Mail order wife, p.5

Mail Order Wife, page 5

 

Mail Order Wife
 


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  “Need any help getting on?” he asked her.

  “A little, I guess,” she laughed briefly. “What is this horse’s name?”

  “That is Spitfire. She is a strong willed one, but you seem to have befriended her.”

  “She is very pretty.” William hoisted Virginia effortlessly onto the horse, and was surprised when she ignored all propriety and sat astride the horse. He shook his head. This was a spirited one, just like the horse. They should be fine together. The other one, his wife-to-be, was the problem.

  “Miss Elizabeth?”

  “Yes, Mr. William?”

  “Your turn now. Misty will not throw you. Just hold onto the reins and do not pull. Just hold them gently and we should get there.”

  “How far do we have to ride?”

  “About a two-hour ride. I will take it slow, but we need to leave if we are to get home before nightfall.”

  “Okay,” she said. But she was murmuring a prayer. “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me. Lord, please help me not to fall off the horse.”

  William lifted the woman off the ground. “Don’t look down. Concentrate on looking at Misty’s head, and you will be fine,” he said. Elizabeth sat side-saddle and clutched the reins, startling Misty, who shifted nervously.

  “Hush, lady,” William quickly pacified her and she calmed down. He put his hands over Elizabeth’s. “You need to relax, or you will spook Misty. Loosen your grip a little bit, there, that should be alright now.”

  He walked to Black Thunder. “All ready now?”

  “Yes,” Virginia shouted, sounding like an excited child.

  William looked at his betrothed, who nodded, too afraid to speak. He got onto his horse effortlessly and Elizabeth admired his agility. He made a clicking sound and Spitfire, with Virginia on her back, set off and took a side trail.

  “I am avoiding the town center,” he said. “It does no good to draw people’s attention to oneself,” he explained. “Spitfire knows the way home, and that is why I want her to lead the way. Elizabeth, you will go before me so that I can watch you.”

  “Thank you,” she said quietly. “What is the name of this town? Is this Missoula?”

  “Well, Missoula is the whole county. This particular town is called Hellgate.”

  “Why such a sinister name?”

  “That is what the pioneers called this place, when they first came here years ago. It is said that they found skulls and bones of people scattered all over.”

  “Who had killed the people? What had happened to them?”

  “The Blackfeet and Flatfeet Indians used this as a fighting field, or so the legend goes. It is not a bad town, but you would do well to keep away and avoid it altogether, especially when it is dark.”

  “Oh.”

  “Gold attracts all kinds: the good, the bad, and the ugly. In Hellgate there are many good folks, but the ugly are here, too.”

  William chatted to Elizabeth, pointing out various plants and trees to her as they rode through the woods. She soon forgot her nervousness and began enjoying the ride.

  “Almost home,” he said, and she spied a clearing just ahead of where he pointed. Virginia was happily trotting on her horse ahead of the two of them. And then they broke out of the woods and Elizabeth gasped.

  “Are you alright, Miss Elizabeth?” William was immediately concerned when he saw her expression. Her mouth opened and closed several times, and tears welled up in her eyes.

  “Oh Lord, my God, how majestic is Your name in all the earth,” Elizabeth whispered, too awed by what she saw ahead of her. The mountain range rose majestically in the distance and the air had suddenly become cool and clear. The afternoon sun made the peaks seem like they were on fire. The blue sky above the mountains was clear and she saw dots of white on the peaks. This was God’s country. This was the splendor of God, His beauty in creation, and Elizabeth’s tears fell as she pondered the majesty of the Creator of the universe.

  “You made the mountains,” she whispered. “How awesome and terrible You are.”

  Even Misty sensed the reverence of the moment and came to a gentle halt, an unspoken command that only animal and nature understood together. Elizabeth slowly raised her hands as if in surrender and closed her eyes, oblivious to all around her, just the beauty that she had witnessed. Her life would never be the same again after this, she knew. She opened her eyes again and then lowered her hands and smiled. She had heard about the Rocky Mountains from her father and tutor, but nothing had prepared her for this glorious sight.

  “Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Jesus, for allowing me to live long enough to see the splendor of Your majesty in creation. For as long as I live, I will praise You and worship You, for You alone are God.”

  William watched his betrothed’s face in fascination. That she loved God was all too clear to him at that point, and he shifted uncomfortably in his saddle. She made him feel guilty and he did not want to analyze his feelings any deeper, for fear of what he would find. He had turned his back on God, and any form of worship, after Amelia died. If God was so loving, why had He allowed a young mother with so many dreams and a future to die, and leave behind a widower with two small children? What kind of God did that to those who served Him? Despite the fact that his father had run off years ago and left his mother, his mother had been a deeply religious woman, and she had taught her children the fear of the Lord.

  Katherine loved church and she attended all services faithfully, and had tried to convince her brother to return. Pastor Thomas also visited him from time to time, urging him to return to the fold, but he stubbornly refused to yield.

  “God is waiting for you, William,” Kate told him on many occasions. “Do not give up on God. He has not given up on you.”

  “Well, He did, when He let Amelia die. What kind of God causes those He claims to love so much pain?” was all he usually said whenever Katherine or Pastor Thomas tried to ask him to go to church. Because he stopped going to church, his daughters also did not attend Sunday school. And now here was this woman, obviously of deep faith. What did that mean to his peace of mind, and his household?

  “We need to leave,” he said, more gruffly than he intended. Elizabeth’s actions had touched a raw nerve, and he did not want to be reminded of how devoted he and Amelia had been to the church and God.

  “I am sorry,” Elizabeth’s tears began once again and she wiped them away and looked down, but more took their place, and he felt like a heel. These were not like the earlier ones that she had shed when she was lost in her worship of God. These were the tears of a hurting woman.

  “Miss Elizabeth, we need to go, because it will be dark soon and it is not safe to be out here in the dark.”

  “Yes, yes of course,” she sniffed.

  He sighed inwardly, clicked, and got Misty going.

  CHAPTER FOUR

  MISSOULA, MONTANA

  SPRING, 1874

  Elizabeth allowed William to lift her off the horse, and when he set her down she looked around her in dismay. This was primitive land. It was dusk and through the dim light she could make out the log cabin that was to be her home until the day she died. She heard a cow lowing in the distance and the evening birds were chirping greetings to each other.

  “Welcome to your new home, Miss Elizabeth,” William said. She was glad of the fading light, so that he could not see the expression on her face. She knew that the west was not as advanced as Boston, but even this was too primitive for her. She expected Virginia to begin whining, but when she looked around the young girl was nowhere to be seen.

  “Miss Virginia has led the horse to the back of the house, or actually Spitfire led herself there,” William had answered her unspoken question.

  “Oh!”

  “Well, the girls are inside waiting, no doubt.” The front door opened and two girls ran down the two steps and flung themselves at William. “Or not,” he muttered before lifting each of them and swinging them high.

  That
he loved his daughters was obvious to Elizabeth at that point, and she felt a little bit calm. A man who loved his children and expressed it without reservation could not be that bad. She was still remembering the tone of voice he had used a little while ago. He did not understand what she was feeling, and she had felt as though it was a mistake for her to have come. But now she ‘schooled’ her expression and waited to meet her future daughters.

  The two girls, after greeting their father stood silently beside him, clutching at his overalls, and looked at Elizabeth. She could not read their expressions very well in the poor light.

  “Girls, this is Miss Elizabeth, soon to be your new mama,” he told them, gently prodding them so they could go forward and greet Elizabeth. “Take her to the house. I need to put the horses away.” He took the portmanteau and violin down and carried them to the porch as the six female eyes followed his every move. “I will carry those through when I am done with the animals.”

  They watched him lead Black Thunder and Misty to the back of the house and then Elizabeth looked at the girls, who were still a few feet away from her.

  “My name is Elizabeth Anne Lowell, as your papa has told you.” She looked at Mary. “You must be Mary, and you must be Abigail.” She broke the silence at last. She took a small step in their direction in order not to scare them off. The girls looked a bit wary of her. She smiled and her dimples showed.

  “You have a pretty home. I can’t wait for you to show it to me tomorrow, when there is light.” She took another step forward. The girls did not move, but neither did they run away, and she took this as a good sign.

  “Is Misty your horse?” She looked from one to the other and Mary shook her head.

  “Misty is nobody’s horse,” Abigail answered. “She is so old that no one wants her anymore.” There was a wistful tone in the girl’s voice.

  “Oh, but I love her,” Elizabeth cried out. “She was so good to me, and did not throw me at all.” The two girls looked at each other and then giggled.

  “Misty does not throw people,” Mary giggled. “Aunt Kate calls her a lump of a lazy horse.”

  “But I did not know that. Do you want to know something?” Elizabeth asked no one in particular, and both girls nodded simultaneously. “I was so afraid of horses because, you see, I had never ridden on one before today.”

  The girls’ eyes opened wide. They could not imagine that anyone had never ridden a horse in their lives before.

  “Really?” Mary drew closer and unconsciously slipped her hand into Elizabeth’s. Abigail hesitated only for a moment, and then imitated her sister’s actions.

  “Yes, really. You see in Boston there are many horses, but they only pull carriages and coaches. I have ridden in coaches and carriages, but never on a horse.”

  Abigail skipped lightly, her hand in Elizabeth’s. “It is not hard to learn.”

  “Yes, I know that, thanks to Misty.” Elizabeth smiled. “Shall we go in and see what needs to be done?”

  Because it was late, the family had a simple meal of rough whole wheat bread and milk. The three watched as Elizabeth and Virginia thoroughly washed their hands before sitting down for the meal. They had cleaned their hands, but not as thoroughly as they saw the visitors do it. And then, when they would have reached for their food, Elizabeth’s words caused them to halt.

  “Shall we pray?” She looked around the crude table that was set in the kitchen. It was a big round table that was made for six people. Mary was on her left and Virginia on her right. Next to Virginia was Abigail, and William sat next to his youngest daughter. This left an empty seat between William and Mary. Elizabeth had watched curiously as Mary reached into the cabinet and removed a coffee mug. She placed it next to her own mug, and Elizabeth raised her eyes questioningly to William. In the flickering candle light she saw a silent plea in his eyes and so made no mention of the mug, especially when after their simple supper, Mary put it back in the cabinet unused. She would ask William about all that later.

  Right now she was tired and wished she could take a long bath to wash away three weeks of travel fatigue, but looking around her she did not see the possibilities of that happening, at least not tonight.

  “Mary will show you where you will sleep.” William stood up. “I have to secure the animals for the night.” He went out the back door and the four ladies were left alone. Virginia was dropping. She looked exhausted, and Elizabeth’s heart welled with compassion for her little sister.

  “Come girls. Let us all go to bed now.” The young girls stood up, as did Virginia. “Mary, show us the way.”

  Mary picked up one candle and led the group down a short corridor and opened the door at the furthest end. Elizabeth brought up the rear, carrying another candle. There were two other doors that they passed but these were closed. Elizabeth was too tired to inquire what lay beyond those closed doors. Tomorrow would reveal the mysteries of this house. There were two beds in the room, obviously the girls’ beds.

  Mary moved closer to Elizabeth. “Will you sleep with me?”

  “Sure.” Elizabeth smiled at the child. “Let us get you ready for bed.” She expected that the girls would find night clothes, but was surprised when they jumped into bed in the clothes they had on, which they had obviously spent the day in. She shook her head. There would be time to make changes later. For now, the beds beckoned.

  Virginia climbed into bed after Abigail and was immediately fast asleep. The two girls followed suit, and Elizabeth blew the candle out and sat in the darkness. She had not heard William coming in and so knew that he probably was still taking care of the animals.

  “Lord, what do you have in store for us in this land?” She whispered the prayer. “I have held on to my faith in You to lead us here, and because we have arrived it means You have a bigger plan for our lives in this land. Mr. William seems like a fine man, and his children are absolute darlings. This is a family that we need, and also needs us. Guide my every step as I live in this home, and help me make good decisions concerning the welfare of Abigail, Mary, and also Virginia. And I want to once again express my gratitude to you, Lord, for making William send for us, and for getting us out of Boston before Virginia lost her virtue and soul in that place. And as we sleep tonight, watch over all of us, including Misty, Black Thunder, Spitfire, and all the other animals. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

  William crept back into the house when he was sure everyone was asleep. He did not want to meet with Elizabeth, not tonight. He locked the doors securely and then entered his bedroom. In the candlelight he looked at his unmade bed and sighed. He had to shake it out before he got in because he did not want any ‘surprise’ creatures sharing the bed with him.

  He took off his boots tiredly, and his overalls and shirt followed suit. He left his drawstring on, and after giving his bedding a thorough shaking, he made up the bed roughly and got in. He lay on his back and put his hands at the back of his head.

  “Amelia, I miss you,” he murmured. He wondered what Elizabeth thought of his house and children. She had come in when it was dark, and in the candlelight she could not have seen how scruffy everything was. She would see the true state of affairs in the morning.

  William twisted his lips. Why should he care what she thought? She was to be his wife in name only. Nothing else mattered. But he felt a bit of discomfiture. He had met the woman only today, and already she was getting under his skin.

  At the supper table she had made it feel as though they were a family, and he did not want to feel that way with any other woman except Amelia. He remembered meal times with his dead wife and his eyes watered. Amelia had been so full of life and hope, and in an instant, that life had been snuffed out of her and just like that, she was gone forever. Now Elizabeth was here to take her place. Well, she could be mother to his children and that was that. So far she did not look like she expected much else from him, but he would be very cautious. No need stirring up feelings in the woman which he could not satisfy.

  He decid
ed that he would keep his distance, and was glad that summer was almost here. He could disappear into the mountains with Sure Foot to capture more horses. Staying around the homestead might make him begin to have feelings for Elizabeth, who he admitted, reluctantly, was a very beautiful woman. He would never betray his first love.

  “Amelia, I will never love another, and betray you.”

  ~~~ *** ~~~

  The next morning Elizabeth woke up early and went outside to look for the outhouse. She ran back screaming when she found a snake coiled near the building, which was a distance away from the house. William, who was milking the cows, rushed out of the barn to see what was going on.

  “A sn—, sn—ake!” She pointed at the outhouse, and William went to see which kind of snake it was. He was just in time to see the green reptile slithering away into the tall grass, glad it was a harmless one. Just a grass snake which was more frightened of people. But he did not tell that to his betrothed, who was shaking like a leaf.

  Elizabeth was so terrified. Would she survive in this place? She wondered. “God, help me, please,” she begged silently.

  “The snake has gone and I have checked inside. There are no other unwanted visitors, so you can go ahead and use the outhouse.”

  “Th—, thank you,” she stammered and walked cautiously to the outhouse.

  The interior of the house was another matter altogether. The house had been well built with sturdy logs and the cracks filled with sod. The roof was also made of sod and logs and beams, and because it was almost summer, the sod had started coming lose and particles of it were everywhere. This was a disaster, according to Elizabeth. Would she ever get the place sorted out? The three girls were still asleep, and she did not know where to start. She walked through the house. It was a large house and the space made her smile in the midst of her dismay. This was a house that had been built with a large family in mind, and she could feel the love emitting from the walls, but it was tinged with sadness. The floor was made of small wooden tiles, and Elizabeth was amazed at the beauty in the early morning. It reminded her of their house in Boston and deep sadness filled her heart, but she pushed the thoughts away and continued with her tour of the house.

 
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