Tuesday, February 25, 2014

It's Sneak Peek Time!

From Her Irish Surrender


New Orleans, January 1871

 “A mail order bride!” Adaline Dermont hurried around the dining table to her aunt’s side. “You can’t possibly be serious!”
 “I’m afraid I am, dear.  You see your Uncle Charles will take me in, but not the both of us. I don’t know of any other way.”
 “But surely Uncle Charles could find it in his heart to …”
 “No, you don’t know your Uncle Charles like I do. He always was a stingy old …well,  never mind. Suffice to say there’s not much to be done about it.”
 Adaline stared down at her Aunt Priscilla’s gaunt features.  She looked like she’d lost more weight, something her frail frame couldn’t afford. How could she leave her?
  The tiny woman took one of her hands and gave it a pat. “Ada, this is for the best.  I know you want to look after me, but you’re young and pretty, and deserve a real life. Not one made up of babysitting an old woman. Charles and I will get along fine.”
 “But auntie, it’s been you and me for so long now, I can’t leave you.”
 “You can and you must. We’ve had a glorious seven years together, and I finished raising you the way I thought my sister would want me to.  Now my job is done, it’s time for you to move on.”
 Adaline raised her face to the ceiling and closed her eyes. “But a mail order bride? Surely I could find some respectable work somewhere?”
 “No, that won’t do. I’m expected in Charleston in less than a month, and I don’t like the thought of you left here to fend for yourself. If we had any money left, it might work.  But the money is gone.”
 Adaline sighed and looked out the dining parlor’s window. “I know.”
 “I … I made you an appointment to meet with Mrs. Ridgley tomorrow afternoon,” her aunt said in a soft voice.
 Adaline sighed in resignation as her head flopped to her chest. “So soon?”
  “We haven’t much time, Ada.”
  Adaline flopped into the nearest chair. “You think this is the best course of action?”
 Aunt Priscilla smiled. “I know it is. Remember my friend Mrs. Teeters?  She runs the Winslow Orphanage, the one I used to volunteer at? I ran into her last week, and she suggested the whole thing.  I can tell you, I was at my wits end until I spoke with her. I was so worried about what you would do, where you could go …”
 Adaline held up a hand to stop her. “I understand, and I don’t want you to worry about me. If you think this is for the best, then I’ll do it. I’ve always honored your decisions before.”
 Aunt Priscilla looked at her, tears in her eyes. “I want you to be happy, Ada. It’s all I’ve ever wanted …”
 “No crying, you know I hate it when you cry, and then I’ll start, and then there will be a horrible flood, and we’ll both drown, and …”
 “No more, Ada!” her aunt laughed. She smoothed her skirt as she sobered and sighed. “We’ll write to each other every week, and you can tell me what a wonderful husband Mrs. Ridgley found for you.”
 “That depends on what sort of prospects she has available.”
 “I’m afraid there isn’t time for months of letter writing. You’ll have to choose quickly.”
 “How much time did you say I have?”
 “Your Uncle Charles will be here to collect me in less than three weeks.”
 Adaline blew out a breath. “Maybe you should have made that appointment for this morning?”
 Aunt Priscilla laughed before she pulled Adaline into her arms, and wept.

* * *
 “Thaddeus, the answer is still no.”  Mrs. Ridgley stated firmly and sat.  She folded her hands together on her desk and waited for the usual explosion to come.
 “Eugina, considering our past, I thought you might see differently,” he said as he glanced about her office. “You used to be surrounded in splendor, the best money could buy. Now look at you, you’re surrounded in squalor.  Who was your decorator?  This wall paper is ghastly!”
 “Never mind about my wall paper, was there anything else?”
 Thaddeus sat on the desk and leaned down toward her face. “Dinner? For old time’s sake?”
 “Absolutely not.”
 He hopped off the desk and paced the room. “Why can’t you see reason? You are the most stubborn woman I have ever met!”
 “And you are the most wicked, lost, arrogant, conceited …”
 “Flattery will get you nowhere, my dear.”
  She snorted in frustration and shook her head. “What happened, Thaddeus? Where did we go wrong?”
 “Ahhh, you still love me …”
 “I didn’t say that.”
  He stopped his pacing. “What if I told you, I still loved you?”
 She stared at him.  Eugina Ridgley and Thaddeus Slade had been a force to be reckoned with once.  But their business partnership had vanished the day Eugina found a better partner and a more worthy cause. “It wouldn’t matter if you did, I cannot be with you. We have gone in different directions you and I.”
  “Very well, you may continue this farce of a mail order bride business and eat beans and bread the rest of your life, while I continue in mine, and have steak and champagne.”
 “At the expense of the lives of innocent women? Thaddeus, you used to have a conscious.”
 “I’ve never had a conscious. I can’t afford one.”
 “Come to church with me.”
 His eyes suddenly widened as he stared at her. “What?”
 “You heard me, come with me on Sunday and listen, hear what changed my life forever.”
 “I’m afraid God and I are not on speaking terms. I left Him long ago, or perhaps He left me. How do you think I got into the business I’m in?”
 “It’s not too late, it’s never too late.  Stop enslaving innocent women, if I can change, so can you.”
 He looked at her, and for a scant second, she saw a flicker of emotion. “Oh Eugina, don’t be naïve, it’s too late for me.” He turned, put on his hat, and made to leave.  When he opened the office door, she saw a young woman sitting in the waiting area.
Thaddeus eyed her up and down. “You’re not from the orphanage,” he stated more to himself than the young lady. He turned just enough to speak over his shoulder. “I see you’ve branched out to more than just helping pitiful orphans. You have a real lady seeking your services. I congratulate you.”
  With that he left, his steps echoing down the stairwell to the first floor of the building.  Mrs. Ridgley sighed and braced herself against her desk as she stood.  Her two Negro assistants, Jethro and Solomon, were down the street helping Mr. Carson the butcher unload a wagon.  They’d both would have come unglued to find Mr. Slade in her office.  The feud between herself and Thaddeus had gotten quite heated over the last few months, but he’d backed off momentarily. Now she knew why, he wanted her back in business with him.  But her days as a madam were far behind her.  Rather than enslaving women to the horrors of prostitution, she did her best to save them from it, and so started The Ridgley Mail Order Bride Service.
 “You may come in,” she told the young woman.
 The girl stood. Thaddeus was right, she was a far cry from the orphans she was used to dealing with. Her beautiful green day dress was of high quality. She wore gloves and a matching bonnet, her golden blonde curls shining bright against the dark green of her shawl.  Healthy, young, pretty and vibrant was the woman before her.  Eugina smiled as the girl stood and followed her into her office.  No, it wasn’t only orphans she helped to escape from the horrors of New Orleans. She also helped women find love, be they from Winslow’s orphanage or a lady of distinction such as the one taking a seat on the other side of her desk.
 Eugina smiled as she sat. Thaddeus wouldn’t dare touch this one, in fact he couldn’t. Not without raising the suspicion of the authorities. “You must be Miss Dermont.”
 “Yes,” the girl answered. “I’ve come to look over what prospects you have.”
 Eugina smiled again. “I have several, but there’s only one I think would suit you.”
 “I’ll be the judge of that, if you don’t mind.”
 “Of course,” Eugina told her as she rifled through a stack of papers on her desk. “Candidate number one, Horace Simpson. He hails from Texas and owns a large cattle ranch. He writes here, that he believes the local women are only interested in his money, so he’s sending away for a mail order bride.”
 “I can understand his logic. Might I ask how old he is?”
 Mrs. Ridgley pushed a small, tintype photograph across the desk. “I have to say, that Mr. Simpson is not one I would recommend.”
 “As I told you before, I’ll be the judge … oh, dear.”
 Mrs. Ridgley remained silent as the girl studied the mini-portrait.  Mr. Simpson looked to be at least ninety, though she knew from his application he was a spry seventy-five.
 Miss Dermont set the photograph on the desk and slid it back to her. “You are right, he won’t suit.”
 Mrs. Ridgley went to the next sheaf of papers. “Applicant number two, a Mr. Bertram Brown, he’s a gold miner in California.”
 “Has he struck gold?”
 “No, but it says here he owns several of the finest mule teams in the area.  He rents them out.”
 Miss Dermont puckered her brow. “California, that’s so far away.  May I ask if he is one you’d deem suitable for me?”
 “No, but as you indicated, you wanted to see them.”
 “Never mind what I said, what does this leave me with?”
 Eugina smiled. “I saved the best for last.” She set Mr. Brown’s information aside, and picked up another small stack of papers. “Here we have, Mr. Lorcan Brody.”
 “Lorcan? That’s an odd sort of name, isn’t it?”
 Eugina looked at her. “Yes, I suppose so. I admit I’ve never heard it before either.”
 “Where is he from?”
 “Oregon City, Oregon to be exact. He owns a book shop there.”
 Miss Dermont swallowed hard as her gaze wandered. “Oregon … it’s so far … and wild.”
 “You can choose to wait until I receive more applicants, you don’t have to pick one of these.”
  Miss Dermont looked at her. “I don’t?  How often do gentlemen answer your advertisements?”
 “We get one or two a month.  This time we got three.”
 “Oh, dear me … I haven’t the time. My aunt is leaving for Charleston in a few short weeks.  I’ll need to have left New Orleans by then …”
 “Not to worry, Miss Dermont. I think Mr. Brody will suit you fine. He’s twenty-seven, never been married, and has his own business in a growing city. You need only make the journey.”
 “A simple thing to say, when you’re not the one who has to make it.”
 Eugina smiled again. “No, but you aren’t the first, and you won’t be the last.” She turned the stack of papers around and slid them across the desk.  She then picked up a pen, dipped it in ink, and held it out to her.

* * *

  “Auntie, what have I done?” Adaline moaned and sat down hard upon the settee.
  Aunt Priscilla looked up from her knitting.  “Mrs. Ridgley told Mrs. Teeters that Mr. Brody was the best possible choice.
 “He was the only choice.” Adaline corrected and picked up her needles. “When did you see Mrs. Teeters?”
 “She came by while you were at your meeting with Mrs. Ridgley, and he was not the only choice, there was another. However, Mrs. Teeters got him for one of her girls. She’s on her way to a little town called Nowhere as we speak.”
 “Nowhere? There’s actually a place called Nowhere?”
  “Apparently so, but enough of that.  Mrs. Teeters offered to help you pack. When do you pick up your train ticket?”
 “Next week.  Why do I have the feeling you three had decided on Mr. Brody early on?”
 “Because we did,” Aunt Priscilla said as she giggled. “There were others besides the ones Mrs. Ridgley showed you, but like them, they were far too old.”
 Adaline rolled her eyes and fell back against the settee. “Oh Auntie, you’re incorrigible.” She sat up. “But I still love you, and I’m going to miss you.”
 “And I’ll miss you, but you know, I think you’ll be too busy to miss me much.”
 “How busy can the wife of a bookstore owner be?”
 “Quite busy, especially if he’s handsome.”
 Aunt Priscilla smiled. “Oh, what an adventure! I must admit I’m jealous. I almost wish I were going!”
 “And become Mrs. Lorcan Brody? Wouldn’t you make a fine pair?”
 “He’ll be handsome, with a big heart, and love animals and children,” her aunt reassured.
 “He’ll be bookish, wear spectacles, and be quiet as a mouse,” Adaline countered.
 “I suppose it would have been nice to have seen a photograph of him, but I guess some men don’t send any.”
 “Or haven’t any to send. What if I’m a foot taller than he is?”
 “Ada, he’ll be fine, don’t you worry. Mrs. Ridgley knows her business.”
 “What if he lied on his application and he’s not all those things he says he is?”
 Her aunt brushed a strand of hair out of her face and reached for the papers Adaline spread on a small table. “He has lovely handwriting,” she commented. “Now let me see … here’s my favorite part, I think this sums him up nicely.” She cleared her throat and began to read:
 To my future bride, whomever she may be, I’m not a prideful man, nor am I a rich man, but I’m a hard working man in search of my lady-fair, one I can cherish and love the rest of my life. I can’t wait to make you mine …
 “Now isn’t that romantic?” Aunt Pricilla asked as she set down the papers. “At least he’s poetic.”
 “Nothing in that rhymed.”
 “Something doesn’t always have to rhyme to make it poetic.  Now stop worrying, he’ll be wonderful, you’ll see.  Besides, there’s nothing nicer than a man who knows what he wants and seeks it out.  He writes here he’d like someone with a courageous heart, a sweet spirit, knows her own mind and can cook, sew, and who loves to read. Why, you’re all of those things and more.”
 Adaline smiled. “He could be a toad and you’d still make him sound wonderful.  At least we know he can read and write. And by the way, I don’t cook, remember?”
 “You’ll learn.  Have you penned your return letter to him?” her aunt asked as she picked up her knitting.
 Adaline cringed. “Yes.” Although she sounded like she had her heels dug in, she could barely suppress her excitement when she wrote Mr. Brody to tell him she’d accepted his proposal.  He did sound wonderful, almost too wonderful, and she wondered what the catch was.  His writing was precise, his short description of life in Oregon City delightful, and the thought of being surrounded by bevies and bevies of books was like a dream come true.  If there was one thing Adeline Dermont loved to do, it was read.
 She should have married several years ago, but had been loath to search for a beau and leave Aunt Priscilla to the whims of her failing health. Yet like any girl her age, she often dreamed of marriage and children, but told herself she would have to wait until she could find a way to make sure her aunt was well cared for. Adeline thought she would have time before spinsterhood began to creep up on her. Unfortunately, she hadn’t counted on her money running out. After her father died in the war, Adaline’s small inheritance had taken care of both women well enough, or so their solicitor led them to believe. It wasn’t until last week they’d been informed they hadn’t the funds for next month’s rent. Thus the reason Uncle Charles was adamant about carting his sister Priscilla off to Charleston sooner than later, not to mention firing Aunt Priscilla’s crooked solicitor.
 Adaline started to knit. “He’ll be handsome, with a big heart, and love animals and children, huh?”
 Aunt Priscilla smiled. “Even if he is a foot shorter, wears spectacles, and quiet as a mouse, as long as his heart is in the right place, dear, you can’t go wrong. Besides, he hasn’t seen a photograph of you either.”
 Adaline swallowed hard. “No, you’re right. I can’t imagine what he thinks I’m like. Maybe he’s picturing a wicked witch with warts and a broom.”
 “I doubt that, Ada. I’m sure he’s dreaming of his lady-fair and can’t wait until the day you arrive.”
 Adaline smiled. “Yes, auntie. I’m sure he is.”

* * *
 Oregon City, March 1, 1871

 Lorcan Brody barely had time to duck before his opponent’s fist found his face. It grazed his right cheek and would no doubt add to his growing list of injuries for the night.  But the pot was good, and he’d be bringing home a decent amount this week once he was paid.
 He judged the distance between himself and the stout Irishman that danced around him. His vision blurred and he shook his head to clear it before he struck, delivering a quick right hook, knocking the shorter man to the ground.
 A cheer went up from the spectators as the count began. “That’s showing him, Brody!” someone cried from the crowd.
 “Next week I’ll be sure to bring more men for ye to fight!” another called.
  Lorcan smiled and gave them a curt nod. It hurt, and his vision again blurred. He’d knocked out six men that night and was still undefeated. Unfortunately, being undefeated meant he would have to fight again next week. Despite the fact the prize money was good in these local fights, the conditions weren’t.  The ring was a dirt floor, his fists wrapped in rags, rather than covered by gloves, and there was no one to officiate. Once in the ring, men simply fought until one went down.  It was as far from his Notre Dame boxing days as it could get, and far more brutal. But right now, his family needed the money, and so he’d do what he had to, to get it. Even if it meant knocking the sense out of the local populace.
 “Lorcan, me boy!”
 He turned as old man McPhee made his way to him. “A fine night o’ fighting ye brought to me place!  Come to the office, and I’ll see ye get yer money!”
 “Aye, I will. As soon as I get cleaned up a bit.”
 “You do that. That’s quite a shiner yer going to have tomorrow!”
 Lorcan gingerly touched his left eye. “You can say that again. I’ll be with you shortly.”
 Men slapped him on the back as he made his way through the crowd to an alcove he used as his locker room.  He hoped no one took the bucket of cold water he’d left there earlier. He would need it to get cleaned up, but sometimes it disappeared during the fights, only to turn up empty later.  However, luck was with him, and his trusty bucket was exactly where he’d left it.
 “Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes,” he mumbled to it. He chuckled at the irony of the remark, and unwrapped his hands.
 “I can get you fights in Portland,” a voice said behind him.
 Lorcan turned. “Don’t talk to me of Portland, Finn.  My fighting days are about over.” For emphasis he again shook his head and lurched to one side.
 “Whoa there, lad. You can’t be that bad off!”
 “Can’t I?  You saw the punches I took from that fourth fellow.  He was good.”
 “Not good enough!  Not like my Lor!” Finn slapped him on the back.
 Lorcan groaned. “Why don’t you go find yourself a real fighter?”
 “You are a real fighter!  The best there is!”
 “I’m not a fighter, I’m a businessman.”
 “You sell books!  Why waste your time doing that when you can be making real money?”
 “I don’t care about making money.”
 Finn folded his arms across his chest. “Then what are you doing here?”
 Like Lorcan, he’d been raised in Ohio for the most part, and came out west with his family to settle. He was an educated man, but also like Lorcan, eked out a living by helping his family run a small business. In Finn’s case, it was one of the local funeral parlors.
 “My mother told me there were extra expenses this month. I’m only trying to help them out.”
 “You could really help them if you took a fight in Portland.”
 “I’ll do no such thing, get the notion out of your head.”
 “Ye can’t blame a man for trying.” Finn said, his Irish brogue exaggerated as he backed out of the alcove and sauntered off. Lorcan shook his head as he watched him go, then dipped one of the rags used to wrap his hands, into the water.  He wiped at his bloodied face, and braced himself for an even bigger fight when he got home.  The minute his mother got a look at him, there’d be no peace for the next few days.  She didn’t mind him boxing in college, but the cheap fights at McPhee’s were not to her liking, and she let him know about it in her own, not so subtle way.
 But maybe his luck would hold and she’d be asleep when he got home.  She’d been in an unnaturally good mood of late, and that too gave him hope he’d be spared her quick temper.  Ever since she got a letter from Uncle Ian in Clear Creek a couple of months ago, she’d been exceptionally good-natured. Hmmm, what would happen if Uncle Ian and Aunt Maggie came to visit?
 Lorcan smiled at the thought and continued to clean himself up.
 As it was, his mother was fast asleep in her favorite chair when he got home. With her head slumped to one side and her Bible on her lap, she was the picture of pure innocence.  Such would not be the case when she woke up. Lorcan pondered whether or not he should help her to bed, but decided instead to cover her with a nearby blanket, kiss her on the head, and turn down the lamp.  Let the peace of the sleeping woman last a while longer.  And it did, well into the next day.
* * *
  Meara Brody ran a tight ship, and desertion was not an option.  Neither was mutiny, and she kept her crew in line with two things, her lightning quick tongue, and a trusty apron.  If she couldn’t get her way with the former, she’d whip up a few tears and wield the latter. She knew well that the one thing the Brody men couldn’t stand, was a crying woman.  She’d wrung the life out of many an apron over the years, and they’d yet to catch on.  Either that, or they were too stubborn to admit it worked at least half of the time, and knew she had her pride.
 But today she vowed not to wring her apron or lash out with her tongue.  Today she wouldn’t have to. Any sort of protest Lorcan put up, his father Patrick would handle, and she would be blameless in the eyes of her precious son when he got the news he was to be married.
 She examined her hair in a small hand mirror as she hummed a merry tune, gave her greying locks one last pat, and reached for her gloves. “Mr. Brody! Hurry yourself along now. The stage will be here any minute.”
 “I’m comin’ ye don’t have to yell!”
 She turned and sighed when she saw him.  He was a big man, brawny and strong like her son, and just as handsome.  His dark hair, now streaked with grey, was thick, his blue eyes as fierce as on the day they met.  He’d been fighting that day, and it wasn’t until later she found out the fight was over her.  She’d ridiculed him for his actions, and he’d stilled her sharp tongue with a kiss.  After almost twenty-eight years of marriage, he could still kiss her into submission.  When he could catch her, that is. “You look grand, Mr. Brody.”
 “As do you, Mrs. Brody. Tell me, have ye told the lad yet what’s to happen?”
 She turned and put on her hat. “Oh, why upset the boy with details?”
 Mr. Brody’s eyes widened with panic. “Ye mean ye didn’t tell him?” he squeaked.
 She turned. “What’s to tell? He’s getting married today.”
 “Yes, but he doesn’t know that!”
 “Ian told me neither did his Sheriff’s nephews, and they all got along all right.”
 Her husband shook his head. “Lord, woman, ye need to tell the lad!”
 “I’m not going to tell him. You are.”
 “Me!  Why do I have to tell him?  I’m not the one that ordered the bride, nor am I the one to put all that blarney in a letter and send it off!”
 “It was the truth, and you know it!”
 “Pah! Ye wrote he was looking for his lady-fair and that he couldn’t wait to cherish her and call her his own.”
 “Those were not my exact words, but they were meant to get a point across. Besides, you put it in the post, Mr. Brody, and since you were the one that done the mailing, I assumed you approved of what I wrote!”
 He threw his hands in the air, walked to the bed, and grabbed his jacket. “He’ll be madder than a rattler with us.”
 She went to him and wrapped her arms about his waist from behind. “He’ll thank us later, you’ll see. It’s for the boy’s own good.  With a wife he’ll stop fighting, settle down, and in time, give us grandchildren …”
 “Or he’ll run away.”
 She pulled him around to face her. “Nay, Mr. Brody, you’ll see.  That boy is smarter than the both of us.  Even he can’t dispute the logic in it. Where is he, anyway?”
 He picked up his hat and smashed it onto his head. “Gone to help Finn dig a few graves I suspect. They’re short handed again.” He spun to her. “And I certainly hope you’re right, Mrs. Brody. Because if he leaves, I’ll not be speaking to you again!”  He stomped out of the room and down the stairs.
 “I’m always right, Mr. Brody,” she said with a smile, and followed him.  Together, they left the house and were off to fetch their son’s mail order bride.

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