Authors: Jan Holly
Marriage by Mail
Copyright © 2015 by Jan Holly. All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Printed in the United States of America
First Printing, 2015
Cover created by the author at Bigstock and Pic Monkey.
Scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version of The Bible.
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Dedicated to my husband with all my love.
1 Corinthians 13:4–8a
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (NIV)
Charles’s eyes widened as a woman in a blue calico dress stepped lightly off the train. She looked eagerly around the station, her expression alert and friendly, her blue eyes sparkling. She reached up to smooth her blonde hair beneath her hat. He felt his heart soar as he stepped forward. After all these months of waiting, Charles was finally about to meet his bride.
. Mr. Caleb Bradford,” Pastor James called out, looking past Charles and into the crowd. The woman in the blue dress turned, glancing at Charles as she smiled at Caleb who was nearly running to reach his bride. Caleb quickly pulled off his hat, coming to stand by her side.
“Charles Smith,” said the pastor.
Charles stepped forward, just one step, his mouth dry, heart pounding. He pulled his eyes away from the woman in the blue dress. She was
“Charles,” said the pastor again with a smile, gesturing in his direction.
Directing his eyes away from Caleb’s bride-to-be, he took two more steps, but seemed unable to make his feet move again.
Hovering on the train’s threshold, a woman gripped her faded carpetbag, looking at her feet. Wearing a threadbare dress that looked three sizes too big, she looked small and lost. Charles saw her take a deep breath, straightening her shoulders as she lifted her head. Her face was pinched and pale, her eyes shrouded by spectacles with amber lenses. Her oversized hat obscured her hair as she turned toward the pastor and the man with him who ran the Genteel Correspondence business. The pastor smiled encouragingly at Charles, who took another step toward them. The woman turned, looked in Charles’ direction and promptly fainted. Her hat fell off, revealing light brown hair cropped short as a boy’s.
“Miss! Are you all right? Get the doctor!” Pastor James looked worriedly at the woman crumpled on the station floor and then at Charles, who rushed to kneel at the woman’s side.
“Now, now. Nothing to get upset about.” The Genteel Correspondence man crouched down, reaching into his breast pocket and bringing forth a small vial, which he passed beneath the unconscious woman’s nose. “Been a long journey is all.” The Genteel Correspondence man, Alistair Jenkins, was obviously from a city. He was dressed in a woolen suit, his hair slick and shiny with pomade. He was holding a stack of official looking papers in a leather folder embossed with gold letters: Genteel Correspondence. He ran the arranged correspondence program, or as folks usually called it, the mail order bride business.
Charles watched as the woman regained consciousness. Her head turned to the side as she coughed at the scent in the vial.
“We should get you straight to the doctor,” said the pastor, as he hurriedly put his hand beneath her elbow, helping her to stand, while Charles quickly got to his feet as well.
She brushed off her dress with a hand that trembled.
“See that? Right as rain,” said Mr. Jenkins.
“Miss Adams, this is Mr. Smith. Charles, this is Miss Adams, who you’ve been corresponding with.” Though the pastor hid it well, Charles could see he was rattled.
Charles felt as though he was in a bad dream, unable to wake up. He faced the woman who was apparently his bride-to-be. She was struggling to lift her carpetbag, and he gently took it from her. “I’m Charles Smith,” he said quietly to her. “Nice to meet you.”
Slowly, she looked up, her dark glasses catching the afternoon sun, reflecting flashes of light. Her face seemed to become even paler. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, sir. I’m Rose Adams.”
The sense of unreality, of being in a confused dream, continued as papers were consulted and checked. Within a few minutes, the pastor quickly led the two couples from the depot to the church.
It felt like mere moments had passed and Charles was putting Rose’s bag in the back of his wagon, helping her up, and then sitting by her side.
. Just like that. He took the reins up and headed for home, confounded and bewildered.
Rose swayed on the seat next to Charles.
If I can just stay upright, just a little longer,
she thought, straightening her back.
“Welcome to Cutler’s Pass, California,” said Charles. “Just over a dozen businesses, but growing everyday.”
She could barely take in the hardware store, tailor, feed store, and the others, most with false fronts to make them appear larger than they actually were. As they drove down Main Street and out of the small town, she tried to absorb the surrounding countryside as it passed by in a blur. It wasn’t that they were going so fast, it was that her eyes were weary and her faculties were stunned. She had a disconnected sense of rolling hills and golden grass, far as the eye could see. There were some clusters of oak trees off in the distance. The sky was vividly blue, the sunshine somehow much brighter than it was in Massachusetts. She tried to focus on the road unwinding ahead of them, and not at the man by her side. Charles Smith, her husband. What had she done? She thought back to the events that led her to this moment in time.
She had woken up in a hospital bed, in Boston, a kind face looking down at her.
“Rest, child. You’ve been ill. You’re at Mercy Hospital, and I’m Sister John.”
“Father. Matthew?” Rose’s voice had been feeble, but she got the words out. Her heart sank as she saw the compassion in the nun’s eyes.
“I’m so sorry, dear. They are with the Lord now; home with our Lord, your mother, and baby sister.”
Tears leaked from her aching eyes. Why hadn’t the fever taken her, too? At least then they could all be together, with mother and baby Susannah.
She kept her eyes closed, turning her face away, into the smooth pillow beneath her head. Her body was weak after fighting the fever, and sleep claimed her quickly. But there was no rest for her breaking heart.
Within moments, Charles’ wagon came to a stop at a small house on the outskirts of town. He jumped down and came around to her side, taking her bag, and holding out a hand to help her down. She placed her gloved hand in his large one, summoning whatever remnants of strength remained. She stepped down, her legs shaking. Through her weariness, she took in the clean clapboard single story home with steps leading up to a porch and a whitewashed front door. She took a breath, savoring the silence after days of noise. Faintly, she heard the drowsy sound of bees humming and one lone bird singing sweetly in a nearby tree.
I could fall asleep, right here
, she thought.
If I could just sink down in this very spot
“Right this way, Ma’am. Miss Adams. Mrs. Smith! I mean, Rose.” He held open the door and she stepped inside.
Charles ushered Rose into his,
, house. She was so little, and he could see her trembling. Instead of welcoming her into the parlor or getting her settled in the master bedroom, he immediately led her to the extra room. He was grateful it was furnished with a chest of drawers, washstand, braided rug, and bed, made up with clean linens. Pastor James’ wife had organized a group of women to come out and clean his house from top to bottom. He recalled their good-natured teasing, about how his bachelor days were numbered. He had felt such a bashful sense of pleasure and pride at their merry words.
“I’ll bring you some water for the washstand, and I’ll heat up some stew, all right? You look tuckered out after that long journey. All the way from Boston.” He backed away and returned quickly with the water. She was sitting on the bed and she jumped up when he entered, as though she had been scalded. His mouth got dry and he didn’t know what to say. She was scared. Of course she was. Coming all that way, not knowing what she would find. She was tired and obviously not well.
He set the water down and went back to the doorway. “I’ll heat up that stew. And I’ll make some tea. You like tea?”
She glanced up, still wearing her dark glasses, nodding briefly, before looking down. She clasped her hands in front of her.
“Ma’am. Rose. I reckon you’re plumb wore out so I’ll make this quick.” He took a breath, trying to find the words as he stepped toward her.
She gasped and took a step backwards, encountering the bed, which made her nearly lose her balance. He began to reach out to her, to steady her, but quickly retracted his arm upon seeing her alarm increase. He took two steps backwards and ran his hand through his hair.
“I meant, I’ll make this quick, what I’m about to
.” He took a breath, not knowing what to do with his hands. “I know everything’s all brand new to you. I’ve got eyes. I can see you’re tired and feeling poorly. I just wanted to let you know that… You’re safe here, all I’m saying. This is your home, now.” He turned and left, trying not to curse as he heated up the stew and cornbread with hands that were not as steady as he would have liked.
When he finished putting everything on the table, he turned and stopped in surprise. She stood by the table.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” She didn’t meet his eyes.
He set down the teapot and pulled out the chair she stood beside. “Ma’am.”
She sat down slowly, and he could see her hands shaking. He poured her a cup of tea and pushed the sugar bowl toward her. Then he sat down and served them both. Just as he was about to take his first bite, he paused. She had closed her eyes and bent her head over her folded hands.
Stretching his hand across the table, he waited. She opened her eyes and he got his first good look at them. She must have left her spectacles in her room. Her eyes were hazel, rimmed with darker brown, and the thickest, darkest, longest lashes he had ever seen in his life. He forgot what he was about to say, looking at her lovely eyes. She looked down.
“Would you like me to say a blessing?” He left his hand open on the table.
She lightly placed her hand in his and he marveled at its softness and small size, especially compared to his large, work-roughened one.
“Heavenly Father, we give thanks for Rose’s safe passage here. Bless her and fill her with your peace. We give thanks for this meal. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
She pulled her hand back and reached for her tea, sighing after her first sip. He smiled a little and ate quickly. He wasn’t used to having anyone to share meals with, and he tried to slow down and mind his manners. Glancing at her, he saw she had put down the teacup and was slowly eating some stew. She picked up the cornbread and bit into it. He wasn’t much of a cook, but living on his own so long, he had learned to make a few dishes. He looked down again, eating quickly, hoping she liked the meal. He was in a state of confusion, not knowing what to think, not even able to feel anything beyond being befuddled. He was married? Just like that? A married man. And here was his wife, this small, thin, shaking, shorn little bit of a person.
I should say something
, he thought, uncomfortably. He looked up and was startled to see her leaning her head upon her arm on the table. Was she weeping? The food seemed to turn into dust in his mouth as he sat back, staring worriedly. He looked at her closely, with great trepidation. Then, he nodded to himself, relaxing. She had fallen asleep, that was all. He finished his food, trying to make sure his spoon did not scrape the bowl, trying to make sure that his chewing was as quiet as possible. He almost laughed at himself, sipping the tea with exaggerated care. This was not how he had imagined his first night as a married man, when he had allowed his fancy to go down that road.
It was his imagination that led him into this married state, he reflected. The older he became, the longer and lonelier the nights had felt. Pastor Edward James, who seemed to sense when members of his congregation were struggling, had dropped by one evening.
“I was in the area,” he had said, smiling. On the outskirts of town, Charles’ homestead was not on the way to anywhere except away.
While Charles made coffee, Pastor James had idly inquired about the house. Charles had built a home after living in a shanty for some time. The pastor asked about Charles’ plans for expanding his business in the spring, and somehow, Charles couldn’t figure out how, he was telling Pastor James what was in his heart. Charles spoke about how he fought against temptation. On the other side of town, there was a house of ill repute. There were many nights that he got as far as his door before he turned back, wrestling with loneliness, craving companionship. James had listened while Charles kept busy with the cook stove, taking an inordinate time making the coffee. Somehow, the words came more easily when his hands were occupied with the trivial task.
“Charles,” Pastor James had finally said. “Let’s pray on this, together.”
Charles had sat down, the comforting scent of coffee and chicory filling the air, and Pastor James’ words had felt like a balm on his troubled mind. Charles’ parents had been Dissenters, and had left England to find religious freedom. Charles had been raised with a strong sense of faith. Still, when the nights seemed so long, he wrestled with temptation. A dozen men for every woman, there were many unmarried men in Cutler’s Pass and surrounding communities. Pastor James said that the lonely urges Charles experienced were gifts from God.
“Pastor, you’re a married man. You…” Charles didn’t know how to finish the thought without being blunt. “You have a wife.”
“Exactly,” said the pastor. “Turn your lonely thoughts toward a wife, Charles. Imagine having one to come home to, every night. Someone who God chose just for you, and he chose you just for her. Consider that, instead of imagining the fleeting pleasures of the flesh that sin would bring. Imagine how regretful you would feel, after that sin. And Charles, imagine the ladies over in that house. Each one, a daughter of God. Too, each one was once someone’s little girl. Each woman is someone’s sister. Someone’s friend.”
“I do,” he said. “I will.” He felt ashamed that those compassionate notions had not entirely vanquished his yearnings for the ephemeral pleasures he imagined he would find there.
“It’s time for you to get hitched,” said Pastor James, smiling. With his fair hair, big blue eyes and cheeks that seemed perpetually flushed, he looked younger than his years and never more so than when he smiled. “You’ve got your business established, got this house built. It’s time.”
“Just trust in the Lord,” said Charles bleakly, wondering how long it might be before an eligible woman might cross his path.
“Trust in God’s plan, yes, but consider that I might play a part in it,” laughed the pastor. “Leave it up to me. Hearts and Hands is a publication that helps folks arrange marriages. There are women who want to come out west, and there are men like you, who are ready to start a family. I have been looking into it. I know of a few other bachelors in your situation, and I’ve been praying on this.”
“You mean a mail order bride?” Charles crossed his arms.
How could that possibly be a solution? Marrying a stranger?
“First things first. Let’s find you a young lady you can correspond with, and see how things go from there.” James leaned forward, looking at Charles. “Let’s keep praying on it.”
“I’m not much of a writer,” admitted Charles rubbing the stubble on his chin. “I’d have to write a lot of letters, I reckon.”
“Leave it up to me, then,” said James, reassuringly. “And we’ll leave it up to God.”
Charles looked at Pastor James and nodded. He felt a weight lift from his shoulders and he began to feel the stirrings of hope. A bride, he thought. Just like that? What would she be like? What would they write to each other? When would they meet? A bride. A
. He started to smile and reached out to shake Pastor James’ hand.
Next thing he knew, it seemed like, in retrospect, he was at the train station, then in the church, and then driving home, his new wife silent by his side. Now she slept across the kitchen table.
Carefully, he set down his spoon and stood up quietly, lifting the chair so it would not slide loudly. He uncertainly approached Rose, then backed away. What if she woke up, frightened, the way she had been in the guest bedroom? What if she thought he was trying to force himself on her? He felt sick at the thought, and went into her room. He lowered the lamp, and turned down the covers on her bed. He moved the carpetbag onto the chair and hesitated. Should he unpack for her? Maybe she’d consider it rude. He felt sad at how light the bag was, and let it be. Hoping she would have awakened, he went back to the kitchen. Instead, she appeared even more deeply asleep, her head heavily leaning against her arm. Bracing himself, he picked her up. She felt as nearly as light as her carpetbag. She stayed asleep, her head resting against his chest. His heart felt as though it twisted, deep inside him, with pity. He carried her into her room and gently put her on the bed. He then unbuttoned her shoes and took them off, setting them under the bed. There was a chamber pot there, and she would be able to see the privy from the window when it was daylight. He covered her with the bedclothes, turned the lamp off and quietly closed the door behind him.
, he thought sadly.
I hope she sleeps through the night and feels better in the morning.