Mail Order Wife, page 7
“Hypocrisy is a vice I have no wish of indulging in,” Elizabeth said. “No need for people to come here and believe that we are going to have happy wedded bliss, and yet this is a business arrangement.”
“I agree with you, Miss Elizabeth.”
And so it was that only Salome and Kate were witnesses during the wedding, as well as the three younger girls, and one wrangler who had shown up asking for work, and William had put him to work cleaning the barn. When he left for the mountains he would be taking Theodore with him because he did not trust a stranger with his family.
After the wedding, as the small group enjoyed the cake and food that Salome and Kate had prepared back at the house, Elizabeth motioned to William, and he followed her to the porch.
“And I hope you are not going to take it into your mind to begin absconding from church just because I wear your ring now,” she challenged. “In any case, as a business arrangement we are not going to consummate this marriage, and that will be my defense should you decide to renege this contract.”
“No, of course not. I told you my word is my bond, and it is my purpose to make sure that you are happy. So, Miss Elizabeth, rest easy. I will be here every Saturday in time to accompany all of you to church on Sundays.”
“Thank you,” she held out her hand and he looked at it in surprise. “Let us shake hands, as honorable people do when entering into an agreement.”
Elizabeth was baking, and had just removed the first batch of scones from the oven when the back door opened and Abigail practically shot into the kitchen, dropped her school bag and burst into tears.
“What is wrong?” Elizabeth pulled the sobbing girl into her arms and held her close.
“They said I am an idiot,” Abigail wailed. “I will never go back to that school again!”
“Hush, little one.” Elizabeth led her to the table and made her sit down. She poured her a glass of milk and put a hot scone on a saucer and gave it to the girl. She ignored the fact that the girl had not washed her hands. This was not the time for hygiene lessons, when clearly the child was distraught. But to her surprise, Abigail stood up and walked to the stone sink and washed her hands thoroughly, as Elizabeth had taught her over the days.
“What happened in school, Abigail?” Elizabeth asked when the girl had devoured her scone and downed her milk.
“The other girls are always teasing me about my short hair, and they say that I look like a boy. They also keep saying that I am dumb and I am an idiot, because I cannot read and I do not know how to write.”
“Oh child,” Elizabeth pulled her off her chair and onto her lap. “You are not dumb and you are not an idiot, okay? And you are a very intelligent and beautiful girl.”
“But they are right! I can’t read or write.” She started crying again. “I will never go back to school again. I will stay with Misty, Moon Flower, Morning Dew and Primrose. They never laugh at me or mock me.”
“Then I will teach you to read.” Elizabeth held the child close. “Those children who say you are an idiot are misguided, because they do not know your strengths and capabilities, Abigail. If you refuse to go back, then you are letting them win, and you will always think that you were not good enough to be in school with them, and they will always call you names because you did not prove them otherwise. Do you understand what I am saying, Abby?” The child nodded. “This is what I will do. Every day when you return from school, I will help you with your homework, and if you have any questions or anything that you do not understand, do not be afraid to ask me, okay?”
Elizabeth held the child at arm’s length. “What did you say?” she asked in a whisper. “What did you call me?”
“Mama?” Abigail smiled through her tears, and Elizabeth’s eyes welled up with tears.
“Oh, my baby,” she whispered huskily, hugging the child close.
Two days later Mary would not get out of bed, and Elizabeth was concerned when Virginia came and told her that the child had burrowed under the beddings and would not talk to her.
“Mary, honey?” Elizabeth sat on the bed that she still shared with the child. She touched the back of Mary’s head. “What is wrong?”
“My stomach hurts,” the muffled response came from under the pillow.
“When did it start?”
“Last night.” Elizabeth nodded. The child had been very restless and her tossing and turning had caused Elizabeth to have very little sleep.
“What else are you feeling?” There was silence for a while, and then Elizabeth heard soft sobs.
“What is it, child?”
“I, I, I,” she could not speak.
“You did what, Mary?”
“I wet the bed. I am sorry.”
Elizabeth smiled. Without letting the child know what she was doing, she gently lifted the bedding in such a way that Mary did not realize it. When she saw what she was looking for, she nodded.
“Okay, stay here. I am coming back, okay?”
Elizabeth went to the yard and lifted the large tub, and carried it to the bedroom. She then went and heated some water, all the while checking on the child, who was still in bed. When the bathwater was ready, she gently coaxed the child to rise up.
“You have not wet the bed, Mary,” she said gently.
“But I have!” Mary would not even look down. She held the beddings to her chest.
“No, child,” Elizabeth shook her head. “What is happening is very normal for every girl and every woman.” She checked to see if the child was listening. She was. “Your period has started.”
“Yes, Mary. That is when a young girl transitions, or becomes a woman. Now you are becoming a young woman. You are not a child anymore.”
“Because that is how God created women to be. When you become a woman, now your body is preparing itself for one day when you will become a mother. Do you understand what I am saying?”
“I think so, but will I be wetting my bed every day?”
“It is not pee, Mary. That is blood.”
“Blood?” Mary almost screamed and quickly looked at herself and saw the evidence of what Elizabeth was explaining. “Will I die?”
“No child, that is very normal. And it will happen for three to four days, and then stop until the next month. Nothing to worry about. That is the mark of a lady, and you should be very proud of yourself, that you are a normal and healthy woman.”
That night Mary did not sleep because of the menstrual cramps, and Elizabeth had to keep rubbing her back, and at one point she got up and went to the kitchen, where the embers were still glowing in the wood stove, and she boiled some water and crushed a ginger root and added it to the boiling water, and took it to the child.
“Drink this. It will make you feel better.” She held out the mug of ginger concoction and watched as Mary drank it all. A little while later the girl settled down and was soon asleep. But Elizabeth’s sleep had been disturbed and she tightened her lips. She was going to make drastic changes to this household. After all, she was now the woman of the house.
She waited for the children to go to school before she undertook the task that she knew would probably create some tension when William came back. Virginia, who had taken to the horses, was in the back yard with Spitfire and she was practicing how to get on and off the horse in the shortest time possible.
Elizabeth walked to the room that William had told her had been Amelia’s, and she turned the door knob. It opened and she stood at the door, letting her eyes adjust to the darkness within. It was also a large room and she noticed it had two beds in it, but one was larger. She walked to the window and drew back the thick curtains and opened the window.
Her mouth fell open when she saw the room under proper lighting. This looked like a shrine. The layers of dust that had accumulated made her realize that probably no one had entered this room since Amelia
“What a waste,” she thought to herself. There were two trunks in the room, and when she opened them she found rows and rows of soft dresses and linens, petticoats, chemises, bonnets. They were all very pretty, and some were almost new. There was a small table on which were a number of Amelia’s personal effects, also quite dusty. She shook her head.
“What are you doing?”
She started when she heard Virginia’s voice. “Oh Virginia, you startled me.”
“What are you doing in here?”
“I am making a room for myself, is what I am doing.”
“Did you ask William for permission?”
“I do not need to. I am the new mistress of this house, and so I have a right to put my house in order. This here is a wasted room, and yet we four are squeezed in that one room. And the girls are growing bigger, so it is time they stopped sharing a bed.”
“That is true, but shouldn’t you wait for William to give you permission first?”
“He will not do that,” Elizabeth indicated with her hand. “This is a shrine to his dead wife, and he is not going to let go unless I change things. But, do not worry. I am not throwing anything out. I will simply dust them and move them to his room, which is large enough to contain these trunks and other stuff that belonged to his dead wife. He can build her a shrine there, and gaze at it whenever he wants to. But I am tired of not getting enough sleep, and yet I have to do so much work during the day. If this will be the reason for him to ask me for a divorce, then let him.”
Virginia just shook her head and went to sit on the porch. She looked into the distance and sighed. This place was stifling her and she wished she could leave, but where would she go? If she did not have Spitfire she would have gone mad by now. Having the horse enabled her to take long rides in the mountains and she enjoyed her secret trips, even though she knew William would probably forbid her if he found out. Then she smiled, an idea forming in her mind.
She would go to Hellgate, but without letting Elizabeth know what she was doing. With that thought, she hurried to change into a riding skirt, and shouting to Elizabeth that she was taking Spitfire for a ride. She then left.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth dusted the two trunks and dragged them to William’s room. While he was away, she had aired the room and his mattress and washed the sheets and quilt. She had cleaned the room and washed his dirty clothes and neatly folded them into his trunk. She knew that he had not given her permission to invade his privacy, but neither had he forbidden her to enter his domain.
“Besides, it is a wife’s duty to ensure that her husband is clean, and that his room is also clean,” she thought. Now she lifted the trunks and placed them one on top of the other. Everything that had belonged to Amelia she neatly placed in William’s room, and then made up the two beds in the bedroom. She would bring Mary to sleep in this room with her, and Virginia and Abigail could share the other bedroom.
William was livid when he returned and found that Amelia’s room had been tampered with. He had wondered why Elizabeth seemed nervous immediately as he had arrived, but it was only until he went to his bedroom and saw Amelia’s things that he realized what she had done.
“This woman has crossed the line,” he silently fumed. “Who does she think she is?”
Supper was a strained affair, and when it was over Virginia motioned for the two girls to follow her to their room, leaving Elizabeth and William in the kitchen. From the look of things, they would not be having their evening devotions.
“Why did you enter Amelia’s room and mess with her things?”
“First of all, I did not mess with anything,” Elizabeth said. “And secondly, if you have not noticed, I am now the woman of the house.”
“And what is that supposed to mean?”
“It means that I deserve some respect as your wife, Mr. William. Mary is a growing child, and it is not fair for me to squeeze with her on her bed, and the same goes for Abigail. And yet, there is a large room with two beds that is lying unused in this house.”
“That is my wife’s room.”
“No,” Elizabeth shook her head. “That is not a room. It is a shrine.”
“How dare you say that?”
“I dare, because it is true. Mr. William, those trunks contain beautiful clothes that I can adjust to fit Mary and Abigail, and yet you have kept them to be feasted on by moths.”
“Who gave you permission to touch Amelia’s things?”
“Amelia is dead,” Elizabeth hissed. She did not want the children to hear them arguing. “I respect and honor her memory, but she is dead, and your children are alive, as I am. I cannot continue to spend sleepless nights, as your daughter tosses in bed because it is too small for the two of us. If you do not want me to use that room then so be it, I can make my bed here in the kitchen, and sleep here.”
William stood up. “You should not have touched Amelia’s things,” he said and left the room. She heard him enter his room and a short while later heard him dragging something, and she realized he was taking the trunks back to Amelia’s room. She tightened her lips. So it was like that. Well, he was about to find out what she was made of.
For two days the house was tense and the usual laughter was missing. Even the evening devotions were strained, and Elizabeth only played sad songs on the violin. Elizabeth’s eyes were swollen from so much crying, and also she had been sleeping in the kitchen on the floor, and her back was aching. But she would not complain.
Mary followed her father to the stables on the third day. She found him feeding the horses.
“It is only a room,” the quiet child said, and William looked at her in surprise.
“I said it is only a room. Mama is dead and is not coming back, Papa. Miss Elizabeth is a good person, and she deserves to have her own room. You don’t have to be mad.”
William put down the shovel and looked at his daughter. “I am not mad because of the room. I am mad because she did not ask me before she touched your mother’s things.”
“If she had asked you to move mama’s things, would you have agreed, Pa?” William thought for a while and then shook his head.
“You know, Pa, while you were gone, I was so sick, and Miss Elizabeth did not get any sleep at all. She looked after me all the time, and even now she is so tired.” The child shook her head. “I don’t think it is fair that you refuse to let her sleep in that room which is empty, Pa, and now she is sleeping in the kitchen, and won’t come to our room.”
“What?” William was shocked at this new information.
“Miss Elizabeth is a good woman, Pa. She is a good mama to us. Do you know that Abigail is now learning how to read and write, and she likes going to school? And she has taught me how to do so many things, Pa. We love going to church, because we are learning new songs and stories, Papa.” The child sighed. “Missing Mama does not hurt so much, because Miss Elizabeth loves us. Why can’t you be kind to her, even a little?” Mary turned and left her father deep in thought.
He finished feeding the animals and then went to the house. Elizabeth was asleep at the kitchen table and he stood watching her for a while. He saw the lines of fatigue on her face and the dried tears. When he looked at her hands, he almost cried. They were blistered and some of the blisters had burst open, leaving the skin red and raw, and they looked painful. But he had not heard her complain about anything. He also noticed how her clothes hung on her. She had lost weight, but she bore it all with strength and in silence. He felt really low.
This was a delicate woman who ought to have had servants and lived the life of comfort that she had been accustomed to. Instead, she had chosen to come to this ranch and be his wife. She worked hard without complaining and she deserved a good place to sleep. And he was being selfish by denying her a good place to rest. And all because it was his dead wife’s bedroom. He went to Amelia’s room and looked around. He shifted the trunks back to his bedroom. He remembered
Right now he had a tired wife to care for. He was glad he had not touched the beds and had left them as Elizabeth had made them. He pulled down the covers of the larger bed and went to the kitchen.
Elizabeth did not stir when he carried her to the bedroom and placed her on the bed. That was when he realized just how tired she must have been. And she was not as heavy as he had expected her to be. He tucked her in and kissed her forehead, surprising even himself, and then he hurriedly left the room, closing the door.
~~~ *** ~~~
Virginia watched as Abigail roped Morning Dew and copied her. The three girls were getting ready to ride. William allowed them to exercise the horses around the homestead as long as they did not venture out of sight.
“Mary, is Papa still mad at Mama?” Abigail asked, her voice trembling.
“I don’t know,” Mary sighed. “I love Mama so much. I wish Pa wouldn’t be mad at her. I don’t want her to leave.”
“Leave?” Abigail raised stricken eyes to her sister and she burst into tears. “I don’t want Mama to leave us again.” Mary also started crying.
Virginia dropped the rope and gathered the girls to her. “Hush, girls,” she soothed, leading them to the large flat rock on which they aired any items that needed airing. She sat down with either girl on her side.
“Stop crying. Lizzie is not leaving, and neither am I.”
“But if Pa is mad at her, she might want to leave us and go back to Boston,” Mary said in a teary voice.
“Lizzie loves the two of you so much. She would never leave you, no matter what. She is now your mother and mamas do not leave their children.”
“But our first mama left us,” Abigail said in a small voice.
“That is true, but she left because she went to heaven, to be with Jesus. Remember, we have been learning that at church.” The girls nodded. “Lizzie is now your mama. And your pa is allowed to be mad at her because they are married. Pas and Mas are usually mad at each other, but then, because they love each other, they soon make up and are happy again, together.”
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