Authors: Carra Copelin
Tags: #Historical, #Romance, #Fiction, #Forever Love, #Victorian Era, #Western, #Fifth In Series, #Saga, #Fifty-Books, #Forty-Five Authors, #Newspaper Ad, #Short Story, #American Mail-Order Bride, #Bachelor, #Single Woman, #Marriage Of Convenience, #Christian, #Religious, #Faith, #Inspirational, #Factory Burned, #Pioneer, #Arkansas, #Philadelphia, #Society, #Massachusetts, #Tornado, #Father, #Threats, #Stranger, #Family Life, #Two Children, #Wife Deceased, #Farmer, #Common Ground, #Goals
BRIDE OF ARKANSAS
AMERICAN MAIL-ORDER BRIDES
Laurel Weidner desires a life of her own away from Philadelphia society and a dull, boring marriage. She is sent to live with her aunt in Lawrence, Massachusetts. When her Aunt dies in a tornado, she gets a job at the Brown Textile Mill to avoid going back home. Two months later the mill burns down, and her father threatens to bring her back to Philadelphia.
When the mill and her livelihood perish with the fire, she has no other choice but to answer an ad in the Grooms’ Gazette and become a Mail Order Bride. Will she find peace and long lasting love in the arms of a stranger?
Griffin Benning needs a mother for his children. When his wife died, he lost his two children to his in-laws who claimed to have a better environment for raising his children. He misses his family and is coerced into advertising in the Grooms’ Gazette for a wife to raise his children and work the farm in order to get them back.
Will his ad for a Mail Order Bride provide what he needs? Can he find love and happiness with a stranger?
Can these two strangers find a common ground to reach their goals along with a happy-ever-after?
Lawrence, Massachusetts, September 1890
Laurel Weidner stood alongside her friend, Violet, and dozens of other women, all former employees of the Brown Textile Mill, on the bank of the Merrimack River. They’d lost their jobs when the Mill burned down a week ago. With most of them facing bleak times, each one listened closely as Roberta McDaniel, their previous manager, started to speak.
“I’m sure you’re all wondering why I’ve gathered you here today.” She glanced over at her friend, Sarah, who nodded and smiled encouragingly. “All of us have been left jobless by the fire in the factory. Mr. Brown has no intention of rebuilding.”
Laurel’s hands started to tingle and for a few seconds, she heard nothing but a roar in her ears. When her head cleared somewhat, she realized Roberta was still speaking.
“. . . my sister recently went to Kansas as a mail order bride. A matchmaker in Beckham found her groom for her, and she’s happy. I went to see the matchmaker yesterday to find out if she had any other prospective grooms out there.” In her hands she held a small newspaper that she raised for them all to see. “She had just received the first hundred copies of the Grooms’ Gazette that she’d put together when I arrived. I told her about our predicament, and she gave me fifty copies. I’ve already picked out my groom and sent him a letter.”
The wheels turned quickly as Laurel processed the information and before she could open her mouth, Gabrielle called out, “When will we hear back? How will we make it for that long?”
“It takes about a month to hear back . . .”
Laurel began calculating immediately. Her rent at the boarding house had been paid for the month and, with the little bit she’d saved, she might be able to stay a week or two longer if necessary. Two meals a day were included in her rent and that would be all she needed.
Violet took hold of her hand. “Laurel, what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know at this point if we have much of a choice, do you?”
Poppy called out from behind Laurel, “How do we know the men will treat us right?”
That was a major concern, as Laurel had heard horror stories of how some mail order brides had been treated. A woman never knew if the prospective groom had given misleading information.
Roberta continued, “All have been investigated. She can’t guarantee you’ll be treated right, but we’ll form groups. We’ll write to one another. If anyone is hurt, hook up with one of your friends and take a train to see her.”
Laurel heard bits and pieces of conversation around her as the women discussed their options. Some, like herself, could wait longer but others had to decide much faster. Josephine was the first to make her way to Roberta and get a copy of the Grooms’ Gazette. She said with nowhere to go and no way to support herself, she’d have to be stupid not to do this.
Before the tornado had hit Lawrence this past July, Laurel’s father had demanded that she come back home to live. Laurel had ignored her father’s attempts to reach her after her Aunt Lottie had perished in the storm. But if she stayed here, it was only a matter of time before he’d send someone, or come himself, to drag her back to Philadelphia and a life of extreme boredom. Being married to one of her father’s friends, or one of their sons, and making a home in society wasn’t her idea of a way to live. She’d watched her mother do that all her life.
On the other hand, if she married someone of her own choosing, she would be able to make her own way. Her independence was at stake here and, in the last year, she’d found she liked making her own decisions.
She and Violet had exchanged their current addresses with Cora earlier so they could stay in touch and leave forwarding addresses. Cora was unsure as to what she wanted to do, but, like Josephine, Laurel didn’t see there was much choice for their survival. She was better off than some of the women, having been able to put a small amount of money away as a savings, but that wouldn’t hold out for long.
She turned to Violet and said, “Come on, what do we have to lose?”
Violet sighed, but she took Laurel’s hand and they fell in line for their own copy of the Grooms’ Gazette.
Laurel closed her eyes and said a small prayer for them all.
Back in her room at the boarding house, her home since the tornado, Laurel lit the lamp and sat in the single chair next to the window. She cleared the knick-knacks off the surface of the small table so she could spread out the paper. Carefully she removed her reading glasses from the case and began searching the ads for her future. After several pages of ads, one, in particular, piqued her interest.
**Help wanted. Need wife to keep house and raise 2 daughters, ages 5 and 3. I am 28 years, 6 feet 3 inches and in good health. I am self-sufficient, reasonably good-looking, and of good moral character. Require lady of same. Contact G. Benning, Flat Rock Point, Arkansas.**
She still couldn’t put her finger on what drew her attention to this ad specifically, but he was certainly short and to the point about himself and the wife he needed. She read the ad several more times. Well, she knew how to keep house and could set the servants’ schedules down to the minute. She loved all her friends’ children, so that shouldn’t be a problem. As to self-sufficient, she’d been taking care of herself since her Aunt Lottie died. She’d never thought of herself as pretty, but she was definitely a God-fearing Christian.
With these thoughts, she took a piece of paper and began her reply to Mr. G. Benning in Flat Rock Point, Arkansas. Her future lay in his response.
Flat Rock Point, Arkansas, October 1890
Griffin Benning stood at the train station waiting for a woman he knew nothing about. He didn’t even know what she looked like. In her letter, she’d said her hair was blonde, she was of average height, and her eyes were blue. Her description could fit hundreds of women. Hopefully they wouldn’t all be on the train today. If he had any luck at all, she hadn’t changed her mind, and would be getting off the train today. The way his luck had been running lately, though, he wouldn’t bet on it. Actually, he wouldn’t bet on anything. That’s what had gotten him to this point to begin with.
Henry and Gwenda Sealy, his mother-in-law and father-in-law, had taken charge of his daughters one year ago after his wife, and their only child, Ora Lee, died. They’d moved them to their home in Little Rock and promised to take care of them until he could provide a proper home for them.
He understood why they were reluctant to leave the girls with him. He managed his father-in-law’s business, Sealy Lumber Mill of Arkansas, and made his living as a logger, which kept him away from home six of the seven days in a week. As a widower, he had no wife at home to take care of his two small girls. His attempts to find a housekeeper had been in vain because there were none in this small town. There were a couple of women who’d jump at the chance to be his wife, but neither one of them matched his ideas of what a wife should be. Besides, both their voices and personalities set his teeth on edge.
He’d written his in-laws to bring his daughters, Josie, age three and Coral, age five, for a visit in the hopes he could talk them into staying with him permanently and raising their grandchildren, his children, here where they could be a family and he could have a hand in raising his girls. Unfortunately, he’d run head first into a brick wall otherwise known as, Gwenda Sealy.
Some of the men on his team had talked about advertising for brides and had written their own ads. Finally, six months ago after a few drinks, they’d badgered him into joining them and had taken bets that no woman would answer his ad. After more than a few beers at the saloon, he’d strung a few words together on a scrap piece of paper and dropped it in the envelope with all the others.
Last month he’d received the first of two letters from a woman in Massachusetts. He pulled the first one from the inside pocket of his jacket and reread the beginning.
I’ve seen your advertisement in the Grooms’ Gazette. I believe we can be mutually beneficial to each other’s needs. I like children and can keep a house in top running order. I am of average height, have blonde hair and blue eyes and possess good moral character.**
She mentioned something about being able to plan a well-rounded menu and enjoyed working in the garden. She signed the letter, Miss L. Weidner. He hadn’t questioned her further in his second letter, he’d simply agreed to send her train fare from Massachusetts to Arkansas. She’d responded with the time her train would arrive. He looked forward to good home cooked meals and clean clothes on a regular basis. He also looked forward to a competent mother for his girls.
Griffin pulled his watch from his pocket and checked the time as the train’s whistle wailed in the distance. He’d soon find out what kind of a hole he’d dug for himself and just how deep.
Laurel sat by the window as the train slowed to a stop at the station in Flat Rock Point. She looked long and hard for a man as tall as Mr. G. Benning had said he was. From her vantage point, no one, man or woman, appeared much taller than her own height. Billows of steam cut off her line of sight rendering any further search useless.
She gathered her reticule and valise and prepared to leave the train car. But, as she stood, her knees wobbled and she sat back in her seat to regain her balance. Doubts about her decision came flooding back and nearly overwhelmed her. This was the most outlandish thing she’d ever done. What choice did she have though? Josephine’s words from that day by the Merrimack River came racing back to her,
“I’m in. I have nowhere to go and no way to support myself. I’d have to be stupid not to do this.”
Her own plan, the one she’d so boldly plotted out in case this madness failed, seemed insurmountable. How was she supposed to find a job to support herself when she couldn’t even get off the train? She was letting her nerves get the better of her.
“You can do this, Laurel,” she whispered. “Remember Philadelphia and your alternatives.”
“Are you all right, Miss?” the conductor asked.
“Yes, I am . . . I just . . . need . . .”
What? What do I need? Gumption? A shove? Another option?
The kindly older man looked at his pocket watch. “The engineer keeps a tight schedule, Miss, and we have five minutes to get you off this train.”
More steam rose from under the car drawing her attention. It reminded her of a dream she’d had as a child where she wandered, searching for . . . something. She raised her head and suddenly, when the steam dissipated, the tallest, most handsome man she’d ever seen stood on the platform outside her window scanning the crowd. His hair was dark blonde, much like her own, and he had light brown eyes. The depot completely disappeared behind his shoulders.