Mail Order BridebyAlex De Kok©
This little tale was originally posted here on Literotica, but has spent some time out in the world as an e-book. However, the publisher ceased operation due to illness and the rights reverted to me. I thought about it, and decided I'd rather be read by the many than sold to the few, so here it is. Enjoy! I hope.
After I had buried both of my parents, my father after an accident, my mother after a brief but fatal illness, with the same epidemic taking my lover, too, staying in Chicago held little appeal to me. After I had settled the few debts outstanding I tried to appraise my situation. I was working as a blacksmith. Aye, and enjoying it, too, but I was working for someone else and I wanted to be my own man. The newspapers were full of the opportunities available 'out West' in the America of the 1880s, I had the faith and optimism of youth, for I was young, strong - headstrong, some would say - and only twenty-two. The West was waiting for me, so I reckoned that West I would go and seek my fortune. After purchasing my ticket I had fifty-three dollars, my father's old .36 Colt's Navy revolver and a knapsack with a change of clothes.
I'm tall, an even six feet, and well muscled from my blacksmith work. My mother had given me red hair and green eyes; my red hair and temper had given me a broken nose and a talent for handling myself in a scuffle.
I'd made my way West, and I was on what I hoped and prayed would be my last train ride, at least for some time, for I was getting tired of the constant jolting and the pervading smoke from the locomotive. The train was crowded and I'd been lucky to find a seat, but there was more room now as some folk had left the train as the journey progressed. I was tired too of the smell of unwashed bodies, my own among them I must admit, and I wanted to breathe clean air again. And soon, I hoped.
Sitting next to me was a buxom lady of some sixty summers, traveling with her daughter and son-in-law. On the other side of the aisle were a young woman and an unsavory-looking fellow traveler apparently intent on forcing his attentions on her. The young woman was pressing herself back against the window, her face pale, tense, obviously not welcoming the man's advances. She looked only at her hands, clutching a frayed bag, and I suspected it was all she owned, her knuckles showing white from the tightness of her grip. I tried to ignore them, not wishing to interfere in something not my business, but the girl seemed scared, a sentiment that seemed to be shared by nearby travelers, judging by the way they carefully avoided catching his eye. The girl, too, keeping her head lowered and not looking at him. I wondered if they knew something about the man, something I should know, something that might make me hesitate, but I didn't like the way he was forcing his attentions on her and decided that I should do something about this.
I tapped him on the shoulder, and he turned to glare at me. "Excuse me, sir," I said, "but I do not think the lady wishes to be bothered by you." I smiled politely as I said this, remembering my mother's words, 'politeness costs nothing'.
He scowled, which didn't improve his looks any. "And what in blazes has it got to do with you," he said savagely.
"Nothing, sir, but my mother taught me always to be polite to a lady. I fear that you are not." I smiled at the girl, who had looked up at my interruption, but she flushed and ducked her head. I addressed her directly. "Excuse me, miss, but is this gentleman with you?"
She shook her head, not meeting my eyes. I turned to the fellow again. "The lady does not wish to be bothered by you," I said, "please leave her alone."
"And if I don't," he sneered, "what will you do?"
I smiled. "I might have to teach you the error of your ways."
He looked me up and down and laughed, showing an unappetizing set of broken and misshapen teeth. "The train is stopping," he said, "we'll settle this when it stops. Just you and me."
"I see no need for violence, sir," I responded, "but we shall discuss it like gentlemen, when the train stops."
"Please, no!" A whisper. It was the frightened girl, her face white. She glanced sideways at the man beside her, then at me, her brown eyes wide, dark against the pallor of her face. "Not for me."
"I fear 'tis too late, Miss." I smiled again. The man lurched to his feet and I flinched, almost gagging from the reek of his breath, as he pushed his face close, the greasy brim of his hat almost touching may face.
"Far too late," he said. He leered at me. "Do you know who I am?"
"No sir, nor do I care. You have offended the lady and must make amends." I nodded to him. "So who are you, sir?"
"Jed Calloway," he said. "I'll be waiting for you on the platform."
There had been a collective gasp from the nearest of my fellow passengers on hearing the ruffian's name and as he made his way to the end of the car there was a buzz of conversation and the imparting of dire warnings to me, the gist of which was that Calloway was a known killer, with variously twelve, fifteen and nineteen victims, 'not counting redskins' as one of my advisers said.
"I merely intend to advise him of the error of his ways," I said. "There will be no bloodshed."
"That won't stop him," said one young man, bright blue eyes almost lost in the sun-squint lines on his tanned face. "Are you carryin'?"
"Carrying?" I repeated. "Carrying what?"
"A gun; a pistol."
"I have one in my knapsack," I responded, "I won't need it."
The man snorted. "He'll kill you, sure as eggs."
"We'll see," I said. I glanced from the window. Softer country now, for we were well past the mountains, and the plains were days behind us. Rolling hills, trees everywhere, plenty of water, beautiful. The train had been slowing as we talked and now it came to a standstill. To take on water, I guessed, as we'd made several such stops.
"Please excuse me, I'll just go and see Mr. Calloway," I said to the old lady next to me. She gave me a hard look but said nothing, and I thought I saw a touch of pity in her eyes, fearing I might be going to my death.
I walked toward the end of the car, following Calloway. Every eye was upon me, some frightened, some bemused, all avid. I smiled at one or two, especially the ladies, and made my way to the door. The sun was almost at right-angles to the train, which was Calloway's misfortune, because the shadow of his waiting figure, arm raised to club me with his pistol was clear to me as I glanced through the last side window.
I opened the door at the end of the car and took a long, fast step forward. It was that which took Calloway by surprise, for the blow aimed at my head, clearly intended to stun or even maim me, missed, and Calloway lost his balance. I hit him. I felt no compunction, for he had obviously intended to hurt me, in hitting him as hard as I possibly could. I hit him in the belly. I had been working as a blacksmith; I was young; I was strong; I knew I could hit hard.
My fist almost disappeared in the lard of his belly, his face turned green, and his head came forward as he gasped with the power of my blow. I was annoyed--no, truth; I was mad, damned mad--at his intended assault and, not wishing to waste his motion, I put my knee into his face. I heard his teeth hit together with an almighty crunch and he was unconscious before he hit the ground. Yes, the ground. My knee in his face knocked him clear off the platform and onto the railroad ballast. I stepped down and checked that he was still breathing, took his pistol and threw it away as far as I could, then went back into the car.
An air of silent expectancy greeted me. No one spoke, at least no one I could hear above the roar of my own blood in my ears. I'd only hit him but the one time, but the anger was coursing in me and I took deep breaths to steady myself. Where was Calloway's baggage, I wondered, then spotted a greasy pair of saddlebags that lay next to his seat.
"Are these Mr. Calloway's," I asked the folks around me. Dumbly they nodded.
"He'll be catching a later train," I said, smiling to myself at the buzz of hushed conversation behind me. I threw the saddlebags down on the unconscious Calloway just as the train began to move off again.
I went back to my seat, and the old woman smiled grimly at me. "Nice one, son," she said. "But ye'd better watch your back from now on, for he'll not forget."
"He doesn't know where I'm going," I said. I turned to the young woman on the adjacent seat. Her eyes were wide, but this time with surprise, and I think maybe a touch of embarrassment, but I thought I could see unspoken gratitude there, too. I smiled at her.
"Would you like to change places?" I asked. "I don't think you'll be bothered sitting next to Mrs., er, Mrs?" I turned to the old woman, eyebrows raised in query.
"Jenkins, son, Eliza Jenkins." The old woman looked across at the girl. "Sure, honey, come sit here."
The girl nodded and moved across the aisle, smiling briefly and faintly at me, catching my eye as she passed, a hint of freshness about her, her skirts brushing my legs in the close confines of the railroad car.
"Thank you," she whispered, before settling herself beside Mrs. Jenkins.
"My pleasure, Miss," I said.
I spent the rest of the journey covertly studying the girl. She seemed nervous, keeping her head down, avoiding any eye contact, although she relaxed a little in Eliza Jenkins' company. The old woman chatted to her about everything and nothing, but there was still a taut edge about the girl, which could have nothing to do with Calloway, miles behind us now. The journey dragged on with frequent stops. After the next one, I was sitting next to a young girl, about twelve years old, who had boarded the train with her parents. I let her have the window seat, for which she thanked me with a pretty smile.
It was late afternoon, moving into evening, when we reached our destination.
Halcyon, according to a crudely hand-lettered sign at the side of the track. For the moment a mostly tent village some twenty or twenty-five miles from the end of the line, but it was where a well-traveled trail crossed the route of the railroad, and a prime site for a town to grow. There were a few frame buildings already finished and work had begun on others. The train had made frequent stops as it neared the end-of-track, usually at what appeared to be raw, new, settlements, and most of my fellow passengers disembarked at these stops, so that there were only the young woman, some other women apparently traveling alone, maybe eight or nine of them, the tanned fellow with the blue eyes, the young girl and her parents, and me.
When we wearily clambered from the passenger car, there was a group of men waiting. Homesteaders, from the looks of things, and a tall, thin man in a rusty, black suit, clutching a bible. Things were confusing for a little while, but I finally worked out that the women had come out here to be married; mail-order brides, and these men were their husbands-to-be. The man with the bible was the preacher, there to marry them.
I realized, too, with a sense of keen disappointment, disappointment that took me quite by surprise, that the young woman was one of them. It was only after a lot of shuffling around, questions and answers, names being exchanged, that I realized that there seemed to be no one there to claim her. There was a tight edge of worry about her now, and I wondered who she'd expected to meet, who her husband-to-be was. If he wasn't there to claim her, I reckoned he didn't deserve her, but who was I to judge?
After a hurried word with the party of men and women, who moved away toward a large tent which seemed to be about to serve as a makeshift church, the thin man approached my traveling companion.
"Miss Strang? Miss Elizabeth Strang?" he said, doffing his hat.
I could see the hard edge of worry on her face tighten, and she nodded, white-faced. "Yes," she whispered.
"I'm the Reverend Elijah Cornwell. You were expecting to meet Joseph Helson, I believe?" She nodded. "I'm most terribly sorry that it is myself who must give you the bad news, but Joseph was killed in a rock fall two days ago."
The girl swayed and I thought she was about to faint and I stepped forward to catch her, but she steadied. "Killed?" she whispered.
Cornwell nodded. "I'm afraid so," he said.
"I have no money," she whispered. "What shall I do?"
Cornwell looked uncomfortable, and I stepped forward, on impulse. "Reverend? May I have a private word with Miss Strang, please?" Quite what I intended, I wasn't sure, but something was telling me I should do something, offer her some sort of comfort.
Cornwell looked slightly startled, but I guess he could see no reason to stop me, so he murmured assent and moved out of earshot. There were only the three of us left beside the train, everyone else having moved away. Elizabeth Strang regarded me, tense, nervous. No more nervous than I was myself, I figured. "Miss Strang, please forgive my impertinence, but this Joseph Helson? Had you ever met him?"
She shook her head, brown eyes enormous in her pale face, reminding me vividly of a doe I had once startled, before it sprang away. "No, we exchanged letters. He paid my fare here. There are few women out here and he wanted a family, a home life." Her eyes closed and tears spilled down her cheeks. My breath caught, and I fought my own tears. "So do I, and he seemed so kind, from his letters."
"Forgive my asking, please, but have you any money at all?"
She bit off a laugh, short, harsh. "About five dollars."
"None," she whispered. "My mother died last year."
I took a deep breath, wondering for a moment just what I thought I was doing, almost amazed at my intention, but I went on. I guess it's the certainty of youth, that belief a man has to have in himself and what he does. It was an impulse, a pure and simple impulse, yes, but it was one that I felt quite sure about, for some reason, some gut feeling deep down, and I didn't hesitate.
"I have about fifty dollars. I'm a blacksmith by trade, and I'm not afraid of hard work. I'm healthy, I don't have a wife anywhere else that you need to wonder or worry about, so would you consider accepting me as your husband?"
I held my breath as she stared at me, shocked, unspeaking. The preacher moved impatiently and she glanced at him, unseeing, then back at me. "You don't know me," she said.
"True, and you don't know me, but we're both young and I think we can make it work."
She stared at me a while longer, then took a deep breath. "I'm not even sure why I'm doing this," she said, "but yes, I will be your wife." She stopped dead. "I don't even know your name!"
I laughed, feeling a strange relief at her acceptance. "Mackenzie. Alistair James Mackenzie." I bowed to her. "And delighted to make your acquaintance." The preacher came toward us, then, hesitant. I smiled at him. "Reverend, Miss Strang has consented to be my wife."
"She has?" he said, surprised. "You have?" he said, turning to her.
She nodded. "I have, Reverend. Mr. Mackenzie and I became acquainted on the train, when he saved me from the unwelcome attentions of a man, and I know him to be a man of integrity," she said, her voice clear and firm.
The Reverend smiled, his tired face lighting in a smile of great charm. "Excellent. Shall we join the others?"
The next hour or so was a little confusing, but at the end of it Elizabeth was Mrs. Mackenzie, and I had a wife. We had no home, nowhere to go, but I think we both had the infallible optimism of youth, for Elizabeth was only a year or two my junior. We were discussing what to do when one of the other new husbands came across to us, doffing his hat. Sandy hair, open face, friendly, maybe thirty, thirty-five.
"Excuse me, folks, but I think I can mebbe help you a little." He turned to Elizabeth. "I understand from the Reverend that 'tis you who was to be Joe Helson's wife, if'n he hadn't got hisself killed. Is that right?"
"It is, sir."
"Joe and me, we came West together, couple of years back, and we moved out into the valley together. Joe started a homestead at the Forks and I think he'd be pleased to have you take over, rather than some fly-by-night who just happened by. Ain't much there yet, but he'd started buildin' a cabin, and it's a prime spot." He turned to me. "Got a trade, son?"
His eyes lit up. "We need one, out by the Forks. Joe's homestead is right where the trail splits, prime place for a blacksmith. Soil's good, too, an' you still have time to get a crop in. Joe planted, an' I'd hate to see it wasted. Prime land. I'm a mile further on."
He paused, and then laughed. "I should say, me an' Emma's a mile further along the trail. That's Emma, over there," he said, indicating a plump young woman of about twenty-five or so, waiting patiently. He gestured, smiling, and she came over. "Emma, these folks is goin' to be our neighbors. Didn't catch your name, son?"
"Mackenzie. Alistair James Mackenzie. Jim, to you. And this lady is my wife, Elizabeth."
"Tom Harrison, and my wife, Emma."
"You think Joe Helson would want someone to take over?"
"He wouldn't want his work to go to waste." Tom glanced aside to where Emma and Elizabeth were chatting. "I think he'd be pleased for Elizabeth to be there. He was looking forward to her arrivin'." We chatted for a moment or two, inconsequential stuff, until Tom touched my arm. "Have you got transport, son?"
I smiled. "My two feet."
Tom laughed. "Emma and me, we're staying here tonight, sleeping in the wagon." He blushed, and I suppressed a smile. "What about you and Elizabeth?"
"I thought we'd walk until dark, camp overnight, go the rest of the way tomorrow."
"'Bout two miles along the trail, there's a clump of oaks, where the trail crosses a stream. Go west about fifty yards from the ford, and there's a little clearing. Nice spot to overnight. Stay there, and Emma and me, we'll pick you up in the morning, give you a ride. Okay?"
"Sounds great. Thank you, Tom."
"Be a nice quiet place for you and Elizabeth." He nodded. "See you in the morning. Not sure when," he said, laughing and blushing at the same time.
Elizabeth had been standing quietly waiting, and she touched my arm, a light touch, but positive, and I gazed at her for a moment, trying to read her, this stranger who'd become my wife.
"Shall we go, husband?" she said, with a faint smile for me. "I fear there's nothing to keep us here."
I nodded. "Aye, wife, let's go."
Husband. Wife. Two words I surely hadn't reckoned on being anything to do with me when I boarded the train. Not this soon, anyways. Oh, I planned on getting married one day, sure, but I'd been thinking on gettin' myself settled, find a home, before I even dared to think about finding myself a wife. Yet, here I was, married, the same hour I stepped from the train, to a woman I'd never even heard tell of, let alone met, before I started my journey. I smiled to myself. A wry smile, for sure, but for some strange reason I felt confident that we'd make a go of it.
We picked up our bags and set off, but we hadn't gone more than a few hundred yards when I touched Elizabeth's arm and drew her to a halt. "Carrying our bags this way will just tire us. I'd like to try something I read." Curious, she watched as I took my big knife, named for Colonel Bowie, and cut a couple of saplings. A few minutes work with the knife, some pieces of sapling, and using peeled bark for lashing and I was finished. I held it up proudly.
Elizabeth looked at it, looked at me, looked back at it, then at me again. "What is it?" she said.
I laughed. "If it doesn't fall apart, a carrying frame. Look, I'll fasten our bags on it, so, put my arms through these two loops, so, and this piece goes across my forehead and takes weight from my shoulders, so. See?"