Authors: Carré White
Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Victorian, #Western, #Historical Romance, #Inspirational, #Westerns
Copyright © 2014, 2016 Carré White
All Rights Reserved
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
his book contains
material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this book is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author.
Alvin Texas, August, 1881
a bull rancher a little over a year ago, living on the small tract of land we had purchased outside of Alvin, Texas. Our herd consisted of only four bulls, which wasn’t all that impressive where ranching was concerned. Lloyd built a dugout for a home, which he excavated into the side of a rolling hill. It kept the rain off our heads, but it was hardly comfortable, and the floor of packed dirt felt cold and damp to the touch. Despite this, I had been happy and reasonably content in life, until Lloyd’s death by trampling, killed by one of his own bulls. The good Lord had provided, but he had taken it all away, because I was alone, destitute, and desperate enough to concoct a shameful scheme to secure my future.
I had lived in Texas all my life, my family having come from Amarillo. After pa died and ma got sick, I had little choice but to agree to marry the first fella who asked, and that was Lloyd. I couldn’t say I loved the man, because the concept of love seemed like an idea from one of those fancy novels ladies liked to read in their parlors. I had never been fortunate enough to have a parlor, but I had read as many books as I could get my hands on, immersing myself in a good story whenever I was able.
“You think you’ll ever be back in these parts again, Celia?” asked the neighbor who had agreed to drive me to the train station in Houston.
“I doubt it, Lenny.” The intensity of the sun seeped through the blue bonnet I wore, heating my scalp. “Nothin’ left for me here.”
“Where you going again?”
“New Mexico Territory.”
“No. A place called Boot Creek.”
The wagon trundled along a rocky road, bordered by verdant fields of wild grasses and colorful weeds. Having rained most of the morning, the humidity remained considerable, with air almost too heavy to breathe.
“What you gonna do there, Celia? Are they looking for work as a washerwoman or cleaner?”
“I’m meeting my future husband, is what I’m doing.” I shifted the position I sat in, because my back ached, due to the considerable size of my belly. “I’m a mail order bride.”
“Is that so?” He glanced over his shoulder, squinting. “Resourceful of you. Does he know you’re a widow?”
“He does not.” That was one of the shameful omissions I tried not to feel guilty about. The Lord would forgive a little lie, wouldn’t he?
“And the baby? You told him you’re with child?”
“Not in so many words.” I had actually used zero words to describe my “delicate” condition. This was the second shameful omission, and I tried not to feel guilty about that as well.
Lord, you’re going to have your hands full forgiving me of all my sins
. I hoped and prayed my fiancé, Earnest Hobart, would fall madly in love with me and everything else would not matter. Although I did not believe in fairy tales, I held on to that thought, because the alternative was too frightening to contemplate.
“What’s your fiancé do, if you don’t mind me asking.”
“He’s a farmer.” I chuckled, “You’re not having any problems asking all sorts of personal questions this morning, Lenny.”
He ignored that. “What’s he grow?”
“Pigs, I suppose, and other livestock.”
“How long you known him?”
“Not very long. I had to hurry up the courtin’ process on a account of my … er … belly.”
“I see.” He reached into a leather bag on the seat beside him. “You hungry?”
“I’m always hungry, Lenny.” I had pulled the last of the radishes and carrots from our meager garden this morning, as the dirt beneath my nails could attest to. “You got food in that bag?” I had chosen to sit on the soft hay in the bed of the wagon, preferring to recline rather than sit.
“I do. I got some jerky. Want some?” I snatched the meat from his proffered hand, ripping off a piece with my teeth and chewing determinedly. “Heaven’s to Betsy, woman! You eat like you haven’t seen food in weeks.”
He had been right about that. Since Lloyd’s death, I had been forced to sell one bull after the other, but I slaughtered the smallest, curing as much meat as I was able. The money I earned bought incidentals such as canned foods, coffee, sugar, flour, and two new dresses, although they had been previously worn, to accommodate my ever-expanding belly.
“Maggie and I would’ve taken you in, if we’d known you were so bad off, honey.” He turned to look at me with sympathy. “You seem pretty hale, though. You don’t look weak. A little thin maybe.”
“I’m just fine. I ate a bull and sold the rest. I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself.” That much had been true, but the food had run out in the last two weeks, leaving me hungry. I chewed heartily on the meat, while the wagon jolted beneath me. “Did something break?”
“Naw … just a rut.”
“It’s mighty kind of you to take me to Houston, Lenny. I know you’re plenty busy with your wife and kids and work. When I’m happily settled in Boot Creek, I’ll think about you every once in a while and pray for you in church.”
“I’ll pray for you too, Celia, cause I think you’re gonna need all the prayers you can get. You’re livin’ in a fool’s paradise, if you think that man’s gonna marry you when he sees your condition.”
I frowned at that. “He’s in love with me, Lenny. How I look shouldn’t matter.”
Laughter filled the air. “How you look? You look like a lying hussy, Celia. That’s what you’ll look like to him. He won’t know you’ve been married, cause you omitted that in your letters, but he’s gonna take one look at you and hightail it on outta there, is what he’s gonna do.”
“Maybe it’s better, if we don’t talk. I enjoy a nice, quiet wagon ride. I’d rather contemplate a bright and prosperous future … away from here.”
“That’s what I don’t understand either. There are plenty of men in Alvin who need wives. I don’t know why you can’t pick a local. Why you gotta go so far away?”
“I’ve taken all of that into consideration, Lenny. I went to the Friday night socials, and no one wanted to dance with me. I’ve been to the church picnics, and no one sat with me. I attended the Wednesday night Bible study, and everyone was married. I’m plum outta luck.” I patted my belly. “They don’t want us, baby. No, they don’t.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. You’re a pretty girl, Celia. I’ve always thought so. I wouldn’t have minded asking for you, but I met Maggie first.”
“And she wasn’t with child.”
“No, she wasn’t.”
“If she had been carrying a baby, would you still have courted her?”
“It depends on who that baby belonged to and how it came about.”
Now this had my attention. “What do you mean?”
“If she got the baby from behaving fast and loose, then I don’t think I would’ve asked her to marry me. Being a widow is a whole different ball of wax.”
“I see. Well, then I should do just fine. I’m not fast and loose.” I lifted my chin. “I’m a widow. My husband went and died on me, leaving me destitute.” A thin, silver ring gleamed on my finger. “I’m gonna have to take that off, I suppose.”
“What?” He glanced over his shoulder.
“So tell me about your fiancé. What do you know about him?”
“He’s not from Boot Hill. He was born in Maryland, but his family moved to Ohio when he was a youngster. His pa was a lawyer. Lloyd thought about law himself, going to school for it for a while, but he decided to be a farmer instead.” I reached into a worn-looking traveling bag, pulling out a wrinkled letter. “I have what he wrote right here.”
“He sounds astute. Studying law requires some smarts.”
“I’ll read this to you.
‘Dearest, Celia. I hope this letter finds you in good health. I’ve been a bit under the weather myself, but I am rallying the best I can to get well quickly. I greatly look forward to your arrival. I hired a woman, Julia Benchamp, to clean the house, because I know young ladies prefer things tidy. Being a bachelor, I confess, I have let the domestic details go around here. I am often traveling to bring the animals to market, so I am away for weeks at a time, and things become dusty. I will try my best to shorten these trips, but it is often necessary to be away. I do hope this does not alarm you. I have no intention of abandoning my wife. I have come to adore you through our many correspondences’
“He sounds nice enough.”
“It’s easy to put a good foot forward in letters. Being with someone in person is a whole different story.”
I dismissed that. “Do you want me to keep reading?”
“Only if you feel the need to. I shouldn’t pry into your life. I just have a bad feeling about this.”
I sighed, because I had felt the same misgivings. “I’ve got no choice, Lenny. If I stay, I starve. My baby starves. We all starve. I’ve been praying for an answer, and this is it. God wouldn’t lead me wrong.” I had to trust this had been the right decision.
“I sure hope so for your sake. If, for some reason, this fella doesn’t pan out, you’re welcome to stay with us until another option opens up for you.”
“Truly?” That tickled me pink, but I would never return to Alvin. My heart was set on traveling west and finding adventure along the way, and a new husband, of course.
“Yes, ma’am. I’d never leave a lady stranded, not in your condition anyways. I think you could’ve found a man here without too much trouble. You didn’t try hard enough, Celia. Can’t fathom why you’re goin’ so far to get married.”
“I’ve seen what’s around here, and it isn’t much.”
“It’s the same thing you’re gonna see in Boot Creek. Sounds like an awfully small town to me.”
“Do you know the population?”
“Three hundred or five hundred. I’m not certain.”
He glanced over his shoulder, frowning. “Are you crazy, woman? We got a heck of a lot more people here than that. Your chances of finding a suitable husband are far better right here in Alvin. You taken leave of your senses?”
“No one will marry a pregnant woman!” I shouted, as my anger flared. “That’s why I’m searching for greener pastures somewhere else.”
“He’s gonna take one look at you and break the engagement. You’re setting yourself up for failure. Sorry I have to be so blunt about it. I’m not gonna lie to you, honey.”
“I’ve made up my mind. I sold all I have left, including the land. I’ll be fine. I have to trust the good Lord will look after me and my boy. He’s seen me through worse scraps.”
“I’m havin’ a boy, Lenny. I just know it.”
After my parents died, I had been left to fend for myself, not having a soul to lean on. My older siblings had families of their own and none of them lived anywhere near Amarillo, having moved on years earlier. I, being the youngest, was six years my sister’s junior. I had been a surprise baby, because ma did not think she could have more. My parents were well into their forties when I came along. Someone mentioned rearing me had worn them out, and, perhaps, this was true, because I could only ever remember pa being in ill health.
Lenny and I spoke little after that, traveling in silence through one ranch after another, as cattle and farming were prevalent here. There were other carriages and work wagons, and these increased as we neared our destination. The city of Houston stood on land near the shores of the Buffalo Bayou, with a bustling port and railway. This would be where I embarked on my journey, taking the train to meet up with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. Never having been on a train before, I looked forward to the adventure, excited to be traveling in such style.
The streets teamed with people and animals. Brick and wood structures alike filled my vision, while a horse-drawn tram passed by, carrying a dozen passengers. Although the city, with all its energy and distraction, appealed to me, I would be lost here. I preferred the comfort of a small town, where I knew everyone, and they knew me.
“It’s not too late to change your mind.”
I worked to push loose strands of hair into my bonnet. “I’m not changing my mind.”
“You should. This is going to lead to disaster.”
“My fiancé loves me, Lenny. Although you think writing letters is silly, it’s possible to feel affection for someone, even if you’ve never met them before.”
“Hogwash! But it’s your life. I just hope you know what you’re doing.”
Extracting money from my pocket, I generously handed him a dollar coin. “Here.”
He looked at it. “No. Keep your money. You’re gonna need every last cent.”
“Are you certain? It’s taken up most of your day bringing me here.”
We neared the station, where the traffic became even more congested. Excitement raced through me at the prospect of joining the other travelers and setting out on an adventure. Lenny pulled the wagon to the side of the road, before a two-story wooden structure with a sign that read, Robinson’s Hunting store. There were other shops alongside of it.
“I got some shopping to do here. Maggie’s got a list of things I gotta get. I was planning on coming anyhow.” He set the brake, wrapping the line around the brake arm and jumped to the ground, striding to the back of the wagon to unlatch the door. “All right, young lady.” He held out a hand. “This is where we say goodbye.” Helping me out, he smiled pleasantly. “You take care of yourself. We’re sorry to see you go. Maggie told me to tell you she’ll miss you.”
I hugged him. “Thank you, Lenny. It’s been good knowing you.”
“You got a ticket yet?” He stiffened slightly, not expecting the embrace.
“I’m getting one straight away.” I grinned, feeling more hope in that moment than I had all year. “It’s time for my journey to begin. I’m throwing myself into the unknown with gleeful abandon. Wish me luck.”
“Good luck, Celia.” He turned from me, murmuring, “You’re gonna need it.”