Death, death, and more death.
It comes to everyone in time, of course—the good, according to an old maxim, at a younger age than the rest of humanity.
In this case, it was the sudden contraction and painful, lingering death of Jeremiah Holland, not yet a year ago, from pneumonia. His passing created not only a great emotional abyss in the heart of his family, but also left them financially devastated.
His widow, Lillian, did her best to make ends meet for their son Silas, now a young sturdy man of twenty, and daughter Josie, just two years younger. Since genteel ladies in 1890 did not pursue occupations, she sold off whatever possessions she could—furniture, knickknacks, and inexpensive framed paintings, even jewelry handed down through several generations of Hollands. She managed to keep their bills paid, but with nothing saved for emergencies. And, soon, this exhaustible supply would be inevitably depleted.
Meanwhile, Silas, having finished his education but with no real business pursuit of his own, picked up odd jobs here and there, whether stable work or street sweeping or lamp-lighting. Josie had found a niche, unwanted though it was, as housemaid—cleaning for the wealthy and acquiring chilblains, blisters, and sore muscles in the process.
It was about the middle of January—a cold, dreary, snowy month in Lancaster, Pennsylvania—when Lillian asked both children to join her in their small parlor. Night had fallen; it was nearly supper time, and the townsfolk were hurrying gratefully home from their day’s labors.
A shivering Josie hung her thin damp cloak on the hall tree to scurry toward the fireplace, where feeble flames sent forth an equally feeble glow and warmth. Slim and petite, her shoulders seemed to slump beneath the weight of the world, and her complexion seemed too wan and fragile for one of relatively good health.
“What is it, Mama?” Glancing at her reflection from one of the few mirrors left in their accouterments, Josie smoothed her hair—amber gold, the rich tone of honey—back into its necessary knot. “I’m relieved you were able to stay inside today, with that cough you’ve had.” Bending her pliant young frame, she pressed a cold cheek against her mother’s.
“Were your chores more difficult than usual, my dear?”
“No, not really. Although that Mrs. Benson is quite a harridan. I vow, she looks into every nook and cranny, trying to find spider webs and dust bunnies.” With another shiver, Josie pulled her cotton shawl more closely around her shoulders. “How are you feeling?”
“Much improved, thank you. Oh, Silas, there you are.”
The front door slammed firmly behind his entrance; the women could hear the rasp of his boots onto the hall mat and the familiar creak of a hook as his hat and coat landed upon it.
“H’lo, Ma, Josie. Nasty weather out there.” Blowing on his cold hands, he, too, squirmed into place before the hearth. Teasingly, he used one hip to nudge his sister farther away; she immediately retaliated with a hip thrust of her own to reclaim her place. “Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat, but I’m hungry. Old Man Vickers had me takin’ care of a whole dang herd of horses from carriages I’d never seen before. Hard work, I can tell you.”
“No harder, I’ll warrant, than crawling around on your hands and knees to scrub soot from the fireplaces,” retorted Josie. Her eyes flashed azure fire, probably at the memory of every humiliation, resentfully borne, in the house of Benson.
“Both backbreaking, I’m sure,” interceded their mother gently. “I’d like you to sit down, please. I have something to tell you.”
Apprehension flared in the glance exchanged between brother and sister. They had so recently lost their father; clearly they wondered, with their mother rendered weak and feverish by bouts with a cold of unending duration, if they were about to lose her, as well?
“Mama. Are you sure you’re feeling better?” Complying, Josie’s pale face nonetheless revealed a twinge of worry.
“Of course, dear.” Disproving that statement, Lillian coughed delicately into an embroidered handkerchief. “No, what I have to say concerns our future. The future for all of us.”
It hadn’t taken her long after their father’s death, she explained, to read the handwriting on the wall. Their financial situation was put in a very shaky state some nine months ago, and she knew it could only grow worse. So, working quietly behind the scenes, she had begun corresponding with a gentleman living in the small town of Rockwood Springs, Texas.
“He is alone, as I am; his wife died some two years ago, and he has been feeling lonely. We have exchanged letters on a regular basis for some time, each learning more about the other. The result, my darlings, is that he’s asked me to marry him. And, so, we shall be moving soon to Texas.”
“Texas?” repeated Silas, stunned. It might have been the far side of the moon, for all he was concerned. A tall, robust fellow just past boyhood, he had not quite outgrown bony wrists and awkward movements. “Mother. You’re actually planning to throw everything aside and—and marry this complete stranger—?”
Josie, jaw dropped, was staring helplessly across the room. “You can’t—you can’t possibly be serious, Mama.”
“Oh, but I am. He sounds like a wonderful man. Not only will he provide for us from here on, but he has already sent a substantial sum for our transport to his ranch.”
As if too much emotion were suddenly boiling up inside for his frame to contain it, Silas kicked his chair back and rose to pace a few steps toward the hall, then back again, while he took in this incredible news. Then, harshly, he demanded to know if she wasn’t just a tad too old for this mail-order bride proposition.
Both women gasped in shock.
“Silas! How dare you speak so disrespectfully to me!” his mother exclaimed.
Properly chastised, he hung his head. “I’m sorry, Ma. I truly am. It’s just—you took us so much by surprise with this announcement. How d’you expect us to react?”
Lillian sent a hurt, pleading gaze toward her daughter. “And you, Josie? Is that your feeling?”
“Well, I—I really don’t know, Mama. I mean, Silas is right. Without warning, without any advance notice, we’re just supposed to pack up and move hundreds of thousands of miles away?”
While Silas, in the background, spluttered over the “hundreds of thousands,” Lillian voiced a protest. “But, dearest, what is there here for us any longer? We have no relatives on your father’s side, few friends, little income… My marrying seems the best solution to a horrendous problem. Unless you prefer a life of genteel starvation?”
“Nope.” Reseating himself, Silas gathered up a smile. “I like to eat. All right, then, tell us about this fellow.”
Emmet Wade owned a sprawling ranch in Texas Hill Country named, appropriately enough, the Cedar Sage. His family had lived on the twenty-thousand (give or take a few hundred) acres since his great-grandfather had settled in nearly a hundred years ago, located conveniently near the Pedernales River in an area around the towns of Fredericksburg and Rockwood Springs.
“Not in a state of wedded bliss, I’m assuming?”
“Of course not. He’s been widowed, as I mentioned, and he has two daughters who are seventeen and fifteen, respectively. Mr. Wade has described a typical day there, the routine of what goes on, and, I must admit—” the tone of her voice turned wistful “—it sounds appealing.”
“Your solution still seems drastic,” came Josie’s quiet opinion. “If our financial affairs are truly in such a mess, couldn’t we stay with Aunt Lavinia? Just until we can find our feet.”
Leaning forward so that her pretty blonde hair shone in the lamp light, Lillian looked slightly exasperated and completely at a loss, all at once. “If we haven’t found our feet, as you call it, in almost a year of maundering through grief, I see no chance that it will ever happen.”
“Perhaps we just need more time…”
“I have made up my mind.” Lillian lifted her chin, regaining some of the spirit she had lost. “Should the two of you decide to remain here in Lancaster—that is, of course, your prerogative—I shall miss you dreadfully, and I shall wish you well. But I cannot allow your reluctance to accept a new challenge in life to hold me back. Children, I am going.”
“You appear to be so sure of your decision, and its outcome,” began Josie, a little tearfully. “Why you won’t even consider requesting help from our aunt, I simply do not understand.”
“I have no intention of landing the three of us upon my sister for any length of time. To be the object of charity, and reminded of it at every turn…”
The grim tightening of their gentle mother’s lips gave Josie and Silas pause. Clearly, both her children realized there was no point in belaboring their objections any further.
“Well, then.” Straightening, Silas drew in a deep breath. “What plans have you made for this big adventure, Ma, and what do you want us to do?”
Silence fell for a moment while Lillian cast her sorrowful gaze around and about the shabby room, already emptied of many of its nicer furnishings. Darker squares showed on the faded wallpaper where once paintings and portraits had hung; the grand Persian carpet had been rolled up and taken away by a dealer; and the heavy crimson draperies had been sold and replaced with thinner, cheaper fabric, which did little to keep out drafts of cold air.
“We were so happy here, your father and I,” she murmured, reminiscing. “Both of you children were born in the bedroom upstairs, and the girl before you, and the two boys after you. I shall hate having to say farewell to this place, and to St. Anne’s Cemetery where so many of my memories are buried. But I have no choice. Don’t you see?”
Concerned, Josie slipped from her chair to kneel on the small threadbare rug at her mother’s feet. “We do see, Mama. We see you’re doing the best you can for all of us. And, while neither Silas nor I can feel happy about being uprooted from the only home we’ve ever known, we, too, shall do our best to support you in whatever you will arrange.”
Lillian bent forward to embrace her daughter. “Thank you, my darling. Leaving this place will be a horrible wrench. But it’s like turning the page of one’s book to begin the next chapter. We must go on, into the future, with as much courage and stamina as we are able to muster. Silas?”
“Well, there has to be something better ahead for me than mucking out stables,” he admitted, rather shamefacedly. “We gotta stick together, right?”
Reaching up to clasp her brother’s hand, Josie offered a thin watery smile. “Like gum paste.”
“And plaster,” he added.
Their mother managed a shaky laugh. “Not a very cogent combination, but I understand. Well. Now, let’s begin planning as to what we ought to take with us, shall we?”
* * * * * * *
Selling the house, poor and rundown though it had become, did at least provide a small financial cushion for the Hollands, “in case things don’t work out as we expected,” said Lillian vaguely, when pressed.
Meanwhile, each member sorted through their personal possessions—clothing, toiletries, books, jewelry—and then through whatever furnishings remained in each room.
“I hardly think it’s worthwhile dismantling bed frames and pulling down draperies to take with us,” Lillian murmured at one point, with a dissatisfied air. “And I expect we shall leave the linens, such as they are. Just freshly washed and in place for the new owners.”
“But the family silver, Mama?” Josie, who was following along to make a list of whatever might be required, reminded her mother.
“Oh, that, of course. All boxed and corded. And the lovely tea set your grandmama left us. And some of the embroidered scarves and runners that have been handed down. Let me see… a few little keepsakes…”
When they were finished, the pile of what they would be taking with them seemed enormous, and Lillian, looking over their selections, suggested more economizing would likely be needed.
“You mean—cut back even further, Mama?” pressed Josie with dismay. “I’ve already given away a good deal to charity. Surely you can’t mean—”
“Oh, my darling, surely I do. We can’t possibly embark upon a journey to our destination so far away worrying about the location and security of so many things. Could both of you try again to eliminate a bit more?”
“Can’t blame me.” Silas, inordinately cheerful now that steps were actually being taken for this great move, told them. “Just a portmanteau and a couple of big wooden crates.”
This disassembling of a home which had taken more than a quarter of a century to create was proving to be a heart scald. Every small item held a memory of when it had been acquired or when it had been used; every separate room overflowed with a reminisce of good times and bad times.
If Lillian felt emotionally torn apart, as her permanent place of residence was being physically dismantled, she tried to hide her sense of loss and disorientation in a futile effort to protect her children. Many tears were secretly shed, many heavy sighs quietly drawn. She spent most of her days in these endeavors, working herself into a state of exhaustion, so that her nights could at least give her some rest.
When they finally re-located, left behind would lie all that had made the Hollands a family; ahead now lay the vast unknown, full of uncertainty, apprehension, and even possible danger. For this, Silas was relying on his experience with the cheap dime novels of his boyhood.
“Train robbers,” he reported with relish. “Outlaw gangs. Shoot-’em-up Deadeye Dicks. And that’s just the humans we’ll have to be wary of.”
Josie, looking alarmed, couldn’t be entirely sure her brother wasn’t just enjoying a huge joke at her expense. “Anything else?” she asked warily.
“Depends on the countryside. Wild bears, cougars, rattlesnakes, prickly pear cactus, scorpions, Gila monsters…”
Using a sister’s prerogative, she smacked him upside the head. “You wretch. You’re just making up all of that. Mama!”
Neither of the younger Hollands had traveled at all, outside of their own city; and Mrs. Holland, herself, very little, other than a brief honeymoon trip.
So, all three of them, as they gathered in the front hallway on a grim late February morning to wait for the cab and carriage Mrs. Holland had requested, wore varying expressions. There was anticipation. Concern. Excitement. Anxiety. And just plain I-don’t-believe-I-want-to-do-this-after-all-please-let-me-change-my-mind…
After almost a year of near-penury, economizing with such a small amount of coal that hearth fires offered only scarce warmth, and with meals being reduced from three to two using only the poorest of ingredients, Lillian had decided to splurge (with her future husband’s approval) on the most modern of railway cars. Once all their baggage had been loaded in place, the Holland family climbed on board the National Express Line, waved a tearful farewell to the place which had sheltered them for so many years, and settled into relative luxury upon upholstered seats and wide viewing windows.
They were wearing their warmest garments against the chilly, damp Pennsylvania weather. While neither woman had ever sought the title of fashion plate, both were dressed neatly and nicely in traveling suits. Lillian’s—a dark gray wool with slightly puffed sleeves, white lace fichu, and black velvet collar and skirt insets—was finished off with a small flounce at the hem. Josie’s choice was much less serious in tone and style: a two-piece outfit of some shimmery light teal blue that contrasted beautifully with her hair and complexion and almost exactly matched the color of her eyes.
Both, discovering that the car felt comfortably warm, had laid aside their heavy coats. But, of course, the boots remained, as did the hats, both fluffy, feminine affairs whose brims held a veritable phalanx of feathers, flowers, and furbelows.
Silas, as their escort, was costumed in the sober black of a new dress suit, white shirt with high standing collar, wool Inverness, and bowler hat. Not quite a dandy, not quite a fop. But the addition of anything more, like a white tie or pearl-buttoned gloves, would certainly add to that description.
Having had little in the way of new garments in the recent past, he was quite surprised at being allowed the purchase and pleased at his appearance.
“Oh, Silas, do sit still,” implored Josie, once they were underway. “I declare, your vanity knows no bounds. Ever since you dressed this morning, you’ve been craning your neck to search for any available mirror to inspect your reflection.”
“Can’t help it, sis. I feel like a dude in these clothes, and that’s the truth. You look quite wonderful, yourself.”
Diverted, she smiled and swished her skirt over both ankles. “Thank you, kind sir. I must admit, Mama, I do so appreciate having some nice things again. Are you sure your Mr. Wade will not take exception?”
“He can hardly do that, my dear,” answered her mother serenely, “when he did not supply the funds. I chose to divert a bit from the sale of our house. I felt we had scrimped long enough; we deserved to splurge just a bit. Besides, I would like our new family to see us well-dressed and attractive when we arrive, wouldn’t you?”
A valid determintion. While Silas seemed not as concerned about the prospect of his mother’s remarrying, and to someone whom she had never met, Josie, from a woman’s point of view, wondered just how much Lillian might be privately worrying about the whole affair. What a difficult situation—made more so by the fact that she was trying to provide for her children’s future, as well.
The locomotive rolled on its shining tracks across the rest of Pennsylvania and farther west, into Ohio. Several inches of new falling snow were left behind, dissolving into heavy rain that blurred the scenery outside their window and, in low places, raised bands of mist and fog. At least they were enclosed inside, observing the inclement weather from a place of safety, instead of having to fight their way through the elements on their way to various places of employment.
The busy little train huffed and chuffed along its route, stopping at many of the larger towns and smaller cities—Pittsburgh, Columbus, southward to Cincinnati—allowing passengers to disembark for meals and rest stops, to leave and go about their business as necessary, and to re-embark for the next leg of their journey.
By evening of the fourth day, Lillian was looking a trifle wilted. The family had obtained two small hotel rooms at one of their stops the night before, which had meant unloading all their goods and then re-loading the next morning. Her only comment to all this was that she was relieved she had managed to whittle down a portion of what had been packed to travel with them.
All three had been too busy, preparing for this move, to mourn what they were leaving behind.
Now, with too much time to think, quiet reigned, for the most part. None had enjoyed the privilege of any close friendships in Lancaster. Lillian, in her widow’s weeds, had secluded herself with her grief and worry. Both Silas and Josie had been working too many hours, and were too fatigued upon finally returning home, to take part in a social life even had one been offered. School chums had drifted away; only acquaintance with fellow employees remained.
So the loss of personal relationships would not be regretted, since there were none. Neither Josie nor her mother would have letters to write home, other than to the aforementioned unsavory Lavinia Stewart, who would have no reason to lament the departure of her closest kin.
After nearly a week of confinement to their passenger car, passing through the lower part of Indiana, along the Ohio River, then into Kentucky and Tennessee, the bleakness of northern winters began to give way to slightly warmer temperatures and soft blue rather than drizzly gray skies.
The whole family took advantage of every stop to detrain for as long as possible, to breathe fresh air, to engage in some spirited exercise—walking around the train station, or even a few blocks into each town, did time allow—to observe the scenery on a first-hand basis, rather than through a pane of glass.
“I hadn’t realized how much I would enjoy seeing this great country of ours,” Lillian commented, after one such invigorating halt at a rip-roaring, bustling place called Clarksville. “The hills—so green for this time of year, and nothing to what we’re accustomed. And so many rivers.”
“And so many flies.” Silas was vigorously swatting as he took the car steps up and headed inside with a bound. Trust Silas to add the prosaic to the poetic.
Letting out a whoosh of breath, Josie piled into the seat beside her mother, straightening both hat and high collar. “I do believe we shall have to find less-confining garments in our wardrobe, Mama. Something lighter, more in keeping with the climate.”
“You’re absolute correct, my child. I fear I gave little thought as to appropriate attire whilst I was packing. We may need to visit a mercantile, when we have a chance, to see if we might purchase some ready-mades.”
Then it was onto a lengthy bridge and across the Father of Waters.
“Oh, piffle,” remarked Josie, peering out with disappointment at what they had passed over. “All my life, I’ve heard and read about the Mississippi, so I expected this great glittering gush of a river, like a silver hair ribbon sparkling in the sun. Instead, it’s a muddy brown that isn’t even attractive. Imagine eating fish taken from such sludge.”
“Fresher at the source,” contributed Silas. He was ensconced with one ankle resting upon the other thigh, reading a local newspaper he’d picked up some miles back. “Here’s some information for you, Jo. Mark Twain has published his book entitled A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Sound intriguing?”
“That was last December, I do believe. Yes, brother, dear, I should very much enjoy to read it. Perhaps, now, with some leisure to pursue such an unsalaried hobby…”
“Both of you have earned the benefits of a quality education, at least,” noted Lillian, satisfied. “That will stand you in good stead for the future, no matter where life takes you.”
“And here’s something else you might find of interest,” continued Silas, turning to the next page. “A man named William Purvis has received a patent for his fountain pen.”
Giving up on the great Mississippi for the rolling knolls and small mountains of the State of Arkansas, and the layered countryside ahead, Josie smiled. “Do tell. That will make writing letters more convenient, won’t it?”
“And less messy. Except in your case, little sis. I’ve never seen anybody so accident-prone, with ink blotches everywhere. On occasion, you are positively scatterbrained.”
Lillian frowned. “Silas, dear, if you haven’t anything nice to say—”
“—don’t say anything at all,” her children finished off the quote as a chorus.
Their gallant locomotive chugged gaily along, cutting kitty-corner across the many rivers and their tributaries, through thick forests just greening up with spring’s offering, past craggy cliffs and small towns. Then came Texas, identifiable at first only because the names of a few of those small towns were visible on the map Silas had acquired.
Their overnight stay in Dallas came as welcome relief.
Once again, the Hollands could leave behind the passenger car—which, though periodically changed as their train itself had been changed, depending upon direction of travel and the corporation available, still felt painfully familiar. Two hansom cabs took them and their belongings to the Longview Hotel, where they signed in for two large rooms.
“Oh, Mama,” sighed Josie, looking around ecstatically as the bellboy opened the door for their entrance. “Look, an actual bed again!”
The chance to sleep prone on a soft mattress with clean linens, instead of sitting fitfully upright, had come rarely during their journey. And this chamber appeared ready to serve up comfort on a silver tray: sheer curtains at the two tall windows; plenty of rugs, small tables, chairs, and divans;
a spacious dresser holding a mirror and a vase of fresh flowers; and the requisite privacy screen that cordoned off a corner.
“I do believe we might spend more than just one night here,” announced Lillian, unpinning her flouncy hat to set aside. “Pure luxury, is it not, dear? What do you think, perhaps a week or more? We could take in the sights of Dallas.”
“How far are we from our ultimate destination, Ma?” asked Silas, coming in from the adjoining room. He, too, had removed his hat, along with his frock jacket, and was undoing the buttons of his waistcoat. “The ranch, that is?”
“Several hundred miles, according to Mr. Wade’s most recent correspondence.”
With a sigh to rival that of her daughter’s, Lillian sank down onto a blue damask divan and looked around. All their baggage had been unloaded and separated: personal luggage here, discreetly piled in a large closet, the rest stacked conveniently into one of the hotel’s storage areas, on the first floor.
“Oh, that feels so wonderful,” she murmured, stretching tired, aching muscles for a reprieve. “I must admit, getting this far has been interesting, but grueling. And I hope never to repeat it, unless for pleasure. My dear, I think I shall have to rest a few hours before we attempt the next leg of our journey.”
“And how do we get there, Mama?”
“Another jaunt by train, I’m afraid, to a place called Austin. From there, to Rockwood Springs, we will need to take a stagecoach. Meanwhile, tomorrow we shall locate ourselves a telegraph office, so that I may give Mr. Wade a more definite arrival date.”
“Imagine, there’s a full bathtub back here,” exulted Josie, who was still exploring. “All decorated with roses and cherubs. And the sweetest-smelling soap.” Crossing the room, she giddily threw out her arms to encompass everything contained within and spun around in a little circle. “What a place. I shall never want to leave here for this outpost of civilization to which we’re expected to retire.”
Her mother, leaning back with one arm resting upon the divan’s support, managed a weary chuckle. “Then, my dear, you shall have to scare yourself up some man of means to support your lifestyle.”
“Outpost?” Silas pricked up his ears. “How d’you figure, Jo?”
She dropped ungracefully into a nearby chair. “Oh, use your head. What else could it be, stuck out there in the middle of nowhere, without even a good-sized town within hailing distance? I am going to miss all the hustle and bustle of Lancaster, very much.”
“Of course the place is in the middle of nowhere, you ninny,” scoffed Silas. “It’s a ranch. Where should it be, smack-dab cheek-by-jowl next to banks and skyscrapers? Ma, I’m starvin’. How about we go get some supper in the hotel dining room?”
Josie felt deeply relieved that they were able to spend a week’s hiatus in Dallas. Not just, in the company of her family, to sightsee the newly electrified streets of this city boasting some 30,000 souls, which she certainly enjoyed. And not just to browse amongst the many floors of established department stores, where she and her mother were able to purchase a few new outfits more appropriate to the climate, along with such incidentals which might be needed.
No, she was relieved because this week gave Lillian a chance to rest. As much patience and enthusiasm as her mother had exhibited during their journey thus far, her strength had been sorely taxed. Being able to remain in one place, with a leisurely arising, meals prepared by someone else’s hands, and relaxed hours ahead of her, was returning to her the vitality sapped by too much physical and emotional toll.
By the time she had received a confirmation of her telegram sent to Emmet Wade, and his reply as to the day and approximate time when he would arrive to collect the Holland family, faint color had pinkened her cheeks and vitality had restored the spring to her steps.
“Mama, you look so pretty.” Josie handed over the compliment as if she had never before recognized her parent as a viable, attractive human being. “You look like a bride.”
Lillian gave the impression of slight embarrassment mixed with appreciation. “Thank you, my dear. I am feeling much more like my old self. Perhaps that helps.”
All of which was undone again, to some extent, by the stagecoach ride from Dallas to Rockwood Springs.
Only their personal luggage was allowed to be strapped in place atop the large Concord vehicle, because space for passengers and belongings was at a premium. The rest of their boxes, crates, and what-have-you would be sent by a second stage, later on.
That was a ten day journey to remember, and, upon finally reaching the Rockwood Springs way station, poor Lillian had almost crawled out of the open door, looking as if she might fall to her knees in devout prayer that she had been able to disembark still whole and relatively safe.
She was sitting, wan and wretched, on a hard wooden bench inside the building, surrounded by the family’s effects, when Emmet Wade made his appearance.
They had been waiting for more than an hour with no sustenance other than water, which the station master had provided. Finally, Lillian’s children had dared leave her, temporarily, to explore what there was of the little town and gather information.
The large room was shaded by a number of basswood and sycamore trees, thus rendering a semblance of coolness. Still, Lillian, accustomed at this time of year to the temperatures of the more frigid north, was plying a pretty painted fan with dexterity. She looked up.
“Hello, ma’am. I’m Emmet Wade.”
He was not an extraordinarily tall man, nor an extraordinarily handsome one. His frame carried a few extra pounds, and his grayish-brown hair had begun to thin. Still, there was kindness and gentility in the face lined by decades of a Texas sun, and respect in the hand which held the brim of a smooth brown Stetson as he stood before her.
Lillian offered her own hand, and the smile which never failed to transform her face into loveliness. “How do you do, Mr. Wade? Yes, I am Lillian Holland, and I am very pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“Not knowin’ if you’d make it here in one piece, I’d guess,” he commented shrewdly with a crooked little grin. “It’s a far piece to come.”
“Well, I’d not argue you on that point.” Her soft laughter sounded just a trifle forced. “This journey has certainly been an adventure.”
“With uncertainty all the way, prob’ly, and more waitin’ at the end of it, b’sides. Might I sit down there with you, Mrs. Holland?”
“Why, of course.” Gathering her skirts to one side, she indicated the bench’s free space. “Please do.”
He sat down more heavily than the first meeting of an affianced bride might warrant. “Well, ma’am, I’ve got a bit of uncertainty to share with you, myself. Like you ain’t had enough. I’d appreciate it if you’d bear with me whilst I get this off my chest.”
Confused, puzzled, she shifted slightly sidewise. “By all means, Mr. Wade.”
Clearly uncomfortable, Emmet hemmed and hawed for a moment, then confided to his betrothed that neither of his daughters was in favor of this marriage he had organized. In fact, both vehemently opposed it.
He had planned on whisking Lillian right on over to the preacher’s, as soon as she arrived in town. After listening to this tirade, however, he felt that the situation at home was so fraught with tension and disapproval that perhaps they’d ought to postpone the actual ceremony.
“Oh, Mr. Wade, I’m so sorry for such a contretemps,” Lillian told him honestly and sympathetically. “How uncomfortable for you! No, I completely understand, and I assure you that whatever arrangements you make will suit me just fine.”
He looked vastly relieved. “Now, I knew you’d be a sensible woman, just by the tone of your letters. Can’t tell you how much better that sounds than what I’d expected.”
“Perhaps this is for the best, anyway. Melding together two disparate families, who have never met, can be a difficult adjustment. If we delay the date, I can get to know your daughters better, before our wedding, and—and you and I—well, we, too, can deepen our relationship. Spending time together first, face to face, is surely not a bad thing, do you think?”
“I think you’re absolutely right.” Grinning, he lifted her slim hand to his lips. “We’ll get them gals to come around, I’ll take you off for some long walks, and before you know it, we can tie the knot. Sound okay?”
“It sounds perfectly fine.”
At one point, during their hotel stay in Austin, Lillian had surprised herself by confessing to her own daughter that she felt some trepidation about this mail-order marriage. The very idea was inconsistent with her gentle nature, and she had accepted Mr. Wade’s written proposal out of expediency. Not to say a whiff of desperation.
It is a difficult proposition, expecting a woman to simply climb into bed with a stranger because she is wearing his ring, and that the few words of a vow give him every right over her person. Lillian couldn’t be wholeheartedly disappointed by the delay in her nuptials, when it would mean deepening and strengthening the bonds of this association beforehand.
“Have you—er—separate—quarters—?” she asked delicately.
“Oh, you needn’t worry your pretty head about that, Mrs. Holland. You’ll be meetin’ my housekeeper, who keeps us all in line, and my own mother, who lives in her own place there on the ranch. If you’re worried about propriety, I have no doubt you can stay with Ma ‘til we get the details worked out.”
“To be sure.” Her voice sounded faint, as if she had already had too many of those details foisted upon her and needed time and space to absorb and decompress.
“Well, then,” declared Emmet with a more cheerful mien. “Ma’am, it’s about a half-hour’s ride to the ranch in my buggy. You feelin’ up to the trip?”
“Why, yes, I am, thank you.”
“I reckon we can have us a good conversation on the way to the Cedar Sage, get to know one another, and so on. Your young’uns anywhere about?”
Just then, the main door swung inward to admit those young’uns, one of whom was carrying a small canvas bag and the other two bottles filled with water. “We’re back, Mama, and we’ve
brought—” The words that had started as a rush trailed away as Josie realized that her mother was entertaining company, just as if she were still holding court in the old days back in Lancaster.
Silas, as the man of the family, stepped forward to introduce himself and his sister. “And you would be—?”
“Emmet Ward.” He reached out for a handshake. “That’s food you got there? I’m sorry, ain’t none of you eaten yet?”
“Well—” Lillian looked uncertainly at her children, one to the other, “the schedule for that stagecoach was a bit erratic, as far as mealtimes. And I was feeling peckish…”
Their host let out a burst of hearty laughter. “You don’t need to tell me about ridin’ a coach, Mrs. Holland. Been trapped in one myself, a few times, and I counted myself lucky when I got out and all my bones were still in one piece inside my frame. I been here in town since daylight; would it be all right if you had your meal in my buggy, as we head for the ranch?”
Lillian swished her skirts aside and rose gracefully. “Of course, Mr. Wade. But our things—”
“Oh, no worry about that,” soothed Emmet as he escorted the trio outside. “You all can ride with me, and all your gear can ride in the buckboard with my man, Percival. Fair enough?”
“Absolutely fair.” Tucking her fingers into the bend of his extended arm, she included everyone in her smile. “The rest of our things ought to be arriving within a week or so, according to the coach company back in Dallas. Will it be convenient for a return trip here at that time?”
“Sure enough. I’ll just let Buck Thompson—he’s runnin’ this place—know in advance.”
With the younger Hollands settled into the rear seat of a handsome surrey pulled by a matched team of grays, and the older couple in the front, general chitchat could take place. Emmet kept up a running dialogue while his guests finished the thick beef sandwiches Silas had managed to scrounge.
The rancher began first by asking questions about the family’s lengthy journey west, and any hardships involved; then he described his ranch, his employees, and the work contained within its sprawling borders; then he made a few casual comments about his two daughters, and mentioned how much everyone was looking forward to this visit.
Visit? Josie silently telegraphed to her brother. Wasn’t this supposed to be a permanent arrangement? He merely waggled his eyebrows and lifted one shoulder in a shrug.
“This is such a change for us,” Lillian was saying. “At home, we were still being deluged by ice and snow. Why, the temperature here today is one we wouldn’t see until April or May, at the soonest.”
Here and there, a bower of feathery elm branches overhung the dirt road leading out of town, and a veritable phalanx of color across open fields—vivid blue, scarlet, and yellow—met the newcomers’ tired eyes. Trailing alongside, as if to provide accompaniment, rolled the clear waters of the Pedernales River—sometimes nearby, sometimes glimpsed only in the distance; either a rollicking, tumbling mini-rapid or a great serene pool reflective of sky and clouds. Wafting overhead, like some child’s kite catching the breeze, was what even these Easterners could recognize as an eagle. Once, Silas jounced his sister’s elbow to point out a regal white-tail buck watching from the shadows as they passed.
Josie drew in a fascinated breath. “Everything smells as if it’s just had a bath in some expensive hand-milled French soap.”
From the front seat, Emmet chuckled. “Well, kinda, young lady. We were just treated to a nice rain last night, and everything roundabouts is enjoyin’ the effects. You’d ought to take advantage of it while you can, Miss Holland; we’ll be at the ranch soon, and a few thousand head of cattle and horses can make for a smell not as sweet as that soap you mentioned.”
Its owner might downplay the overall aroma, but the appearance of the Cedar Sage Ranch proper came as a most pleasant surprise for those jaded too long by poverty-stricken circumstances and far too much travel.
The two-story main house had been built of stone, in an L shape, with a wide veranda wrapping around the front. Its grounds stretched out to the road, greeting resident or visitor like a welcome mat with a selection of mature bur oaks and bigtooth maples, shrubs of all kinds, and flower gardens reached by flagstone walks. The whole scene gave the impression that structures had just grown haphazardly up and through the greenery, instead of being carefully planned. Somehow, it worked.
Other buildings—those for human habitation—also appeared here and there: several small cabins, a bunkhouse, a cookshack and eating area; and there were sheds and barns galore for the animals.
The place, as Emmet drew the buggy to a halt where the semi-circular drive ended at the house, looked neat, well-maintained, and under a master’s good care.
For just a moment, Lillian sat still, taking in her surroundings with one long, sweeping glance. Then she turned graciously to her affianced. “How very beautiful, Mr. Wade. It seems you and your family have done wonderfully here.”
An expression of pure pleasure crossed his weathered face. Hoping to show off his property to this future wife, and hoping she would appreciate it?
“Well, I reckon we’ve tried our best. Here, Mrs. Holland, let’s get you inside. We’ll fix you all the supper you deserve, and then I want you to meet my girls.”
Hesitation, regret, and a vague sense of pain filled his voice. Clearly, he was not feeling as casually accepting of an unhappy situation as he pretended.
Climbing down from his seat, Emmet put a good face on whatever was bothering him, smiled up at Lillian, and extended his hand to assist.
“C’mon, ladies, and you, too, Silas. Let’s go meet everybody and get somethin’ to eat.”
“An Elaborate Scheme Leading to Love” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Josie’s family has come to grief after the sudden death of her father. When any hope seems to be lost, her mother decides to struggle for a better future and answer an ad for a mail-order bride. Their fate is inevitable, so they have no other option than to move to her mother’s future husband’s ranch. However, little does Josie know that she is about to feel her heart shiver when the rancher’s handsome nephew approaches her. But is his supposed interest in her genuine? Or is there something darker hiding behind his smile?
When Adam’s cousins inform him that their father has plans to remarry, he agrees to help them carry out a secret scheme. Their aim: to sabotage their father’s relationship with his new mail-order bride and her two children. And even though he initially believed that achieving the plan would be a piece of cake, he reckoned without his host. What will happen if, over the course of time, he starts having doubts and unexpected feelings for the mail-order bride’s beautiful daughter? Could his treacherous cousins betray him too?
While a hidden plot is being hatched, some of the schemers can’t help thinking that maybe they’re taking this too far… By Josie’s side, Adam feels he wants to be a better person, for the first time in years. But how can any of the complications and heartache be resolved when too many lies have been told, and too many family secrets crop up?
“An Elaborate Scheme Leading to Love” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.