Authors: Rosie Harper
Tags: #Mail-Order Bride, #Western, #Historical, #Romance, #Victorian, #Adult, #Forever Love, #Bachelor, #Single Woman, #Wild West, #Texas, #Stephenville, #Small Town, #1800's, #Cowboy, #Courageous Women, #Rugged Men, #Books, #Family East, #Boston Society, #Ranch, #Western Frontier, #Librarian, #Teacher, #Chic Parlours, #Traveled, #Wild World, #Adversary
Copyright 2016 by Rosie Harper- All rights reserved.
In no way is it legal to reproduce, duplicate, or transmit any part of this document in either electronic means or in printed format. Recording of this publication is strictly prohibited and any storage of this document is not allowed unless with written permission from the publisher. All rights reserved.
Respective authors own all copyrights not held by the publisher.
Caitlin & The Cowboy
A Mail Order Bride
By: Rosie Harper
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Caitlin & The Cowboy
The rain dripped onto the glass of the large sash windows and ran in rivulets that gathered on the large sills outside. The drawing room was suffocatingly hot, as Caitlin tried to pay attention to the droning monotone of Mrs Pinkerton as she extolled the virtues of her nephew. If he was one whit as dull as he sounded, she was sure that her brother would deem him perfect, and she would spend the next month trying to convince him, again, that she did not wish to marry the poor young man, or any man at all.
All she could see, beyond the rain, were buildings, carriages, and people rushing around looking busy, yet achieving nothing. She longed to see something green, to be in the wide open spaces she knew filled this great land. She got only the shortest moments to enjoy anything approaching freedom when she rode in the park each morning. Her brother frowned upon it, wished she would take the carriage like other young women – but she had to have something that wasn’t dictated for her, by him or the rest of the society they lived in.
“Caitlin?” he said suddenly, a black look on his face that told her she had missed something again.
“I am so sorry, I was feeling a little feint,” she hedged. “Did you ask me something Mrs Pinkerton?” She hadn’t ever felt so much as a little under the weather in her entire life, but it was a polite face-saving way of avoiding her lack of attention.
“I asked if you enjoyed embroidery my dear, the piece by the fire is quite exquisite.” She pointed at the frame that her sister-in-law had sewn and left lying around casually. The purpose of its presence was indeed for just this moment, that callers would think it Caitlin’s. She almost snorted at the thought of wasting her time doing something that had so little purpose, but contained herself as Robert glared at her. She hated lying, and felt it wrong to mislead anyone. But, her brother was in charge of the house, and the price of her remaining there was his good will.
“I try Mrs Pinkerton, my fingers are a little clumsy but I try,” she said honestly, simpering ever so slightly. She had perfected this response. It was true enough and did not lay claim to the work in question, yet to a visitor’s ears, and her brother it sounded as if she were simply being modest.
“Shall we see you at the ball tomorrow?”
“I believe my brother and his wife intend to take me to Mrs Elliot’s supper party and for us to follow on,” she said honestly.
“Then we shall be doubly blessed with your company as we do the same,” Mrs Pinkerton said with a smile. Caitlin couldn’t help but return it. She may be boring, but she was a sweet lady and she clearly loved her nephew deeply. She prayed he would not be as staid and unforgiving as all the other young men her brother had pushed into her path since their parents had passed away. She knew she could never be happy with anyone as traditional and conservative as he.
She had barely re-entered the parlour when Robert turned on her. “Will you never take anything seriously?” he demanded. “Mrs Pinkerton will surely have noticed how little attention you paid, will be highly offended.”
“She seemed more than happy as I saw her to the door brother, it seems that only you are ever offended by me,” Caitlin responded, fed up of the constant criticisms.
“You are ungrateful Caitlin. After everything that Philomena and I do to try and ensure your happiness, and every time you throw it back in my face,” he fumed.
“Robert, if you truly cared for my happiness, then you would let me find out what it might be that could prosper it. I have told you time and again that I do not wish to be married. I have never asked to be paraded in front of all these doting Mothers and Aunts. It seems that marrying me off would however give you happiness.”
“Of course it would. Mother and Father would want me to ensure that you are safe and cared for.”
“Oh Robert, do not bring their memory into this to make me feel guilty. Mother and Father loved me as I am. They never tried to mold me into something I am not, unlike you. I know you believe that my happiness lies within matrimony, but not with men like you.” Caitlin didn’t want to wound him, but she knew she would never be able to be the kind of wife that Philomena was to Robert, meek and subservient.
“Men like me?” he puffed self-righteously. “There is no other kind of man. Show me a man who wants a wife who is a better rider, shot than him and I will show you a figment of your imagination Caitlin. Let alone the idea that there is a man alive who would be happy for his wife to work with horses, or livestock as you do. Do not look at me as if you are surprised that I know of your forays out to the stables, this is my household – nothing happens here without my knowledge. I can tell you now that every man wants a good wife, who obeys and does him honour my girl. They have no desire for a hoyden who insists on trying to be a man.”
“Which is precisely why I keep telling you that I am happy to remain a spinster, Robert! Please brother, stop trying to marry me off, or I am afraid I shall have to leave and make my own way in the world.”
“If you wish to live under my roof Caitlin, you will behave as a good young lady of Boston should, you shall be polite to any guests we may have, and you shall consider any potential husband I deem suitable for you,” Robert said pompously. Caitlin wanted to laugh at his puffed up chest, and indignant expression, but she could see he meant every word. But so had she. She could not continue to live like this, always being made to feel as if she was somehow made incorrectly, that if she would just do as she was told that she would be more content.
“Then we have reached an impasse,” she sighed. “I shall pack my things and leave tomorrow for if those are the terms of living under your roof – my family home too Robert – then I should rather take my inheritance and find myself somewhere to set my own rules. I shall write to you when I am settled.” She gave him a sad look, and swept from the room, up the wide stairs and into her room. She slammed the door, and flung herself onto her bed. She took her pillow and punched it brutally, imagining it was her brother’s jowly features she was able to displace as easily as she did the feathers. She knew that to wish to display anger, to want to inflict hurt to another was not ladylike, but she couldn’t help it. He made her so angry. She didn’t want to hurt him and she knew that she had, but he hurt her every day when he refused to accept her as she was.
She lay down clutching the pillow, and pulled out the scrapbook of clippings she had been making from the newspapers. Each one was the tale of a woman who had gone against convention, had made her own luck and forged her own future. She flipped through the pages of cowgirls, ranchers, miners and even prospectors. Caitlin knew she was like these women, not the simpering parlour Miss she was expected to be. They were strong, determined, courageous. They had taken risks. Some had even driven the stage coaches and battled tribesman to make their place. She would be at home amongst these women, finally she would be able to make her own dreams come true.
“Caitlin, please don’t leave,” Robert said as he held the door closed. “Why you aren’t even taking any belongings with you?”
“Robert, I will have no need of dresses and fripperies. If I find I do I shall send for them. I shall write, and I shall make sure that you know I am safe.”
“But…” he tailed off.
“Robert, you want me to be like Philomena, like all of the young women of our acquaintance. I do not wish to be anything like them and if that makes me mannish and unappealing to young men then I do not have any problem with that. Let me go, let me be myself. I shall be happier that way.” She moved towards him, seeing him soften. She put her arms around his waist and kissed his cheek lovingly. “You are not throwing me out, think of it more that I am heading into the world to find my fortune.” She smiled at him and held him tightly. Finally he put his arms around her too, and kissed the top of her head tenderly.
“Take care little sister. Remember we love you and you will always have a home here. If you need anything at all just let me know.”
Caitlin’s horse was almost completely lame as they both limped into the small town. She was sure she must look an absolute sight, dressed in men’s clothes and now covered in dust and grime to boot. “Well Monty, I wonder if our welcome will be any warmer here?” She scratched his nose, and lent down to feel his foreleg. It was hot and throbbing. She would need a poultice on it soon, before he lost the ability to walk altogether. She threw his reins over the hitching post, and took a deep breath before she entered into the brightly lit Saloon bar.
“Please, can you help me?” she asked politely as she marched nervously up to the bar. She had found that few people looked closely at your features if you spoke and carried yourself with confidence as she had entered Saloons and Hotels on her long journey across the country. But, the appearance of the regulars in this particular Saloon did not fill her with confidence that as a woman alone she would find a warm welcome. Many wore guns slung casually at their waists, some chewed tobacco and stared as she passed. One even spat a wad of the foul smelling herb out at her feet as she passed. All were unshaven and rough looking. She didn’t want to stay any longer than she had to, but Monty needed help. She needed him to get to the next town, because she certainly didn’t want to remain here – but he would never make it.
The bar keep looked at her suspiciously. “Ma’am,” he said as he tipped his hat and leant closer to her. He stank of stale whiskey and cigar smoke. It wasn’t pleasant. She wanted to lean away, but steeled herself to ask for what she needed.
“My horse is almost lame. I need to make a poultice of onion, white willow bark, pepper or wintergreen should you have any,” she stammered. He laughed loudly, saliva spraying over her face.
“I sell liquor, am not an apothecary. You want my help, you spend your money on some whiskey,” he said as he slammed a bottle of a cloudy looking brownish liquid onto the bar. Caitlin shuddered. The bottle was filthy, and the liquid within it didn’t look like it would do her insides any favours.
“I don’t drink,” she said boldly, knowing it would annoy him and make him even less likely to help but there was a small bit of her that was fed up of men treating her as if she was some kind of a fool. She was just as deserving of help as any man, could ride better than many and knew there was little any man could do that she couldn’t. She was also sure she could drink as well as any man too if she wanted to – but why should she have to drink such foul tasting liquor to prove her place? “So, I’ll pass. But is there anybody here that might help me?”
She turned and looked at the men sat lounging at the tables pretending not to listen, though she knew that they were taking in every word. Nobody said a thing. They just stared at her as if she were an exhibit in the zoological gardens. She felt utterly deflated. She had believed that even if men in the West didn’t care for one another, they did at least care for their mounts. She turned and made her way towards the door.
“I can’t provide what you need for your poultice, but I may be able to help,” a bookish looking man, wearing round, wire-rimmed spectacles perched on his narrow nose said as he edged cautiously towards her through the more rugged looking men around him. He was half the size of the smallest of the other patrons, but there was something about him that was oddly magnetic. He was good looking, in an indoors way, with a shock of unruly curls that had clearly not seen a comb in many years but it suited him. He wore a suit, though his buttons were done up in a higgledy piggledy way, making him appear rumpled and as if he had dressed in a hurry. His air of nonchalance about his appearance was strangely reassuring.
Caitlin had never been particularly concerned by her own looks, though many had often commented kindly on them. She had vivid auburn hair, that shone like copper in the sunlight and a trim and healthy body with a waist a man could span with his hands. But compliments on her womanly attributes had so often been undermined soon after, by criticisms of her behaviour. It would seem that a woman born into good looks and a fine figure had a duty to be elegant and well-mannered. Heaven forbid that she should enjoy riding, hunting, gardening and even helping out in her family’s stables amongst the dirt and dung.
She had taken such a risk leaving her home and everything that she had grown up into, but when her parents had passed away, leaving all in the hands of her traditionally strict and staid brother except a small pension and a lump sum that was intended to be used as her dowry, she had decided that it was time to take that chance. Everyone said that there were such opportunities in the West. That women had more freedoms here and she had gathered every story she could find to give herself encouragement to do so too. She craved that with all her heart and she had known that she would never be able to continue to live under her brother’s roof without breaking every one of his rules for her, every single day.
“Thank you,” she said to this unusual man, grateful that even here there was somebody who was good enough to care. She led him outside to where Monty stood looking a little sorry for himself.
“He’s a good looking horse,” the stranger said. “Have you been travelling far?” His voice sounded concerned for her. It almost made her cry and she had to choke back the sob that threatened to escape her lips. She was so very tired, and longed to rest somewhere, to be welcomed by someone.
“We have ridden through three States Sir, once we left the train in Kentucky” she admitted. “We’ve been trying to find a home, somewhere that a woman can farm in her own right. I thought that people here may be more open to that sort of thing, but it would seem that in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Oklahoma that they still prefer a little lady to be just that.” She tried to force a smile, to try and show this man that it didn’t matter to her one bit. But it did, and she was beginning to think that her brother was right, and that all the newspaper stories were just pretty fictions to entertain city folk who would never venture far enough to find out it simply wasn’t true.
“That is quite a goal,” the stranger said with an admiring look in his eyes. Caitlin could have kissed him for not dismissing her dreams out of hand. “I have been out West for some time now, and I know of only one place, even here, where you may find such tolerance. If you ride for another fifteen miles or so, just head northeast along that road there,” he pointed to the other road that led out of the small town to the one she had ridden in on. “Then you will find Stephenville,” he said encouragingly. “We have some feisty women indeed there!” he chuckled.
Now he was standing next to her, she could look at him properly. He removed his spectacles, and tucked a note book carefully into his pocket. He had gentle brown eyes, and a smooth complexion. Though he was slight, she could tell there was a wiry strength and resilience of character in him. She wondered what a man like this was doing in such a place, but didn’t dare to ask. His face was kind, and he had a quiet confidence that made her believe that he would be a good friend, and a staunch support in a crisis. He clearly hadn’t minded one bit what any of the tougher, even more dangerous, looking men in the Saloon thought of him for being different.
“My name is Caitlin Macgregor,” she said as she stuck her hand out in front of her. He gave her a lopsided smile at the manly greeting. It made him look entirely endearing. He took her hand and shook it firmly.
“Albert Dalligan,” he said. “Now, may I?” he asked indicating Monty’s leg. She nodded. Tenderly he took the poor beast’s leg in his hands, and she could see him feeling along the length carefully. “Just a small strain, he’ll be right as rain in a couple of days with the right care.”
“I had thought as much. But, where do I find such care? It would certainly seem that nobody here will help, present company excepted of course.”
“Of course,” he repeated, a twinkle in his deep blue eyes. “I have business to undertake here over the next week or so. Why not borrow my horse to get you as far as Stephenville. You will find a warmer welcome there I am certain of it. I shall be back there very soon. Monty will be well by thte time I return and you can either choose to stay where you are, or move on to somewhere else.”
“Sir, you are too kind,” Caitlin said overwhelmed. It had been so long since she had heard a kindly voice – let alone been offered such charity. Her journey had been a long and lonely one. “Your charity is too much for me to accept. How do you know I am not a horse thief?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Looking at this fine beast, I would be getting much the better deal as you will see when you meet my poor old Gamling – even if Monty here is lame!” He whipped out his notebook once more, and quickly scribbled a few lines on one of the pages. She stared at his long, tapering fingers, at the ink stains on the calluses where he held the pencil. They were strong fingers, gentle hands she was sure. Ripping it out, he looked her deep in the eyes. “Take this to Mariette Williams. She will find you somewhere to stay. I am the schoolmaster, and Annie’s house is empty now – it should do you nicely until you decide what to do next.”
“Annie? Mariette? ”
“Annie is the School Mistress, has just married and so her home is no longer occupied. Mariette is the beating heart of our town. Nothing happens that she doesn’t know about it. She’ll help you,” he said earnestly. “Owns a ranch herself with her husband, and she is the outright owner and editor of our local newspaper. She is quite the law unto herself. Made all her money dressed as a man,” he said as he looked her up and down appraisingly. Caitlin had the strangest feeling that despite the practicality of her buckskins, he liked what he saw. He seemed to linger on her curves, and blushed a little as he looked back at her face. “She’ll be glad to have another young woman just like her,” he finished a little lamely.
“Thank you Mr Dalligan. If you are truly sure that you wouldn’t mind waiting here with Monty until he is well enough, I shall be glad to take Gamling home for you. If Stephenville truly is the place you believe it to be, this could turn out to be the most serendipitous moment of my life so far. All I have dreamed of, for my entire life, is a place where I can be myself. Where I do not have to take a husband, to become some downtrodden wife, and to run my own land the way I want to.” She could feel her heart lifting, filling with the hope that had buoyed her to take such a gamble in the first place. And, if it meant being neighbours with this delightful young man, with the gentle smile and ink-stained fingers it may well be a home she could enjoy very much indeed.