Read Bride School: Mary (The Brides of Diamond Springs Ranch 4) Online

Authors: Bella Bowen

Tags: #Mrs. Carnegie, #Bride School, #Ranchers, #Spirited Brides, #Diamond Springs, #Ranch, #Western, #Victorian, #Historical, #Forever Love, #Frontier, #Wyoming, #Western Territory, #Country, #Short Story, #Ball Dance, #Potential Bride, #Replacement, #Dancing, #Nightmare, #Rebel, #Identity, #Fairy Tale

Bride School: Mary (The Brides of Diamond Springs Ranch 4)

BOOK: Bride School: Mary (The Brides of Diamond Springs Ranch 4)
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(Book 4)

The Brides of Diamond Springs Ranch



By Bella







Bella Bowen



School: Mary © 2014 B.Bowen


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This ebook is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and
incidents are products of the writer's imagination or have been used
fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons,
living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely



To Great Aunt Stella Bowen


for teaching us all

it’s okay to be crazy


…as long as you’ve got style.




Stoddard House, Diamond Springs Ranch

Mary Radley sighed over the pile of freshly
laundered underthings folded neatly in her arms and headed to the third floor
of Stoddard House to deliver them to the brides.

In each room, she politely asked to see which
dress the young lady had chosen to wear to the Wednesday night dance. Most were
happy to show off not only the dress, but everything they planned to wear along
with it, right down to the shoes.

Of course Mary knew exactly what
wear to her first dance as soon as Mrs. Carnegie allowed her to become a
student, and eventually a graduate of the bride school. Never mind that she
changed her mind about the color of that dreamy dress nearly every week.

A pink gown with a proper bustle was her current
favorite. Something with layers and layers of fabric dripping from her waist to
the ground. And pearls. Most definitely pearls. The problem was she couldn't
decide which shade of pink she would like the best. But as she started down the
stairs to the second floor, she reminded herself there was no rush.


But it wasn’t that she was in an all fire hurry to
be a bride. She just wanted to dance. At a
dance. With someone
wearing britches for a change. Oh, she danced plenty when the brides in the
class needed a partner to practice with. But she was tired of leading. And if
she wasn’t careful, the first time she got to dance with a man, she’d do it

By the time she reached the last door, she had
only one shift left in her hands. If it was the wrong size for Alexandra
Campbell, the bride within, she would have to rush around and switch with a few
others, and hopefully get it done before any of them began dressing. It was
always a scramble on Wednesdays.

She took a deep breath and knocked softly. She
didn't want to startle the young woman.

There was no answer.

She knocked a little harder.

Still no answer.

Mary wondered if Alexandra might be in the
bathhouse. She pressed her ear to the door to make certain, and she heard the
woman sniffle.

“Miss Alexandra,” she said softly. “I have a clean
shift for you. I only need to know if I have the right size.”

It was silly, really. Shifts were loose-fitting
things and one size fit most ladies. But there were a few who liked theirs
tighter, and some who liked looser, which was ridiculous if the woman was also
going to wear a corset. And trying to keep each lady’s preference straight,
week after week, made her laundry deliveries more of a dance in themselves.

“Alexandra? May I come in? It's me. Mary.”

“Aye, come ahead then,” said a tortured voice.

Mary entered quickly to see if the girl was all
right and found the Scotswoman sitting at her dressing table staring at her own
puffed eyes.

“I am sorry,” Mary said. “Is there anything I can
do to help you?”

Alexandra shook her head, her sable ringlets
bounced. “Not unless you wish to put on my dress and go to the dance in my
place,” she muttered through her handkerchief. “I can’t do it, Mary. I'm not
ready. I’ll not be swept around the dance floor one night, only to be dragged
off to who knows where the next, in order to marry a man I don't love.”

Mary had heard such things before from time to
time. Often, though, it was from a bride who was supposed to marry the next morning,
not a young woman who was about to reap her reward for graduating from all her
classes. Besides, if a man were to propose, a bride could always put him off a
week or two while she got to liking him.

“But surely you don't expect to love a man in a matter
of days, do you?” Mary laid the shift on the bed and wondered if she might be
able to leave before Alexandra decided the thing was too small. “It's the way
of the West, I suppose. But you can't have been expecting love at first sight.
Can you?”

Normally, Mary wouldn't have been so bold with a
Diamond Springs Bride, but she and Alexandra had become friends, in a way. The
young woman was quiet and kept to herself, so Mary had tried, from time to
time, to help the girl feel like she was not completely alone on the big ranch,
even though Mary was just a housemaid.

“That's just the problem, Mary. I
in love at first sight because…it has already happened to me. Back home.”

Mary gave up slinking toward the door. She tossed
the shift aside and sank down onto the bed, anxious to hear more. “If you fell
in love with someone from home, then what in the world are you doing here?”

Alexandra smiled sadly. “Do you know what a blood
feud is?”

Mary guessed. “A fight between families?”

The other girl nodded. “For centuries the
Campbells have been feuding with the McDonalds. And whilst most of the families
put it behind them, my father and William McDonald took it upon themselves to
keep the feud alive in Chester County, Pennsylvania. I had no idea Connell was
a McDonald when we met, and I’m afraid we were keenly in love before we ever
got around to the subject.”

Mary sat quietly while Alexandra dried her face
with her handkerchief, but tears fell faster than the girl could wipe them
away. Eventually, she gave up trying.

“The only thing our fathers could ever agree on,”
she continued, “is the fact that our families should never mingle. So they sent
me here. And my Connell doesn't even know it.” Swept away in a fresh bout of
weeping, Alexandra could no longer speak clearly.

Mary's heart broke for her. “That's unspeakable.
My pa's as mean as a boar hog and even
wouldn't begrudge me marrying
a man I loved. At least I don't think he would. Of course, we never spoke about
love. He said,
if it hasn't got anything to do with puttin’ food on the
table, it wasn't worth discussin’.”

For a few moments, Mary was lost in memories of
her father. Though he and her brothers lived on the mountain edging Sage River
on the north, she hadn’t seen him in half a year—ever since she’d run off to
find Mrs. Carnegie and beg her to let her attend the school. The woman had
offered her work, along with room and board, with the promise that one day
she’d be allowed to become a student. Her pa had permitted it, but only after
the woman bribed him. Deep down, though, Mary thought her pa took the bribe
only to save his pride. She was near sure he’d allowed her to go along with
Mrs. Carnegie because he believed she’d be better off among women for a while.

Now that it was nearing Christmas, missing her
family made a sore spot in her chest. She couldn’t imagine how much worse
Alexandra must have felt if she were missing a young man she was in love with.

When Mary looked at her in the mirror again, the
young woman’s eyes were unexpectedly dry. The handkerchief was gone along with
the tears. Mary thought perhaps the chance to share her worries with a friendly
ear might have cheered her, but that wouldn't explain why Alexandra looked like
a cat pickin’ its teeth with a feather.

“What is it?” Mary asked. “Have you got a notion
of how to cry off the dance?” Of course, Mary couldn’t understand
someone would give up a night of dancing, even if she didn't want to marry
anyone she danced with.

The pretty girl’s smile stretched wide. “Yes. I
believe I have.”

“So you
be going to the dance?”

Alexandra shook her head. “No. Because
going for me.” She got up from her seat and hurried to the door. She blocked it
with her body before Mary had thought to run away.

“Come now,
,” she sang to Mary. “Time
to put on your pretty pink gown.”



The day had begun the same as any other Wednesday.
Instead of working in the kitchen, Mary was needed in Stoddard House to help
the polished and graduated brides of Diamond Spring Ranch prepare for that
evening's dance.

No more than twelve women, each week, were taken
into town and allowed to socialize with the gentlemen who hoped to find a wife
from among them. Mary didn't know how Mrs. Carnegie managed to keep the numbers
steady, but in the six months she'd been working at the ranch, Mary had never
seen a week where all twelve spots weren't spoken for.

The brilliant woman wasn’t just the owner of the
ranch and operator of the Bride School, she was the patron saint of hopeful
young ladies who wished to marry well—not necessarily to wealthy men, but at
least respectable, honorable ones. Her service was a godsend in a time when men
were ordering brides though the mail and couples married after only having
clapped eyes on each other ten minutes before. A woman could find herself
hitched to some horrible man with unspeakable habits and not realize it until
it was too late.

And this patron saint had agreed to allow Mary to
work for her with the promise that one day she’d be allowed to choose her own
honorable husband.

Mary couldn't remember a day she hadn't dreamt of
marrying a man who would take her far away from Sage River and the mountain
where she'd been raised. And now that she was seventeen, she expected Mrs.
Carnegie would realize she was ready. But for another week, maybe two, Mrs.
Carnegie would be away from the ranch. It was Fontaine who was in charge of
making certain the dancing and courting went on as usual.

To help her manage, one of Mrs. Carnegie's female “Crawlers,”
named Elsa, had come to Diamond Springs, but she didn't know the difference
between Mary and the graduated girls. And since the woman would be managing the
inside of the town hall while Fontaine stood guard outside, only the other
brides would know that Mary wasn't supposed to be dancing with the bridegrooms.

At least, that's the reasoning Alexandra used to
convince her to try on the pink dress.

Mary could usually resist a lot of
long as it didn't come packaged in the same shade as the little pink rose bush
she'd tended in the woods above her house. In a fit of mean, her brother had
destroyed the plant. She'd been obsessed with the color ever since.

“It fits you better than it fits me,” Alexandra
said, peering over Mary’s shoulder at the long glass mirror in the corner of
the room. “I'm certain it's a sign. Providence, even.”

Mary suspected the young woman would say pert near
anything to convince her to go dancing in her stead. But little did she know
Mary didn't need much convincing. Stronger than the fear of Mrs. Carnegie
discovering her sin was her desire to put a slipper on that famed dance floor,
to see what it felt like to be taken in a man's arms and twirled in circles.

Of course, all she wanted was a taste. Something
to add a touch of reality to her dreams. Something to give her hope that
whatever the future held in store for her would be worth the wait.

Mary toyed with her hair to see which style would
best suit the dress while Alexandra moved through Stoddard House having private
conversations with the other brides who would be headed to town that evening.
When she returned, all eleven brides returned with her and flooded into the

Miss Adair gasped. “Why would I want to compete
for attention with this?” She pointed accusingly at Mary. “Of course she cannot
go. I'm sorry, Alexandra. But if she turns all the male heads in the room, none
of them will look twice at the likes of me.”

Miss Adair was only being honest, so Mary couldn't
fault her. The woman was plain, but pleasant. She never complained about the
tasks she was given. And she was always the last to leave the kitchen on her
assigned days, cleaning just one more thing. Doing just a little more than was
expected of her. Any man would be happy to marry such a gal, and they all knew

“You're right, Milly,” Alexandra said. “I wasn't
being fair to any of you. Give the dress back, Mary. I'm afraid you'll have to
wait until you've graduated to see what all the fuss is about.”

Mary hid her disappointment and with the other
girls’ help, stepped out of the pile of pink perfection. A moment later,
Alexandra stepped into it. Three pairs of hands helped her button and tie all
that wanted buttoning and tying. There was a clear difference. Alexandra filled
out the dress while Mary's less mature form had simply occupied it.

“You know,” Hortense began.

“I've been thinking,” Alice interrupted.

“Mary can go.” Milly Adair’s abrupt announcement
was met with enthusiastic nods from the others. “If I can keep from competing
with...” she gestured in the general area of Alexandra's bosom, “…with
I don't mind Mary coming along. But she'll have to dance with whom we choose
for her. No complaining.”

Mary was quick to assure them. “Oh, I'll not
complain, ladies. I swear.” She licked her finger and crossed her heart, which
seemed to satisfy the rest, and they filed out the door.

Mary helped Alexandra out of the dress she herself
would be wearing and tried not to worry about how much less of her there was to
fill the space in front.

BOOK: Bride School: Mary (The Brides of Diamond Springs Ranch 4)
7.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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