Mail Order Wife, page 6
Somehow, without being told, she knew that William had built this house for his first wife, and he had done it with a lot of love. Given time and with a lot of work, she could restore it to what she imagined it to have been when her predecessor was alive.
She started with the large sitting room, which extended from the kitchen. It was a rectangular room and the porch outside went the length of it. On the outer wall there was a fireplace, which no doubt kept the whole house warm during winter. She had heard that winters in the Rockies could be very cold. There was a mantle above the fireplace and there were three large photos on it. She was curious to see what William’s first wife had looked like. There were four rough, straight-back seats and a small table, the sum of all the furniture in the sitting room. She picked up the first dust-covered photo which had a wooden back holding it. She immediately recognized William as the man in the photo. He was standing over a woman who was seated with a baby on her lap and another sitting at her feet. The woman was so beautiful.
“That is Amelia.” Elizabeth turned around quickly. She had not heard William come in. “My wife.”
Elizabeth silently nodded. The man was still in love with his wife and she felt a slight pang, but dismissed it. She was here to marry the man for the shelter and protection he could provide, and she had better remember that. She lost interest in looking at the photos and looked around the room.
“You have a beautiful house,” she said.
“Why do I sense as though there is a ‘but’ in there somewhere?” William entered further into the room.
Elizabeth sighed. “There is dust everywhere,” she waved her hands helplessly. “How will it ever get clean?”
“Now that summer is here I will make some repairs to the roof before I leave for the mountains,” he said in his deep voice. “I already milked and if you do not mind, I would like to show you the rest of the house before breakfast.”
“I would like that very much,” she said.
“Come with me, please.” He led the way out of the sitting room and to the corridor. “This is my bedroom,” he pointed at one of the doors that she had seen yesterday. “And this one is Amelia’s bedroom,” he pointed at the second closed door, and Elizabeth’s eyebrows went up. As far as she knew married people were supposed to share a bedroom. William sensed her silent question. “Amelia used to say that I toss and turn around a lot, and so she could not get enough sleep.”
“Then there is the room that you and the girls slept in.” He led the way back to the kitchen. He opened a door which she had not noticed the night before. She saw sacks of flour and tins whose contents she would explore later. “This is the pantry. During winter, we can store fresh vegetables and meat and milk in here, and it does not go bad for three days or so. But during spring and summer, we only store dry flour and cereals.” He closed the door. “And this is the kitchen.” He waved his right hand. “I will have to teach you how to use the cooking range. It was Amelia’s pride and joy. She could cook anything on this thing.” He opened the outer door and stepped out into the yard, which Elizabeth had a chance to see properly now that it was lighter.
“Come this way, and I will show you the barn. Actually, it is a stable on one side and a barn on the other.” They walked in silence and she drew her shawl closer to her. It was a bit chilly. They entered a large room and Elizabeth smiled when she saw Misty, who made a sound as if recognizing her.
“Oh Misty, good morning,” she went and patted her gently.
“Misty remembers you,” William said with a smile. “And you remember Spitfire and Black Thunder.” There were three other horses. “This is Morning Dew, and she belongs to Abigail. Moon Flower belongs to Mary, and Primrose here is Amelia’s horse.”
“I thought you said you run a horse ranch?” She looked around to see if there were more horses in the large stable.
“I rear mustangs, which are bought by miners and some soldiers, as well as the stagecoach owners. They are feral animals, and prefer the wild rather than being kept in a stable.”
“So, where are they?”
“Out in the mountains.”
“Who looks after them while they are there?”
“They are free-spirited creatures, and my friend Sure Foot watches over them for me.”
“Yes. He is a Nez Perce Indian chief.”
He led her past the stable and into the barn. “This is where I keep the other animals. We have four cows. Two are pregnant and two have calves, and so we have a lot of milk. Amelia used to make butter, and would sell it in Hellgate,” he said. “We also have some chickens. They were Amelia’s, and when she was still here she had about fifty of them. Now we have only a handful, so we do not get as many eggs as before.” He looked around. “I let the goats out earlier, because they are such impatient creatures, unlike the cows.”
“How many are there?”
“Just six. Abigail and Mary will help you with the milking and the animals when I am gone. They know what to do, because I taught them.”
“Where does the water come from? The water we use in the house?”
“There is a stream just a short distance away, and that is the water that we use to drink. And there is also a well.” He led her to the well. It was nicely covered, no doubt to safeguard the children and animals.
“When I am not here, do not go down to the stream. I will always make sure that you have enough water to drink before I leave. Use the well water for washing and other things, and spare the one from the stream for drinking.”
“Okay, Mr. William.”
William pointed at a large flat rock beside the barn. “This is a good place to hang the beddings, whenever you need to. The rock retains heat, and if there are any insects in the clothes, the heat soon kills them. Beyond that is a small garden that Amelia kept for spices and herbs. No one has tilled it since she died.”
Once breakfast was over, William took himself out of the house and disappeared on horseback. Elizabeth looked at the three girls. She had an old scarf over her head to hold her unruly curls. Her hair was growing and she would have to trim it sometime.
“We have a lot of work to do, ladies. First, we have to clean our bedroom thoroughly.”
Over the first few days the four ladies got down to cleaning the house thoroughly and slowly, and slowly it was beginning to take its shape and recover its former glory. Though Virginia assisted with the household chores, she grumbled about the hard work most of the time, and many times Elizabeth let her play truant. Better to do the work alone than have a whining person distressing her.
William had repaired the roof, so no more dust found its way into the house. They cleaned and dusted, and one of the things that really delighted Elizabeth was the discovery of an old metal tub in the barn. William had previously used it for watering the animals, but when Mary told Elizabeth that it had been her mother’s bathing tub, that decided it for her.
She had brought some sweet smelling bathing soap from Boston, and though she knew she would have to use it sparingly, nevertheless she decided that on Saturdays the girls would bathe with it as a treat in readiness for Sunday. The rest of the days they could use the crude lard soap that had a strong, distasteful smell.
On their first Saturday, Elizabeth made sure they all finished their chores early enough. Of William, there was no sign. She had actually not seen him for two days, but she knew that if he was to leave for the mountains, he would inform her.
“Girls, we have to prepare for church tomorrow.”
“Church?” Mary and Amelia chorused, looking at each other.
“Why are you saying it like that?” she asked the girls.
Mary twisted her lips. “We do not go to church, Miss Elizabeth.”
“Why not?” She was so shocked. She knew that the children did not know their prayers, and had thought that probably the church they attended did not have Sunday school. She had decided
“And your father? Does he go to church?” The two girls shook their heads, and Elizabeth tightened her lips. She would talk to William when he got back, but he did not turn up, not even by the time they were leaving for the church.
Elizabeth enjoyed the service very much. She met Pastor Thomas and his wife Salome, and a few other families. The children were also happy to go to church, especially because they had new dresses to wear. Elizabeth had tucked the girls into two of Virginia’s old dresses, and though they were long they fit the girls very well. She had used her brush on Mary’s hair each night, and the girl’s hair now sparkled. She shook her head at Abigail’s mop.
After a lunch of roast potatoes and beans, washed down with a cup of milk, the four sat on the porch and Elizabeth brought out her violin. She began to play and Virginia started by singing:
“Oh Lord, my God, how great Thou art.” The young girls stared at Virginia in awe. She had an angelic voice, and because she loved to sing it came from the heart. They sang fun songs which Elizabeth and Virginia taught them, accompanied by Elizabeth on the violin, and the four of them had a good laugh. And that was how William found them.
On his way back from the lower range he had heard the sweet violin sound and stood still. His betrothed was good, and the music brought nostalgia and a restlessness which he could not explain. Immediately, when Elizabeth saw him, she stopped playing and put her violin away.
“I hope I did not interrupt your playing, Miss Elizabeth,” he said.
“No.” She stood up. “It is almost time for me to begin preparing the evening meal.”
“Can we help, Miss Elizabeth?” Mary stood up.
“Well, you have all been very good this week, so I am giving you today off. Take Virginia and go and pick some flowers for the table.”
“Yay!” the girls cheered, and ran down the porch.
William looked at Elizabeth and she looked right back at him. The look in her eye told him she wanted to talk, and it was a serious matter indeed. He had seen that look in Amelia’s eyes many times. Without being told, he followed Elizabeth into the kitchen. Her back was straight and he knew she was angry.
“Unless you tell me what I have done to offend you, then I cannot beg your forgiveness.” He took off his hat and sat down at the table.
“Why did you lie to me?”
He frowned. “When did I lie to you?”
“Your advert said you were a Christian man, and yet I do not see you praying, you did not attend church today, and I have seen your smoking pipe.”
He held his head in his hands and then let out a long breath. “Truthfully, it is Mary who sent in that advert. And I stopped smoking the pipe ten years ago when Amelia and I got married. It is just a reminder of the old days.”
“Oh, so you are telling me that you did not want a wife, and it was your young twelve-year-old daughter that placed the advert for you?”
“I don’t believe you.” She held her waist. “Your daughters can barely read, and I am made to understand that they do not go to school. And secondly, they do not go to church, and neither do you.”
“I guess everyone has their preferences.”
“Is that right?” She moved to where he was seated and stood before him. “Well, I will tell you one thing. You brought me here under false pretenses, and so I am a wronged party.”
“What do you mean?”
“When I agreed to come west and you sent me the money to come and be wed to you, we entered into some sort of contract. But this is no longer a valid contract, because one party lied to the other, and so it cannot hold up in a court of law.”
“Court of law? Woman, what are you going on about?”
“The law clearly stipulates that if one of us breaks the contract that we entered into, then the guilty party is liable to pay damages to the aggrieved party. I am aggrieved, and I can easily take this matter to the nearest judge, to see that justice is done for me.”
“Judge? What is going on?”
“The advert that you placed in the paper, of which I have a copy and will produce it as evidence if need be, clearly states that you are a Christian man. That is the reason I entered into correspondence with you, and agreed to come out here and be your wife. Now I get here and realize that you are a behaving like a pagan, and brought me here under false pretenses. That is a serious misdeed on your part, and for which I ought to seek redress.”
William stared open-mouthed at his betrothed. But she was not done with him yet.
“You knew about my faith, and I am not ashamed of the Cross of Christ, which you clearly are. Amos in the Bible says, ‘Two cannot walk together unless they be agreed.’” She twisted her lips. “We are clearly not going to be agreed on the matter of our faith, and in which case I absolve you of your part in the contract, and I will stay here long enough to earn enough money for transport to take Virginia and me back to Boston, and we will be gone. I cannot marry someone who does not share my faith, because I do not intend to have a house full of strife as we pull in different directions. So, there is no marriage that is going to happen between you and me, and since you are the one more at fault here, I beg that you allow us to stay here a few days and work for you, and you will then pay our fare back to Boston.” And with that said she picked up a pail and left the kitchen, clearly intending to go and get some water.
William was stunned for a while. He ought to have known that this problem would come up, especially since the first day when he had looked at Elizabeth’s face and seen the glow as she worshipped the Lord upon sighting the Rocky Mountains. In the few days that they had been here, he had realized that his soon-to-be wife was very devoted to her faith, and many times he found her seated at the table with a bowed head, deep in prayer.
Elizabeth prepared dinner and after dinner she cleaned the dishes as the girls sang songs in the sitting room.
“Will you play the violin for us again?” Mary begged, and Elizabeth smiled.
“Of course, little girl. Remember, we have started having our devotions and music from the heart, which is pleasant to the Lord.”
William did not take part in the devotions but sat on the porch. When he was sure that they had finished, he stepped into the sitting room.
“Miss Elizabeth, may I speak with you?”
Elizabeth motioned for Virginia to take the girls to bed, and she put her violin away and stepped onto the porch.
“Please sit,” he pointed at one of the seats. There were three on the porch, one that could sit two people and the others made for only one person. She sat on one single seat and waited, her hands on her lap.
“When Amelia was alive, we used to go to church every Sunday, and we took part in all the activities that went on there. I trusted in the God that you profess, but He let me down.”
“How?” Elizabeth asked, though she already knew the answer.
“Amelia was only twenty-eight, and we had a lot of plans and dreams for our family, and I loved her so much. Why did God have to take her away from us? Is that love?” He was almost shouting.
“Do not raise your voice at me,” Elizabeth said in a firm voice. “Lower your voice, because the children are not yet asleep.”
“I am sorry,” he said. “If it is important to you that I appear in church every Sunday when
I am here, then that is alright. Standing in a building should do no harm, I guess. But do not expect me to profess what I do not feel. I would rather be called an unbeliever than a hypocrite, Miss Elizabeth.” Elizabeth was silent for a while. “It is also alright for the children to go to school and Sunday school, if that will make you happy, Miss Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth sighed. He just did not get it, but this
“Yes, Mr. William?”
“Will you reconsider your decision about returning to Boston? I, er, the children need you. I have seen how good they are looking, and in just the short span of a week. Please, for their sake, please agree to stay and be their mother. And I promise that I will go to church with you every Sunday.”
Elizabeth looked up. “I will put that to the test. For the next four Sundays, you will accompany us to church, and the fifth Saturday from now, we will be wed, that is, if you keep your end of the bargain.”
“I am a man of my word, Miss Elizabeth. And I give you my solemn promise.”
“What about when you go out with the horses?”
“I will be sure to return every Saturday.”
And William kept his word and accompanied his family to church for the next four Sundays, much to Pastor Thomas’ joy. The elderly clergyman kept laughing and rubbing his balding head. His black eyes sparkled merrily.
“Glory to God, glory to God,” he kept repeating, beaming at his wife and William’s family.
Even though William sat at the back and refused to join them in the family pew, and he would not open his mouth to sing any of the hymns, to Elizabeth it was still a small victory. She had hoped that he would at least show some interest, but she comforted herself with the knowledge that he at least went to church.
They had a small wedding, given that both of them had agreed that it was to be in name only.
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