Authors: Margaret Brownley
Â© 2013 by Margaret Brownley
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Scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version of the Bible. THE NEW KING JAMES VERSION. Â© 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The
, New Living Translation. Â© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. The Holy Bible, New International VersionÂ®,
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Publisher's Note: This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author's imagination or used fictitiously. All characters are fictional, and any similarity to people living or dead is purely coincidental.
ISBN 978-1-4016-9021-2 (ebook)
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
A bride for all seasons : a mail order bride collection / by Margaret Brownley, Debra Clopton, Robin Lee Hatcher, and Mary Connealy.
ISBN 978-1-4016-8853-0 (alk. paper)
1. Mail order bridesâFiction. 2. Christian fiction, American. 3. Love stories, American. I. Brownley, Margaret. And Then Came Spring. II. Clopton, Debra. An Ever After Summer. III. Hatcher, Robin Lee. Autumn's Angel. IV. Connealy, Mary. Winter Wedding Bells.
To Natasha Kern, literary agent extraordinaire!
Natasha is my guardian angel. I'll always be grateful to her for believing in meâand leading the way.
(And What They Really Mean)
Eager to learn
âcan't cook; can't sew; can't clean
âcan ride, shoot, and spit like a man
âpoor as a church mouse
mean face and mean disposition
keep her away from the ranch hands
âyou may wish to reinforce the floors
âworking on husband number three
âhas six children and one on the way
Possesses natural beauty
âdon't let the false hair, cosmetic paints, or bolstered bosom scare you
âgive her a dollar and she'll figure out how to spend ten
âdoesn't look a day over sixty
And they lived happily ever after
âAND THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER.
The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the Lord.
The Hitching Post
mail-order bride catalogue for the discerning, lonely, or desperateÂ .Â .Â .
What in the name of Betsy was she thinking?
Melvin Hitchcock reread the letter from one Miss Mary-Jo Parker and shook his grizzled head. Not only was her spelling atrocious but she also expressed interest in a “fine Christian man,” then carelessly described herself as a
No, no, no, that would never do. As owner and editor of the
it was Melvin's duty to present clients in the best possible light. To that end, he had no qualms about rewriting clients' ads or editing letters exchanged between couples wishing matrimony. In his not-so-humble opinion, his clients were fortunate to have him looking out for them.
Men often described themselves in glowing, even mythical, terms. The more a man lacked in height, hair, or bank account, the more exaggerated his pen. If Melvin didn't know better, he would think the Wild West was populated by rich, tall, and handsome men with an abundance of head fur and charm.
And the womenÂ .Â .Â . ah, they were a different story. The fair sex tended to be so disarmingly honest that he wondered if they really wanted husbands at all. Or perhaps worried or overbearing mothers were pushing their daughters into the realm of holy wedlock. That would certainly explain Miss Parker's disregard for propriety.
No matter. Melvin had a reputation to uphold. Following the War Between the States, mail-order bride catalogues had sprung up like mushrooms, though none could claim as many successful marriages as the
. That was because Melvin, with a swipe of his pen, turned a “chunky” figure into “charming,” “homely” to “comely,” and “unÂdomesticated” into a “willingness to learn.” Melvin would have no trouble making the gambler's daughter sound like a pillar of virtue and innocence.
He wasn't dishonestâheavens no. He was simply looking out for his clients' best interests. If that charitable action benefited him and his company, what possible harm could it do to the soon-to-be happily wed?
Sure as God made little green apples, Mr. Daniel Garrett would rue this day. Mary-Jo Parker would make it her business to see that he did. For two solid hours he'd kept her waiting at the train station. He didn't even have the courtesy to leave a message or arrange for someone to pick her up.
“Well, Mr. Garrett, I've got news for you. You'd better have a good explanation for keeping me waiting or the wedding is off!” Now she was talking to herself, but that was the least of her problems. She was cold and tired and hungry andÂ .Â .Â .
She hated admitting it, but she was also scared. What if she'd traveled all the way from Georgia for nothing? Her aunt thought her crazy to marry a man she'd never met, but his kind letters convinced Mary-Jo that she was doing the right thing.
Don't let me be wrong about that, God
She dug in her purse for her watch. Two hours and twenty-two minutes she'd been waiting! If her errant fiancÃ© bothered showing up at all, it better be on hands and knees.
She slipped the watch back into her drawstring bag and reread the dog-eared telegram. All correspondence was screened by the proprietor of the
so the telegram was signed by Mr. Hitchcock. It clearly stated that her fiancÃ© would meet her train. They would then drive to the church to be married posthaste by a preacher.
She stuffed the telegram into her bag and marched back into the telegraph and baggage office for perhaps the eleventh or twelfth time. Her high-button boots pounded the wooden plank floor like two angry woodpeckers. Nearly tripping over the threshold, she froze.
The last time her foot had caught in a doorway, a tornado blew the roof off her aunt's house. Mary-Jo gave the wood panel wall three quiet knocks. Warding off bad luck was a full-time job, but no matter how hard she tried not to tempt fate, misfortune seemed to follow her wherever she went.
Careful not to step on any cracks, she paced the length of the counter, waiting for the youthful operator to finish tapping the gilded telegraph key.
After a while, he swung around on his stool and peered at her from beneath the visor of his cap. He was probably no more than eighteen or nineteen. “Like I told you before, ma'am, no one left a message for you.”
“Yes, you made that perfectly clear.” She hadn't mentioned her fiancÃ© by name. She was humiliated enough without the whole town knowing that she had been left not only at the train station but quite possibly at the altar as well.
“Could you please direct me to the nearest hotel?” After a hot bath and change of clothes, she was bound to feel more like herself. Maybe then she could figure out what to do.
Relief crossed the youth's face, but whether it was because she was about to leave or had finally asked a question he could answer, it was hard to tell.
“Just go straight up that street.” He pointed in an easterly direction. “The hotel's on the right, opposite the church.”
She stepped outside. Brr, it was cold. She pulled her shawl tight and straightened her bustle, but the more she tried brushing train cinders off her yellow skirt, the more they smeared. Giving up, she reached beneath the narrow brim of her straw bonnet to fluff her curly bangs and then patted down the sausage curls in back. Perhaps things would work out for the best. At least now she wouldn't have to meet her future husband looking like a ragbag.
Gathering the carpetbag that held her carefully sewn trousseau in one hand and her Singer Fiddle Base sewing machine in the other, she started on her way.
In his letters, her betrothed had described the town as thriving and he hadn't exaggerated. Wagons raced back and forth along the dirt road leading through town. Dust flew in every direction and her already dry throat prickled.
The buildings were mostly brick, though some were faced with what looked like marble or limestone. Between taking in her surroundings and trying not to step on a crack, she failed to notice the young boy until he plowed into her.
“Oomph!” she cried. Her carpetbag flew out of her hand, but she managed to regain her balance and hold on to her precious sewing machine. The boy, however, was facedown on the boardwalk.
“Oh dear.” She dropped to her knees, setting the Singer by her side. “Are you hurt?”
He shook his head and climbed to his feet. He reached for his slouch cap and plopped it haphazardly atop stringy brown hair that hadn't seen a comb for a month of Sundays. Face flushed, he looked like he was trying his hardest not to give way to tears. She guessed his age at seven, maybe eight.
“Are you sure you're not hurt?” she persisted. He regarded her solemnly, and she tried again. “What's your name?”
“They call me Fast Eddie.”
“I do declare, you can talk. Fast Eddie, eh? I guess I know how you came by that name.” She pulled off a glove and held out her hand. The boy's eyes widened before taking it. “You can call me Miss Parker. I'm new in town and I'm mighty pleased to meet you.”
The boy frowned as if he didn't know what to make of her. Still, she couldn't help but feel sorry for him. Never had she seen a sorrier-looking child. His trousers were at least two inches too short and his shirt had more wrinkles than a rotten apple. Where were his parents? And why wasn't he in school?
She didn't have the heart to lecture him or even demand an apology for nearly knocking her off her feet. Instead, she lowered her voice so as not to alarm him any further.
“Perhaps you could help me.” Helping adults always made children feel important. “I'm looking for Mr. Daniel Garrett. He's a lawyer. Do you know him?” Though he'd never mentioned it in his letters, surely he had an office somewhere, perhaps even nearby.
The boy regarded her with eyes blue as the bright Kansas sky. Finally he nodded. “IÂ .Â .Â . know him.”
“Praise the Lord.” It was the first piece of good news she'd heard since arriving in town. Maybe her luck was about to change.
“He's my pa.”
Had Fast Eddie punched her in the stomach, she wouldn't have been more shocked. Dumbfounded, she stared at him and felt sick.
“DidÂ .Â .Â . did you sayÂ .Â .Â . he's your pa?” she managed at last.
Again the boy nodded.
Hand on her chest, she tried to catch her breath. Her fiancÃ© never mentioned children. There had to be a logical explanation. Yes, yes, of course. There must be
Daniel Garretts in town, odd as that seemed.
“Are you his cantaloupe bride?” Eddie asked.
Her breath caught. “DoÂ .Â .Â . do you mean catalogue bride?”
With a nod of the head, the boy effectively wiped out any hope of there being two men with the same name.
Her body stiffened. Feeling suddenly light-headed, she forced air into her lungs. If the boy was telling the truth, that meant Daniel Garrett had a serious memory problem. Not only had he failed to meet her train, but he also had a son he'd forgotten to mention.
She stood and glanced up and down the street. This day was turning out to be a nightmare. She should have known better than to leave Georgia last week on a Friday. Everyone knew that traveling on a Friday was bad luck.
“Where might I find your”âshe narrowed her eyes and ground out the last wordâ“pa?”
The boy's face clouded and she felt a surge of guilt. She didn't mean to take it out on him. None of this was the child's fault. She swallowed hard and tried again. “Do you know where I might find him?”
The boy pointed to the high-steepled brick church across the street from the hotel. He then tore away as if being chased.
She started after him, waving. “Wait! Come back!”
Eddie darted in front of an oncoming horse and wagon. “Watch out!” she gasped.
The irate wagon driver managed to stop in time, but he wasn't finished with the boy. He pumped his fist and railed against irresponsible youth in general and Eddie in particular.
Mary-Jo hated to see the child being yelled at, but a good tongue-lashing would probably do him a world of good. He could have been killed. As for his fatherÂ .Â .Â . not only had Daniel Garrett lied by way of omission, he also appeared to be a neglectful parent, and she had no tolerance for either.
She grabbed her sewing machine with one hand and her carpetbag with the other. Teeth clenched and bosom heaving, she marched across the street. She was so incensed she forgot to watch for cracks.
“You better be in that church praying, Daniel Garrett,” she muttered. “Because when I get through with you, you'll wish you never heard of me!”