Mail Order Wife, page 1
Mail Order Wife
Christian Mail Order Brides Collection
Published by Global Grafx Press, LLC. © 2014
All Biblical quotations used in this manuscript are taken from the King James Bible or the English Standard Version of the Bible.
Copyright © 2014 by Montana West
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including scanning, photocopying, or otherwise without prior written permission of the copyright holder, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
MAIL ORDER GOLD RUSH
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
END OF WINTER, 1874
Elizabeth wished someone would wake her up from this horrible dream. Her world had come crashing down around her, and she did not know what to do or how to face the future. Though grief washed through her, clouding her chubby, round face, she could not bring herself to cry. Her father was dead, and now Gerald Hawkins, his attorney for longer than Elizabeth had been alive, sat across from her in his lavish office, rubbing his palms on the thighs of his trousers with an expression that boded more bad news.
Elizabeth Lowell was nineteen years old, but anyone looking at her at the moment would have thought she was a decade older: her face was so lined with age, pain and anxiety. She perched on the edge of the seat and blinked owlishly from behind her large glasses.
Gerald said, “Miss Lowell. Miss Elizabeth. I am so sorry for your loss.”
“Is that why you called me here? You conveyed your condolences at the funeral.”
“Yes. I did.”
Gerald had been Elizabeth’s father Benjamin’s attorney for over thirty years, and having to give the deceased man’s daughter more bad news saddened him deeply. Benjamin had been a very astute and wealthy businessman, with a knack for smelling new opportunities and grabbing at them. In a short span of time, the man had become very rich. But all that had changed when his wife died ten years ago. It was as though the light had been snuffed out of him. He had lost his touch and died with only debts to his name. Not that his two daughters knew the latter. Not yet.
“Is this about who will be running my father’s factory? Because I cannot be of much service in that. Surely my father notated such things in his will?”
Elizabeth stared at him. A light sheen of sweat shone on her forehead, and she pulled a handkerchief from her bag, twisting it between her hands. “Mr. Hawkins. You’d best tell me.”
“If your father’s death hadn’t been so sudden, I’m certain he would have done more to mitigate things. To prepare you.” Mr. Lowell took a deep breath. “As it is, I’ve done everything I can in order to give you and your sister time for your grief.”
“It’s only been two weeks.”
“But you will have to vacate your home, and there will be an auction for your father’s things—”
“What are you saying?”
“Your father died a pauper, Elizabeth. You and your sister...he left nothing.”
“Nothing—” Elizabeth took a sharp breath. “Nothing! But what are we to do?”
The elderly man shook his head sadly. “I am sorry that in the last ten years your father made unwise business decisions and choices, and he got himself into very deep debt. I advised him to sell off a number of the assets that he had in order to settle some of the debts, and in that way he could have been able to at least have something left over to start again but,” Gerald twisted his lips, “you know just how stubborn your father could be.”
Elizabeth nodded. She knew her father too well. “Then what will happen to us?”
“Do you perhaps have relatives who might take you in, at least for a short while?” But even as Gerald asked, he knew this was a futile suggestion. In all the years that he had been Benjamin Lowell’s attorney, the man had not mentioned any relatives from his side or his wife’s side. His will had bequeathed everything to his two daughters, a will that, right now, was not even worth the paper it was written on.
“Papa was an only child, and Mama,” Elizabeth sighed. She shook her head sadly. “Mama as you know was from England, and when she and Papa got married her English family disowned her, for at the time she was betrothed to a lord, or something like that. Her family never forgave her for slighting them by marrying a commoner.”
“I am sorry, Miss Elizabeth.” Gerald truly was sorry, especially in the light of the other news that he was about to relay to the young woman.
“Maybe if we earn enough from the sale of his possessions, we can perhaps keep the house? Rent out some rooms so that we can have an income, and then Virginia and I can stay in the servant’s section because, of course, we have decided to let the servants go. There is not much work to be done now that Papa is gone. No more entertaining and all.” She nodded, forcing a smile. “We can run a boarding house,” she said with some hope, but this was soon dashed when she looked at the lawyer’s face.
“The house must be sold. It is the only asset that your father had not mortgaged and the bank is demanding a very hefty sum, and all the other assets that he owned will not cover it. That, together with paying off the servants, will leave you and your sister with a little less than fifty dollars.”
“I am sorry child, more sorry than you will ever know. Mrs. Hawkins and I can take you in for a while, until you are grounded again,” he offered, but Elizabeth shook her head.
“We will manage. Somehow.” Elizabeth stood up and drew her shawl closer, the cold chilling her very bones. It was more than the cold that chilled her. It was a heart that was filled with so much dread and despair that she shuddered.
“Miss Elizabeth, the bank’s representative will be by the house later today to do an inventory of all the items in the house. And you will have to leave the house after that, because I will be handing the keys over to him.”
Elizabeth sat down again. “Are we to lose everything then?”
“I am sorry, child.” Gerald took out his handkerchief from his coat pocket and wiped his face. It was a chilly day but he was sweating. “I wish there was something I could do, but this is beyond my control.”
Elizabeth stepped into the cold Boston streets. Her five-foot, three-inch frame stooped so much beneath the weight of her grief and this terrible news that she looked like an old woman. It was drizzling, but she did not feel it as started for home. The house! It was not her house anymore. And worse, she had to tell her sister the news. Elizabeth had not wanted Virginia to accompany her to the attorney’s office because her sister was more interested in her personal appearance than business. And now Elizabeth was glad her sister had not come. Virginia had a flair for the dramatic, and in her emotional state right now the last thing Elizabeth would have wanted was to cope with her swooning sister.
The sounds that usually cheered Elizabeth now sounded like death knells to her young ears. The cries of the newspaper boys made Elizabeth hurry. Obviously the state of her father’s misfortunes would be splashed all over the papers and she needed to get away from the house and hide before the neighbo
Another reason for her hurry was so that she could get some things out of the house before the bank representative swooped in and grabbed everything.
When Elizabeth got home she stopped for a moment outside the gate and looked at what had been her home for all her life. She seemed oblivious to the fact that she was now drenched, and the water ran in rivulets down the sides of her head, making her hair even more curly than it usually was. She had been born in this house, as had her sister. She had thought it was a happy house, but now it looked like a doomed house. Her mother had died in this house, her father had died in this house, and now everything they owned was being taken away, leaving them with nothing.
“It must be a cursed house,” she thought as she opened the gate slowly and walked up the short pathway, and climbed the three steps wearily. She sat for a moment on the porch seat and looked around, noticing the wilting flowers in the garden that had been her mother’s joy and pride and which Elizabeth had tended to lovingly in memory of her dear mother. Since her father’s death she had not been near the garden and now never would be.
“Oh, Mama,” she whispered, then blinked rapidly so that she would not cry. It would not do to cry at this moment. She still had to tell Virginia the dreadful news.
And true to form Virginia swooned, and Elizabeth rushed to her room to get some smelling salts which soon revived the fifteen-year-old girl.
“What are we going to do? We are ruined and will be the laughing stock of all Boston. Oh, I cannot bear it, I cannot bear this,” her normally strong voice rose shrilly, and Elizabeth longed to slap her face.
“Pull yourself together. I suggest that you go to you room and grab everything that you want to take out of this house before those vultures come and take everything away.” Elizabeth walked to the door. “Mr. Hawkins told me the bank representative will be coming this afternoon, and we have to leave the house immediately after the inventory is done. No doubt they do not want us to ‘steal’ anything that now belongs to them.”
“I won’t leave. Where will we go? What will we do?”
“Virginia, if you do not get off that couch and do as I have told you, I will come over there and slap you silly.”
“You are just mean,” Virginia started crying, and Elizabeth sighed. She walked back and sat down next to her sister.
“I am sorry, Ginnie. I wish all this was not happening. But it has happened, and we have to make the most of things, and salvage whatever is left of our lives. We will be alright, you will see.” She pulled her sister close and hugged her. Virginia clutched on to her sister as though she was her lifeline. She was terrified.
“We will be alright, little girl,” Elizabeth murmured soothingly. “You will see.”
But later that afternoon when Mr. Hawkins and the bank’s representative, who had introduced himself as Richard Slip, had gone through every one of the rooms in the house and locked each door after doing the inventory, Elizabeth felt her strength waning. It had humiliated her to walk through the house that she had loved, pointing out all the items that were in each room. She remembered all the parties they had held when her mother was alive, which had become fewer after her death. The holidays and celebrations and her coming-out party, which had been the talk of the town for many days.
Elizabeth was more uncomfortable at the leering way in which Mr. Slip was looking at her. His beady eyes had seemed to undress her, never mind that she was very decently dressed and had a thick shawl around her shoulders. Once or twice, when Mr. Hawkins had not been looking, he had patted her bottom and she had hissed in disgust, and thereafter made it a point to walk as far away from him as she possibly could.
Virginia was seated on the porch, refusing to enter the house. She wept silently, clutching her small purse, in which was a paper that she held onto dearly. She had not even picked one dress or pair of shoes from her bedroom, forcing Elizabeth to hurriedly pack both of their clothes into her portmanteau which she had then dragged out of the house, and which was now lying in a rooming house just down the street from their house. From time to time the younger girl slipped her hand into the purse and took the paper out and looked at it, bringing on a fresh outpouring of tears.
It was the program for her coming-out dinner, scheduled to be held in two weeks’ time but which had been cancelled when her father died. She had been looking forward to being presented and hopefully would have found herself a suitable husband. Now that would never happen. No one in their circles would want to be associated with them now that they were poor and being turned out of their house.
“Is that all there is to see?” Mr. Slip asked when the trio once again assembled in the sitting room.
“Yes, sir,” Elizabeth said quietly, wishing this would all end and she could leave the presence of this man who made her skin crawl.
“And the servants’ quarters? Is there nothing of value there?”
“I am afraid not, sir,” she shook her head.
“I want to see the rooms anyway.”
Elizabeth looked at Mr. Hawkins who nodded silently, and she led the way out of the sitting room and into the corridor to the kitchen. Mr. Slip looked around and noted all the items in the kitchen, checked all the cabinets and wrote down in the notebook he carried, and then motioned for her to lead the way once again. As Elizabeth had said there was nothing of much value in the four servants’ rooms, save for the metal beds and cabinets in each room.
When the house was secured and the keys handed over to Mr. Slip, Mr. Hawkins took his leave because he had to go home.
Mr. Slip smiled lecherously at Elizabeth. “What a fine young woman you are!” He reached out a hand and pinched her cheek, and she hissed at him.
“You have what you need, leave me alone.”
“I could make you a very happy, girl.” He licked his lips, and reminded Elizabeth of a fat, ugly toad, and she almost giggled. “I can put you and your sister up in very fine quarters, and take good care of you always.”
“I would rather starve on the streets of Boston than be wed to a toad like you.”
Richard laughed loudly. “Who said anything about marriage? No, woman. I want you to be my mistress.”
“In your nightmares,” she hissed and walked to her sister. “Virginia, let us go.”
“I don’t want to go,” Virginia whined, and Elizabeth felt all the patience run out of her.
“Get up this instant,” she barked and Virginia, who had never heard that tone in her sister’s voice, scrambled to her feet. Elizabeth pushed her down the steps.
“If you change your mind, which I know you soon will, seeing as you have never done an honest day’s work in your life, you know where to find me.”
Elizabeth’s response was to grab her sister’s hand and quickly walk away, trying to block out the man’s mocking laughter which followed her down the street.
~~~ *** ~~~
Elizabeth ran her hands lovingly over her violin. Her father had bought it for her when she turned seven, two years before her mother had died, and Regina Lowell, who had been a good violinist, had taught her daughter the basics of playing the instrument. After she died Benjamin had paid for an Italian immigrant to teach Elizabeth, and by the time the girl was thirteen she could play the violin very well. Whenever they had guests she entertained them, and everyone agreed that she would be a professional violinist one day.
Elizabeth had wanted to play in an orchestra from the time her father had taken her and Virginia to see ‘Swans on the Lake,’ a production by the Boston Orchestra. This was on her fourteenth birthday and she had dedicated her time to practicing seriously, dreaming of the day when she would walk on to a stage and be given a standing ovation for her expertise.
Now all of that was a distant dream. This violin, and her mother’s Bible and prayer book, were the only items that she had thought valuable enough to take from the house, apart from some clothes. This was her papa’s gift to her, and it was
She wished she could play and soothe her hurting heart but the rooming house had strict rules. No children, no animals, no instruments, no noise.
“It feels like a prison,” Virginia had said and broken down once again.
Indeed it felt like a prison, but Elizabeth was glad they had a roof over their heads. As much as Mrs. Little was strict, she was also very kind and looked after the girls. In the one week that they had been here she had ensured that the male boarders did not bother them at all. And she provided breakfast and dinner for the two girls and did not charge them anything extra. Elizabeth thanked her over and over again, but Mrs. Little always brushed her gratitude aside.
“It is the Christian thing to do, seeing as you have no home,” she would respond. But unknown to the two girls, Mr. Hawkins had promised to pay her a dollar each week to ensure that the girls had food and that they were well taken care of.
The fifty dollars that Mr. Hawkins had given them after the sale of their house was slowly dwindling as Virginia demanded for things and Elizabeth, filled with compassion for her sister, did not want her crying so much. She catered to her sister’s every whim.
The young lady stood up and put her violin back in its case. “One day soon,” she kissed the tips of her fingers and touched her violin. “One day, you and I will go places and be happy again.” She adjusted her glasses.
She was going to see Mr. Hawkins because he had promised to find her some work to do. He had suggested that she use her education to help transcribe letters and other important documents for people who could neither read nor write, and had told her that he would get her customers.
“Come in, Miss Elizabeth.” Gerald smiled fondly at the young lady. “Mrs. Hawkins sends you her love and says that you and Virginia should come to the house for tea on Sunday, after church.”
“Thank you Mr. Hawkins, we will be glad to come.”
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