & Wholesome Historical Romance), page 3
She heard a voice behind her. It was Horace and he asked, "Who are you talking to?"
"My child," said Jeanne. While she felt odd about it, there was no way she was going to be ashamed about this. "Where's Francine?"
"We need some time apart," said Horace. "Besides, I have a job to do. Are you comfortable? Do you need anything from me?"
"I'm fine, thank you," said Jeanne. "Then again, could you go to the dining car and get me some food? I don't care what it is. I'm just famished all the time now."
"Sure thing," said Horace. "I'll ask Francine what might be best."
"Thank you," said Jeanne, and as Horace left she sighed and placed her hand back on her stomach. "You know, he's probably going to be your godfather. It's not as if I'm spoiled for choice."
The rest of the trip went by smoothly, or at least, as smoothly as the train would allow. The station was towards the end of the line and the three of them exited the train and looked around for Joseph Clauson. Horace had taken advantage of a brief stop the day before to telegraph Clauson about their estimated time of arrival, but there was no one there matching his description of a rather thin blonde man with sharp yet handsome features. A large man approached them however and spoke with a grizzled voice, "You Jeanne Harrow and her crew?"
"We are," said Horace.
"Wasn't asking you, twerp," snapped the man. "I was asking the lady. You Jeanne Harrow?"
"I am," said Jeanne. "And I'll thank you to be nicer to my friend. He has come with me a long way."
"Friend? Well, that's a surprise," said Horace. "Does that mean you forgive me for your husband's death?"
"I'm getting there," said Jeanne.
"He killed a man? All right, I'll show some respect," said the man, and he introduced himself, "I'm Joe Clauson. Call me Jack. My friends do. You're here to marry me."
Jeanne stared at him. This was, in no way, Joseph Clauson. He was obviously the kind of man who didn't mind resorting to violence and Jeanne didn't want to risk the health of herself or her friends and child. She told him, "We have to go get our things. We'll be right back."
The imposter nodded and allowed the three of them to go back to the train. Francine made a disapproving noise once they got there and said, "Well. What kind of man wouldn't help his pregnant wife carry luggage? I already don't like him."
"That's not Joseph Clauson," said Jeanne. "I'm not sure what he aims to do, but we mustn’t let him know that we know."
"Agreed," said Francine. "Horace, you should be chummy with him. He seems to have taken a shine to you."
"I don't want to get hurt," said Horace. "I don't want anyone else to get hurt more, though. I'll try to make friends."
"Good," said Jeanne. Horace grabbed her trunk and they loaded up a wagon that the imposter had brought with him. Once they were all on the cart, Jeanne noticed that the horse pulling it was a withered old mare. She felt some sort of connection with it and when Jack produced a whip to make the nag go faster, Jeanne stopped him. Fury flashed in Jack's eyes and she simply said, "I'm in no hurry."
Jack huffed and put the whip away. "Whatever you say, lady. We're going to get married next week. I think you might need to contact some people back home and we're going to need the money for the wedding. It's going to be a big wedding, so we're going to need a lot of it."
Jeanne almost instantly realized Jack's plan, but she was currently stuck on a wagon with him, so she chose to play dumb. "I'll have Horace go to town tomorrow to send a message. We should have the money soon." She put her head on his shoulder. "I can't wait to be married to you!"
"Sure," said Jack. "Hey, Horace, do you need to do something special for your boss?"
"Yes," said Horace, carefully. "He needs something."
"A special code," said Francine.
"Yes, a special code," said Horace. "Only the three of us know a part, so we all have to go, actually."
"All right," said Jack, and he pulled up to a house. "You lot go to sleep. I'll be back in the morning to take you into town."
"We can manage," said Jeanne.
"I said I'll take you," said Jack. "Shut up and listen."
He dropped them off and rode off towards the desert.
Horace said, "I wonder where he's going?"
"As do I," said Jeanne. "As do I."
Joseph was lying on his side. He had spent the past few days rubbing his bonds on things in the hope that he could saw through them. Whoever had trapped them was thorough and had completely neglected to leave anything sharp or breakable in the room. Furthermore, Joe and Henry were getting more hungry and thirsty by the day and there was a real chance that they'd dehydrate or starve if no one came to save them. Suddenly, they heard a door open and the heavy footfalls of a man. Their door opened slightly and four dishes were shoved into the room. Two had water and two had some sort of gruel.
Joseph asked, "How do you expect us to eat this without our hands?"
Their captor said, "Woof woof." It was oddly familiar.
"Better than starving to death, I reckon," said Joseph and he eased himself over to a dish, Henry did the same, and they ate and drank. While they might not die of starvation or dehydration, Joseph was sure he'd surely die of shame if anyone caught them doing this.
Jeanne was still asleep when the door was thrown open. Jack was standing in the doorway, filled with a deep anger.
"Time to wake up, Miss Priss," said Jack, and he slammed the door. Jeanne got dressed, muttering all the while about how much she disliked this man and met with her friends in the kitchen. Jack was also there and as Francine went to the pantry to cook them breakfast, Jack blocked her path. "What do you think you're doing? We've got an errand to run."
"Not on an empty stomach," said Francine. "Especially now, Jeanne. She's with child. Remember?"
Jack's face reddened with rage and Jeanne was sure something was going to pop, but he regained what little composure he had. "I'll get you people breakfast in town. A real American breakfast. You're French or something, right? Spanish?"
"English," corrected Horace. "Rough and tumble Londoners. I grew up on the mean streets, so to say. Don’t cross me, boyo!"
"Let's just get going your highness," said Jack, and he left.
Francine mused, "Your highness? Is that the best he can do?"
They were on the wagon once again, pulled by the same old nag, and they rode to town. The land was actually quite beautiful in the morning, and Jeanne was rather happy she had come to this part of America. She wasn't happy that her suitor had either entirely misrepresented himself or completely vanished, but she would solve that problem later. They rode right to the telegraph office and Jack led the trio into the office.
"Get to it," he said. "'Cause I'm so excited, see?"
"I bet you are," muttered Horace, and he went to the desk and said, "I need to send one overseas telegraph, name of Thackery in London. He'll be paying the charges, just tell him it's from Horace Johnson."
"Very good," said the man. "What do you need to say?"
"Just tell him we're in California safely and we need to request some funds for the nuptials," said Horace, and Francine elbowed him. He looked at her, confused and then realized what needed to be done. "Also, let him know that the lion's den..."
"...is filled..." continued Francine.
"...with Daniels," ended Jeanne. It was a bunch of nonsense, but Jack had been promised a code and a code had been produced.
Jack asked, "We all set, then?"
"Indeed," said Horace.
"Get back on the wagon," said Jack.
"I thought you said we were having breakfast," complained Horace.
"It's somewhere else," said Jack.
The three of them, rather reluctantly, got on the wagon. This time, instead of sticking to anything that looked like any sort of path, he drove right into the desert. He stopped and grabbed Jeanne and pushed her down onto the ground. When Francine jumped off the wagon to help her, Jack tripped her and she landed flat on her
Before Horace could do anything, Jack hopped back into the wagon and punched him out. Seconds later, he was riding away, leaving Jeanne and Francine to die in the desert.
Joseph was quickly losing hope. He was still bound and the food and drink were gone. Henry had gone silent and spent most of his time lying in a corner and softly sobbing. Occasionally, he would ask about his horse, but Joseph had no answers for him. When he heard the door open, he started yelling, but it was to no avail. Their captor was completely ignoring him and when the door opened a man was shoved inside, his hands and feet similarly bound.
"I hate America," he said.
"You're British," said Joseph. "You wouldn't happen to be with Jeanne Harrow, would you?"
"It depends on who's asking," said the man warily.
"My name is Joseph Clauson and I'm a prisoner."
"That makes sense," said the man. "The other Joseph Clauson wanted to be called Jack."
"Jack,” spat Henry from he corner. He rolled over a little. "How's my horse? How is Matilda?"
The man stared blankly at Henry and then to Joseph. Joseph got his meaning. "Matilda is the horse. An old nag, still healthy enough but not as healthy as Henry would like. You're Horace, aren't you? The man who sent the telegraphs?"
"I am," said Horace. "We need to get out of here. He left my wife and Jeanne out in the desert to die."
"He left Jeanne?" Joseph was furious. "He left a pregnant woman in the desert to die?"
"And my wife," added Horace.
"Jack will answer for all of this," said Joseph.
"He will," said Horace. "Do you have any ideas? Oh, by the way? Your horse is being mistreated."
"I hated Jack before, but now I hate him even more," said Henry and despite the sentiment, Joseph was glad to see him being fairly functional and not despairing.
"We'll see justice done," said Joseph. "First thing we need to do is figure out how to get out of here and then we can find a way to run him out of town or arrest him."
"Good," said Horace. "I just met the guy and I'd rather just meet him once to tell him to shove off. Let's start planning."
Jeanne was absolutely furious, at both Jack and herself. She had known the man was dangerous, why did she let him drive her into the desert? This had all been a presumably well-laid plan that involved getting Thackery's money and then ditching the evidence. The only real boon they currently had was that they weren't dead. Francine was bleeding from her nose but seemed otherwise undamaged and Jeanne had fallen in such a way that kept her child safe.
She was lying on the ground and she rolled over a little and saw two sets of wheel-tracks going through the desert, with hoof-prints between them. Jack wasn't nearly as smart as he thought he was. Jeanne stood up, helped Francine stand up, and then Francine started prodding Jeanne's stomach.
"I think your child is all right," said Francine, slightly nasally. She poked her own nose and sighed. "Not broken. Good, good. What are we going to do? Should we go and find someone to help us?"
"Bugger that," swore Jeanne. "There's no way I'm letting that man make a fool out of me and then letting someone else take care of it for me. He's one man. We can deal with him and his machinations."
"Yes! Very true," said Francine. "Do you think Horace is all right?"
"I'm sure Horace is fine," said Jeanne, though she secretly thought that Jack might have done something violent to him. "We'll find him at the end of these tracks."
Francine asked again, "Are you sure you want to do this, in your state?"
"I told you, that's not happening," said Jeanne. "Better that the child learns now that his mother doesn't mess about with people like Jack. He'll never see us coming, hopefully. Come on, then, let's save your husband. Mine, too, most likely."
The pair started following the tracks.
Joseph had devised a cunning plan with Horace and Henry, one that would have been impossible with two people. They were going to lure Jack into the cell and then Henry would trip him while Horace and Joseph tackled him. From there, they'd lock the cell and make their escape. It was a perfect plan, though it was one that relied on Jack feeding them before they got too weak. This was a big variable and Joseph wasn't sure it would play out exactly as they wanted.
"I'm worried about my wife," said Horace.
"I'm worried about my horse," said Henry.
"I'm worried about Jeanne," said Joseph. "That's why we have to get out of here, so we can save them all and make sure Jack goes to jail for what he's done. To think I spent all those years trusting him. Did you know I was thinking of promoting him? He probably would have stabbed me in the back as soon as he was able, maybe literally!"
"I think I hear someone coming," said Horace with a whisper. The three men were silent, but the footsteps went by the cell without stopping. Whoever was out there had no interest in them. It was almost disheartening.
Joseph groaned, "What could he want with us?"
"Probably all the money you keep getting sent," said Henry. "I know if I was a bad man I would have kept a lot of it. I'm not, though, -- I'm a good man."
"Heh, I was supposed to act like a thug to get in Jack's good graces," said Horace. "Fat lot of good that did. I wish Mister Harrow were here. He'd know what to do."
"Oh. Jeanne's husband," said Joseph, feeling as if he got smacked. "What was he like?"
"He was a good man, too," said Horace. "He saved my life, you know. Kept me from drowning."
"I can't measure up to that," said Joseph. "I have my own ranch but I've never done anything that heroic."
"Now's your chance, Mister Clauson," said Henry. "You can help get us free and then go show that Jack who's boss!"
"You're right," said Joseph, feeling determined. "You're absolutely right! We'll get out of here and get Jack to prison and find Jeanne and Horace's wife, too!"
"Francine," supplied Horace.
Joseph repeated, "Francine! All we have to do is wait for him to feed us, because I don't think he'd care too much if one of us faked being sick. One of you is welcome to try, though."
"I've got it," said Horace and he began to wail about how he felt as if his stomach was attempting to escape through his mouth and his brain attempting to leak out of his ears. Despite Joseph's assumptions, Jack did care.
"Shut up in there," he shouted and Horace did so dejectedly.
"It was worth a shot," said Henry.
"Thank you," sad Horace. "What do we do now?"
"I guess all we can really do is wait," said Joseph.
Jeanne and Francine had been following the tracks for the better part of the day and they were starting to give up hope when they saw the wagon sitting in front of a walled-in cave. The old horse was still hitched to it, looking terrible and Jeanne added it to the list of evil things that this Jack had done. There was no way he wasn't going to pay for what he did.
The only problem was that Jack, quite obviously, physically outmatched them. They needed to rely on their brains in order to get Jack out of there and to somewhere justice could be done. Jeanne tried to recall something that could help. Before she had become Jeanne Harrow, she had been Jeanne Dockens, an actress for a moderately successful theater troupe.
While she had mostly left that life behind, the lessons learned from weeks on the road with a minimum of supplies and a need for the maximum of theatrics came back to her. She looked at the sand and thought that, perhaps, she could do something with it. She just needed some sort of moisture and Francine's nose had stopped bleeding hours ago.
Jeanne asked her, "You don't have any water, by any chance?"
"I don't," said Francine. "Though I recall that a penny dreadful said that there was water in desert plants."
"All right. That might work," said Jeanne and she found a cactus and broke it open. It juices fell on the ground and Jeanne mixed the juice with the sand. "We used to do this in my theater troop. A bit of water and dirt would make a paste that could pass for blood, at least to the uneducated."
"I never knew you were in the theater," said Francine.
"I've tried to put that life behind me," replied Jeanne. "It taught me to be a lot of things I didn't want to be and I refuse to be that kind of person anymore."
"You don't seem to be too bad," said Francine diplomatically.
"Do you remember me when we left? I was an absolute pill," said Jeanne bitterly. "I was a terrible person, cowardly and rude. That's what being the theater taught me, or at least, that's what I took away from it. I should have been reminded that I can be whatever I want to be and I have the wits to do it.
“I'm going to take this and smear it all over my face and clothes. It's not a lot but I don't need a lot. What you're going to do is run up to that door and pound on it madly. When Jack answers, tell him that a ghoul is chasing you. Once he's out and trying to find out what's going on, I'll wander over while moaning. I need you to sneak in there and find a weapon."
"That's complicated," said Francine. "Isn't there an easier way to do it?"
Jeanne sighed. "I suppose we could just lure him outside and lock him out of his little hut, but I made all this mud."
"You can still use the mud," urged Francine. "In fact, why don't you just toss it in his face? Blind 'em while I sneak around!"
"All right, that could work," said Jeanne. "Yes. I'll act as if I've been wounded and this is my life-blood seeping from a deadly wound."
"If that's what you want to do," said Francine. "I'm just going to go knock on the door, then."
"After you knock, run," said Jeanne. "I doubt he'll be very happy about this."
Joseph and the others were in their cell and trying to formulate a plan when they heard a faint knocking. Joseph went over to the door and looked out of the little window. Jack looked over at the door, dumbfounded and he walked over to a wall and grabbed a club. Joseph was glad he hadn't gone for the gun that was also over there, but as he thought this Jack grabbed the gun as well. Whoever was out there was about to be hurt and Joseph refused to allow that to happen.