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Mail-Order-Bride - a fiction short story

Updated on October 27, 2013
Santa Fe steam train.
Santa Fe steam train. | Source

The Santa Fe Train

Emma read the advertisement on her lap again as the train to Santa Fe, New Mexico rumbled along.


Well, at least it was honest and straightforward, she thought. And he only wanted one bride - that was good, too, she thought smiling. He wanted a housekeeper and a babysitter/governess and he was willing to pay a good salary. But, why a bride at all? Why marry her? Hmm, she thought. Romantic love and entanglement was not what she needed at this point in her life anyway.

She was 30 years old, unmarried and living in Chillicothe, Ohio. It didn't get much worse than that in 1912. At least she was on an adventure. Her father was the leading banker in town, owning his own bank and a very prominent man in town. He had been furious when the scandal broke wide-open. She had always been head-strong and used to having her own way, but actually to be having and affair with the owner of the leading department store in town, who was married yet, was more than he could bear.

Her father had insisted she marry his banking assistant, Theodore Bushbottom, immediately, a forty year old milk toast bachelor, and she would work as a teller in his bank until she started a family. That was the solution to this horrible and scandalous situation.

Prison - that's all it was. Captivity. She couldn't bear it! Marry Theodore Bushbottom, when Gerard had taken her to the heights of passion? Never! It was 1912 after all, not the dark ages. So she had found her own solution to this horrible and scandalous situation. She had found the mail-order-bride advertisement in the Chillicothe Gazette, the local newspaper and hastily answered the rancher's ad.

Emma had convinced her father THIS was the solution to the situation and surprisingly he had not been too difficult to convince. It was marriage. Emma would be moving far away. Perhaps Emma was right. A fresh, new start altogether. But, New Mexico? - did Emma know what she was getting into? That was wild country. On the other hand, maybe that's where his wildcat of a daughter should live. So he had agreed and this is how Emma was now on the Santa Fe train on her way to New Mexico.

No romantic entanglements. Just what Emma needed at this point. Her lover, Gerard, had promised repeatedly he was going to divorce his wife to marry Emma and they would return to his beloved Paris to live. But, when their affair broke wide open, the skunk had put his tail between his legs and decided to remain with his wife and the department store in Chillicothe.

Emma suddenly noticed and heard the Mexican/Indian baby crying across the aisle. There was a Mexican/Indian mother with her four children who had boarded the train in Topeka, Kansas. My, Emma wasn't used to seeing Mexicans or Indians. She wasn't sure if the mother was Mexican or Indian anyway. She thought she heard her speaking another language - perhaps, Spanish - but she wasn't sure. And four children! Emma shuddered.

The heat and the crying baby were giving Emma a headache and she searched her purse for some headache powder and then got up and went to the dining car for some water. She looked out the window. What she saw was dry, desolate land, not the plush green hills of Ohio. Well, she'd just have to adjust, that's all. Nothing could really be as bad as marriage to Theodore and then being expected to bear his children. He probably wanted four, she thought and shuddered.

The train would be arriving in Santa Fe in about four hours. She decided to return to her seat and take a nap if the baby wasn't still howling. Hopefully, it would make the last leg of the trip go quickly.

Emma returned to her seat to see the Mexican/Indian woman nursing her baby. Emma shuddered. Good grief, a naked breast right out in front of everyone! Had these Mexican/Indian people no shame? Emma shook her head, sat down, learned her had back on the seat and closed her eyes.

Santa Fe Square c. 1912
Santa Fe Square c. 1912 | Source

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Emma awoke to the train whistle blowing, signaling their arrival in Santa Fe. She looked outside - a brilliant blue sky, few clouds, dry and scrubby ground for as far as she could see, and snow-capped mountains in the distance.

What a land of contrasts, she thought. She grabbed her two valises, and was nearly knocked over by the Mexican/Indian children as they ran to get off the train. Good grief! She maintained her balance, straightened her hat, grabbed her valises again and disembarked from the train.

The train depot was small, the sun bright, and she shaded her eyes with her hand looking for a rancher; well, she didn't quite know what or whom to look for as she really didn't know what a rancher actually looked like as she had only seen pictures of them in Ohio.

Suddenly she heard a deep voice say, "Maam, I'm Sam Preston. Are you Emma Franklin?"

Emma looked up at the tallest man she had ever seen, with bushy gray eyebrows, a bushy gray moustache, and wearing a huge 10 gallon cowboy hat. At first she was taken aback, but then recovered her poise and shook his outstretched hand.

"Yes, I'm Emma Franklin," she said firmly and cracked a smile.

"Well, you do look like your picture," he said. "That's a good thing," he added. "These are for you," and he handed her a small bouquet of lavender flowers with something else that she didn't know if it was flower or weed.

"Thank you," she said, "These are lovely." At least he knew the right protocol, Emma thought.

"Well, here's the wagon; I'll help you up." And, his large strong hands went around her waist and he lifted her and paused for a moment when she was at his eye level. Emma looked into the warmest brown eyes she had ever seen and she blushed. He sat her down on the hard wagon seat.

To avoid his eyes, Emma looked around and noticed the streets were dirt and not paved as they were in Chillicothe. And, she didn't see a motor-car in sight. Only men on horseback or in horse-drawn wagons.

The wooded seat was hard and she bumped up and down as he drove the wagon. She squirmed in her seat trying to get comfortable. In doing so, she knocked into Sam and as a reflex grabbed his arm. He freed his left hand and covered her hand with his large gloved one.

He looked at her again with his warm brown eyes. "Okay, there, little lady?" he asked smiling.

"So sorry," Emma said steadying herself and removing her hand from his arm. He certainly was so tall. So handsome. And those eyes. But, he also seemed so gentle at the same time. "Aren't there any motor-cars here in Santa Fe?" asked Emma.

Sam let out a laugh, "No, not out here in the western country, maam, we can't exactly herd cattle or sheep in a motor-car. It's horses and wagons, I'm afraid. Do you ride, maam?" Sam asked looking at Emma again with those soft brown eyes.

"Ride? You mean horses? Horseback?" asked Emma. "No, no, I don't ride," said Emma, "but I can drive a motor-car," she said proudly.

"Well, maam, you'll learn to ride at the ranch," said Sam with a chuckle. "You'll have to to survive out here," he said with another chuckle.

"You don't have to address me as 'maam'," said Emma. "You may call me Emma," she said hastily.

"Thank you, Emma," said Sam with a twinkle in his eye.

"Is that where we are headed? To you ranch?" asked Emma.

"I thought we'd go straight to the courthouse and complete the marriage ceremony. We might as well get that done. The ranch is outside of Santa Fe and it's a good ride out to it. I'd like to return to the ranch before dark so you can see some of the countryside on our way."

"Yes, that sounds fine," said Emma blushing. She hadn't expected Sam to be quite so handsome. None of the men in Chillicothe were as tall or as good-looking as Sam. Not even Gerard.

"Where is you son?" Emma asked looking around her and in the back of the empty wagon.

"He's back at the ranch - one of my ranch hands is watching him. He's been pretty broken-up over his mother's sudden death and I though it more prudent if he skipped the marriage ceremony and just met you at the house already as Mrs. Preston," Sam.

"Of course. Whatever you think is best," said Emma.

They pulled into the main square of Santa Fe and Emma noticed the buildings were not made of wood but were made of what looked like some kind of mud! And they were so low and with flat roofs. Was she going to be living in a mud house? How different everything looked from Chillicothe.

"How was the train ride out, Emma?" asked Sam looking at her straight in the eyes again. This time Emma looked straight back at his and held his gaze. He was such a direct man.

"It was long, but quite adequate. I thank you for arranging a sleeper car for the two nights. I sat up and watched the scenery during the day," she answered.

Well, Emma, here we are at the Palace of Governors - this is where the judge will marry us," said Sam.

Palace? thought Emma. She was used to the palaces of her imagination in glitter and gold and with large sweeping staircases. This was just an outpost in a dusty, hot land.

Palace of Governors, Santa Fe, New Mexico c. 1912
Palace of Governors, Santa Fe, New Mexico c. 1912 | Source

The Marriage Ceremony

Emma felt immediate coolness as soon as she stepped inside the Palace of Governors. The large open room was furnished simply with large, rustic wooden furniture and large woven Indian rugs on the floor and woven Indian tapestries hung on the walls.

"Judge Nelson," said Sam as he strode forward to shake the hands of the older man. "This is my intended, Miss Emma Franklin, from Ohio, sir," Sam said introducing them.

"How are you, Miss Franklin?" asked the Judge, "Welcome to Santa Fe."

"I'm fine, thank you," said Emma.

"Well, here we have the marriage license for you two to sign," said the Judge. "I've waived the three day waiting period so as to expedite things as you wish, Sam."

Sam turned to Emma and looked at her with his warm brown eyes again. "Emma, if you want to change your mind and return to Ohio, you can," said Sam softly. "If you don't like what you see or don't like me, you don't have to go through with this marriage," said Sam

Emma struggled to hold back the tears. Sam was thoughtful enough to give her an out, even though they had signed a marriage contract through the mail. It was to be a marriage of convenience with her duties to be maintaining the house and educating the boy in prep school fashion. What did she have back in Ohio but Theodore Bushbottom. Emma took a deep breath, smiled at Sam and said, "Sam, I'm ready. I do want to got through with this marriage," answered Emma softly.

Then, they both signed the marriage license which was witnessed by the Judge and his law clerk. And, so the Judge began the ceremony and Sam held her left hand. Emma suddenly was in a daze. She heard Sam say, "I, Samuel Arnold Preston, take thee, Emma Paulline Franklin as my lawful, wedded wife." Emma through her daze heard herself say, "I, Emma Pauline Franklin, take thee Samuel Arnold Preston as my lawful, wedded husband.

Then, Sam slipped a simple gold band on the third finger of her left hand, and Judge Nelson proclaimed them man and wife. Sam then bent down and softly pecked her on the lips. She almost giggled as his bushy moustache tickled her mouth.

The Judge shook Sam's hand and bent down and kissed Emma on the cheek. A Mexican woman came out with a tray of pale pink drinks for the three of them. They toasted the marriage with pink lemonade and then Emma and Sam went out and returned to the wagon. Sam turned around the wagon and they left Santa Fe for the ranch.

Emma had a funny feeling in her stomach - not a bad one - but a good one. She couldn't believe she was married and to such a handsome man. She frequently looked at the gold band on her finger just to be sure it wasn't all a dream.

At first, they drove in silence. Emma thought they both needed to reflect on the ceremony a bit and start to get used to the fact they were actually married. Then, she began asking questions about Santa Fe and the ranch. Sam patiently answered all her questions and didn't make her feel any of her questions were stupid. She learned the buildings were made of adobe, fired mud, or stucco instead of wood - and the ranch house was no different. Adobe was a better building material in hot, dusty New Mexico and provided coolness inside from the unrelenting sun during the summer months.

Santa Fe had been founded in 1610 and the Palace of Governors was the oldest seat of government in the United States. Santa Fe officially had become the capital of the New Mexico Territory in 1851.

No, there wasn't any reason to fear Indian attacks - the indians were living on reservations now for the last 30-35 years and with the death of Geronimo three years ago, any Indian animosity toward the Anglos was dead too. Today, the only indians near here are the Pueblos who are very sedentary and peaceful indians and assimilate well into the reservation life here.

New Mexico Territory had achieved statehood this very year, 1912, and was now the 47th state to join the U.S. Well, at least I'm living in a real state, thought Emma, and not some wild territory.

Sam owned 50,000 acres of New Mexico land and had owned and run the ranch for twenty years. He also owned 20,000 head of cattle and rounded some of them up each year and took them by cattle drive to St. Jo, Missouri to sell them. He always got a good price for his cattle and his finances were solvent.

Mark was a wonderful boy, and fortunately favored his late mother, Hannah, in looks and personality. Emma would like him. Eventually, the wagon pulled up to some gates - "We're here at the ranch," Sam said and jumped down to open the gates and then drove the wagon through, closed the gates and continue on to the house.

Way in the distance, Emma saw the ranch house. As they drove closer, Emma saw a pleasant looking white adobe ranch house, painted white with red trim and a green grass yard with beautiful plants and flowers around it. There was a large tree next to the yard which provided some shade. It was very pretty and pleasant. Much different than the houses in Chillicothe, but very nice just the same.


Emma and Sam's New Life Begins

As they approached the ranch house, Emma saw the ranch hands all lined up in a row to meet them. Sam introduced them to Emma and introduced her to them as Mrs. Preston. She noticed some were indians, some were Mexicans, and some were Anglos. It would take a few days to learn all the names and which went with which hand.

Sam had the ranch hands carry in Emma's valises and trunk. They stepped inside the house and again it was cool inside. The big great room was lovely with dark wooden furniture with woven Indian rugs on the floor. It definitely had a masculine look to it, Emma noted.

Sam then took Emma into a small parlour room and there sat the boy. He stood up when Sam and Emma entered the room. Emma noticed he had large brown eyes like Sam.

"Mark, this is Emma, the new Mrs. Preston," said Sam. "Emma, this is my son, Mark, - Mark Arnold Preston," said Sam.

Mark extended his hand, "Maam," said Mark and smiled.

"Mark, it is so nice to meet you. I know we shall become good friends," said Emma smiling as she shook his hand.

Then, Mark handed Emma a large box wrapped in tissue paper with a big red bow and ribbon around it. "Welcome to Preston Ranch, Maam," he said shyly.

"Thank you," said Emma feeling very touched.

"Go ahead and open it," said Sam smiling.

Emma sat down on the edge of the velvet sofa and carefully opened the present. She lifted the lid of the box to find mounds of more tissue paper. All three of them laughed. Emma pulled out the tissue paper to see a pair of cowboy boots at the bottom of the box.

Emma's eyes widened and she stared at the boots for a moment, quite overwhelmed. Then she caught hold of herself and picked them up and looked them over.

"You'll need these to wear here at the ranch, Maam," said Mark. "I picked them out myself for you," he said beaming. "I don't think you wear these in Ohio."

"Thank you, Mark. They are, are . . . .

"Lovely," said Sam with a twinkle in his eye.

"Yes. lovely, " said Emma. "No, we don't wear these in Ohio," she said as she wiggled her toes in her beige pumps. She smiled at Sam and Mark. "I think I'll keep these for later," said Emma. How would she ever wear these clunky, chunky boots? She had only brought her best shoes from Ohio. Oh, dear, what was she going to do?

Mark was beaming at her, so proud of his gift. "Thank you again, Mark, for your thoughtful welcome and present," said Emma. Mark looked at Sam.

"You can go, son, but be up early tomorrow as your lessons begin at 9 am sharp," said Sam. Then he kissed his son on the head. Mark skipped out of the parlour.

Next, Sam sat down across from Emma and became all businesss-like. He began going over her duties with her. He was very matter-of-fact. He was in charge of running the ranch, the ranch hands, the cattle and horses. She was in charge of running the house, and directing the Mexican women who cleaned the house and did the cooking. Of course, she was in charge of Mark's education. Sam wanted Mark prepared for school back east when he was older - a promise Sam had made to his dying wife.

Emma was to be paid twice monthly for her work and her pay would be in an envelope on her dresser every other Friday. Where there any questions she had?

"I understand everything, Sam, but why the marriage? If you don't mind my asking," said Emma.

"It wouldn't be right for a single woman to be staying here," said Sam, "especially with Mark here. He needs to grow up in a family unit and with you here, hopefully he will be able to get over his mother's death a bit," said Sam. "You are officially to be his step-mother and Mark knows this. I want a normal routine for him a soon as possible."

I also need a wife of accompany me on my official duties here and in Santa Fe. I'm president of the Cattlemen's Association and that means a wife to entertain and be by my side," said Sam.

"I see," said Emma. "I'm a wife in name only. But, why not marry a local woman?"

"There aren't many women out here who aren't already married - except for the Mexican women - and I wanted an eastern educated woman to teach Mark," said Sam. "I hope you understand," he said quietly. "You will be well compensated for all this," he said and looked at her earnestly with those warm, brown eyes again. Emma thought she'd melt away. Emma didn't know what to say or how to respond.

Fortunately, Sam suggested they take a tour of the house. Relieved, Emma followed him throughout the house, pleased to see two Mexican women in the kitchen preparing food. Emma didn't cook so she was glad to see this house had two cooks already.

Sam ended her tour by showing Emma her bedroom, separate and across the hall from Sam's and Mark's bedrooms. Then he kindly said his goodnight, kissed Emma on the cheek and retired to his room. She watched him close his bedroom door and then Emma turned and closed her bedroom door also.

The Wedding Day Ends

Emma sat on the edge of the bed and looked around the bedroom. It was beautifully furnished with a large double-bed, nightstand and dresser. It also included a large wardrobe for her clothing. There was also a large chair with a bookcase full of books, and a desk and chair by the one big window in the room. She noticed the box with the cowboy boots sat on the bed also.

What a new and different life this was going to be from what she knew in Ohio which had always been so predictable. She didn't know what to think of Sam. She looked at the gold ring on her left hand. His warm brown eyes sent her into tingles when she looked into them. He was so tall and handsome.

But, he was so matter-of-fact and business-like when he was explaining her duties. He seemed to not want any romantic entanglements either.

And Mark, seemed so sweet and quite a mannerly and polite child. She didn't know what to think of the present from him - the cowboy boots. Did Sam and Mark really expect her to wear them? Did one wear cowboy boots in the house? Sam did, she noticed, and so did Mark.

Would Mark accept her here? Would she be able to teach him? Would he want her as a step- mother? Also, Emma wasn't sure about Mexican women and help. Would they listen to her?

Emma's head was spinning and she was so full of questions, she didn't know how she would sleep tonight.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sam retired to his bed and picked up the folder marked, Franklin, Emma Pauline. He had hired the Pinkerton Agency to check on Emma's background. Of all the letters he had received, hers had intrigued him the most. She had sent her picture, too and she was lovely - that was a bonus. He never really expected her to be so pretty in person. And those blue eyes - so inviting.

She had been educated back east - educated enough to teach Mark. She was also the oldest of the applicants - about thirty years old. He wanted someone older and more mature. But, what else the Pinkerton Agency had found was a whopper!

Sam had to smile - she certainly was spunky. The Pinkerton Agency had found out about the affair with the department store owner and the scandal that ensued. They also reported how furious her father was with her and the bank he owned and his prominence in the town.

So he figured she'd be perfect for this job, and would be in no hurry to return to Ohio if she didn't like it here. She would probably make the best of things.

Right now, he needed a wife, but with no romantic entanglements. He still loved and missed Hannah - no one could take her place. But, Mark needed a mother, or at least a step-mother and Sam needed to help get Mark over the loss of his mother and to concentrate on raising him.

But, Emma was certainly lovely. That smooth peaches and cream complexion and tiny waist - he had wanted to linger and kiss her full on the lips at the wedding ceremony this afternoon, but he didn't want to give into his lust.

As delicate as she was, would Emma be able to adjust to ranch life - a life so much rougher than what she had experienced so far in Ohio. And, what about Mark? Would they like one another? Would Mark be able to accept her as a step-mother? Emma had handled herself well in meeting Mark and seemed sensitive towards him. Had he done the right thing by getting a mail-order-bride?

Sam was so full of thoughts and questions his head was spinning. He didn't know how he was going to sleep tonight.

© 2013 Suzette Walker


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