Authors: Emma Morgan
The Twelve Brides of Christmas
Copyright © 2015 by Emma Morgan
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of the author or publisher.
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This is it,
Ella Burns thought,
I’m finally on my way out of here!
She clasped her train ticket to her chest. The train station was abuzz with the excitement of families welcoming their loved ones home and travelers embarking on new adventures.
Ella was usually a reserved girl. She tended to play it safe. But at twenty years old, she had hoped to be married long before now. There was simply no one to marry. Most of the young men around the area had either travelled west or had been killed in the war. She had considered answering a matrimonial ad from the paper even before she had heard her parents arguing, but overhearing their fight had sealed the deal. She knew money was tight for her family, but she had never known her parents to fight over it. It was obvious that things had grown worse, and she feared that she had become a burden on their already stretched income.
So, the very next morning, she had gone to the post office and had replied to one of the ads. It was short and simple.
Bachelor. 24 years old.
Gained charge over orphaned niece.
Seeking wife to help care for young child.
Mountain Ridge, California
She knew little about what the west held, but one thing she did know was how to care for children. She had been caring for her four younger siblings for the past six years, ever since her mother had been forced to go to work to help out with finances. Her siblings were old enough to care for each other now, though. She knew she would miss them terribly, but it was time for her to move on.
Ella heard the train whistle from a distance, and her heart began to race. Soon, the train came thundering into the station and rumbled to a stop in front of the platform where she and the other awaiting passengers stood. This was it, the beginning of her new life. Once the line to board started moving, she stepped forward and handed her ticket to the attendant. He summoned someone to take Ella’s bags and then ushered her to her seat. She was thrilled to find that it was a window seat. Soon, a woman of about fifty years sat next to her. Ella politely introduced herself, as did the woman, Lydia.
“Where are you headed, young lady?” Lydia asked.
“California,” Ella beamed with excitement, “and you?”
“Missouri. I’m headed to see my grandchildren. Would you believe they are already four and five years old, and I’m just now going to get to see them?”
“I’m sure they will love to meet you,” Ella said politely.
“I hope so. What does California hold for a young thing like you? That’s about as far as you can get from here in Massachusetts.”
“Yes, it certainly is. I’m going out there to get married.”
“Married? To your betrothed from here?”
“No, ma’am. I answered an ad in the matrimonial pages.”
“Oh! A mail order bride, that’s quite and adventure! I hope all goes well for you.”
“Thank you. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what to expect. He didn’t offer much information. But whatever the situation turns out to be, I’m determined to make it work.”
“With that outlook, I’m sure you will do just that,” Lydia replied with a smile.
Just then, the train whistle blew. The train jerked to a start and the platform disappeared from view. Before long, the countryside was whizzing past Ella’s window, and she couldn’t take her eyes off of it. It was beautiful. Miles upon miles of open land stretched out before her eyes, and every now and then, she spotted a town in the distance. Occasionally, they would roll to a stop in some small town and pick up passengers or let them off. Ella and Lydia became fast friends over the next couple of days. But, before they knew it, they found themselves rumbling into a small town in Missouri where they would part ways.
With a tight squeeze, and best wishes, Lydia got off the train to meet her beloved grandchildren. And soon, the train whistle blew again, and Ella found herself rumbling off into the unknown. This would be a considerably longer stretch of travel, but the scenery and her thoughts of the coming meeting kept her company now. Flat plains, and mountain ranges, farmers’ fields, and forests flew past her window over the next few days. Four fresh sunrises and gorgeous sunsets later, Ella finally found herself nearing the town she would soon call home. She would be reaching her destination in the morning.
Sleep came slowly that night. She knew she needed to be rested to handle the events of the next day, but her thoughts wouldn’t allow it. What would he be like? What would he think of her? She was of the firm belief that with a strong marriage, a couple could weather anything. But what if things didn’t go as well as she had hoped? What if she wasn’t what he had expected? The questions just kept flooding into her mind. Whatever the answers to her questions may be, she would be finding out soon enough.
Despite her lack of sleep, she found herself surprisingly alert when the sky began to show the first signs of daylight. There was little sense in trying to sleep now, so she decided to go and freshen up. She was thousands of miles from home, so there wasn’t much chance of changing plans now, but she still wanted to make a good first impression.
By the time she returned to her seat, the sun was just peaking over the mountain range that they had been climbing through the night. For a moment, she was caught up in the sheer beauty of it, but she was quickly brought back to reality when the train whistle blew. Soon, the train began to slow its pace, and a platform and train station came into view. She tried to scan the platform, hoping to catch a glimpse of her husband-to-be, but before she could spot him, she was being ushered towards the door of her train car, where an attendant already held her bags waiting for her. There was no time for nerves now, so she stepped out onto the platform.
Looking around, she saw several people awaiting passengers, mostly men. She had never seen any pictures of her husband-to-be, how was she supposed to find him? Then, she caught sight of a young man, who looked to be in his mid-twenties. His boots and hat were dusty from working out on the range, but his clothes were clean. He was holding a young baby.
That’s him, it’s got to be,
she thought. As she approached him, he took off his hat and spoke first.
“Yes, I’m Ella Burns. Mr. Pearson?”
“Yes, ma’am, call me Ben,” he said, shaking her hand.
“And who is this?” she asked, peeking into the bundle of blankets he held in his other arm.
“This is Hannah, my niece. Now daughter by adoption.”
Ben pulled the blankets away from Hannah’s face so Ella could get a better look at her.
“Oh, she’s beautiful,” Ella said with a smile.
“Thank you, ma’am. Would you like to hold her?”
“Oh, yes, please. But, call me Ella.”
“Of course, Ella,” he said, handing her the small, cooing bundle. “I came to have her after my brother and sister-in-law fell ill. The illness progressed too quickly for us to get medicine out here in time. I’ve never been married, and I don’t have much experience with children, but I’m her only relative now. I posted the ad because I’m in dire need of a woman’s help to care for her. When you responded to my ad, you said you had experience with children. Is that right?”
“Yes,” she replied, still smiling down at Hannah, “I’ve never been married either, but have been responsible for caring for my four younger siblings over the last several years. They now range in age from four to fifteen, but I cared for the youngest when she was an infant.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful,” Ben said with a sigh of relief, “I’m afraid the last few weeks have been a bit rough, between work on the ranch and my lack of experience as a father. The prospect of marrying a stranger has always seemed a bit odd to me, but I’m grateful for your help, and we will get to know each other. I’m assuming you were planning on marrying upon arrival. If you’re prepared to do so, then we can ride down to the church before we head out to the ranch. Is that alright with you?”
“Yes, that will be fine,” she replied, looking up at him, relieved that this was going smoothly.
“Great, let’s put your bags in the wagon, and then we can go down to the church. It isn’t far.”
He helped Ella up into the wagon with Hannah, and then put her bags in the back. They rumbled down the dusty roads of Mountain Ridge. It was a small town, but it had the essentials. There was a general store, an inn, and the church, along with a couple of places to eat. The mountains provided a lovely backdrop to it all, with the pine forests coming to the edge of town. The crisp mid-October air was refreshing, and carried the scent of pine in the breeze.
“It’s beautiful here,” Ella commented.
“I’ve always thought so, but I’m glad that you like it. The weather here can get harsh, though. The storms cause a lot of damage, and winters are long. But with enough preparation, we will be safe and comfortable through the winter.”
They stopped in front of the little church building, and Ben tied up the horses. He then came around and helped Ella out of the wagon. Inside, Ben disappeared into a side room, and came back with a man of forty years or so.
“Ella, this is Jack Hastings, he’s the reverend here in Mountain Ridge. Jack, meet Ella Burns, this is the young woman I told you about.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Burns,” Jack said, “I understand you travelled out here as a mail order bride?”
“It’s nice to meet you as well. Yes, sir, that’s right.”
“Well, we’re happy to have you here, and glad to know that Ben will have help with the baby now. If you’re ready, I can go ahead and marry you, and then my wife and I would love to have you two over for lunch, if you can spare the time.”
They happily accepted, and Jack officiated a nice, simple wedding. Afterwards, they went to the Hastings’ house where Ella had the chance to meet Becca Hastings, Jack’s wife. She was a kind woman, a few years younger than Ella’s mother. She had a way of making this new, foreign place feel like home for Ella. After they had enjoyed lunch and visited for a while, Ben told Ella they should get going, as the ranch was a few miles from town, and he wanted to get home before dark. So, after thanking their hosts, they set off for home.
Upon leaving town, the terrain flattened out a good deal, but was still quite wooded. The rumble of the wagon lulled Hannah to sleep in Ella’s arms. Ella discreetly observed her riding partner. He was a young man, with dark hair and green eyes. His skin was tan from working outside, and his hands showed the signs of hard work. She wondered what he thought of her. Was she what he had expected? She had chosen one of her nicest dresses to meet him in, and she had done her best to put her hair up while rocking back and forth on the train. Their meeting had gone smoothly, but still, she hoped that she had made a good impression.
It was lovely here, but Ella had never been anywhere so secluded. Towns were plentiful on the east coast, and even the countryside there was dotted with homes. Here, there was nothing but woods for miles. She noticed Ben had a shotgun tucked next to him on the bench of the wagon.
“Do you have much trouble out here?” she asked, motioning to the gun.
“Not from people, it’s to protect the horses. There are plenty of coyotes and bears in the woods, along with the occasional mountain lion. They usually steer clear of a wagon, it makes too much noise, but I keep that there just in case.”
“Oh, I see,” she said, suddenly feeling very far from home. They didn’t have much wildlife back home in the city, at least nothing that would do any harm. But Ben seemed comfortable enough. His easy-going nature and confidence that he could handle things helped to put Ella at ease.
Eventually, they entered a clearing in the woods, with a little cabin in the middle of it.
“That’s it … home,” Ben said.
“It’s lovely,” Ella replied, taking in the view of her new home. There was a barn near the cabin, and a small chicken coop off to the side. She could see cattle grazing in the fields behind the cabin, with a dog running around near them, keeping a close watch over them. Ben noticed Ella watching the dog.