Title: How to Return a Mail Order Bride
Author: Susan Payne
Genre: Historical Western Women’s Fiction
Something feels right about the town Gwen landed in no matter that the sheriff tries to convince her otherwise. She’ll wait for her missing fiancé or die trying.
“Ma’am, I gotta tell you, there ain’t no rancher with the name of Henry Smithers. Not a Hank, either. No Bar Double X or nothin’ sounding like it.” Zeke hated telling this young woman these truths because with every one, he seemed to be pounding one more nail in her coffin. “You’ve got the names mixed-up or someone led you on a very bad joke.”
“But Sheriff Layton, Mr. Smithers wired me the train ticket with this message, right here.”
He accepted the piece of paper with the telegraph company’s name plainly at the top. He read it out-loud in case there was any miscommunication. “Miss Standish, Cincinnati, Ohio. STOP. Please consider the deal closed. STOP. Sending funds. STOP. See you in two weeks in Coller Creek. STOP. HS.”
Folding the paper and handing it back, he said, “Well, Miss Standish, as I said I don’t have a man here in town by that name. What does he look like?”
Embarrassedly she glanced away. “I don’t know. I was supposed to meet him and we were to be married at the Methodist Church before leaving for his ranch, the Bar Double X.”
She appeared about to cry and he shook his head slowly waiting for the deluge. “Miss, all we got is a Presbyterian Church at the end of the street and an Amish settlement, but they don’t build churches, just meet in one another’s home.”
He wasn’t sure why he added the last bit. Maybe trying to soften the blow, he thought.
“Why would a man write those letters? He wasn’t under any obligation to ask for my hand. We only wrote to one another twice.” The young woman seemed genuinely confused.
In for a penny in for a pound he figured. “Two letters? Why’d you use that ticket and come all this way? From Ohio, didn’t you say?”
“Yes, Cincinnati, and I haven’t the funds to buy a ticket back home and I may as well confess, I’ve no home to return to either. Although to be precise, the station master purchased the ticket after receiving the wire transfer.”
Zeke was stymied. He didn’t know what to say or do which was unusual for him.
She interrupted his thoughts. “Is there a woman’s boarding house I could stay in until I figure out what happened?”
“No, Miss, the only boarding house we have is a little rough. Its only got canvass walls between the rooms. Gets rowdy around payday at the end of the month. It’s not a place for a lady.”
“I may not have a choice in the matter. I sold everything of value waiting for Mr. Smithers to answer my letter.”
He squinted. “So, you one of those mail order brides?”
“I do not agree with the term. I had as much a say in who I agreed to marry as the man did.” She lifted her chin letting him know she would argue with him if he pursued the matter.
Wiser than to ask her how that worked out for her, he instead watched as several emotions showed on her face until only a worried frown remained. He couldn’t believe this pretty, young woman needed to resort to placing advertisements in public papers. Her hair tucked under her bonnet was mostly brown with some lighter streaks and her eyes were a clear brown fringed with thick lashes. He didn’t know what kind of nose she had, but it was straight and fit her face nicely as did her mouth which had been smiling until recently. Until she realized how precarious her situation actually was.
When she approached him, she was merely inquiring about this man he never heard of. Evidently someone who thought it funny to lead a respectable young woman on a wild-goose chase. He realized she had stopped talking and thinking. Her expression turned into one of hopeless loss.
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This story highlights how short the choices for women, even educated women, were in the 1870s. At a time when females were beginning to run businesses of their own, they were limited and required their own financing. Females couldn’t own property, buildings, or have bank accounts of their own in many states. Although this female character had an education her income was limited. Marriage was often the only security. Most towns had no way to help widows and orphans and it was left for counties or even states. Never married women were not provided for.
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A voracious reader her whole life, author Susan Payne loves the written word. When reading wasn’t enough, she decided to allow her mind to take flight and write all the many stories that kept intruding in her life. She blended her love of history and her love of words to create over eighty stories. All historical and centering on couples finding love and a happy ever after together.
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