Sometimes it's good to slow down and smell the roses ... or find things out the hard way!
The town of Nowhere, in the Washington Territory, April 1871
“The Weaver farm!” Sheriff Spencer Riley stared at his deputy like he’d just grown a horn in his head. “What in Sam blazes possessed you to want to ride all the way out there?”
Tom Turner smiled. “They like hearing my stories. Thought I’d take Rose with me this time, make a day of it.”
“Two days, you mean. You know it takes one to ride out there, not to mention another to ride back. That’s three days, Tom. I’m not sure I can spare you that long.”
“Been quiet around here, Sheriff, and besides, Billy’s wantin’ to work the extra hours on account he can’t stand being in the same house with his mother in-law. You know how Mrs. Davis drives him plumb loco.”
Spencer smiled. “That she does …” He pushed himself away from the desk he’d been leaning against, and put on his hat. “I’m going down to the mercantile for some licorice. Do me a favor will you, and go through those wanted posters before you leave? It may be quiet now, but who knows how long it will last.”
“Then I can go?”
Spencer sighed. “I suppose, I know you and Rose haven’t had any time to yourselves since you got married a couple months back. Ah, go ahead, but three days is all you’ve got.” He shook his head. “Maybe you’re in the wrong line of work? Seems to me you’d make a fine living telling those stories of yours. Maybe you outta write a book so folks can read them instead of you having to take off for the hills to tell them.”
Tom smiled. “Trust me, I’ve thought of it. But with as many stories as I have it would take too long to write em all down. I ain’t got that much time, Sheriff.”
“Well, at least you’ll have plenty of tales to tell your youngins’, when you have some that is.”
Tom grinned. “Working on it, why do ya think I want to take Rose with me this time? It’s a long drive out to Weaver country.”
Spencer chuckled. “Three days, deputy. That’s all I can spare.”
“Understood,” Tom said, his smile still in place. He watched Spencer leave the Sheriff’s office then turned to the stack of wanted posters and began to sift through them.
Most were new posters of the same old outlaws, some of which had already been apprehended. One however was new, and he noted something familiar about the man depicted in the printed drawing. “T.J. Slade,” he said to himself. “Now where do I know you from?” He scanned the poster. It said the man’s main crime was kidnapping, and that he’d struck in Colorado, Wyoming, and was last seen heading toward the Washington territory. “Well ain’t you a busy bee?” Tom said to the poster as he pinned it on the wall. He glanced to his rifle near the door, and decided it might be best to take it with him, especially if Rose was to accompany him out to the Weaver farm. Who knows if T.J. Slade had managed to worm his way as far as the poster stated.
Tom put on his hat and coat, grabbed his rifle, and headed out the door. If he and Rose left first thing in the morning they’d be out at the Weaver farm in time for supper, and Mrs. Weaver was a fine cook. He smiled again and thought of poor Ryder Jones and his new wife Constance. That woman couldn’t cook a whit when Ryder first married her. Neither could any of her sisters, come to think of it. But Ryder managed to teach her how, among other things. Things no English lady should ever learn, but teach her he did. A good thing too, for Ryder’s lessons on how to survive in the wild had served to save him from a horrible fate and kept him alive. A plumb miracle now that he thought on it, but then, his tales of Clear Creek were chock full of miracles. That’s just the kind of place it was …
* * *
The following evening, at the Weaver farm …
“Don’t leave any of the blood and guts out this time!” Calvin demanded. “I know there has to be some in this story!”
Tom smiled as he squeezed his wife’s hand. “I promise I won’t,” he told him. “But I might tone it down for the sake of the womenfolk.”
“But I like the blood and guts too,” Rose argued. “Don’t tone it down on my account.”
“I can take it,” Mrs. Weaver added as she poured everyone a cup of coffee. “Anybody want more pie?”
“No Ma, we’re fine,” said Arlan, the eldest of the Weaver brothers. He looked at his wife Samijo sitting beside him. “What about you? Can you handle a gory story?”
Samijo swallowed hard and looked at Tom. “How bad is it?”
He leaned toward her from across the table. “It’s got some blood, but if Constance could handle doing what she did, her being an English lady and all, then I’m sure you can handle hearing about it.”
Samijo took a deep breath and put both hands on her coffee cup. “All right, you may begin, I’m ready.”
Tom waited for Mrs. Weaver to take her seat, took one last look at everyone seated around the table, cleared his throat, and began. “This here tale is about the second sister that came to Clear Creek from England to get married. Constance was the curious one of the three, and the one most likely to get herself into trouble. In fact she’s a lot like my Rose here.”
His wife looked at him and smiled. “She had an adventurous side?” she asked.
“You could say that,” he told her with a wink. “Constance was willin' to take risks her sisters weren’t, including marrying Ryder without much courtin’. Zero in fact. Eloise, her younger sister, got busy gettin’ herself courted by Ryder’s brother Seth, while Constance and Ryder (already married) were way out on the prairie trying to finish Ryder’s house. Sadie Cooke warned Constance not to marry up so quick like but that English miss was stubborn, and once she made her mind up to do something, she did.
“When did she marry?” asked Mrs. Weaver.
“Not three days after her sister Penelope. Other than a couple of trips into town, no one saw them for days and days, except for the Cookes, but that was only for a visit.”
“If no one saw them for days, then how do you know what happened?” asked Daniel, the youngest of the Weaver brothers.
“How old are you Daniel?” Tom asked.
“Then listen up, cause maybe you can learn somethin' from this story before you’re old enough to marry. That goes for you too, Calvin and Benjamin,” he said as he addressed the twins. “Listen and learn.”
The twins were a few years older than Daniel. They glanced at each other before giving their attention back to Tom. “We ain’t gonna learn nothin’ if’n you don’t start the dang story!” Calvin pointed out.
Tom shrugged. “Okay, here we go. First let me point out that Constance had about as much patience as a youngin’ on Christmas mornin’. She couldn’t wait to get married and didn’t care none about the courtn’ part.”
“That’s one thing I never understood about mail order brides,” commented Mrs. Weaver.
“Worked for me, Ma,” said Arlan as he put his arm around Samijo. “We get along fine.”
“Yes, and that’s a good thing, but things didn’t go so smoothly with Constance and Ryder …
* * *
Clear Creek, Oregon, June 1861
“I now pronounce you man and wife,” said Preacher Jo. “You may kiss the bride.”
Constance leaned toward Ryder and pursed her lips together. He lifted the tiny scrap of veil from her face and did a double take at her tightly shut eyes and lips. “Ya thinkin’ a kiss from me is gonna be bad?” he asked.
Constance opened one eye, her lips still pressed together. She puckered her lips, then re-pursed them. Pucker, purse, pucker, purse. “How am I supposed to know? I’ve never kissed anyone before,” she said in exasperation.
The wedding had been quick, the preparation quicker. As soon as the ladies sewing circle got her dress put together, she pleaded with Sadie (who acted as Constance's main chaperone) to bypass time spent courting, and get right to it. Sadie was hesitant, if only because Ryder’s place wasn’t ready to house a bride. The roof wasn’t done, not all of the windows were finished, heck, as far as she knew, the house didn’t even have a functioning door. But Constance didn’t care about any of it, she wanted to be married.
In the end, Sadie gave in, and now stood shaking her head at Ryder’s new English bride. The girl was naïve to the ways of the west, and had a rude awakening coming.
Ryder puckered his lips, pulled her to him and kissed her. There was a funny little “popping” sound as he broke the kiss that elicited a chuckle from Wilfred Dunnigan. Colin and Harrison, along with their stepfather Jefferson, were out on the prairie chasing down strays and checking into a rumor about cattle rustlers in the area. The Sheriff himself had gone along, which in turn left Wilfred without his afternoon checker game, so he in turn volunteered to give the bride away.
“I wish she would have waited,” Colin’s wife Belle whispered to Sadie. “You know this isn’t going to be easy for them.”
“I know. But many a mail order bride has done the same thing. Of course, they probably weren’t from England. Maybe she’ll want to come back to the ranch for a few weeks while he finishes up his place.”
“She’s too stubborn for that,” Eloise chimed in. “She’s my sister, and I love her, but sometimes she is just so … so …”
“Unreasonable?” suggested Penelope, the eldest of the three.
“Exactly,” said Eloise. They watched as Ryder and Constance stared at each other, both looking like a couple of scared rabbits.
Sadie sighed. “Grandma Waller and I fixed a dinner basket for them to take back to Ryder’s place. I also put in some things Constance will need. I hope he’s got food out there other than what we’re sending. It’s a long ride to town.”
“Just how far from town is his ranch?” asked Penelope as she was joined by her new husband August.
“About two and a half hours from here,” August answered before Sadie could open her mouth. “And he hasn’t got a wagon.”
“You mean Constance is going to have to ride with him, on his horse?” Eloise asked, aghast.
“Yep,” August said with a grin. “Now won’t that make for a sight? Your sister all gussied up in her wedding dress, riding across the prairie with Ryder?”
“I think it’s absurd,” said Penelope. “Maybe we should invite them to stay with us until he finishes his cabin?” she suggested.
“Absolutely not,” August said. “We just got married last week, remember? I want my privacy.”
“What privacy? Clyde keeps ... interrupting everything,” Penelope giggled.
“Clyde?” asked Sadie.
“My rooster,” August huffed. “That darn bird has been more trouble …”
“Now August,” Penelope said in a scolding tone. “as annoying as he is, that bird did save my life.”
August rolled his eyes. “So you keep reminding me. Maybe Ryder could use him out at his place, that way I don’t have to put up with him chasing me around and pecking at my boots all the time. Not to mention the way he pecks at the glass of our bedroom window.”
Belle laughed. “He does what?”
Penelope nodded. “You heard him right. Our rooster pecks at the bedroom window, and our bedroom is on the second story.”
“And he only does it when we’re …” August said, bobbing his head this way and that.
“Oh no!” Sadie laughed. “That’s so odd, but it’s funny.”
“Until it’s your bedroom window, Mrs. Cooke,” August told her. “If you and Harrison had owned that bird, little Honoria may never have been born.”
Sadie chuckled as she glanced to Grandma Waller who sat bouncing eighteen-month old Honoria on her lap. “Maybe you should loan your rooster to Ryder. He might finish his house sooner if he isn’t distracted by … you know …”
August cast Ryder and his new bride a mischievous look. “You may have something there, Mrs. Cooke.”
“August Bennett, you wouldn’t,” Penelope chastised.
“I most certainly would. But not today, we’ll plan a little trip out to Ryder’s place in a week or two. That way you can check on your sister and I can make sure Ryder hasn’t done something stupid.”
“What do you mean?” Eloise asked, concern in her voice.
August smiled. “Oh I don’t mean stupid, but I can see him doing things like teaching your sister how to shoot or skin a critter.”
“Constance? Skin an animal?” Eloise asked in shock.
“She wouldn’t be the first woman around here to know how to do that sort of thing. Your cousin Duncan’s wife Cozette knows how to hunt and do just about everything a man does.”
“Oh but August, Constance would never do such a thing! She’s far too much of a lady.” Penelope assured.
“Oh yeah? Well, if I know Ryder, he’ll try to turn her into something else entirely.”
“Nonsense,” Penelope said.
August looked her in the eye. “You want to make a little wager on that Mrs. Bennett?”
“What? A wager? Don’t be ridiculous.”
“He licked his lower lip and grinned. “Pie every night for dessert, for two weeks! That’s what I’ll bet you.”
“Why August, I had no idea you could bake,” she told him in a teasing tone.
“Oh no, you’re not gonna get out of this that easily. I’ll bet you that within a month, Ryder has your sister skinning critters, tanning hides, and shooting a gun!”
Penelope’s mouth dropped open. “That will never happen!”
“I agree with Penelope,” added Eloise. “Our sister would never do anything so … so …”
“Manly?” August tossed at her.
“You’d best have Mrs. Dunnigan teach you how to bake a pie, Mr. Bennett,” Eloise shot back. “Constance is, and always will be, a lady.”
“You mean I get to ride all the way home with you on your horse?” Constance suddenly blurted above their conversation. “How exciting!”
August grinned in triumph as Penelope and Eloise groaned. “You were saying, ladies?”
Penelope glanced at Eloise as Constance took Ryder by the arm and pulled him toward the church doors. “Maybe we’d better have Mrs. Dunnigan give us a pie baking lesson tomorrow.”
* * *
The wedding was a blur, one left far behind. All Constance could think about was the fact she was married, just like her sister Penelope, and that her new husband was whisking her away to his charming farm out on the prairie where they would live happily ever after!
“It ain’t much, but it’ll be home,” he commented as he helped her onto his horse then mounted up behind her. “I’m sure all it needs is a woman’s touch.”
She smiled as he wrapped an arm around her waist to make sure she stayed put, then took the reins. “I’ll make it just as pretty as Penelope’s house!” she said with excitement.
Ryder gulped. “Well, my place ain't exactly like August’s farm, ya know. I ain’t no farmer.”
“Oh, I know that,” she said. “You want to breed horses.”
“Yes, ma’am, that I do.” He turned his horse as Sadie approached them with a basket.
“I’ll come out as soon as I can with your things,” she told Constance and handed her the basket. “Here’s a little something for tonight. I hope you enjoy it.”
“Now ain’t that nice?” Ryder commented. “You didn’t have to go through all that trouble, Mrs. Cooke.”
“Wasn’t no trouble at all!” shouted Grandma Waller from the church steps. “You have a nice supper, ya hear? And take care of that little lady, Ryder!”
Preacher Jo and his wife Annie joined Grandma on the steps. “Pleasure marrying you!” Preacher Jo called after them as Ryder turned his horse again and kicked him into a trot. “The pleasure was all mine!” he called over his shoulder and tightened his grip on Constance. “We’ll come into town in a few weeks!”
The small wedding party waved at them as they trotted away. “Why do I get the feeling they’ll be back in town a lot sooner?” asked Belle.
“On account that boy ain’t got supplies for two days let alone two weeks,” said Wilfred. “His cockeyed way of doing things may have been fine all this time when he was a bachelor, but now that he’s got a wife, he’s gonna have to shape up.”
“She can’t cook, Wilfred,” Sadie stated. “And she hardly knows how to clean or do laundry.”
Wilfred let go a whistle. “High time she learned then. And she’s gonna have to if’n she’s with the likes of Ryder Jones.”
“Mr. Dunnigan?” Eloise asked. “Is Ryder’s brother Seth as … as … wild?”
“No. Seth Jones is what you English would call civilized. Them two boys are like night and day.”
“Oh, thank Heavens,” Eloise mumbled.
“But don’t get me wrong, those boys are fiercely protective, and can hold their own in a fight. Seth may be more cleaned up working in Mr. Van Cleet’s fancy hotel, but he was once just as wild as Ryder, living in the outdoors, hunting, catching things with his bare hands ...”
“What?” Penelope gasped. “What are you talking about?”
Wilfred grinned. “Why, don’t you know?”
“Know what?” asked Eloise.
Wilfred chuckled. “Seth and Ryder Jones were raised by Indians.”
Penelope and Eloise both looked after Ryder’s horse as it disappeared around the livery stable and out of sight. “Oh dear Heavens!” Penelope exclaimed.
“However will Constance survive?” Eloise added, a hand to her chest.
“Same as you once you’re married,” stated Wilfred. “One day at a time.”