Monday, June 23, 2014

Love covers over a multitude of sins ...

A good thing too!  Independence is filled with folks thinking their way is the right way!


 Independence, Oregon April 1871

 Pastor Luke Adams was a simple sort.  He had three white shirts, two pairs of trousers, one pair of suspenders, two coats, one pair of boots and a hat.  That was it. It was all he owned.
 Leaving Chicago and heading west was the best decision he ever made. The tiny congregation of Independence, Oregon was just the sort of place he could immerse himself, work, and grow old in.  The people were friendly and always willing to lend a helping hand, the parsonage was adequate for his needs (even if bigger than he’d liked) and it came fully furnished. 
 But it wasn't long before he discovered certain residents liked to keep tabs on their neighbors as well as the folks in his congregation. Some did this by friendly banter, others by a series of afternoon teas throughout the month. And of course, everyone ventured into Tindle’s Mercantile at some point during the day to catch a bit of gossip;  Mrs.Tindle being the self-proclaimed eyes and ears of the town.  Even now she was hard at work …
 “Widowed you say?” asked Mrs. Vander, the mayor’s wife. Petite and soft-spoken, she fanned herself at the unsettling news.
 “Yes, and with no children, but I suppose he’s better off that way,” added Mrs. Tindle.
 “A pastor without a wife? No such thing! Whose idea was it to hire him?” demanded Mrs. Smythe, the undertaker’s wife and town matriarch. “It’s indecent!”
  “Your husband, for one,” Mrs. Vander pointed out in her bird-like voice. “Not to mention mine. In fact, I think Mr. Tindle had the final vote on the matter, didn’t he dear?” she asked as she turned to Mrs. Tindle.
 “Octavius thought Pastor Luke a fine addition to our town,” answered Mrs. Tindle. “Except …”
 “Except what?” the other two asked in unison.
 “Except for the fact he’s not married,” Mrs. Tindle answered with a dramatic sigh.
 “This will never do!” Mrs. Smythe bellowed. “You know how people talk.”
 “Don’t we though?” Mrs. Vander squeaked.
 “Mercy, what ever will we do?” lamented Mrs. Tindle.
 “I have no idea, dear.” Mrs. Vander said as she stared at her wide-eyed.
 “I wasn’t asking you,” Mrs. Tindle told her. “I was making a plea to the Almighty.”
 “Well how is one to know?” asked Mrs. Vander.
 “Mercy!” Mrs. Smythe quipped. “Don’t think that every time someone says the word ‘mercy’ they’re addressing you!”
 “Well I declare! What else am I to think? It is my name!”
 Such was a typical day in the life of Mrs. Tindle, Mrs. Smythe, and Mrs. Vander.  Martha, Maude, and Mercy had been friends the moment they met on a wagon train headed west over fifteen years ago.  They were considered the pillars in the church, not to mention the town. Their husbands held high positions.  One provided goods and services that fed and clothed the townsfolk, another buried them, and Mr. Vander looked darn good in a suit. His oratory skills were also a plus, and he wasn’t at all adverse to public speaking, which is how he landed the job of mayor.
  “I heard him tell Amelia Wilson he didn’t plan to marry again,” Maude announced as she adjusted her hat.
 “What?!” exclaimed Martha. “But he has to get married! We can’t have a single clergyman!”
 “Such a shame, he’s far too handsome to be single,” added Mercy. “But I don’t know what any of us is supposed to do about it. There isn’t a single woman around for miles.”
 Martha drummed her fingers on the mercantile counter, her brow puckered in thought.
 “Oh dear,” Mercy remarked flatly. “She’s got that look again!”
 Maude blanched. “Martha Tindle! What are you thinking? You know the last time you had that look, we got in deep trouble with our husbands! “
 “I’m still having to bake pie for Horace to make up for it,” added Mercy. “And you both know I loathe pie of any kind.”
 “It wasn’t our fault the mill burned down,” said Martha. “How were we to know Sarah Miller’s cat would knock the lantern over?”
 “Enough you two! We have to figure out what to do for our poor, lonely pastor,” said Maude as she rubbed her chin.
 “Did he say he was lonely?” asked Mercy.
 “It’s only a matter of time, dear,” Maude said, her voice dropped to an ominous pitch.
 Mercy’s eyes widened at the sound, and she gulped. “Wha … what then should we do?”
 “I know!” Martha said as she waved both hands at them. “My cousins in Nowhere, you know, up in the Washington territory? Well, they both got mail order brides for their sons!”
 “Mail order brides?” Maude asked. “Are you out of your mind?”
 “Oh, how romantic,” Mercy commented, ignoring Maude’s remark. “I think a mail order bride is a lovely idea.”
 Maude groaned in disgust.
 “What’s the matter?” Martha asked. “Don’t you like the notion?”
 “You never know what you’re going to get with a mail order bride!” Maude huffed. “What if she’s an idiot?”
 “So what if she is?” asked Mercy.
 “You are missing the point,” Maude chastised. “We don’t want just anyone married to our pastor. After all, the church is very important to this community. She’ll have to know how to cook, and organize all sorts of functions, and reside over our teas, and judge at the harvest festival, and any number of other important tasks!”
 “Oh,” Mercy replied in a flat tone. “You’re right.”
 “If it worked for my cousins, then why wouldn’t it work for us?” asked Martha.  “My nephew Matthew got a lovely bride, as did my nephew Arlan.”
  Maude took a deep breath. “I say we put it to a vote. All those in favor of getting Pastor Luke a mail order bride, please raise your hand.”
 Three arms shot up.
 “Good! It’s settled then!” said Maude. “Martha, write your cousins immediately and find out how they got their brides. We want to use a reputable establishment that will send us a young lady of refinement. We’ll settle for nothing less than perfection in this town.”
 “Right away!” Martha said as she reached under the counter and pulled out some paper. She then brought out a quill and ink, set them down, and began to write.

* * *

  Three weeks later, at the Ridgley Mail Order Bride Service in New Orleans.
 “Ain’t seen no sign of Mr. Slade, ma’am. It’s like he just up and disappeared. You didn’t say nuthun’ to make him leave town, did ya?” asked Jethro.
 The gentle giant sat in a chair across from Mrs. Ridgley’s desk and waited for her to answer. She smiled at him, knowing full well the big Negro would like nothing better than to be rid of the likes of Thaddeus Slade. The man owned three brothels, and was a constant threat to women everywhere. She’d also once been in love with him.  Once.
 She shrugged.  “I asked him to attend church with me.”
 Jethro stared at her in shock. “Church! Mrs. Ridgley, if that man ever set foot in a church, he’d die on the spot for what he’s done!”
 Eugina Ridgley sat back in her chair. “Perhaps you’re right. But, everyone deserves a chance to redeem themselves, even Mr. Slade.” She picked up the mail he’d brought and began to sift through the letters.  “Ah, this looks interesting,” she said and reached for the letter opener.
 “What is it?” asked Jethro.
 She read the missive and smiled. “It’s a request for a bride from a Mr. Adams in Independence, Oregon. Hmmm, he’s a pastor.”
 “A pastor?” Jethro echoed. “We ain’t never got a request from one of those.”
 “No, we haven’t.” She looked up from the letter. “Who does Mrs. Teeters have? Are any of the orphans of age?”
 “I don’t recollect none old enough to be marryin’, Mrs. Ridgley. What you gonna do if’n you don’t got no bride to send?”
 She sat back in her chair. “This does propose a problem.”
 “What kind a bride he lookin’ for?”
 She picked up the letter. “I seek a woman of character, refinement, good posture, and one good at … baking pies,” she read.
 Jethro stared at her. “That sounds reasonable.”
 “If we had a bride to fill it, which we don’t. I’ll have to write him back and tell him he’ll have to wait …”
 “Aunt Eugina!”
 Eugina’s head came up at the voice. She leaned to one side to see past Jethro. “May I help you?” A young woman stepped into the office. She looked very familiar.  Her light golden brown hair was piled on top of her head in the latest fashion, her amber eyes bright with interest and recognition. Unlike Eugina, who couldn’t for the life of her remember who the girl could be. Wait a minute, Aunt Eugina? “Winifred?” she guessed.
 The girl hurried into the room, came around the desk, and without waiting for her to stand, hugged her. “I’m so glad t,t,t, to … see you! I, I … “ she stopped, her face red, and held her breath.
 “Winnie, it is you!” Eugina exclaimed as she pushed them apart and looked at the girl.  “Still have that stutter, I see.”
 Winnie bit her lower lip and nodded.
 “Well, I’m sure you’ve learned to live with it. How are you my dear? And where is your mother?”
 Winnie’s eyes became downcast, and she pulled a handkerchief out of her reticule. “Gone.”
 Eugina stood. “Gone? What do you mean, gone?”
 Winnie met her gaze and shook her head. “She … g,g,g, …got influenza.”
 “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know. No one wrote to tell me. Sit down, dear,” Eugina instructed as she waved at a nearby chair. “Jethro, see about some tea, will you?”
 “Yes, ma’am!” he said and stood. He gave the young woman a compassionate look, and left.
 Winnie sat. “I’m sor … sorry,” she took a deep breath. “I’m sorry I didn’t write, I decided to visit instead.”
 Eugina stared at her. “You don’t stutter when you hold your breath?”
 Winnie nodded.
 “Oh, my.”
 Winnie’s face began to turn red. “I had no place else to go.”
 “What? I thought you said you were  … oh, wait a minute.” Eugina had to have a moment to think. As she recalled, her brother didn’t have many assets when he died, and didn’t leave much for Winnie and her mother to live on. Sure, they got by until now, but if Hester, Winnie’s mother was gone, then the poor thing really was alone. As was she. “My brother’s gone, my two sisters and their husbands, and now your mother.” She looked at Winnie, tears in her eyes.
 Winnie nodded and took a deep breath. “I don’t want to be a bother.”
 “You’re not a bother, I just need a moment to take this in.” She sat, her stomach in knots. It was an odd feeing to realize her entire family was no more. The others hadn’t had children, and died young. Winnie was the youngest among them. “How old are you now?”
 “Twenty-four,” she answered. “I know I should have married long ago, but mother … had no one, and  …”
  “You don’t have to explain. I understand.” Eugina’s eyes fell to the letter on the desk. “And I may have a solution for you, if you’re willing to hear me out.”
 Winnie took a deep breath, and nodded.
 Eugina picked up the letter, and handed it to Winnie.
 “What’s this?” she asked.
 “It’s a request I received from a gentleman seeking a mail order bride. I think you should consider it.”
 Winnie slowly raised her face, mouth half-open in astonishment. “Me? A mail … or, or, or …”
 “Calm down, you know how you stutter when you get nervous or excited.”
 Winnie took a deep breath and held it. “I’ve never thought of being a mail order bride.” She let the breath out and tried to steady her breathing as she perused the letter. “A pastor?”
 “Yes, and he sounds like the sort of man that would be good for you.”
 “But I … I couldn’t.”
 Eugina reached across the desk and took one of Winnie’s hands in her own. “I know you’ve been through a lot taking care of my sister-in-law all these years, and that both of you had to struggle. You could start a new life with this man, a good life in a growing town.  Lots of women go out west to be mail order brides.  Besides, what kind of life would you have here?”
 Winnie swallowed hard, tears in her eyes. “But Aunt Eugina, what man wou …wou… would want me?”
 Eugina sighed. “What man wouldn’t want you? You’re pretty, smart, you can cook …”
 Winnie shook her head. “No, I …” she took another deep breath. “…can’t. Mother’s diet was limited. I only know how to make soup.”
 “That explains why you’re so thin …” Eugina said as she eyed Winnie across the desk.  “But no matter, you have many attributes men seek in a wife. Of course you could stay here, but I’m afraid it would be terribly lonely for you.”
 “You don’t want me to stay?”
 “I never said that, I would love to have you stay. In essence, you’re all the family I have left, but I don’t know how fulfilling life here would be for you.” She gave her niece’s hand a squeeze. “Winnie, you know I want the best for you.”
 Winnie’s eyes filled with tears as she took another deep breath. “I hardly left the house this last year, I’m at a loss as to what to do with myself.” She looked at the letter again, read it for a moment, and then asked, “ What do I need to do?”
 Eugina smiled as she took out pen and ink from her desk. “Write him back.”
 “That’s it?”
 Eugina nodded. “Tell him a little about yourself, and if he thinks you’ll suit, he’ll send a train ticket and stage fare.”
 “That’s it? Good Heavens, I had no idea it was so easy to get a husband!”
 Eugina sighed. “Indeed.”
 Winnie took the piece of paper offered, picked up the pen, and with a shaking hand, began to write.

* * *
   Dear Mr. Adams, I’ve read your letter and think I would be a good match for you. I’m twenty-four years old, have light brown hair and amber eyes. People say they are my best feature. I can clean and sew and am very good at looking after the sick. Please respond and let me know if you think we would suit.
 Winifred Longfellow

  Mercy passed the letter to Maude. “Well, I think she sounds lovely.”
 “She doesn’t say a word in here about cooking!” Maude complained.
 “If she can clean and sew then of course she can cook,” pointed out Martha.
 The three sat in Mercy Vander’s elaborate parlor. Not only was Mr. Vander mayor, he and his wife had the nicest house in town.  They even had a cook who doubled as a maid and tripled as a governess for their son Garrett.  Consequently, the woman was relieved when the young master got older and went off to college. It meant she was down to cook and maid again, though if Mrs. Vander had her way, she’d dress her up as a butler too.
 “More tea, Mrs. Vander?” the servant asked.
 “Why, thank you Betsy. Don’t mind if I do.” Betsy poured her another cup before she moved on to her guests.  
 “I think we should write the young lady back and accept,” suggested Martha.
 “Let’s not be too hasty. What about other applicants?” asked Maude. “Has anyone else written?”
 “No, Mrs. Ridgley sent a note along with the letter,” Mercy told her. “It says Miss Longfellow is the only bride available. If we reject this one, who knows how long we’ll have to wait for another to come along.”
 Maude set down her teacup and sighed. “Very well then. Martha, take a letter.”
 “Why do I have to take a letter? I wrote the last one.”
 “Oh, Betsy, dear?” Mercy asked. “Would you mind?”
 Betsy set down the teapot and went to a small desk near the fireplace.  She took out a piece of stationary, picked up a pen, dipped it in an inkpot, and turned to her employer.
 “Isn’t she a dear?” Mercy asked her friends. “I don’t know what I’d do without her.”
 Betsy stood at the ready, and fought the urge to roll her eyes.
 Maude turned to her. “Dear Miss Longfellow,” she dictated. “I think you’d make me a very happy man …”
 “Should he sound eager?” interrupted Martha. “The word ‘happy’ makes him sound too eager.”
 “A man out here ought to be happy for a wife,” countered Mercy. “Any wife!”
 “She’s going to make him happy, and what woman wants to marry a grump?” added Maude.
 Betsy sat at the desk and stared at the three, her mind racing over whom the women were talking about. If she were a man, she’d think twice before letting a group of old biddies attend to something as private as one’s personal love life. What idiot let himself get talked into allowing them the task of obtaining a mail order bride?
 “Betsy,” her employer called across the room. “Leave in the word ‘happy’.”
 Betsy scribbled it down.
  “My dear Miss Longfellow,” Maude began again. “Ah let’s see, a happy man, yes … ah ha! And I think we shall be very happy together. You’ll be a fine addition to the church and community.”
 Mercy stared at her. “That’s not very romantic.”
 Betsy shook with suppressed laughter. The poor sap they suckered was even letting them answer his bride’s letter for him? Was he out of his mind? Who was this man?
 “Romance is irrelevant at this point,” Maude snapped. “The important thing is to have her delivered … I mean shipped out … I mean brought here.”
 “We all know what you meant,” Martha stated as she reached for her cup. “Which of us is she going to stay with when she arrives? We can’t just spring her on the poor man.”
 “Why not?” asked Mercy.
 Betsy’s mouth dropped open as her brow rose in amusement. Was she saying what she thought she was saying?
 “Pastor Luke has a lot on his plate, we have to be considerate of that,” added Maude.
 Betsy snorted with laughter, and almost fell out of her chair. All three heads turned to  her as she quickly righted herself and resumed her position.
 “She can stay with us,” added Maude. “If need be, we can rotate until Pastor Luke and this Miss Longfellow marry.”
 Betsy could stand it no longer. “What are you talking about? Can’t Pastor Luke send for this woman himself? He’s not that busy!”
 “Oh no, that would never do!” Mercy exclaimed. “You see, he doesn’t …” she quickly glanced at her counterparts. They sat as stoic as ever. “That is to say … he can’t be bothered.”
 Betsy stood. “Mrs. Vander,” she started then looked at all three faces in turn. “Has Pastor Luke given his consent for you to do this for him?”
 The matrons glanced at one another with fleeting looks. “Well,” Mercy began. “Like I said, he can’t be bothered with such trivial things right now.”
 “Trivial? A mail order bride is trivial?” Betsy gasped.
 “I must say, Mercy, your hired help’s respect is sadly lacking,” huffed Maude.
 “Now Betsy,” Mercy began in a panicked voice. “Promise us you won’t breathe a word about this to anyone! Especially Pastor Luke!”
 Betsy was about to comment when Maude cut her off. “If you do we’ll see you fired!”
 “You’ll do no such thing!” Mercy squeaked. “Why, Betsy’s been with us since we came west from St. Louis!”
 “Dock her pay then!” countered Maude. “We’ve got to get this settled and done with. Who was in charge of the train ticket?”
 “I was,” answered Martha.  “I’ll go down to the station first thing tomorrow morning and purchase one.”
  “It’s settled then,” said Maude. “Betsy, sign that letter, Pastor Luke Adams.”
 Betsy could only stare. “You three are some kind of trouble, and you’re gonna be in a heap of it if your husbands find out.”
 “They aren’t going to find out, are they?” Maude said with her eyes narrowed to slits.
 “Don’t look at me,” said Betsy. “I ain’t gonna be the one to tell them. Besides, they’ll find out just as soon as that mail order bride steps off the stage and goes looking for poor Pastor Luke!”
 “Then we’ll just have to make sure one of us is there to meet her so that doesn’t happen,” said Martha.
 Betsy shook her head. “You do that, and good luck. Because once Pastor Luke finds out what you three have been up to, he’s gonna be preaching nothing but fire and brimstone every Sunday for a month!

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