Madeline: Bride of Nebraska (American Mail-Order Bride 37), page 1part #37 of American Mail-Order Bride Series
Madeline, Bride of Nebraska
By Mia Blackwood
Copyright 2015 Mia Blackwood
Kindle Edition, License Notes
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Madeline Nelson suddenly finds herself without a job when the textile factory she had worked in since her husband’s death burned to the ground. Without any prospects for a new job, she decides to become a mail order bride. Can she put her past behind her and find love out west? Or will her second marriage be as much of a disaster as her first?
Caleb Stark has spent the past fifteen years saving the family ranch from ruin and making it profitable once again. He never had the time nor inclination to look for a wife, but now that things were running smoothly and he had the house to himself, he was ready to settle down and start a family. Would the ghosts of his past prevent him from having the future he has longed for?
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Madeline chewed her lip nervously as she looked down at the newspaper in her hand for what had to be the hundredth time in the past two weeks. It was a copy of the Grooms’ Gazette, a mail order bride newspaper that was filled with men, mostly out west, who were looking for a bride.
She could not believe that she was contemplating marriage again. Her first marriage had been less than happy, to say the least. When her husband died five years ago, she swore that she would never be dependent on a man again for anything. She had found herself a job at the Brown Textile Mill and never looked back.
However, as fate would have it, a fire suddenly broke out at the mill earlier that month and left a hundred women out of a job, herself included. Her manager, Miss Roberta McDaniel, managed to get all of the employees out of the building safely before it burned to the ground. At first Madeline had worried that she and the other ladies would have to find temporary work until the mill could be rebuilt, but the mill’s owner had quickly decided that he would not rebuild at all.
At least half of the women who had worked at the mill were single and most were barely scraping by, living in crowded boarding houses and apartment buildings. Roberta, God bless her, went above and beyond the call of duty and found a way to help all the unmarried employees of the mill. She held a meeting in a park for all the displaced and unmarried workers and had brought copies of the Grooms’ Gazette with her. She assured everyone that the men in the gazette had all been investigated and by all accounts were good men.
While Madeline was not at all certain about how good any man could be, she understood that Roberta was doing her best to look out for everyone. She had casually looked at the gazette at the time, but had wanted to search for a new position elsewhere and retain the freedom she had found with her husband’s passing. She looked for nearly two weeks, but had found nothing.
Meanwhile, many of the other women Madeline had worked with had already decided to start a new life as a mail order bride. She knew she needed to make a decision soon. She was already dipping into her nest egg, which she had been building in hopes of buying a home of her own one day. She would need to make certain to have enough left to buy herself a train ticket in case her new marriage did not work out. Not to mention that if she didn’t hurry, all the men in the gazette would be taken and she would be back to square one.
Kitty, one of her roommates, had already contacted one of the men in the gazette and would soon be on her way to Hawaii, of all places. Madeline had stopped at the library when she heard that to look at a map and see where her friend was headed. She did not envy Kitty for the long journey she was about to take.
Lessie and Josie, her other two roommates who happened to be identical twins, had also chosen their husbands and would be heading out west soon. If Madeline didn’t find a position or a husband of her own soon, she would have to pay for the room on her own with what little savings she had left.
Many of the ladies from the mill kept in touch with one another and updated each other on their individual situations. As Madeline got wind of which men were already chosen by her former co-workers, she had crossed their names out in the gazette. She kept looking at the remaining names, hoping and praying one would jump out at her and say ‘this is the one,’ but it never happened.
Some of the potential grooms had mentioned that they wanted a younger wife or one who had never been married, so Madeline had crossed those names out along with the men who had already been chosen. As a twenty-nine year old widow, she could hardly be considered young any longer and was certainly not a naïve girl who was unfamiliar with the relations between a man and a woman.
Not having any idea of where she might like to live, she decided to close her eyes and blindly place her finger down on the paper to make her choices. She wasn’t in touch with all of her former co-workers, so she figured that she had better have at least three names chosen when she went to see Miss Elizabeth Miller, the matchmaker in Beckham, Massachusetts who had published the paper. She circled the available names closest to her finger and numbered them as she went, working quickly and efficiently.
Once she was finished, Madeline sat back, glanced at the names and states she had chosen, and then quickly stood up. She methodically put on her bonnet and shawl, folded the newspaper, put it in her reticule, and walked out the door. While she had always loved an adventure, she wanted to get things started before she talked herself out of this once again.
Chimney Rock, Nebraska
Caleb strolled into Pearson’s Mercantile for what had become his usual weekly visit. Before he had sent off his notice for a mail order bride from out east, he usually only came into town once a month at most for supplies. Since then, though, he had been making a weekly trip, anxious to see if he had received a reply. So far he had been met with nothing but disappointment.
Today, however, was different. The moment he strolled in, Mr. Pearson looked up from behind the counter and waved Caleb over with a smile on his face.
“Stark!” Mr. Pearson called out in his booming voice. He always called the men in town by their last names. Caleb once asked him why, many years before. Mr. Pearson had looked at him as if startled by the question, blinked a few times, and admitted that he had no idea why. It was just something he had always done.
Excitement rippled through Caleb’s veins. The only time Mr. Pearson called out like that was when someone received a letter or package in the mail. It took every bit of self-control Caleb could muster to keep strolling instead of breaking into a run. He had told no one about his quest for a bride and didn’t plan on doing so until he knew it was going to happen.
He waved back at the shop owner and slowly walked over without breaking his stride. “Got something for me today, Mr. Pearson?” he asked casually. At least, he hoped it sounded casual.
“I do, at that. You got a letter from someone i
Caleb merely smiled, casually took the letter, and stuffed it in his shirt breast pocket. “Thank you,” he replied as he ignored the man’s attempt to gain more information. He could feel all eyes on him from the other customers in the store. It wasn’t every day that Caleb Stark got mail, and in a small town like Chimney Rock everyone wanted to know everyone else’s business.
“You got anything new in since last week?” Caleb asked in an attempt to change the subject. The sooner he got home to read his letter, the better he would feel, yet he didn’t want to appear too eager to leave and raise suspicions even more.
Mr. Pearson pursed his lips and looked at Caleb, as though trying to figure out what was going on with him. “Nope,” he finally said, convinced he would not get more information out of him at this point.
Caleb nodded, thanked the man for his time, and slowly strolled back outside. He breathed a sigh of relief once he felt everyone’s attention return to what they had been doing before he had walked in to the mercantile. He hated being the center of attention.
He paused a moment before unhitching his horse and stared at the bench outside the mercantile. It was tempting to sit down and read it right away, but he knew that if he did, it would not be long before the townsfolk would be asking him what he was reading and they would want to know all the details. No, better to return home first and read it in private.
He unhitched his horse, deftly mounted him, and slowly headed for home. He waited until he was out of sight of the last house in town before breaking Shiloh into a full gallop.
Once he reached the ranch, Caleb quickly dismounted and handed the reins off to Silas, one of his ranch hands. Silas stared at Caleb in wonder as his boss hurried into the main house. Caleb rarely let any of his men touch Shiloh, so he knew something important was going on.
Caleb took off his hat and hung it on the corner of the chair as he sat at the kitchen table. He nervously pulled the unopened letter out of his shirt pocket. His hands began to shake as he opened the envelope and began to read the letter.
Dear Mr. Stark,
My name is Madeline Nelson, although my friends call me Maddy. I am twenty-nine years old and a widower with no children. I had a job at a textile mill until the mill burnt down, and now I find myself in need of a new situation.
I will admit to knowing next to nothing about animals, but I can cook and clean easily enough and I’m not afraid to work hard and learn to do whatever a rancher’s wife might need to do.
Please let me know your decision as soon as possible. If you send for me, I’ll be the tall one with brown hair and blue eyes waiting at the station for you.
Caleb reread the letter before setting it down on the table. He ran his hands through his hair and let out a shaky breath. He had been waiting for this moment for weeks and now that it was here, he felt a panic begin to rise within him.
He stared at the woman’s signature and said her name softly and slowly, letting the sound of it play on his lips. “Madeline Nelson. Madeline Stark. Maddy.” He took a deep breath as he let it sink in. “My wife.”
He did not know how long he sat there, staring at the letter as though it would tell him his next step. His mind flooded with all the things he needed to do to prepare for his bride. He needed to talk to the preacher. He needed to get her a train ticket. He needed to try to have the house presentable for her and have the pantry stocked.
His stomach growled at the thought of a good home-cooked meal. He had not eaten one of those since his ma had passed two years ago. He could make beans as well as the next man, but mostly he ate in the bunkhouse with the rest of his men. Somehow his stomach growling helped to calm the panic he felt rising in him and he suddenly knew what he needed to do first. He needed to answer her before he did anything else.
Caleb got up and walked over to his mother’s secretary desk in the parlor. He sat at the desk, pulled out some paper, a pen, and some ink, and got to work. He wrote slowly, in the hope that it would be legible enough for her to read.
When he finished, he reread the letter to make certain it sounded sincere and not forced. Then he addressed the envelope, folded the letter, and placed it inside. He sat and stared at the envelope for a moment, and let the gravity of what it meant sink in. Once he sent that letter and the train ticket, he would officially be engaged to be married, again. The thought both pleased and terrified him.
He had been engaged once, many years before, but the lady in question had decided to move back east and he had never heard from her again. Rumor was that she had run away with a handsome stranger. It had broken his heart at the time, but the ranch kept him busy.
Now that the big moment was here, he did not want to wait another minute. He picked up the letter, put it in his shirt pocket, and headed back to the barn to saddle up his horse. His next stop was the train station in Bayard. Once he had her ticket in hand, he could mail it, along with the letter and a little spending money for his bride to be so that she could purchase anything she might need on or for her journey. The sooner it got in the mail, the sooner she would be his.
Caleb got a few odd looks from some of his men as he went to saddle up Shiloh once again. He knew he would have to explain things to them at some point, but just now all he wanted to do was get the ball rolling.
Instead of taking the road through Chimney Rock to get to Bayard, he decided to ride around the town instead. The less the town knew, the happier Caleb would be. He did not want anyone to slow him down or worse, talk him out of sending off for a bride this way.
Caleb got to the train station in Bayard without incident. He tied Shiloh to the hitching post and walked with shaky legs into the depot. He stood just inside the door for a moment and looked around the room. He had never been inside the depot before, though he had ridden past it many a time.
He spied the ticket counter and walked up to the elderly man sitting behind it. The man was reading a newspaper and did not look up when Caleb approached. Caleb waited for a minute, then cleared his throat nervously.
At that, the man finally looked up from his paper. “Can I help you, sonny?”
Caleb smiled. At thirty-two years of age, it had been some time since anyone had called him sonny. “I need to get a ticket.”
“’Course you do. This is the ticket counter, ain’t it? Where to?” the man replied belligerently.
“From Lawrence, Massachusetts to here.”
The man pursed his lips and stared at Caleb as though he were an idiot. “You mean from here to Lawrence, don’t you?”
Caleb wet his lips nervously. “No, I meant what I said. From Lawrence, Massachusetts to Bayard, Nebraska.”
The man slammed his paper to the counter in frustration. “And just how are you getting to Lawrence so you can use this ticket to get back here, then?”
“I’m not!” Caleb rolled his eyes. “I’m sending the ticket to someone in Massachusetts. She’ll be taking the train from Lawrence and I’ll pick her up here.”
“Hrmph! Why didn’t you just say that in the first place?” the old man grumbled.
This was harder than Caleb had thought it would be. “Can I please get the ticket?”
The man started bumbling about behind the counter. “When?”
“Now,” Caleb muttered in frustration.
“Sonny, I meant when do you want the ticket for? A week from now? Two weeks?” The man cocked his head at him. “Did you never get no schoolin’, boy?”
Caleb held his breath and counted to ten. He had never wanted to grab someone and shout in their face before, but this old man was sorely trying his patience. “How long will it take the mail to deliver the ticket to the lady in question?”
“Let’s see, here,” the man muttered as he opened up a book and began looking through it. “P
Caleb gave it some thought. It was the end of September now. If he gave his letter a week to get to Madeline, and then gave her a few days to prepare for her trip, the middle of October should work. “How about October fourteenth?”
The man nodded and got busy getting the tickets ready. “That’s more like it,” he muttered as he went about his business.
Caleb was never happier to leave a place in his life. He took the tickets down the street to the mercantile and placed them in the envelope along with the letter and the money. The man behind the counter sealed the envelope and put it in the mail sack. Caleb thanked him and walked back to his horse.
On his ride home, Caleb decided he would stop off at the preacher’s house in Chimney Rock and speak to him about having a wedding ceremony once his bride arrived. It would not be right to bring her home with him until they were married. His heart beat faster at the thought of having a wife to come home to every day and he spurred his horse into a full gallop, as though reaching town a few minutes sooner would bring Madeline home to him faster.
It was the first week in October when Madeline finally received her reply letter from her fiancé. Elizabeth Miller had told her that it would take at least two weeks to receive a reply from Nebraska and that she would forward the letter to Madeline as soon as it had arrived. That would save Madeline both the time and the money for the train ride into Beckham just to see if she had received a reply, and would only add another day or so to the letter’s journey.
Although Madeline had hoped she would hear from her potential fiancé quickly, she was rather surprised to receive the letter on only her second trip into the post office. She had waited a full two weeks before bothering to start what would become her daily stop to see if she had received a letter, and she had expected to wait at least another week or more for her reply.