New York City
Late August 1884
She smelled the smoke before she’d even gotten outside. Ruth Morgan had just finished for the day and was leaving the home where she worked as a domestic. She hurried along Fourth Street toward First Avenue and turned the corner to move downtown.
Two fire wagons, many pedestrians, horses, carriages, hansom cabs, and firefighters clogged the intersection of the thoroughfare. At Second Street, she was stopped by a large man with soot and ash on his face and in his hair.
“You can’t go any farther, Miss. My men have just been able to put the fire out. It’s too dangerous. There could be falling debris.”
“But, my home is right there. My parents … they’re at home during the day.”
“Which building do you live in, exactly?”
“On the corner just over there.” The large brick tenement building had flames coming out of the upper floor windows. All the occupants had been evacuated for their safety. The shocked residents milled about on the corner waiting to be told they could go into their abodes. Waiting to be told that their neighbors were fine.
“Wait here, Miss. What floor did you say you lived on?”
“I didn’t, sir. It’s the top floor. You must let me go. Oh dear, and our neighbor is unable to walk. They, Mr. and Mrs. Rachowsky, are home during the day also. Where are they?” She scrutinized the crowd for any sign of a familiar face.
The fireman’s voice rose above the ruckus, “There are four apartments there, on the top, is that right?”
“Y, yes. Please, you must let me see for myself. Please let me into the building.” Ruth’s eyes again scanned the crowd on the street. Her parents were nowhere to be found. She made a dash for the door. She had to get to them.
“Miss, no you can’t go in. It’s too dangerous. My men must make sure the building is safe. Looks like a lamp fell over. Or somebody flicked a cigarette onto the roof.” The firefighter and another man, a civilian held Ruth back by her arms.
The fireman’s voice broke above the chaos and noise, “Keep her here, man. Don’t let her inside. I’ll be right back.”
The man nodded and said some words intended to comfort Ruth. They only served to cause more anguish as she waited, still looking this way and that for anyone she knew.
She turned away when two men exited the building with a stretcher. What looked to be a dead body, covered with a tattered blanket, rested on it, and the men placed the stretcher in the back of a wagon. Another two stretchers followed the first and were taken to another wagon.
Ruth said a silent prayer, her face hidden in the man’s lapel, as the stretchers went by.
Suddenly a heart wrenching wail filled the late afternoon air.
Mrs. Rachowsky. Oh dear. “S, sir. You must unhand me. That’s my neighbor. I must go to her.” Ruth wrenched herself from the man’s grip and hurried over to where her neighbor stood near the wagons with the stretchers. “Mrs. Rachowsky?”
Between the woman’s sobs, Ruth understood that Mr. Rachowsky, had been unable to leave his bed when the fire was discovered. The neighbors had come to try and save him but to no avail.
“Ruth! Oh Ruth, your parents, oh, it’s too awful. They tried, you must understand Ruth, they tried to save my husband. They saved me and now … oh, it’s too horrible. Lord have mercy.”
“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Rachowsky.” Ruth began to experience a growing feeling of dread. Where are my parents? She looked all around, the panic starting to flow through her body causing her to feel cold and numb. Somewhere there were happy cries of joy at finding loved ones safe and well. She grabbed Mrs. Rachowsky’s arms and stared into her eyes, “Mrs. Rachowsky? Where are they? My parents, Mrs. Rachowsky. Where did they go?”
“Oh poor, dear Ruth. Oh, you poor, dear girl, and here I stand lamenting my own woes.”
“I don’t understand. Please, Mrs. Rachowsky. I see ambulances. Have my mother and father been hurt? They were taken to the hospital, maybe?” Please let it be true.
The same fireman who’d spoken to Ruth earlier approached the women. He nodded at Ruth and addressed the older woman.
“Ma’am, uh, I have some bad news.”
Mrs. Rachowsky sniffed. “I know my husband is dead, sir. I must go with him. To the … to the morgue.” She turned and cradled Ruth’s cheek in her rough hand.
“Your parents saved my life, Ruthie. When I leave the morgue I’ll be going to my sister’s on Mulberry Street. You can find me there. If you need a place to stay, come to us. God bless you, sweet Ruth. And God bless your parents.” Mrs. Rachowsky climbed up into the back of the wagon that held the corpse of her newly deceased husband. As if in a trance, she held the blanket and covered her head in her lap as the wagon worked its way toward the city’s morgue.
Ruth watched the woman’s back get lost in the melee of people, wagons, ambulances, and horses. Where are they? She looked around again. Her eyes fell on the wagon with two lonely stretchers, side by side and under tarps. No. She studied the movements around her. Time seemed to have slowed and all sound was heard as if from underwater. The sky descended upon her, squeezing her ribs, and allowing no air in or out.
Her eyes fluttered open. A lone bird scooped and dipped in the evening sunset, a happy silhouette above the still looming throng of people displaced by the fire.
There were noises and voices, and someone lifted her. She went back to the merciful darkness. I never want to wake again.
She became aware of a hand holding hers. Her eyes opened once more. The gentle smile and concerned eyes of her employer, Mrs. Halstead, came into view. Ruth realized she was on a daybed in the downstairs bedroom of the house on Fourth Street. Her head was throbbing. She knew something was wrong. What happened? Oh, my head. She moaned and brought her hand up to her temporal.
“Ruth. Can you hear me, dear? It’s me. Mrs. Halstead. You fainted, dear. My Frannie was there. She ran over to Second Street when we heard what happened. She was concerned for you. She arrived just in the nick of time too. You hit your head when you fell. They were going to bundle you into an ambulance and take you to Bellevue where they took the others.”
“My, my parents. Mr. Rachowsky died,” Ruth began to cry. “Where are my parents? Please. Don’t tell me they were on the other stretchers. Mrs. Halstead? Where are they? Where are my …”
“Here darling. Sip this.” Mrs. Halstead held a small glass of sherry to Ruth’s lips. “It will calm you.”
Ruth leaned forward and did as she was told. She then fell back against the cushion behind her head and closed her eyes again. “They’re dead. Aren’t they?”
She opened her eyes just enough to see Mrs. Halstead’s worried expression meet that of her husband.
“You might as well tell me. I’m going to find out sooner than later. They’re dead, aren’t they?”
“I’m so sorry, dear Ruth. Frannie had it from the fire chief that your parents went into the Rachowsky’s apartment. They were trying to get Paul from his bed. Your mother told Madeleine to go ahead. As Mrs. Rachowsky ran down the stairs, a beam fell in the apartment, and she couldn’t get back in to help. It’s so awful. You must accept my condolences, Ruth. I am so very sorry.”
“So I am to have no family and no home.” Ruth closed her eyes again and sighed.
“You have us, Ruth. You may stay here, in this very room, for as long as you need. Our other household help is resident here. You are very welcome to live here as well.”
“You’re very kind, Mrs. Halstead. But I couldn’t impose. I … I have an uncle, my father’s brother. He lives in Brooklyn Village. I must contact him.”
“Here, darling. Of course. You tell me what you wish to say. I’ll write it and then send Bobby over across the river with the note.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Halstead. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Mrs. Halstead patted Ruth’s hand then poured another glass of sherry. “Here, Ruthie. Drink. We’ll write the note then get you to bed. You need rest, dear.”
“I need to make … arrangements.” A fresh torrent of tears took over. What’s to become of me? I’m all alone in the world but for my uncle. His wife will not welcome me.
“I’ll take care of everything, dear. I’ll call on our pastor tomorrow. We’ll have a nice service, never you worry about that. Come now; let us write the note to your uncle.”
Ruth had gone through it all in a daze. The visits to the Halstead home full of condolences and other words of sympathy. The funeral, also at the Halsteads’, in the large parlor. And the interment at the Marble Cemetery, the two plots having been given to Ruth by Mrs. Halstead who’d had them bequeathed to her by her own mother and father.
It seemed as if it had all just happened. This very morning, perhaps. Or had it been ten years before?
There was a noise in the hallway outside her bedroom then a loud knock. “Ruth? Are you awake? Ruth, I need help with the laundry.”
It was Emma, her Uncle Theodore’s young wife, only two years older than Ruth, herself. She didn’t seem to be a happy woman. The reality of having married a widower with three little children seemed to have been a far cry from the fantasy the girl had most certainly entertained.
Ruth wrinkled her nose. Emma had been a cigar shop girl, just barely getting by when Uncle Theodore had met her. She’d charmed the lonely widower and had seen a way out of the poverty that young and old women alike could find themselves in. In the blink of an eye, a woman’s life could go from rags to riches or right back again.
She resents me. Because I was a maid at the Halsteads she expects me to work as such for her. All because my uncle has allowed me to stay here.
“I’ll be right there, Emma.” She couldn’t really blame the woman, she thought. After all, Ruth barely left her room. She hadn’t helped around the house. She spent too many hours in bed, reading story instalments in the papers or sleeping. She had no desire to do much of anything.
She dragged herself from the bed and examined her face in the looking glass. She was pale. Dark shadows rested beneath her eyes, and she looked almost gaunt. She smoothed her hair back and walked out of the bedroom.
“I’m coming, Emma,” she called down the steps as she descended to the front hall.
“It’s about time.” Emma stormed out of the kitchen. “I can’t do everything myself around here, Ruth. You’re going to need to pitch in a little. I have too much extra work with you here and, now that I’m … oh never mind.”
“I … I’m sorry, Emma. I’m still grieving, I think.”
“You’re grieving still? I don’t want to be mean, Ruth, but you know I’ve lost my parents too. And I was quite a bit younger than you are now. I was alone, much as you are now. But I didn’t have a well-off uncle to run to. I worked until I met yours.”
“And you thought you’d be a grand lady because my uncle enjoys expensive cigars? My uncle is somewhat comfortable financially. His law practice is successful, and someday he will be a very wealthy man. Can you not wait for that day and live now to the best of your ability? What happened to the girl you had here to help you?”
“Theodore said you would help me. I let the girl go. We cannot afford endless servants you know. You were to stay with us and do what you did for the Halsteads. But you’re not being paid here. Is that why you’re being so lazy?”
“Emma! That will be enough, my love.”
The two women looked down the hall to the top of the stairs. Theodore Morgan stood, hand on the banister, aghast at what he was hearing.
“That will be enough from me? She …” Emma pointed, accusatorily, at Ruth, “she’s living off of us. I’m exhausted from the children and from cleaning, and she sleeps the days away.”
“My niece is grieving, Emma. Come now, don’t be that way.”
“Grieving? It’s been two months. I need help.”
“Emma, my love, I don’t wish to discuss this anymore.”
“No, Uncle Theodore, Emma is right. I do need to pitch in around here. You’ve both been so kind as to let me stay. But it won’t be for much longer, I promise.”
“But my girl, what will you do? Where are you to go? My brother would never forgive me if I didn’t do everything and anything within my power to take care of you.”
“Hmmph.” Emma threw her hands up in disgust, “I’ll be downstairs boiling water for the wash if anybody cares. If you can persuade Lady Jane to join me it would be much appreciated.” She passed her husband and walked down the stairs in a huff.
“I’m sorry, Uncle.”
“Not to worry. Emma is young. She’ll come around. It’s not her intention to be nasty, Ruth. And, really, she’s not. She is a good wife.”
Ruth shrugged. “Surely it’s not any of my business, Uncle.”
“I tell you this not as an excuse but as a reason. My little wife is with a child, Ruth. We just found out a week ago. Sometimes women don’t feel well during pregnancy. And while she’s a good mother to my three children, treating them as if they were her own, she’s never given birth herself. She’s nervous by nature. I fear she may be a bit worried.”
“That explains much, Uncle. I’m happy for the two of you. And I’m sorry. I know I haven’t been any help at all. I didn’t know that Emma let her helper girl go. She needs help now more than ever. It won’t be much longer, Uncle. I promise. I will not overstay my welcome.”
“You are welcome here as long as you want or need, Ruth. Emma will come around. The last two months have been very hard for all of us. Why they don’t even know what caused the fire that took your parents from us. They’ve torn down the top floor of the building because of the damage done. It will forever be a mystery. Summertime, daytime. No fires for heat. Who knows? Maybe it was just Joseph and Ruthann’s time. Whatever it was, it was God’s will, and we must accept and abide by it, Ruth. Each day I try to find one thing to be happy about. And I end up finding many blessings.”
“Oh, Uncle, you are so good. And you’re right. There is so much to be thankful for. And I thank you and Emma for taking me in. I’ll make it better with your wife. I don’t want to make any problems for you two.” She went to her uncle and hugged him. Every day I must remember my blessings. She went to the steps and started down, calling to Emma as she went.
Ruth had gone into Manhattan. She was near to Dutchtown but didn’t want to see the old neighborhood. Instead, she intended to visit with Mrs. Rachowsky, on Mulberry Street. After that, she wasn’t sure where to start with her job search. She knew that Mrs. Halstead had filled the vacancy left by Ruth on her household staff. But there was always a rich lady who needed extra help for a dinner party or soiree. It was the end of October. Holiday parties would be starting in a little over a month. Her plan was to go house to house, asking. Mrs. Halstead had given her an excellent letter of reference to use. Using that and with her experience, Ruth felt sure she’d find enough work to at least see her into the new year.
She’d walked across the year-old Brooklyn Bridge, continued to Centre Street and then walked up toward Mulberry. She hadn’t seen her former neighbor since the day of the fire, and she felt a little nervous at the prospect. Mainly because of the dreams.
Sometimes she woke up in a cold sweat, the feeling of smoke coating her throat and the dark clanging of the fire wagon bells in her ears. In the dreams, she ran wildly toward the burning building only to reach it and have it disintegrate into ash at her feet. As she walked to the building on Mulberry Street she shook off the memory.
The building that Mrs. Rachowsky now lived in was one of five on the block that all looked alike. Five stories, brick, nondescript facade. Another tenement building like she’d resided in on Second Street. Ruth fished a scrap of paper out of her reticule with the address, and then went to the door of the building.
It was propped open, as was the door to the yard and privies behind the structure. Mrs. Rachowsky’s sister’s apartment was on the third floor. Ruth remembered that the apartment she was going to was in the front of the building. She started up the stairs and soon found herself at one of the four doors that opened into the hall she stood in. She knocked and waited hoping she had the correct entry.
The door opened, and Mrs. Rachowsky’s eyes opened wide. “Ruth Morgan. Oh my dear, come in, come in.” The woman took Ruth’s hand and pulled her into the main area of the three-room apartment. She embraced Ruth then stepped away, wiping a tear from her eye.
“It’s so good to see you. You look well, dear. How are you, though? Sit at the table. I’ll put the kettle on. We’ll have some tea. It does me good to see you, Ruth, it truly does.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Rachowsky. How are you?”
“Fine, dear. I’m fine. I keep house while my sister and her husband are at work. I even have my own room. Now that my nephews are grown, well, my brother-in-law insisted I take their old room.”
“That’s good to hear, Mrs. Rachowsky. But, well, how are you, really?”
Mrs. Rachowsky brought cups and saucers to the table along with the kettle and sat across from Ruth.
“My dear, Paul was in a great deal of pain all the time. At first, I was so shocked by everything that happened the day of the fire that I’d forgotten how he suffered each day. But when I remembered, it was a comfort that he was no longer in pain. I kept going over and over what I did that day. What Paul did. What your parents did. And I can find no inconsistency in any of our behaviors to explain the fire. The fire chief said that maybe someone walking across the roofs threw a lit cigarette. The wind might have carried it onto the windowsill where it smoldered. I just don’t know. But now, I feel that Paul wouldn’t have lasted much longer. Not with the pain he was in. So, I pray for his soul, and I know I’ll see him again one day.
“And my situation here is good. I want for nothing. If I’m not exactly happy, I am content. And there’s value in that to me. But, Ruth, what of you?”
“I’m looking for work. I’m afraid I must leave my uncle’s house. His wife is having a baby, and they already have my three little cousins. I’ll need to get a room. I’m planning on moving back to Manhattan.”
“But Ruth, I told you the last time I saw you. You can stay here. I asked my brother-in-law about it right after I came here. He was so agreeable. He said his family’s friends are his friends, and he will do anything he can for his family and his friends.”
“It’s very kind of you, and your sister and brother-in-law, Mrs. Rachowsky. But I need to make my own way. I don’t want to be in service for the rest of my life, but right now it’s all I have. And I can stay at Uncle Theodore’s. They haven’t asked me to leave. I just don’t want to interfere with their new life which will be hearkened by their firstborn.”
Mrs. Rachowsky listened intently as Ruth talked. She narrowed her eyes and nodded in agreement. “I’m sure you’re very conscientious, Ruth. However, I had a thought while you were talking.”
“What, Mrs. Rachowsky? What is your thought?”
“Well, please hear me out before you say anything. Will you do that?”
“Yes.” What is she going to tell me? Should I be worried? No, Mrs. Rachowsky would never suggest anything untoward. Would she?
“Are you at all familiar with the concept of the mail-order brides?”
“You mean the women who advertise for husbands and then travel to California or Colorado to be with them? Mrs. Rachowsky, you can’t be serious. It’s well known that the men involved sometimes lie. I read about a girl whose train was robbed. When she arrived to meet her fiancé, she recognized him as the man who’d been the ringleader of the train robbers. Needless to say, she didn’t marry the cad.”
“Lies do not only come from the lips of men, dear Ruth. Why there have been women claiming to be twenty-two years old and with a twenty-inch waist. When they arrive at their destinations it’s discovered that some of the women are closer to thirty-two years old with forty-inch waists.”
The women burst into laughter, Mrs. Rachowsky slapping her hand upon the tabletop.
“Oh my, I never looked at it that way. But why do you ask?”
“I saw this the other day when I was out running errands. I don’t know why, but I picked it up. Maybe I knew you were coming to see me.” Mrs. Rachowsky produced a newspaper from the shelf near the table.
“The Marriage Times?” Ruth began leafing through the gazette.
“As you’ll see, it’s the men who advertise, dear. The women answer if they see an advertisement that’s intriguing, or interesting to them.”
“And the object, I presume, is …”
“Marriage, dear. Of course with a suitable partner.”
“But all of these advertisements are from men who live in the west, Mrs. Rachowsky.”
“Yes, they are. The west needs populating, dear. It needs more women. And what’s a girl, alone in this world, to do? There aren’t a lot of options for women, Ruth. I’m lucky. My sister and brother-in-law have the room and the means to have me here with them. But you. You’re so young. You need a man to take care of you.”
“Do any of these women, the ones who answer the advertisements, do they find happiness?”
“I haven’t heard any bad stories. Certainly nothing akin to what you just told me about the train robber. I just thought that becoming a mail order bride could pose an option for you, Ruth. You must think of the future. You must think of your survival. It’s nearly impossible to subsist on your own. The choices you’d be given are unsavory and lead down a bad road. But this,” Mrs. Rachowsky gestured toward the newspaper, “is perfectly respectable, dear. It’s an organized system that single and widowed women have been employing for decades. ”
“You’re sweet. May I keep this?”
“I bought it for you, dear.”
“Fifty cents? Here, let me pay you, Mrs. Rachowsky.”
“No, no. Perhaps you could consider it a wedding gift? In advance.” The older woman smiled kindly. “I wish you all the best this life has to offer, Ruth. You must promise me that if you do find yourself a handsome sheriff or someone equally heart-stopping … well, you will write to me, won’t you?”
“Of course, Mrs. Rachowsky.” Ruth finished her tea. “Now, I must be going. I have another long walk ahead of me.”
“Good luck in your job search, dear. And, good luck in your search for a suitable husband.”
The two embraced one another, and then Ruth went back down the three flights of stairs she’d climbed an hour earlier. She stepped out the door into the traffic and noise of Mulberry Street.
By the time Ruth got back to Brooklyn later that afternoon, she’d vowed to herself that she was going to make things right with Emma. She ran up to her room and changed, then went down to the kitchen.
“And where have you been, all day? It’s nearly four o’clock.”
“Well, I was looking for a job. But I’m here now to make dinner. Come, Emma. Sit on the sofa in the parlor. I’ll bring you some tea.”
“Why are you being so nice to me, Ruth? What’s happened? Is Theodore … did something happen?”
If Emma hadn’t gotten so alarmed, Ruth would have been amused at her suspicion and made a joke. But Emma appeared scared out of her wits.
“Sit down, dear. I’m merely trying to make things up to you, Emma. Rest a bit. I’ll bring you a cup of tea. And nothing bad has happened to Uncle Theodore.
Nothing at all.” My goodness, the poor thing. She really is fragile in spite of her gruff exterior. Now, you rest while I make supper. Where are the children?”
“They are with Eileen, the girl that worked here before you arrived. Theodore contacted her about coming back to work.”
“Wonderful. Now you won’t be overworked. In your condition, you mustn’t overwork yourself.” Ruth gasped, her fingers coming up to hide her mouth.
Emma looked at her oddly, “How did you know?”
“I’m sorry; I shouldn’t have said anything. Uncle Theodore told me. He’s so happy, Emma. I didn’t mean to ruin your surprise.”
Emma’s face lit up with an uncharacteristic smile, “Oh, you didn’t ruin it, Ruth. I don’t know why, but I wanted to keep it my secret a little longer. I’d suspected, but then your uncle, well he knew. He came home from work one night a week ago. I’d been tired and out of sorts all day. When Theodore hung up his hat and turned around to me, the most peculiar look came over his face. He walked over to where I sat and knelt down. I said to him, ‘Theodore, what is it? What is wrong?’
“He said, ‘there’s nothing wrong at all, sweet Emma. In fact, everything is right.’ And then he told me his suspicion which matched my own. And that is that.” Emma smiled again and sipped her tea.
“I’m very happy for you both.” Ruth moved the tiny footstool over to the chair Emma reclined in. “Here you are, put your feet up. I’m going to the kitchen. If you need anything, just call for me.”
“I will. Thank you, Ruth.” Emma gave her a grateful look.
Ruth walked out to the door.
Ruth looked over her shoulder at Emma. “Yes?”
“Thank you. It’s an unexpected pleasure to just sit and rest my feet.” Emma smiled.
“You’re very welcome, Emma, very welcome.” Ruth continued to the kitchen, and an hour later, after Theodore had gotten home, the three sat at the table.
“I’m happy to see things have calmed down around here, ladies.” Theodore laughed.
“Ruth and I had a talk, darling. She apologized to me. And she literally made me rest for a whole hour. I have to say I felt like a queen.”
Theodore gave his niece a huge grin. In his eyes she read a thank you.
Sheriff Garrett Hughes stood at the cemetery far longer than anyone else. Even his deputy, Dan Wyatt’s wife and child had left the graveside. The skies threatened to pour down rain sending Garrett’s mood into even deeper blue.
If it hadn’t been for Garrett, Deputy Wyatt would be simply, Mr. Wyatt. He wouldn’t have fallen for the extra pay being a deputy of the law brought. He would be able to spend the evening with his little son and pretty wife.
If it hadn’t been for Garrett, Dan Wyatt would be alive.
The sheriff’s boot scuffed at the fresh pile of dirt that sheltered his friend. “I’m sorry, Dan. I’ve taken down rustlers before. It was never a really dangerous job. They would see us and know they were done. Generally, we’d just warn them and send them on their way. What happened was an unforeseen circumstance, Dan. Our world is changing. The rustlers have gotten so bold as to do their misdeeds in broad daylight. They’ve gotten so bold as to use their weapons.”
He tilted his hat back off his forehead and squinted out over the vast, dry terrain, then gazed back down at the sorry pile of dirt and rock at his feet. “I’ll see to it your boy and Sally never have a need for anything, Dan.”
Garrett walked out of the graveyard and mounted his horse. “Let’s go home, Joe.
As Joe walked at a comfortable pace, Garrett’s mind went back to that day a week before. He and Dan had trailed the rustlers for a few hours. They weren’t expecting much trouble, although Dan had noted that many more cattle had been taken than was usual on a raid.
And it had been the middle of the morning. Brazen at best. Garrett shook his head slowly. The cattle rustlers had had the sun at their backs. Garrett and Dan had basically walked into an ambush. And it had been over in minutes.
When the rustlers saw they weren’t to be pursued, they’d simply ridden off with the stolen cattle. And Dan had lain dead, his horse standing over him, nudging Dan’s shoulders with his soft muzzle.
Garrett knew he would never forgive himself for having been lax. Had he taken the quality of his work for granted? Had he chosen poorly when he’d made Dan his deputy? Had he trained Dan enough?
He tried to move his mind to other thoughts, but the gunfight with the cattle thieves would not let him be. He knew he would sleep little that night.
Three months later, Garrett was finding no respite from his dark brooding and lack of sleep. His old friend and mentor, Jake Monroe had come to town He bore the news that the rustlers who had killed Dan had gotten to Montana with the cattle they’d stolen.
“I was caught up here, with the funeral, Jake. I couldn’t leave Sally alone, even if it meant letting Dan’s killers get away.”
“Well now Garrett, I don’t want you leaving Sally or anybody else alone, you hear me? This is too close to you, kid. I’ll track them and meet them when they’re halfway back from Montana. I’ll deliver the scoundrels right to your jailhouse door.”
“No, I’m coming with you.”
Jake wouldn’t give any ground. “No, Garrett. You stay here. I’ll lock you in a cell myself if I have to.”
Garrett calmed. “I suppose you’re right. No good could come of it if I was to apprehend those men. I might find myself doing something I’d regret later. Do Dan proud, Jake.”
“I have every intention of it. Now, let’s go find some food. I could do with a good meal and a whiskey or two. Maybe dance with one of them hurdies Tom Murphy has over to his place.”
“A dance? With a hurdy-gurdy girl? Why Jake, are you getting soft on me?” Garrett chuckled.”
“I’m not getting any younger, kid.” The older man grinned. “It’s time, I think, that I found me a wife. Settle down. The road’s plumb wore me out.”
The men moved along the planked walkway toward the saloon as they talked.
“The last person I ever thought I’d hear speak this way.”
“What’s so wrong with having a pretty wife to cook my meals and keep a nice house for me? Why shouldn’t I have a charming companion in my middle age, Garrett? You might want to start thinking in that direction, too, kid.”
“Me? What do I want with a wife? More to the point, what would a wife want with me.” He laughed then grew very quiet and serious.
“What is it, kid?”
“I don’t deserve a loving, pretty wife, Jake. That’s what Dan had and now, well now there’s another widow and another orphan walking around in the world.”
“You can’t blame yourself for what happened, Garrett. Sometimes, things just go a different way than we can foresee. Sometimes it’s a good thing, and sometimes it’s not. The important fact to remember is we cannot let the bad keep us from the good. If that doesn’t make sense to you now, it will. You’ll see. It’s a cycle, Garrett. The cycle of life.”
“Hmm. You’re right of course, Jake, but well, I suppose I just need a little more time is all.”
“You’ve been saying that since a year after Tillie took sick and went to be with the Lord. Look, Dan, you need to get your right foot out of her grave. And you need to get your right foot out of Dan’s. I don’t want to look at you ten years from now and see a desperate, lonely man.”
“That’s quite the projection, Jake.” Garrett’s jaw was set hard at a stubborn angle.
“Look, you’re my friend, Garrett. My sister loved you very, very much, and she wanted nothing more than to be your wife. But it wasn’t meant to be, kid. I’m sorry. I miss her too, but you … you torture yourself. Tillie’s death wasn’t your fault. There was nothing any of us could have done. The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away. You must let Tillie go, Garrett. And now, Dan, as well.”
“I know I must.” Jake shrugged. “I know.”
“Then come on, here we are.” Jake held the door of Tom Murphy’s Saloon and Restaurant open for his friend.
The men walked into the establishment and chose a table near the fireplace that wasn’t being used. The mantle hovered over a decorative screen. Later, at night, a wood fire would be built to address the chill that the desert nights could bring.
A pretty girl in a dangerously short calf length skirt with fringed boots brought menus to the men. The feather stuck into her upswept hair bounced when she walked in a jaunty fashion.
Jake and Garrett perused the menus and ordered their suppers. Two ribeye steaks, beans, and corn tortillas. They asked for whiskey to start, and the girl came back with a bottle and two glasses which she proceeded to set on the table.
“When y’all want to dance, I’ll be over there …” The girl pointed to the table and chairs near the piano. Three other young women, as gaily clad as their co-worker, lounged at the table drinking sweet tea and waiting for the miners to get back from their day’s work.
“Hmm, pretty, don’t you think?”
“Well, you better hurry up, Jake. That one wasn’t here when I had a drink with Tom Murphy two weeks ago. He told me these girls come to Tucson, work here, meet a miner, and before you know it they’re married. That’s the life they really want. The existence of a hurdy-gurdy girl is merely to bait and catch.”
“You make it sound so, so … unromantic, Garrett.” Jake laughed. “I need to keep my eye on you. You’re too young to be so bitter!” He joked some more.
Garrett responded by downing his glass of whiskey and pouring another.
“Tillie was my sister, kid. I miss her too. But it’s been three years. Don’t you think it’s time you move on? It’s what she would want, you know. She wouldn’t want you to have your work as your companion. I know you’re aware of that.”
“Well, what if I was interested in a woman, Jake? The men outnumber the women three to one at least in this town. Where do I meet a nice, Christian lady? These pretty girls here at the saloon, sure, they’re nice. But they’re like spiders waiting for flies. I need to have a connection. I need more than a lovely face and sparkling eyes. I know it sounds crazy, but I’d rather be alone than live my life with someone out of convenience. Besides, it doesn’t matter. I’ve ruined too many lives as it is. I’m not going to make false promises to a girl from Alabama or Tennessee who’s looking for a husband.”
Jake leaned forward in his seat and cleared his throat. “That’s why I took it upon myself to, well, to help you out a little, kid.”
Garrett smirked, “Oh yeah? What about helping yourself out? And if you tell me you purchased half a dozen dances for me, I’ll tell you, you wasted your hard earned cash.”
“No, it’s not that. I didn’t buy any dances. It’s nothing like that.”
“Oh? Then what is it like? Tell me. Now, you’ve got me curious.” Garrett chuckled.
Jake reached into his vest and pulled out a scrap of newspaper and a folded letter sealed with wax. He placed the items on the table in front of his friend.
“Look at it.”
“I see it, and it appears to be a letter. A letter from …” he picked up the packet and examined it, “New York City? Why would I be getting a letter from New York City?” He held the folded and sealed paper to his nose, “And one that smells of Otto of Roses at that?”
“Well, you know the last time I was here in Tucson, what was it? Last year at Christmastime. Remember? We came here, as we always do, for supper.”
“Yes, of course, I remember.”
“Where does the time go?”
“Jake. Will you get to the point?”
“Open the letter.”
“Why should I?”
“Because it’s addressed to you, Garrett.”
Garrett sighed in exasperation. “Very well.” He broke the wax seal on the fragrant packet with his thumb and unfolded the letter. His eyes scanned it, his face giving nothing away as he read. A slow bob of his Adam’s apple was the only indicator that he was being affected by what he was reading. And if one was not proficient at cards, that subtle sign would have surely been missed.
New York City
September 30, 1884
Dear Sheriff Hughes,
It is with delight that I respond to your recent advertisement in The Marriage Times.
My name is Ruth Morgan and I am twenty-two years of age with brown hair and blue eyes. My height is above average and my stature medium. I have worked as a domestic since the age of sixteen; however, I attended school before that time. I’m proficient in all manner of keeping house and caring for children. I’m an avid reader and enjoy horses and the outdoors.
In your advertisement you mentioned food. I am in no place to brag about my culinary accomplishments, yet I am a very good cook and an excellent baker.
If you would see any reason for us not to correspond, then, by all means, do not write back to me. But if you think you would care to become acquainted with me by letter, then please, I would welcome a word from you.
May this letter find you well, and may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Garrett’s eyes met Jake’s over the sheet of paper.
“You put an advertisement in The Marriage Times? For me?”
“Forgive me, but I did. I know the hurdy girls hold no interest for you. And
If you knew what’s good for you, you’d answer that letter. I watched you read it. You’re curious, kid. Why not write back? It can’t do you any harm.”
Their food came to the table. Garrett folded the letter and put it in his jacket pocket for the moment. Out of sight but not forgotten.
Two hours later, after their meal, some more whiskey and a few card games with some miners, Garrett and Jake left Murphy’s. They headed across the road to the Silverado Hotel where they parted ways with a handshake and some closing words.
“I’m leaving at the crack of dawn, kid. I won’t see you again until I bring those dang rustlers back.”
“Good luck to you, Jake. And for what it’s worth, thanks.”
“Don’t mention it.”
“And thanks for your thoughts on my lack of marital status.”
Jake chuckled. “Don’t mention that either! Ever! But, in all seriousness, at least think about it. You will, won’t you?”
“I’ll consider thinking about it,” Garrett shot back with a grin.
The men shook hands. Garrett walked over to the jailhouse to pick up Joe and ride the mile to his house on the outskirts of town.
It was a pretty house with a large kitchen that housed a big cast iron cook stove and a large main room for everything but cooking. Part of the big room had been set up as a parlor. The second floor had four bedrooms, two connected by a private corridor and across the expanse of the main room two more, all situated off a gallery. Each of the four chambers had small heating stoves and windows that held the sun.
Garrett, Jake, and a couple of out and out cowherds had built the house three years before when Garrett had been planning to ask Jake’s sister to marry him. He sighed. He didn’t want to think about that. It seemed that as soon as the nightmares about Tillie’s illness and subsequent death had subsided the new nightmares had begun. The ones about Dan. And the gun battle with the cattle rustlers.
Garrett shook his head, willing the thoughts that he knew would overtake him if he didn’t find something else to consider. Quickly.
He dismounted in front of the barn and guided Joe into his stall. After grooming the animal, Garrett fed him, all the while talking about the day. Occasionally, Joe would whinny or snort as if in agreement or not. When Garrett was finished in the barn he said goodnight to the horse and headed into the house.
It was snug and cozy inside the cabin-like main room. Instead of a huge fireplace like his English forebears preferred, Garrett had designed the house with Rumford heating in mind. The large area on the first floor had two of the tall, shallow fireplaces, one on each end of the room.
Garrett rarely used both heating units; in fact, the last time had been at Christmas the year before. But for now, he put some kindling down. Then he added a few small logs, built up to allow the air to nurse the fire.
He’d had enough whiskey at the saloon, but he poured himself another anyway and sat in his chair by the fire. He fished in his pocket for the letter from Ruth Morgan of New York City and opened it up to reread.
She seemed like a nice enough young lady. Her handwriting was small and even. And it went straight across the page, not slanting downward or up. He turned the page over in his hand and brought the paper to his nose. Otto of roses.
Garrett folded the letter again and returned it to his vest pocket. He then finished his whiskey in one gulp, stood and climbed the stairs to the second floor. He was tired. He hoped he could sleep.
“A Love She Would Never Forget” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Ruth Wagner’s days in New York city are almost identical to each other. That is until one day tragedy strikes and she loses everything. In the hope of a better life, she answers an advertisement from a Sheriff in Oklahoma. After a series of romantic letters which culminate in a marriage proposal, she leaves to find him and start all over again. But on the way to him a train accident sends her to a hospital diagnosed with amnesia. Will she remember the reason she was travelling?
Sheriff Garrett Hughes deals with his own dark past with loneliness and isolation. Until his friend writes an advertisement for him to request a mail-order bride, he never expected love could warm up his heart. But when his bride doesn’t show up and news of a train crash reach him, he is terrified he has lost his only chance to find happiness. He rushes to the hospital where victims are being taken care of and an even more shocking surprise awaits him. Will he be able to find her in this impossible situation?
They both have been hurt in the past but love has the power to solve everything. Can they hold on to the love they built through letters until they find each other? Will they help each other face their past traumas and find the happiness they both deserve?
“A Love She Would Never Forget” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.