Mail-Order Husband: The Millionaire's Debt, page 1
The Millionaire’s Debt
By Rebecca Tilley
© 2013 Rebecca Tilley
Daphne Haynes scurried about her three room farmhouse tidying up and making the final arrangements for the guest that was to arrive shortly. She could not believe how fast everything had moved from the time she placed the small ad in the Texas newspaper until now. She could not afford to be picky; she needed a husband, and fast. Everything was moving along so smoothly she was afraid it was too good to be true, but there was no room for doubt at this point. Her small farm had fallen into disrepair since her late husband had passed, and the bank was closing in on her property. If things did not work out between her and the man that was on his way, she would lose the farm for sure and she had no place to go.
Daphne and her husband had moved to Colorado to start a better life for themselves. They were so young then, with so many dreams. They wanted lots of kids, cattle, and corn. Hank had the perfect plan, “If we can just lay claim on some property out west, everything will turn out,” he would say with excitement glinting in his eye. That was what she had loved best about Hank, his infectious optimism. She allowed herself to be dragged half-way across the country with no more than twenty-five dollars to their names. “When we get there we will buy seed to plant corn, claim our land, and watch the money roll in. When we have enough we will buy some head of cattle and before ya’ know it,” he would always pause at this point and start to daydream.
Daphne had trusted that he had a plan beyond that point, though she never heard one, and they started out. They got to Colorado and were kicked off the train because that was as far as they could afford. They didn’t know anyone in town and were forced to burn some of their money on lodging and food the first night. “Don’t worry baby,” Hank reassured, “this is all part of the plan.” She had her doubts, but his confidence was still in high gear.
The next morning Hank had gotten up to check on getting a claim, but there was nothing left. They were stranded in the middle of Colorado; no money for return fare; no land to work and make a new life; no hope. Hank was not yet broken, however, and he began making inquiries for land to purchase, but fifteen dollars doesn’t exactly get prime real estate. They needed money, the bank needed collateral, and the only valuables the two had were a pair of heirloom silver candlesticks that had been given to Daphne by her grandmother. She was reluctant to part with them, but Hank told her she would have them back in a few short months and she would be able to set them on top of her brand new mantle. She was so excited she handed them over without a second thought.
That had been eight years ago and Daphne was now a widow, eight years poorer, childless, and cattle-less. Hank had fallen into a bottle of whiskey after the first crop of corn failed, and he ended up drowning in it. Daphne had tried her best to keep the place afloat, but the learning curve was too steep. She fell further and further behind with the bank, and this month was the last chance she had to get current before they took the farm and her grandmother’s candlesticks with it. That is why she had resorted to looking for a mail-order husband. She needed someone that knew farming and had money. This was simply a business contract, and she made that clear to all of her prospective suitors. She had nothing to offer other than the candlesticks, and if someone would get them out of hock, and pay off the farm, she would gladly give them to that person. She just didn’t want Mr. Gantry, the bank’s assistant manager, to end up with them.
Mr. Gantry had been bullying Daphne for the last two years; threatening to sell the candlesticks to pay the debt her and her husband owed. He said he had a buyer lined up and he would be glad to have them out of the bank. She didn’t think this was true, however, because she had heard rumors that he had them in his own house, decorating his gaudy dining table. Daphne had hoped her husband would do something to defend her, but he was so useless that all he did was laugh at her anguish, and hope Mr. Gantry would continue to loan him a couple dollars a month to buy booze. Hank had taken to joining in taunting his wife when Mr. Gantry came around, so he wouldn’t be cut off.
All that was about to change, though, when the train came in today her savior would get off and set things right. How good it will feel to be out from under this tremendous weight, she thought.
Daphne’s heart pounded with excitement when she heard hooves beating the ground some distance off. This is it, my new husband. The train was not due in for another couple of hours, but things didn’t run on a particular schedule out here. She looked at herself in the small mirror in her bedroom. Her hair was pinned back in a bun, which made her look very severe. She had lost a lot of weight over the years due to a lack of food. Her face had become very angular, with a sharp jaw line, and high sharp cheek bones. She had been the most beautiful girl in town when she was young, with dozens of suitors. She had nearly married Johnny Dawkins, but had been won over by Hank in the end. Johnny was not very adventurous, boring even, and Hank was the exact opposite. She found out that Johnny had opened a printing press and started a newspaper back home, and was now a millionaire. How different her life could have been…no sense thinking about that now. Her husband was nearly here, and she could not wait.
She heard the horse pull up to a stop and a man dismount, then a familiar voice called out to her. “Daphne, come on out here…we need to have a chat.” He said with a sinister sneer in his voice.
It was Mr. Gantry. Panic gripped her and her throat began to close up. Why was he here? She had three days to get a payment together. Had they moved up her foreclosure and not told her? Certainly not, that would be against the law. The law rarely falls on the side of poor widows, however. The man with the money makes the law. She drew herself up to her full height, and tried to carry herself with dignity as she walked out the front door.
“What is it Mr. Gantry?”
“I was just out this way visiting some of my good, paying customers, and thought I would check in on you. Let you know I am still here. Do you have any money for me?”
“Not yet Mr. Gantry, but before the deadline is past I will have you paid up, I promise.”
“I know you will,” he said with a sarcastic grin. “You haven’t ever let me down before.”
“I know I am way behind, but I WILL have your money. You have to believe me.”
“I do believe you Ms. Haynes, but you see the board doesn’t believe you. They told me to execute the sale of your collateral today.” He emphasized the word collateral in such a way that it felt like a dagger in her heart.
“You can’t be serious. I have three more days. Our contract…the law…”
“The law nothin’, Ms. Haynes, you have a debt to pay, and we have every right to collect by whatever means necessary.”
Daphne was trying to remain strong, but the news of her candlesticks being sold was too much to bear; she began to cry. Mr. Gantry loved to see her in so much pain. His sneer curled his upper lip underneath a bushy handlebar mustache while he reached into his suit jacket pocket. He produced two mostly used candles and threw them down to the bottom of the porch steps. “Our buyer wasn’t interested in your cheap, used candles.” He mounted his horse saying, “I’ll expect your payment promptly,” and he rode away.
Daphne was heartbroken. The last shred of her family had just been sold. Even while the heirlooms had been out of her posse
She was rehearsing the speech she was going to deliver to her betrothed when she heard him pull up out front. It was a beautiful speech that explained everything and let him down easy. She steeled her resolve, put down the clothes she had been packing, and headed to the front door to greet the man. When she caught sight of him her will to go through with the breakup started to disintegrate. He had come all this way and he must be exhausted. I will invite him in first and have a little small talk before I break the news. It is the least I can do; let him have a little rest before I tell him his trip was in vain.
Daphne drew in a deep breath, plastered a smile on her face, and swung open the screen door. “Hello,” she said with a false excitement. “I’m Daphne Haynes, and unless you have stumbled onto the wrong farm I am assuming you are Micah.”
The man dismounted his horse and tipped his hat to the lady casting his eyes to the ground as he spoke. “Yes ma’am I am.” Daphne was surprised by the man’s deep voice, and his height. At five feet five inches she barely reached Micah’s shoulder; as she walked toward him with her hand outstretched she was forced to look almost straight up to look the man in the eye. Daphne was not expecting a man of such great proportions. He was in no way fat, in fact, he was the exact opposite. He was lean, but extremely strong with a neatly trimmed beard. His cowboy hat was made of well-worn leather, and his steel grey eyes peered out from underneath its brim. He reached out his hand to meet hers, gently taking hold of her fingers and turning her hand to kiss the back of it. “It is truly a pleasure to meet you ma’am.”
Daphne gasped as she tried to recover from the shock of this man gentlemanly behavior. She felt her cheeks flush and quickly looked away from his gaze. She was embarrassed by her feelings which were a mix of giddiness and infatuation. It had been a long time since a man had treated her so kindly or any romantic gestures had found their way into her life, and this burly cowboy was making her feel things she had not expected to feel ever again. She did not want these feelings to creep up on her, this was nothing more than a business arrangement to save her farm, and besides, she was not going to marry this man anyway. Get a hold of yourself, this is simply business.
“The pleasure is all mine. I don’t see your baggage, did you leave it behind?”
“Yes ma’am, I left it at the station. It will be delivered later this afternoon.”
“Well, you must be exhausted after that long trip, why don’t you come on in and have a glass of water and I will show you around. After dinner we can talk about all of the arrangements.”
“Sounds wonderful, but I was hoping we could ride back into town. I need to return this horse to the livery, and I made arrangements with the justice of the peace to marry us this evening.”
Daphne was impressed by Micah’s go getter attitude. He was really on top of things—a characteristic not found in Hank. But this complicated things as far as breaking things off. She had not anticipated being married before dinner, and that was when she was going to deliver the blow.
“Oh, uh, hmmm.”
“Is there a problem ma’am? If we get going now we can probably take care of our bank problem also.”
Daphne was reeling now. This man was tireless. He was prepared to come into town and take care of all her problems in one fell swoop. He was even referring to it as “our bank problem” not “your bank problem”. This was the kind of man she wished she had married the first time around…a man like Johnny. Someone who would take care of her, cherish her, take away her pain. That was too much to expect from any one man though, and besides, that ship had sailed. She had resigned herself to the fact that she was damaged goods, no man would love her like that now, and she wouldn’t expect them to. She especially wouldn’t expect that from Micah. She would send him on his way so he could go about living his life and find a bride worthy of such a man.
“Micah, I don’t know how to say this. I don’t want to go through with this. I am sorry to have made you come all the way out here, but I cannot marry you.”
Micah looked confused. “Why is that ma’am?”
“I got some bad news today that has changed my plans, and I don’t think it would be fair to you to be tied down to someone like me.”
“All due respect, I feel you ought to let me decide who I get tied down to. I rearranged my life to come out here and be with you.”
“You are welcome to pay off the farm and stay here to do as you please with the place, but I cannot stay here.”
“I didn’t come out here just to take over a farm. I came out here to be wed and work the land with my wife.”
“I understand, but I cannot…” Micah cut her off.
“Look, I don’t know what has happened since our last letter, but I know you need me. I feel like if you will just give me a chance you might come to like being my bride. Why won’t you at least give me a little time? I’ll stay in the spare room, and you’ll hardly even know I’m there.”
Daphne knew she would like being his wife and that was why she didn’t want to stay with him. Now that the candlesticks were gone she didn’t have anything to offer other than a farm that was swimming in debt. “The candlesticks were sold this morning. Everything I had to offer is gone.”
“The candlesticks were sold?” Micah seethed with anger. His eyes narrowed, and became hard.
“I knew you wouldn’t want me after you found out about the candlesticks. I am so sorry. I wish I could have let you know before you made the journey. I was supposed to have three more days, but Mr. Gantry came out this morning and told me the awful news. I am so sorry.”
His face grew harder and angrier the more she spoke. She was certain he was going to explode in a fit of anger and do something violent. She braced herself for the worst. Why had she decided to send for a husband? Why didn’t she just let the farm go and start fresh somewhere else? As quick as a flash, however, his anger had passed and he was looking at her sweetly again.
“Darlin’, I don’t care a whit about those darn candlesticks, other than that they mean so much to you. I wasn’t going to take them anyhow.”
“Really? Then why did you get so angry when I told you they were gone? And why did you come here, I have nothin’ else to offer.”
“I am so angry because I hate that that old snake in the grass took advantage of you. I am so angry because banks think they can get away with anything. I am so angry because men, if you can call them that, like Mr. Gantry live high on the hog while folks in their town need help, and they just turn their backs.” His temper was flaring again and a vein in his neck began to pulse, but he calmed himself with a deep breath. “I am here my dear, because you are in need of help, and I am in need of a wife. I had grown weary of my surroundings in Texas, and I wanted to try my hand at something new. When you wrote to me about how you had been treated here over the last eight years my heart broke. I wanted to make you feel safe again, and in time, I hoped you would come to love me. If all it takes is a few hundred dollars to make at least part of that come true, I am happy to give it.”
She actually needed $1,200 to pay off the farm, but he already knew that. This man was kind and generous almost to a fault. She thought she might be able to give herself over to him, but she did not want to come across as desperate, even though desperate is what she was. “Well Micah, you have a deal. We will stay in separate rooms under the same roof for a time. I wil
“Sounds good. Let’s go in and sit for a spell, I would love some of that water you were talking about and a little bit of rest. Tomorrow I will go into town to return my horse and deal with the bank. I think I will also introduce myself to the neighbors to see if we can work together to grow our farms.”
When Daphne woke in the morning there was a flutter of excitement in her stomach. It had been years since she had cooked breakfast for a man. She quickly dressed, adjusted her hair and scurried out to the kitchen. When she got to the kitchen, however, there was no sign of Micah in the house. She found a note on the kitchen table that read, Wanted to get an early start this morning. I made myself a couple of eggs and some coffee. Leftover coffee is on the stove. I will be visiting the neighbors until around lunch-time, then I will come back home before I head to town. I am sorry I missed you this morning. I look forward to seeing you when I get back.
Disappointment settled in where the excitement had been earlier. But she didn’t have time to feel sorry for herself now; she had to set about doing her chores. She had a house to maintain. Even though she had no intention of marrying him, she wanted Micah to think of her as a good homemaker. Her excitement returned when she set down the note and saw a vase full of fresh flowers sitting in the middle of the table. How early does this man wake up? If he keeps trying this hard I might just have to give in to him.
She had been going about her business around the house for a few hours when she heard the sound of a horse. She knew better than to get excited because of her experience the day before. To her horror it was Mr. Gantry again, and he was on the war path. “Come on out here Ms. Haynes.” His voice had a nasty edge to it today.