Mail Order Wife, page 10
He jumped onto his horse and urged Black Thunder home. He was going to finally make things right with Elizabeth, his wife, tonight. He opened the stable door and urged Black Thunder in, not going in to check if all was alright. Black Thunder would find his own way to his stall. There were more important things for him to do right now.
He strode purposefully towards Amelia’s old room and opened the door. The moonlight lit the room and as his eyes adjusted themselves, he frowned. Elizabeth’s bed was empty. In fact it showed no signs of having been slept in. He quickly went to the porch where he had left her. It was empty, too. Then something struck him and he went to the room that Virginia shared with Abigail. Her bed was empty too.
William’s heart constricted in fear. “Oh Lord, what have I done?” He secured the front and back doors and rushed outside to the stables, and his fear deepened. Primrose and Spitfire were missing, which meant that the two girls had left.
William felt like his heart was being ripped out of his chest. He shook his head. It was all his fault. He had driven away the one woman who had brought his household, his children and now, he finally admitted, his own life into order. She was probably on her way back to Boston because she believed he did not love her.
He had kissed her and left her high and dry on the porch, and ridden away with no explanation. William sighed. What a selfish person he had been. Elizabeth had left her life behind her and come to join him on the ranch, and over the weeks she had showed him what a wonderful woman she was. And he knew that she loved him. Otherwise, she would not have responded to his kiss in the way that she had. She was a rare woman, a precious woman, and he had lost her because of being very stubborn. She was valuable, but he had treated her like she was of no importance to him. That must have hurt her so badly, and he felt deep pain in his heart. He loved Elizabeth. He could finally admit that. He was in love with her.
Then his jaws tightened. He shook his head once again. He was not going to lose Elizabeth, not without a fight. With that resolve, he ran back into the house and got his rusty rifle and jumped onto Black Thunder. They could not have gone very far because he knew Elizabeth was still not yet fully confident of riding, and especially not in the dark. But they had about a two hour head start on him. He smiled. No problem there. Black Thunder was a powerful horse and faster than both Primrose and Spitfire, and he would soon catch up with the ladies.
“Lord,” he prayed, for the first time in a long time. “Please show me the way.”
Jeffrey Douglas spat on the ground before him. He was addicted to chewing tobacco, which had blackened his teeth over the years. He was six-feet tall, and well-muscled due to the long hours that he spent on his horse and rounding up the livestock that he and his boys stole from farmers around Missoula County. They would then drive the animals a long way to sell them to unsuspecting buyers who never realized that they were buying stolen goods.
He looked around at his three men and grinned. This was his pride and joy: his gang. And they were good. He was in a good mood because they had hit a farm earlier in the evening and made off with twenty head of cattle. Good, fat, healthy cows that would fetch him a good price with his buyers. As always, he had first ensured that none of the cattle had any branding marks on them.
The ‘Hellgate Gang.’ That was how people referred to them, though no one knew who they were. And he was mighty proud of the name and what he had achieved so far. His papa would be mighty proud of him, too. After all, it was the old coot who had initiated him into being a cattle rustler. But the old man had slowed down with age, and two years ago had been gunned down by the sheriff, in an operation that had gone bad. Initially, the gang had consisted of ten men but after that unsuccessful raid, where five of the men had been gunned down, including his father, Jeffrey had the option of recruiting more bandits to join him, but he realized that keeping a large group of cutthroats contented was not easy.
Because the men were always on the run from the law, tempers were always high and there was a lot of tension. Fights broke out easily among them and sometimes they even fought over the spoils of their raids.
Jeffrey spat again. No, he had done the right thing and only kept three men with him. These three he could control because he easily intimidated them. They were afraid of him, and Jeffrey had learned that the best way to keep his men in line was to instill deep fear in them, so that none would ever double-cross him.
“I can hit a can at fifteen paces, with one eye closed,” he often bragged to his men. “So don’t none of you get it into your heads to double-cross me.”
The men were wary of him because he had an easy right hand that could shoot out unawares and do a lot of damage to the recipient of the blow. They had seen Jeffrey beat a man to a pulp with his bare hands, and they tended not to argue with him when he was in a foul mood.
He was a fighter, and through his thirty-nine years he felt that he had always been fighting. Born of a bandit and a whore, during the first years of his life he had lived with his mother in the brothel where she operated from, in Helena. She had been a pretty but wasted woman who had died of a wasting disease when he was fifteen. But before she died she had told him about his father. Immediately after the burial he had gone in search of his father.
At first Bud Douglas had resented his son’s presence, thinking the boy was just there to sponge off of him. Bud had been a selfish and cruel man, and his own gang were restless and discontented, because even after successful raids he gave them only a small share of the booty. When Jeffrey had found his father, he had proved himself loyal by fighting off four gang members who had risen in mutiny against Bud. The result was that he got his two front teeth knocked out, but he had killed two of the men with his bare hands. The other two were shot by his father, and the four bodies dumped in an abandoned mine.
“The cattle are secured,” Dusty informed him.
“Good. Now we can go and have us some fun, get us some wenches to warm our beds,” he grinned at his gang members, and they cheered. The gang consisted of himself, Dusty, who was his right hand man and with whom many wars had been fought. Like Jeffrey, Dusty was thirty-nine years old, blond with blue eyes, six feet tall and very handsome. He usually was the decoy. Dusty would ride up to a farm or ranch and use his good looks to charm and seduce the maids, and once in a while the daughters or wives, of the farmers. From them he would gather secrets on how the farm was run, the security in place and, once he got this information he would pass it on to the gang, and they would then strategize and make a hit, often very successfully.
Then there was Lovejoy, a thirty-five year old man who had come to Montana during the gold rush. No one knew why he called himself Lovejoy, and he never volunteered the information. He was originally from Ohio and had lost all his savings and earnings to unscrupulous traders, and had turned to petty theft to survive. That was until he met Jeffrey, who recruited him into the gang.
Finally there was Roy, a southerner who rarely spoke. He was thirty years old and, like Lovejoy, had been a prospective miner. He had never had any luck finding anything of worth, and so had decided that he could help himself to other people’s good fortune. He had been with Bud Douglas’ gang, and when things had gone bad he had fled with Jeffrey, Lovejoy and Dusty, and they had become a gang.
Their hiding place was a large abandoned silver mine, and the overgrowth hid the entrance from view. There was a second mine close by which they used as a storage space for the animals they stole during their raids, until they could get the animals out to prospective buyers. Like the first, this one was also hidden from view by large bushes.
“Let’s go boys, can’t keep the ladies waiting,” Jeffrey spat once more and jumped onto his horse.
~~~ *** ~~~
“Father, please give me strength.” Elizabeth slowly got off Primrose and patted her down. She had followed Virginia into Hellgate. She had lost sight of her someti
“Lord, please show me what to do. Please help me,” she prayed. Once she was sure the two horses were alright she surreptitiously made her way to the front side of the tavern. She heard Virginia singing and she pushed open the tavern door. The patrons were all captivated by Virginia’s voice, and no one noticed the figure that slipped into the tavern.
Elizabeth was furious. There was her sister, dressed in a very tight dress and dancing seductively. She was wriggling her bottom and giggling as she sang, with men urging her on. Without giving a thought to her safety Elizabeth marched to the stage and grabbed Virginia by her arm.
“Let go of me,” Virginia tried to shake off Elizabeth’s hand, unsuccessfully. The Elizabeth in Boston would have let go because her hands were feeble then. Not this one. Working on the ranch had toughened her hands and arms and she held on.
“You are coming with me this instant, and will stop parading yourself like some loose, immoral woman.”
“Leave me alone,” Virginia cried, but that made Elizabeth all the more determined. She ignored all the heckling. Her one thought was to get her sister out of there. She dragged Virginia out. “Why are you always spoiling things for me,” Virginia cried out. “I never asked to be brought to this forsaken place. You brought me here against my will, and now I want to live my own life.”
“Life? Is this what you call life? Singing like a tramp in a common tavern?” She dragged her to the back of the tavern, to where the horses were waiting. “I promised Mama that I would look after you, and I have tried, Virginia. I took you out of Boston precisely because of this kind of thing.” Virginia gave her sister a stricken look. “Yes, Ginnie, I followed you to the hell hole that you used to sneak to, and I saw you. And I prayed, and God struck you with an illness, and that is why I brought you here: to get you away from that evil life. Do you want to end up like a whore, when there is so much going for you? You have a good home and enough to eat. William may not be rich, but he provides for us very well, and he has a good reputation and would eventually find you a good husband. Do you think any good man will want you if they hear that you are singing in taverns, and allowing other men to paw you?” She glared at her sister, who had the grace to feel ashamed. “Is this the kind of life that you want for yourself? If it is, tell me, here and now, and I will let you go back and waste your life. And be sure that your sins will catch up with you, and because you have the mark of God upon your life, things will end very badly for you.”
Virginia started crying. “I am sorry.”
“That is not good enough. There is no use of saying you are sorry when you intend to go back to that house of sin and waste your life. If you are not coming with me, Virginia, you are no longer welcome to the farm, and I will wash my hands off of you. And much as I made a promise to Mama to always take care of you, I can only do so much. I am tired, Virginia. If you are willing to be helped, then I will stand by you no matter what, but if you want to waste your life, then I have done my best and you are free to leave.” Elizabeth turned around to get Primrose.
“Elizabeth, I am sorry,” Virginia wept. “I am so sorry. Please forgive me. Don’t be mad at me. I have no one else but you left in this world, and if you turn your back on me, then where will I go?” Elizabeth sighed. “And please, do not tell William,” Virginia pleaded. “I don’t want him to be mad and send me away.”
“Just get on the horse, and let us go home. We will talk about this when we get there.”
“Ladies, ladies,” a rough voice broke out in the darkness, and the two girls started. Jeffery and his gang rode into the yard and got off their horses. “What is the hurry? And the evening is very young!”
“Jesus, help us,” Elizabeth whispered. “Lord, please come to our aid, we need you right now.”
Jeffrey swaggered to the two ladies and stood in front of Elizabeth. He drew closer and she almost gagged. His breath smelled foul and he reeked of sweat, like someone who had not bathed in a long time.
“Hello there, my pretty,” he lisped through the gap in his upper jaw. “You are a fine one for me.” He pinched her cheek and she drew back and hissed at him. “Mmmh, a feisty one,” he turned to his boys and they laughed. “It will be a joy to break this one in.”
“Leave us alone,” Elizabeth said in a shaky voice. “We are honorable women, and my husband is coming to get us.”
“Oooh! I am scared,” Jeffrey shook his hands in mock fear, causing his men to laugh out loudly. “What are you doing here at this time of night, if you are an honorable woman?” He reached out a hand and grabbed her curly hair.
“Just leave us alone.” Elizabeth beat off his hand and stepped away from him.
“And why would I do that, when I have found me a good woman to keep my bed warm at night? Autumn is coming, and I do not want to get the chills. You will warm me very nicely.” He swatted her bottom and she squealed.
The other three men were so intent on watching what their boss was doing that they paid no attention to Virginia, who slowly untied Spitfire’s reins.
“Leave me alone,” Elizabeth cried out. “The wrath of God will fall upon your head.”
“Now, I am really scared,” Jeffrey threw back his head and laughed. “Come, my beautiful, forget about your good for nothing limp snake of a husband, and come and warm my bed.” He grabbed her hand.
“Let me go,” Elizabeth struggled against Jeffrey, kicking him in the shin. “Let me go.”
“Why you little...” he slapped her across the face and she reeled back and fell to the ground, where he threw himself on her, his evil intentions clear. He put his face in hers, his vice-like grip on her throat, and began choking her with one hand as the other fumbled with her clothes.
“Boss, there is some people coming,” Dusty called out as they heard loud voices. The three men knew what their boss was capable of, and even though they also enjoyed ravishing women whenever they got the chance, this was not the place. They fell on him to drag him away, and that was the chance that Virginia was waiting for. She jumped onto Spitfire and dug his sides hard, and the horse shot off.
“Hey,” Dusty called out, scrambling to his feet. That made Virginia all the more determined to get away and Spitfire thundered off into the darkness. Jeffrey stood up and dragged Elizabeth, who opened her mouth to scream, and he clamped a filthy hand over her mouth.
“Lord Jesus, save me,” she prayed, terrified to death of what she knew the men would do to her. “Please send me help from Your sanctuary, oh Lord, for I trust in you.”
Jeffrey flung her onto his horse and they quickly rode away. The men were laughing and making jokes.
“Boss, when you are done with the wench, I’m next,” Dusty called out.
“Then me,” Lovejoy said merrily.
“My turn will come,” Roy said.
“He that dwells in the secret place of the Most High God shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, You are my refuge, You are my fortress. You are my God, and in You I trust. You will surely deliver me from this snare, Oh Lord. Cover me with Your feathers and be my shield and buckler.” Elizabeth closed her eyes and prayed, shutting out the voices of the men. She was lying across Jeffrey’s horse and each step jarred her and made her stomach ache. And the smell of the animal, and the man on the animal, were enough to make her faint, but she refused to give in to fear. She would fight for her virtue. She would not go down without a fight.
“Lord, send Your angels to take charge over me and keep me. Guard my virtue, for I trust in You, and You alone. Deliver me, because I know Your name. I am calling upon you right now, please answer me. Deliver me and honor me, oh Lord. Do not let me be ashamed, do not let my enemies triumph over me.”
“Lord, I am sorry,” Virginia sobbed as Spitfire sped into the darkness. “Please forgive me for my
She heard the sound of hoofs ahead and in the moonlight recognized William.
“William,” she screamed, halting Spitfire.
William rode over quickly. “Virginia, what is wrong? Where is my wife? Where is Elizabeth?” William felt fear like never before. Virginia was sobbing harshly.
“They took her.”
“They? Who are they?”
“Those evil men.”
“Where were you when they took her?” he demanded, getting off his horse and approaching her. “What were you doing away from home?”
“I am sorry.” Virginia’s hands twisted the reins. “It is all my fault.”
“What is your fault, Virginia? What are you talking about?” The story came pouring out and William’s lips tightened. “Ride on home, and better pray that Elizabeth is safe,” he said through clenched teeth. “If something happens to my wife because of your selfishness and carelessness, Virginia, I will never forgive you.”
“I am sorry,” Virginia said as she rode away.
William got onto Black Thunder but did not immediately begin riding. He had no idea who those evil men were because there were a number of gangs around Hellgate. It could be any of them. He felt so helpless and hopeless, and then he heard Pastor Thomas’ voice:
“You can call upon God at any time of the day or night, and He will answer you. The Bible says that His ears are ever attentive to the cry of His children, and He will answer speedily. Call upon Him in the day of trouble, and see Him come through for you.”
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