Authors: Eliza Lewis
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Victorian, #Western, #90 Minutes (44-64 Pages), #Short Stories, #Historical Romance, #Inspirational, #Westerns
The Governess Bride
Copyright © Eliza Lewis
All rights reserved.
Gideon McCabe's brows were drawn in consternation and confusion as he watched the matronly and no-nonsense Mrs Abigail Abercromby wheeze and circle around him, gathering up her final few possessions, tucking this and that into her reticule as she went about it.
"My dear young man," said the old lady breathlessly, "those two darling nephews of yours are more trouble than a woman my age can ably handle. Now, I had planned to stay long enough to settle in your new w—,
," she went on, "but mark my words, if I have to chase those babies around the pasture one more time I shall not live to tell the tale."
? Gideon squared his shoulders, folded his arms and set to clenching and unclenching a muscle along his jaw. Unless he was very much mistaken, a meddle was afoot.
"Why, ye-es," the old lady faltered, eyeing Gideon carefully. "That is, yes –
no," she added slowly, trying her best to gauge Gideon's reaction.
no? Well now, either a Governess is arriving – or she isn't."
At this, Gideon was somewhat puzzled to note a deep, pink flush spread rapidly across Mrs Abercromby's usually powder-pale face.
Just what exactly was going on here?
"Mr McCabe, allow me to just come out with it plain and simple.
"Please do." Gideon's tone was polite enough. But there was more than a touch of weariness in it.
The old lady cleared her throat and straightened herself to her full four feet and eleven inches. Gideon towered over her.
"Mr McCabe," she asserted confidently, "I am of the opinion that you are in need of a wife."
The taught muscle in Gideon's jaw set to clenching again, but he simply put his hands to his hips and dipped his head, keeping his annoyance in check.
Mrs Abercromby wasn't the first. She likely wouldn't be the last, either
The weary rancher opened his mouth to furnish the old mischief maker with his stock response:
I have neither the time, nor the inclination, to find myself a wife…
But the unstoppable Mrs Abercromby held up her hand. She would not be interrupted, it seemed.
"Before you say another word, Mr McCabe, let me also state my opinion that the babies in your care need a mother. Not some stand-in housekeeper like me neither. A good woman and a kind woman. A woman who'll give you more than a summer or two before she's off getting married and getting busy with her own babies…"
For reasons he couldn't quite figure, that stung. Gideon was by now standing quite still, and concentrating hard on not voicing his extreme irritation.
Buoyed by his silence, and oblivious to the thunder in his dark eyes, Mrs Abercromby continued apace.
"And that is why," she went on, "and please do bear with me Mr McCabe, I, ah – I took the small liberty of placing an advertisement in one of my ladies' journals.
"You advertised in a ladies' journal. For a Governess." Gideon's voice was about as flat as a pancake on hearing this little nugget.
A strange little whimper came from Mrs Abercromby at that, followed by a long, leaden silence. It hadn't slipped Gideon's notice that the old lady had begun to fiddle needlessly with the clasp of her carpet bag.
She was keeping something from him
, the rancher realized.
Gideon continued to stand his ground. Thunder in his eyes, arms folded across his chest, one eyebrow raised. Silent. Waiting.
After an uncomfortable few minutes, Mrs Abercromby stopped fussing with her reticule and lifted her chin to a defiant tilt. She must have been working up the courage for it. Because the next thing she did was look Gideon directly in the eye, clear her throat, and announce:
"Not a Governess, Mr McCabe. A wife."
* * *
Three months earlier:
With a heavy heart, Clara Hamilton stood alone in Widow Purdy's empty parlor. Just an hour ago, the elegant room had been full of the sounds of a dozen young ladies laughing and chattering hopefully and excitedly as they ripped and tore at the dozens of 'Wife Wanted' advertisements from the armfuls of ladies' journals they had acquired.
But now the room was still, and all was quiet. A few torn and shredded pieces of newspaper were all that remained of the young ladies' presence. Clara felt a sudden, sharp pang of emptiness and loneliness. All of these young ladies were so confident and sure of everything. None of them seemed to be in any doubt as to
to marry. Their one concern seemed to be simply to
Clara sighed and sat down dejectedly, sending the last few unwanted shreds of paper swirling about her lap. To seal her fate and welfare in marriage to a stranger was unthinkable to her. Events in her past meant that she could not begin to consider the idea of delivering herself into the arms – nor, specifically, the marriage bed – of a man who might very well turn out to be neither decent nor kind.
Although she was only twenty years old, she knew to her cost that men could be cruel. After what happened to her at the hands of her stepfather, Clara knew she would not marry.
And anyway, who would want her?
No. Her distrust of men would not
– it could not
leave her. It seemed to Clara that she could make a life for herself in domestic service. She was hopeful that kind old Widow Purdy would provide her with a good housemaid's reference.
But still. It all just felt so…
. How she wished she could soon be embarking on a west-bound adventure like the excitable young ladies she'd encountered that day. Clara sighed once more, sending one of the discarded little pieces of newspaper fluttering into her lap. Her eyes caught on a handful of words:
WANTED: WIFE IN NAME ONLY
it read. Clara straightened in her seat and brought the scrap of paper closer for inspection.
It was one of the few discarded advertisements left behind by the gaggle of young ladies who had just an hour since taken their leave. It read, in full:
A kindly young lady – prepared to become a WIFE IN NAME ONLY to a rancher. Willing to act in the capacity of Governess; that is, to take charge of the rearing of two infant boys, until such time as the marriage is undertaken. Interested parties should note that the rancher in question is a touch ornery – but nonetheless a good man
and a kind man.
The eventual union would be entirely proper and above board,
and in name only.
Please address correspondence to Mrs Abigail Abercromby.
A rush of excitement pulsed at Clara's wrists. Why, it hadn't occurred to her that there could be men out there interested in a name-only marriage arrangement. Widowers with motherless children perhaps; or kindly old souls who needed a housekeeper and nothing more. It seemed that the world had opened up to her all of a sudden. Wasn't this idea of becoming a wife in name only simply the perfect arrangement? For a young lady like her, whose virtue had been compromised? An arranged marriage would give each party a measure of security and permanence – without the entanglements of love or passion.
. The word echoed a little around Clara's mind, and she was surprised to notice that she was trembling a little – struck suddenly by the reality of a forever agreement. She swallowed.
Was she sure?
Was she sure that abandoning all hope of finding love, of having children of her own, was the right choice?
She closed her eyes, hoping for a moment of serene guidance from some place deep in her soul. But then she wrenched them open again. There came no guidance. Just the sickening, bile raising memory of that…
… throwing her to the floor. Striking her till she bled. Setting upon her, and–. No.
. There was no doubting it. To be a wife in name only was the correct choice.
And for her, the only choice
It occurred to her suddenly that she lacked experience of children. But there were books on such matters weren't there? Surely that was as good a starting place as any? She skipped girlishly to the window, a rare bubble of hope forming in her chest. The sky was streaked pink and coral all the way to its edges. Perhaps there was a future out west for her after all. She would write immediately to Mrs Abercromby and find out as much as she could about this rancher.
* * *
Gideon was pacing angrily from the fireplace to the window and back again. "I don't like it, Mrs Abercromby. Let that be known," Gideon said, as evenly as he was able.
"Yes, Mr McCabe," Mrs Abercromby responded matter-of-factly to Gideon as he continued to cover the room with his great strides, struggling to comprehend the news that a wife-to-be was to be landed on him that very day. "I can quite see that you do not like it. In fact I can quite see that if you were less of a gentleman you'd be spitting nails at me. But we must put that aside for the moment. The fact remains that left to your own devices you'd live and die alone out here. A wife – even if she will be a wife in name only – will be mother to those babies, and a companion at least for you. Now, leave the little ones with me, and get yourself into town to collect her."
" Gideon was finding it difficult to keep up with all this.
"Mmhmm," was Mrs Abercromby's reply.
"Then let her board in the town. I'll pay." Even as he spoke the words, Gideon knew he would no more allow that than Mrs Abercromby would.
"Certainly not!" Mrs Abercromby returned. "She has travelled all this way in good faith – and we,
, shall not leave her to the attentions of the less than desirable cohort of men-folk in the town!"
Once more Gideon's hands went to his hips. He shut his eyes for a second.
She was right, of course
. He clenched his teeth, glowered at Mrs Abercromby, and reached for his well-worn hat before striding past her and out the door.
Mrs Abercromby huffed along behind him, "Do take these," she wheezed, "They will be of some interest to you, I think?" The old lady thrust a small bundle of letters into Gideon's hands. "Her name is Miss Clara Hamilton. We corresponded half a dozen times. It seems to me that she is a very sweet girl who has not had a particularly easy life. So, please…"
Gideon paused long enough to hear the old lady out. Something tender in her voice caught his attention.
" – if you could, Mr McCabe, please just don't be ornery with her? And also – you must be kind. I specifically promised her that you would be kind."
Gideon stuffed the letters into his pocket and strode wordlessly out the door.
* * *
Gideon thought as he made his way to the town. "Hmmph," he muttered to the breeze as the wagon rattled along. "Ornery…" He was vexed right up to his ears, but he prided himself on having enough about him to be gentlemanly and kind to the young lady. Whoever this Clara Hamilton was,
couldn't be blamed for creating this pickle. The meddle afoot was entirely Mrs Abercromby's doing. And he would see to it personally that it was undone. To Gideon McCabe's way of thinking, that there wasn't a meddle in the world that
* * *
It was only when the steam from the train had finally dispersed, and she was the last of the passengers to remain, that Clara saw the lone, silhouetted figure of a man who fitted Mr Gideon McCabe's description. He was an imposing figure, this rancher. Taller than most, and broad across the shoulders.
Clara thought, it suddenly occurring to her that a rancher would need to be strong. She focused on his face now, and saw that there was strength also in his features – and a dark, calm steadiness about his eyes. Clara had a long-standing habit of searching people's eyes for clues as to their character – and despite her scant twenty years, she'd gotten good at discerning kindness where it dwelled, and noting its absence where it was lacking.
You're a good judge of character, Clara
, the Widow Purdy had often said to her.