Telegraph Bride: Sweet Historical Mail Order Brides of Lowell

BOOK: Telegraph Bride: Sweet Historical Mail Order Brides of Lowell
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TELEGRAPH BRIDE

Sweet Historical Mail Order Brides of Lowell #2

 

MaryAnn Burnett

 

 

 

When Elizabeth Stemple lost her husband in the Civil War, she also lost her home and livelihood, forcing her to move to the factory town of Lowell, Massachusetts. After living in her own home and being on her own for all those war years, having to share a single dorm room with five other women had been hard. Elizabeth was desperate to get out of the factory town.

Elizabeth hadn’t really thought about what could go wrong with the mail order bride idea. Even if she had, the man not meeting her because he was in jail would not have been on the list. She’d jumped at the first opportunity to get out of Lowell without weighing the consequences.

And look where it had gotten her. Alone in the middle of nowhere with very little cash.

Nebraska Territory 1866

CHAPTER ONE

Elizabeth Stemple stood on the station platform, next to her wooden trunks, waiting for the man who should have been here to meet her train. The station master, a handsome man with warm chocolate eyes and nice broad shoulders, had already stopped by to check on her. It wasn’t often that she met a man who was taller than she was. Usually she saw over most women’s heads and was on eye level with most tall men. But this brawny station master almost made her feel petite. He didn’t just check on her once either but twice. He stopped once on his way to help the steam engine take on water and once on the way to the back of the train to help unload cargo. Having run a train station for seven years, more than four of those by herself, she watched him with a critical eye. He was good. He knew when to be where, and how to keep a conductor on time who wanted to dawdle and chitchat. Too bad he wasn’t the one who had written the advertisement in the Lowell Gazette looking for a wife. Her gaze swept the nearly empty platform.

With a sigh of impatience, Elizabeth lifted the large pocket watch she wore around her waist. She paused for a moment and rubbed a loving hand over the ornate letter S. She’d given that watch to her husband on their wedding day. When he’d stepped on the train that last day, he’d said for her to hold it until he came back. She let another sigh escape, this one filled with sadness. If not for that dreadful war, she and Henry would still be running their train station. She tucked a stray brown curl back into her bonnet, rubbed the cover of the watch one more time, then popped the cover open in a swift, experienced motion.

Just as she’d suspected. Mr. Roger Nelson was sixteen minutes late. Closing the watch and sliding it back into the pocket of her skirt, she looked around the platform one more time.

“All righty, then.”

Elizabeth picked up her carpetbag with her smaller valuables and the keys to her trunks and headed into the station. Just as she would have done with an abandoned passenger standing on the platform, the station master had been waiting just inside the door. When she’d started to move, he came out. He stopped a few paces from her, close enough for a conversation but far enough to be respectful.

“Ma’am. I’m William Holt, the station master here in Tribilane.”

She placed the heavy bag down at her feet. “I’m pleased to meet you Mr. Holt. I’m Mrs. Stemple.” She held out her hand and after a brief hesitation, he shook it, neither holding her hand too long nor dropping it too quickly. Elizabeth was intrigued by Mr. Holt’s perfect manners.

“Mrs. Stemple, the pleasure is all mine. Is there anything I can do to assist you?”

“Yes. Yes, there is something you could help me with.” Elizabeth checked the time on her watch and glanced quickly about the platform again. “Would you be able to tell me where I can find a Mr. Roger Nelson? He is now eighteen minutes late meeting me.”

The man did a slow blink as if trying to put together puzzle pieces in his mind that wouldn’t fit.

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

Elizabeth was getting a bad feeling. Her friend, Lillian, warned her not to jump at the ad. But Elizabeth had been desperate to get out of Lowell. After living in her own home and being on her own for all those war years, having to share a single dorm room with five other women had been hard.

Now seeing Mr. Holt’s expression at the mention of her intended future husband, she was beginning to think she should have listened to her friend.

“Is there something wrong with Mr. Nelson?” she asked.

Holt rubbed his hand along his clean-shaven chin. “Well now… at the moment, he’s a guest of the sheriff’s, if you know what I mean.”

Elizabeth hadn’t really thought about what could go wrong with this mail order bride idea. Even if she had, the man not meeting her because he was in jail would not have been on the list.

“Well.” She pulled her shoulders back and straightened her spine, “I thank you for the information. If you could just point me in the directions of the sheriff’s office…”

“It’s straight across the street but you’re not seriously going over there?” Holt’s face held a look of disbelief.

That made Elizabeth smile briefly. It surprised her how much she enjoyed putting that look on his face.

But, she needed to stay focused. “Mr. Nelson and I have a business arrangement. I need to know if he will be able to uphold his end of the bargain or not.” Picking her carpetbag up, she asked, “Would you be so kind as to have someone put my trunks inside the station while I attend to business?”

“Mrs. Stemple, you can’t go into the sheriff’s office.”

“I can assure you Mr. Holt that can’t is a word that is seldom in my vocabulary.”

She gave a bob of her head. “Good day to you, sir.” Picking up her skirts, she strode across the platform. She had a feeling that if she looked back, she would find the handsome Mr. Holt staring after her. Knowing he would see if she faltered, kept her at a steady pace as she cross the street.

After no more than a minute’s walk, she stopped in front of the small brick building. A wooden sign swung over the door and identified it as her destination. She stopped with her hand on the door and looked over her shoulder. Mr. Holt was leaning against the side of the train station watching her.

Elizabeth gave him a nod then turned around and opened the door.

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

Elizabeth's step faltered as the smell from inside the building hit her.  She pressed her lips tightly together to keep out the stale waft of body odor and worse. She straightened her shoulders, held her carpet bag in front of her and walked the rest of the way into a building she’d never believed she'd need to visit.

Two men sat on a bench behind the bars to her left. One had long scraggly hair and an ill-kept beard. The other, more respectably dressed, leaned against the wall and dozed with his hat pulled down over his eyes. She heard wood scrape against stone and looked to her right to see the sheriff put down the sandwich he was eating and stand up.

"Ma'am?"

She'd come this far, she thought. "Sheriff, I was told one of your prisoners was a Mr. Nelson. I'd like to speak with him, if I may."

The sheriff stared at her for a moment or two in silence. Elizabeth thought of every little white lie she'd told during the war to keep trains moving with needed supplies to both the troops and those left at home. She felt like he was judging her for every last one of them.

She lifted her chin to stare back at him. She was proud of all she'd done to help the war effort and would do it again.

The man seemed to sense her resolve as he nodded. "This way, ma'am." He led her across the room to the cell. "Nelson, wake up. You've got a visitor."

Mr. Nelson, did not startle, he just pushed his hat back on his head and stood up like he'd been watching her the whole time.

"Sheriff, may I ask why Mr. Nelson is behind bars?"

The sheriff looked at the man walking up to the bars and laughed. "This time? Cheating at cards and running up way too many bills." The sheriff turned to her with concern in his eyes. "If you need me, ma'am, I'll be right over there by my desk."

Elizabeth stood a few feet from the bars. Mr. Nelson gave her a look up and down that made her feel as if he were imagining her naked. She held herself ramrod straight to stop the shiver she felt crawling up her spine. She refused to let him see he rattled her.

The cad leaned an elbow on the bars. “Mrs. Stemple, I assume.”

He didn’t even have the decency to look ashamed. Instead he looked like he was doing her a favor talking to her. His lips twisted into a smirk as he stared at her chest. There was no way she was going to tie herself to this womanizing cheat.

She should have listened to her friend, Lillian. But that was water under the bridge. She had to get out of this as best she could. And as quickly as she could.

Never one to wait to be rescued when she could handle things herself, Elizabeth looked around for a clean place to set her carpetbag. Not seeing any, she gingerly placed the bag down in front of her and reached into her reticule to pull out her change purse.

She counted out eighteen dollars and sixty-nine cents, the cost of her one-way ticket here. It took most of her cash but it was necessary.

“Mr. Nelson, you did not portray yourself accurately in your advertisement for a wife. Our business deals are null and void. Here is your money back for my train ticket.”

Before she passed the money over, the sheriff slipped in and took it from her hand. “I’ll just be taking that on Mr. Nelson’s behalf. I’m sure he’d want this money going to some of the merchants he owes.” The sheriff turned to the man behind the bars. “Wouldn’t you?”

Mr. Nelson shrugged and slunk back over to the bench. “No skin off my nose.” He sat back down, leaned against the wall and pulled his hat down over his eyes without another word.

“Well!” Elizabeth flounced her skirts as if that could dislodge the dirty feeling she’d gotten in her dealings with Mr. Nelson. She had to get out of here. Now. Elizabeth picked up her carpet bag with both hands and tried to hold it as far from her clothing as possible.

“Good day to you, sheriff.” She turned and gave shudder when she felt her carpet bag connect with her knee. She didn’t dare look down to see what might be smeared on her skirt. Instead, she walked out of the building as quickly as she could without running. She didn’t stop until she was on the far side of the train station where no one from town could see her.

Her body shook as she leaned her back against the wall and dropped her bag at her side. Elizabeth’s knees gave out and she gave a little cry as she slid down the wall. The pain from her backside hitting the floor was no worse than the pain from her wounded pride.

The only other time she could remember feeling this angry and helpless at the same time was when the railroad told her she was no longer needed. Her station job had been given to a man coming back from the war. They had expected her to be cleared out of her company owned house the next day.

But at least then, it had been righteous anger. Now, she was more angry at herself for not thinking things through logically like she normally would. She’d jumped at the first opportunity to get out of Lowell without weighing the consequences. And look where it had gotten her. Alone in the middle of nowhere with very little cash.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

After staring at the sky for who knows how long and willing herself not to cry, Elizabeth stood up, brushed her skirts off as best she could, dragged the bottom of her carpetbag on the wooden planks of the platform to scrape off the worst of what might be on the bag and walked into the station.

“I’d like to send a telegram,” she said to the freckle-faced adolescent behind the counter.

“Um, sure, ma’am.” He patted his pockets and shifted papers around on the desk next to him. “If I could just find my pencil…”

Elizabeth tapped her finger on the counter to pull his attention back from his searching. He stopped and looked up.

She pointed and said, “Behind your ear.”

He gave a lopsided smile and retrieved the writing utensil. However, he went back to searching. She presumed this time for paper.

Finally, she could stand it no longer. “Oh, for heaven’s sake.” Elizabeth stepped around the counter, took off her right glove and began proficiently tapping out a Morse Code message on the telegraph machine. The boy gaped at her. She stepped back around the counter and placed seven cents on top of it. “This is the standard rate for the message I sent. Please let me know when my response comes in.”

She was putting her glove back on in anticipation of leaving, for where she hadn’t a clue, when the station master’s office door opened and Mr. Holt walked out.

“Jimmy, it sounds like you’re finally getting the hang of sending messages.” He smiled at the boy.

Jimmy shook his head and pointed sheepishly toward Elizabeth. “She did it. She knew how to send the message and even how much it cost.”

“Did you now, Mrs. Stemple? That’s not a trait too many people have.” He stepped closer and she caught the pleasant scent of pine and spice. “May I ask how you came upon your proficiency?”

“I ran a train station very similar to this for seven years, the last four of them on my own.” She gave him a strained smile.

“Why are you not still there?” he asked.

“That, Mr. Holt, is the very nature of my problem. It seems that in the wisdom of the company management, it didn’t matter how well a woman could do something. When the war ended and the men came home, the job belonged to a man.”

“Your husband didn’t return?” His voice was gentle.

“No, he…” she cleared her throat of the sudden lump. Even after three years, it was still hard. “He fell at the Battle of Gettysburg.”

Back home, so many women had lost loved ones that most people avoided talking about it.

“I’m so sorry,” he said and reached out to take her hand. He cradled it in both of his, even though the gesture from a stranger could be considered improper. It had been so long since anyone had offered such simple comfort. Elizabeth had to struggle not to lean in looking for more comfort. She was tired of being strong, keeping all her emotions inside. But, she had to remind herself that Mr. Holt was just a kind stranger offering condolences.

“Thank you.” She slipped her hand out of his. Because he had been so kind, she felt she could ask him the question that had been plaguing her.

“Could you direct me to a hotel and an honest merchant who might be interested in buying some jewelry? I find that my plans have changed and I need a room and a way to pay for it.”

“The only hotel in town is just a bit north of here. As for a way to pay for it, might I be able to persuade you to help me out with your skills with Morse Code?”

“I’m not looking to stay long, Mr. Holt.”

“I was running this station by myself until recently. I asked my nephew, Jimmy, to help me out but he hasn’t been able to pick up how to send and receive on the telegraph machine.”

“No, ma’am,” Jimmy piped up. “It just doesn’t make sense. I don’t hear any pattern to the clicking. It all sounds the same.” He shrugged his shoulders and gave another lopsided grin.

“Well.” Elizabeth paused to think.

“You’d really be helping me out. Even if it’s just for a few days.”

“I have no intention of staying in town very long.” She was starting to like the idea. Operating the telegraph was easy and it would let her be in her favorite place in the world, a train station. But still, even that would not be reason enough to settle in a place where she didn’t know anyone.

“You’d really be helping me out, especially regarding the incoming wires. Jimmy hears the alert and has to pull me from whatever task I’m doing.” He must have seen her weakening. “I’ll pay you ten cents a day, provide your lunch, and pay your hotel bill.”

This whole trip west seemed to be one impulsive decision after another. Before she could change her mind, she stuck out her hand. “You have a deal, Mr. Holt.”

 

 

 

BOOK: Telegraph Bride: Sweet Historical Mail Order Brides of Lowell
5.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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