Nellie’s burst of laughter was abruptly cut off as she slid in the mud and toppled face down into a puddle of it. The piglet squealed loudly as it slithered from her tenuous grasp. She quickly rolled over and sat up, swiping mud from her face. Her father stood nearby roaring with laughter as he bent over with his hands braced on his knees. Another giggle erupted as she tried to get her balance and stand. She glanced down at the layer of gray sludge that covered her from the top of her head to the bottom of her shoes.
“You almost had her that time, Nellie!”
Nellie chuckled as she brushed some mud from her flannel shirt and dungarees, though it didn’t do much good. The mud clung resolutely to her clothes as she cast her gaze around the yard near the pen for the hogs and pigs, seeking the little piglet that escaped earlier. There!
“She’s over there, Pa, by the chicken coop!” Her boots sucking loudly in the mud, she quickly made her way out of the mud puddle and toward the chicken coop. Speaking softly, she approached the wary piglet. “Here pig pig pig pig,” she crooned.
The piglet was not to be fooled this time and scampered quickly around the corner of the henhouse. Her father approached her side and was about to wrap an arm around her shoulder until he spied the mud clinging to her shirt and changed his mind.
“Well, let me go get a carrot from inside, and maybe we can entice the little stinker back to her mama.”
Nellie nodded, a grin curving her lips as she watched her father head to the house. Affection for him swelled in her chest as she watched sixty-year-old Paul Abrams make his way into the house. He was a tall man, every bit of six-foot-four with broad shoulders. He nearly filled the open doorway as he entered.
Nellie and her father lived alone on this horse farm in Rockingham County, New Hampshire. She had been raised by him since her mother died in childbirth. She had always been happy here, but she also realized that time was running out for her. At nearly twenty-six years of age, she was close to becoming labeled a spinster, at least by the current standards of society. While she had pooh-poohed such ideas over the years, only lately had she begun to realize that her father wasn’t getting any younger, and his desire to see her married with a family of her own before he passed was fast fading.
The thought sobered her, but it wasn’t her fault that the few men of marriageable age in her county seemed to be more interested in taming the tomboy out of her than recognizing the skills and value she would bring to any husband with a lick of common sense.
Having grown up with only a father, she had no one to guide her to womanhood. Nellie had always helped her father on his horse ranch. She took pride in her ability to do just about anything any man in the county could do, including plowing, shearing, planting and harvesting. She was also successful training the horses, stacking bales of hay, and mucking stalls with the best of them.
She was a woman who preferred to wear boys’ clothing anyway. After all, it wasn’t easy doing outside chores with yards of fabric getting all twisted up around her legs. Yet, despite her boyish ways, she also learned how to bake bread and biscuits, cook, sew and mend, and keep a clean house. Still, no one had asked to court her since she turned twenty-four.
That hadn’t ended well. With a sigh, she watched as her father appeared in the doorway of their home, waving a couple of carrots in the air, their green leafy tips drooping over the huge hand that grasped them. A surge of love filled her heart as she gazed at her father. Despite his easy laughter and twinkling eyes, as he handed her the carrots, she couldn’t help but notice the growing number of wrinkles in his tanned skin and the worry lines that had appeared over those the past couple of years.
She knew he worried about what would happen to her after he was gone, but—
“Here you go, girl. Now go get that little piglet while I patch the hole in the fence where he escaped.”
Nellie took a carrot and headed for the chicken coop, biting the tip off and chewing thoughtfully as she strategized her plan to capture the escaped piglet. She slowed her steps as she approached the chicken house and slowly peeked around the corner. There sat the piglet, calmly watching her, all white fuzz, pink ears and nose, and adorable black eyes prompting a grin.
“Oh, you’re too sweet for your own good, aren’t you?” she crooned. “Come here, pig pig pig,” she said softly, extending the carrot toward it. With a smile, she shook the carrot gently, its leafy greens sagging toward the ground as she crouched low and moved forward, one slow step at a time. “Come on, piggy. I’m not going to hurt you.”
After several moments of hesitation, the little piglet stepped forward, its snout raised, nostrils flaring. Nellie would do no more chasing. She would make the pig come to her this time. Behind her and off to the side of the barn, she heard the sound of the hammer as her father repaired the fence around the pig enclosure. “Come on, piggy; don’t be stubborn.”
Though Nellie rarely found the patience to be still for long, she forced herself to stay put and croon softly to the little pig until it comes to her. Hopefully, it wouldn’t be so long, what with the mud hardening in her hair, skin, and clothes, but if that’s what it took, she would do it.
In addition to her tomboyish manners, it was this aspect of her character, this very stubbornness that made it challenging for her to find a suitable husband. Most of the boys within a few years of her age in this county thought Nellie Abrams was a wild tomboy, but she was so much more than that. It wasn’t her fault the young men gave up on her so soon, was it? She had long ago grown tired of believing that the men who’d shown some interest in courting her seemed more focused on taming her than appreciating her for who she was. It was as if she presented them with a unique challenge, one that possibly threatened their own ideas of manhood.
Despite the fact they were soon to enter the twenty-first century, men around here still held to the belief that women were to be relegated to home and hearth, having babies and keeping house. Never mind that many women from these parts were stalwart, strong, and brave; women who ventured out with their husbands and fathers into the wilds of the northeastern forests. Along with the men, they hacked out plots of land to farm, helped build cabins, and brought up children. They took care of their families with courage, faith, and devotion.
By her twenty-first birthday, men had shown interest in her, but that interest faded when they realized she wanted more than simply bearing children and household chores. Soon, her reputation preceded her any time they ventured from her father’s horse farm into town, or further west into Manchester to get supplies. It became increasingly difficult for her not to notice the disapproving frowns of the town ladies or the lifted eyebrows of men who saw her wearing her usual dungarees and flannel shirts.
She spied movement and watched as the piglet stepped close enough to start nibbling warily on the carrot. Nellie held still and whispered softly to the little pig, allowing it to consume several bites before she slowly reached forward and grasped the piglet around its soft belly and tucked the little one under her arm while still allowing it to nibble on the carrot. With a smile, she strode from behind the chicken house and toward the pen where her father waited patiently, leaning against the side of the barn, arms crossed over his chest.
“Aw, I knew you could do it, girl. Who could resist?”
She gave him a soft snort. “Apparently, the two-legged kind,” she murmured.
Her father heaved a sigh, tsking as he slowly shook his head. “Have you gotten any replies?”
She shook her head. “Not yet, but it’s only been a few weeks.”
Nellie sobered as they walked back to the house. She intended to grab some clean clothes and head to the creek that ran behind the house to take a quick bath before she prepared supper for her father and herself. Several weeks ago she had, with her father’s weary but wary blessing, placed an ad in a mail order bride catalog. It was humiliating for her to resort to such drastic measures to find a husband, but over the past couple of years he had grown increasingly unhappy with her local marriage prospects. Not only had the men around her wanted nothing more than to tame ‘that wild Abrams girl,’ but many had grown quite rude and disrespectful about it.
She would never be ashamed of how her father had raised her, although he had voiced some regrets lately. He had given her the same education as he would’ve given a son, and she could read and write, do figures, keep the books and tally their farm expenses and livestock with the best of them. She had grown up helping him in the fields and with the horses, and he taught her what he could about keeping a home.
Over the years, several church women had taken turns visiting and teaching Nellie how to cook stews and make breads, biscuits, and desserts. They taught her how to make preserves and can vegetables and fruits for the long, frigid winters. On many of their visits, she watched them mend clothes and sew, and she caught on quickly. So she wasn’t completely useless to a man who yearned for a wife to help take care of hearth and home.
The townspeople knew Paul Abrams as a rather unconventional, somewhat eccentric man. The big bear of a man was getting older though and needed more help around the farm. It took a while for him to work the stiffness out of his joints every morning, and he squinted as he tried to read by the lantern light more than he used to. She loved her father with all she had, did her best to help him with chores and raising the horses, but she knew they needed more help than her own two small, strong hands could provide.
No, her father needed to hire a couple of ranch hands to help tend the livestock and train the horses. The horses needed to be reliable mounts once they were old enough to sell, and that took time and training. The size of their livestock had increased over the past few years and soon had grown too much for the both of them. Yet, no man had offered to court Nellie seriously, and now she was well past marriageable age and temperament for the men in these parts.
Nellie had come to the realization that if she left, her father would have one less mouth to feed and clothe, giving him the ability to hire a couple men to help out. She felt saddened as she watched the stiffness in her father’s body grow worse, and the winces of pain he tried to hide from her. Though her heart was willing, her body was just not strong enough to do some of the work around the farm. Though it had broken her heart to consider it, she realized it was time for her to find a husband and home of her own.
She didn’t want to leave Rockingham County or her father, but if she didn’t marry soon, she would definitely end up an old maid. And heaven forbid, when her father passed away, she would be unable to take care of the farm on her own.
Nellie looked up at her father, his black eyes hinting at the Iroquois blood running through his veins. His black hair was now liberally streaked with gray, and his high cheekbones and skin wrinkled by years of being in the sun. She abhorred the thought of leaving him and told him so.
“Papa, maybe I’ll get lucky, and I’ll receive a reply to my ad from someone in these parts; maybe even from Vermont or Massachusetts. Maybe I won’t have to move far away at all.”
He smiled down at her. “Don’t you worry about me, Nellie.” He shook his head. “Why, any man who takes a good look at you will realize what a treasure you are. You look like your mother, and she was a true beauty.” He paused and looked off into the distance for a moment before he continued. “Just remember that wherever you go. It takes more than beauty to face the challenges of life. I’ve raised you to do that. Be strong and live by your faith and your convictions. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.”
She smiled at him. “I won’t, Pa.”
With that, her father strode around the side of the house to chop wood. She quickly went inside, taking care not to leave too much mud on the floor as she strode toward her small room at the back. Once she grabbed clean clothes, she headed back outside again, her steps quick as she made her way to the stream to wash. At the stream, she shed her muddy clothes and dropped them into a heap by the bank to wash later. She dipped her foot into the water, hissing at its chill. She stepped further into the water and submerged to her shoulders brushing the mud from her skin. Soon her skin reddened with chill and goosebumps appeared all over her body.
Trying not to worry about her immediate future, she held her breath and ducked her head beneath the surface of the water. Her long hair drifted with the current and she thread her fingers through it until she had to come up for air. The air felt cold against her cheeks, and she shivered. The thought of leaving home and agreeing to marry a man she’d never met filled her with fear. But, she knew things couldn’t continue as they were.
Using her fingers to brush through her hair and work the mud from it, she gazed upward. “Lord, you wouldn’t lead me astray, would you? You’ll guide me on this path I must take, won’t you?”
With a sigh, she dunked herself one more time, and then made her way from the water. Her mood somber, her worries many, but her resolve to do what she needed to do for the sake of her father was firmly set.
Peter Cosgrove winced as he listened to the rough-and-tumble of his five-year-old twins racing through the house as he cooked breakfast. He tried to ignore the raucous sounds of the bumps into furniture and loud thuds as they tripped and landed with a muffled oomph. Refusing to turn around, he focused on scrambling eggs and turning the bacon in the skillet on the stove. He simply grinned and shook his head.
His overly rambunctious sons kept him busy from the moment they woke until he put them to bed at night. Over the past year, he realized he needed help. Even though his parents frequently offered, he knew his boys were becoming too much for his elderly parents to handle. They tried, but his mother certainly couldn’t chase after them. He noticed her limping more and knew her back and hips were growing stiff with age. She tired quickly, especially after watching the boys most of the day.
He knew the situation would not improve, and soon it would grow dire. Though he had managed to raise the twins over the past two years since his wife had passed away, he wasn’t doing a very good job of it. He had to spend a large amount of time out on the range, looking after his growing herd of cattle with the help of two cowboys who, thankfully, had accepted his pittance of twenty dollars a month, plus food and board. Even so, he spent most of his time out in the pastures and didn’t have much experience nor time for cooking, laundry, or mending.
His parents had tried to help as much as they could. His mother often cooked for them and did the mending, especially after she had seen his first paltry attempts to mend one of the boy’s shirts. But, he knew this situation wouldn’t last, and he just couldn’t do it alone. His home was a mess, laundry always needing done, his hay fields to care for, animals to shod, a section of the barn roof still needing repair…it never ended.
After his conversation with his father about his mother’s declining health, he quit relying so much on them. The twins were his responsibility, and he had to figure something out. He admitted his shortcomings to his father; not sure what he should do about it. His father had shrugged and suggested that he marry again. That way, someone could take care of the children and the household while he focused on the ranch.
He removed the cast-iron skillet from the stove and plucked the sizzling bacon from it. The stomach rumbling aroma filled the house, and he inhaled deeply. Only then did he turn toward the kitchen table and see the plates, silverware, and cups were still stacked.
“Boys! Breakfast is ready and you haven’t set the table,” he called. “Now get in here and take care of it like I asked!”
Seconds later, he heard his two boys running down the stairs, sliding into the hallway and tumbling into the main room of the house. Their bare feet thudding loudly on the wood plank floor. Albert appeared in the kitchen first, he was the older twin by ten minutes. He tousled his oldest child’s red hair and looked into his blue eyes that were staring up at him with worry.
“Set the table, Albert.” He turned to and spoke to Jake, “Go get the pail of milk I left by the back door.”
The two rushed to obey, which brought a brief smile to Peter’s face. They certainly didn’t take after him. His black hair, charcoal-colored eyes, high cheekbones, and olive-toned skin was in striking contrast to their fair complexion and ginger hair. Sometimes it hurt to look at his boys. They had inherited their mother’s fair skin, freckles, auburn hair, and blue eyes which spoke of her Irish ancestry. As they grew though, he started to see more of himself in their facial structure, and he looked forward to watching them grow into fine, young men.
“Hurry up now. Your grandfather is going to be coming soon. After breakfast, you two can make your beds and sweep the floors downstairs while I do the dishes. Maybe for a change, the house will be presentable before Grandpa arrives.”
The boys quieted down as they sat and ate breakfast, Albert only making a face once at the somewhat charred bacon. Peter gave him a look.
“The eggs are good, Pa,” Albert belatedly complimented.
He knew he wasn’t a good cook. More often than not, the food was merely edible. The meals consisted mostly of potatoes, vegetables from the garden, and the cured meat that was hanging in the root cellar. Soon, he would butcher a cow and have meat that would last them for months. Now, if he could find the time it took to butcher, salt, hang, and cure the meat.
Less than a half an hour later as he was finishing up the dishes, Peter heard the sound of a wagon approaching the house. The boys were once again roughhousing.
“Boys! Go greet your grandpa.”
Pounding feet raced once more through the house, and Peter caught just a glimpse of Jake pushing aside Albert as he raced to be the first one out the front door. Albert stumbled, but with a hoot of laughter, he regained his footing and followed his brother. Peter sighed, once more shaking his head. He didn’t seem to be mastering any aspect of parenthood; not housework, not cooking, and certainly not providing firm boundaries and guidelines for his boys.
Moments later his father, Thomas, strode in with a twin hanging from each arm as he carried them into the house. Though sixty-three years of age, his father was still a strong, robust man. Although he was strong, he was unable to control the exuberance of the boys. As he entered, Thomas looked at Peter and offered a smile. Though he tried to hide it, Peter saw his surreptitious gaze scan the main room and the kitchen.
Peter eyed the space his father was examining. The main room of his home held a stuffed settee and a pine cabinet crafted in the Piney Woods. It was a gift from Peter to his wife when they married. It still held a number of books, a handful of curios she had collected in her youth, and several daguerreotypes of them and their parents which had been taken over a decade ago. There was one of him and Amanda in their wedding finery.
A worn, but serviceable oval braided rag-cloth rug laid in front of the fireplace which was constructed with river stone. A set of stairs rose at right angles with a small landing leading to the second floor of the house. The bedroom he had shared with his wife, the boys shared room and another room were all upstairs.
“Want some coffee, Pa?”
The elder Cosgrove nodded and with a sigh and sank down into one of the wooden chairs at the kitchen table. Peter moved toward the stove and reached up to the shelf over the stove for a tin mug. Filling it and refilling his own cup, he placed the coffee on the table as he turned to his boys. “You two go gather the rest of the eggs from the henhouse—”
The boys immediately made another contest to see who could get out of the screened back door of the kitchen first. Peter called after them. “And mind you don’t bust the eggs open this time!”
Thomas Cosgrove chuckled as he reached for the mug of coffee, carefully testing the temperature as he sipped. He shook his head and then glanced up at his son. “It’s not really much of my business son, but I think it’s time you did something to change your circumstances.”
Peter leaned against the wall beside the stove, crossing his arms over his chest. “Any suggestions?”
His father nodded. “Like I said before, you need to get yourself a wife.”
The suggestion sombered Peter. He knew his father had loved Amanda very much, but he also knew his father wanted him to marry again for various reasons.
Amanda had been a petite redhead with pale blue eyes, and a delicate nature. It surprised everyone when she gave birth to twins. At first she had done well taking care of their home and their twins, but after a while, she began to tire easily and often. Just after the twins’ second birthday, Peter noticed something was wrong. her fragile body could not keep up with all the demands. She grew weaker by the day and soon she couldn’t leave her bed. He had relied heavily on his mother during those six months, and greatly appreciated it. But, despite numerous visits by the doctor of Stoney Shore, there was nothing anyone could do for her and her fragile body failed her. Peter was heartbroken and overwhelmed.
“Did you hear me, son?”
“I heard you, Pa.” Peter knew he needed help, everyone did. He realized his sons were turning into young hellions without the guidance and discipline he knew they needed, but didn’t always have time to give. “You know as well as I do that taking care of the ranch and the twins leaves me very little time for courting.”
“Maybe you should look into those mail order bride services.”
Peter stared at his father in surprise. “Mail-order bride service?”
Thomas shrugged. “Sure, certainly you’ve heard of them.”
Peter frowned and shook his head.
“They’re not quite as common as they used to be, but back in the day they were just about the only way that folks could get hitched around here, what with towns scattered hither and yonder.” He glanced at his son and explained. “Women seeking husbands or men seeking a wife place ads in newspapers or catalogs for that very purpose. They describe themselves in the ads, and a man or woman replies to those that interest them.”
Peter’s frown deepened. “That doesn’t sound very romantic.”
“Son, sometimes romance takes a backseat to practicality. Fact is, many of these women find themselves in dire straits. Perhaps their parents died tragically, or they’ve been widowed and have no way of making their way in the world on their own. At the same time, there’s men like you, who don’t have the time nor the ability to properly court a woman, but nevertheless seek the gentleness and convenience of a wife.”
Peter didn’t say anything for several moments. Actually, he was quite stunned that his father had brought up such an unusual idea. While his father had lived on his ranch in Texas for the past forty years, he had come from the northeast. He was a Mennonite who had left his community in Pennsylvania to take advantage of homestead grants in Texas. Even so, he still had very conservative values, which was why the suggestion took him aback.
“I honestly find it quite difficult to believe that you’re bringing up such a suggestion,” he finally said.
Thomas sighed. “I don’t see you having any other options, Peter. Those boys aren’t getting any younger, and the longer they go without a motherly influence… I know you’re doing the best you can, but you can’t be here for them as much as you’d like, I know that. They need a mother, Peter. Just think about it, will you?”
Peter nodded, not sure he could even consider such an idea. He pushed it from his mind as he and his father started to discuss plans for the back forty of his property. which ran alongside a tributary of the Colorado River west of Austin. At the back of his mind, he started thinking more and more about the idea. Maybe his father was right. Maybe he did need to seriously consider marrying again, or having someone around to care for the children and the household.
Just before his father left, he gave each boy a hug and an admonishment to behave for their father. He reached into the wagon and pulled a newspaper out from under a brick. “Here. Take a look at the ads and see what you think. Think about it, all right?”
With that, his father climbed into the wagon, chucked the horses forward, and left to return to his own ranch five miles away. Peter glanced down at the newspaper, surprised to see it had come all the way from St. Louis, Missouri and dated a month ago. The page had been folded to show the bold, black, italicized print ‘Mail Order Brides.’
At first, he wanted to scoff at the idea, but he would take a look at them nevertheless to see—
“What’s that, Papa?”
He glanced down at Albert. “Just a crazy idea your grandfather had.” Before the boys could ask him any more questions, he turned to both of them. “Beds made?” They nodded. “All right, you can stay out here and play for a while, but no chasing the chickens, and don’t bother Hansel and Gretel!”
Hansel and Gretel were two potbellied pigs Peter had been raising for pork. Their small pen was situated beside the barn which provided shelter for his two horses, a milk cow, and a goat when the weather was poor and couldn’t roam in the fenced pasture behind the house.
As the boys scrambled off, Peter looked down once more at the newspaper, shaking his head. He went inside and sat down at the kitchen table for a few minutes before he ventured out into the fields to inspect his cattle. He had to make sure they had water and the bales of hay he had dropped yesterday were adequate for the herd in this section of his property.
Later, as a stew simmered on the cast-iron stove, he glanced at the paper and read through several ads posted by men. One read:
256- Widower merchant lives in Ohio, 52 years old, weighing 180 lbs, brown hair, brown eyes, looking to correspond with ladies of the same age. Must be without encumbrances and with means and qualified to help make a happy home – objective, matrimony.
With a snort, Peter shook his head. What was his father thinking? He saw another, this time from a woman.
219 – Is there a gentleman from 30 to 45 years of age, weighing 170 to 200 pounds, measuring 5’10” and up, honorable and intelligent that desires a good wife and housekeeper? Let them answer this ad number. I can give particulars, a photograph, and references if required. Christian preferred.
Again, Peter shook his head and read another, one that was a reply to an ad. There is a lad in Missouri with a foot that’s flat, with seeds in his pocket and a brick in his hat, with an eye that is blue and a number 10 shoe – he’s the “bull of the woods” and the boy for you.
He groaned and still couldn’t fathom men and women placing ads for marriage. While he did realize there were men like him who needed wives, he thought this way was unsettling. How could you be sure that those writing the ads were being honest? What prevented some of these men or women from taking advantage? And even worse, what would happen if one replied to an ad, proposed matrimony, sent money for travel fare, and then realized that they and their potential significant other couldn’t get along?
Lord, should I really consider this? Is this Your will?
Still, what his father said was true; his circumstances had to change. He couldn’t be everything at once. He feared that without a firm hand and a sense of direction the boys might become difficult to handle as they grew older. He couldn’t provide them with the foundation they needed to live a goodhearted, compassionate Christian life. He couldn’t be both mother and father to his children. He had tried, but there wasn’t enough of him to go around.
With a sigh, he finished reading through the ads but found himself going back to one in particular. It was written by a young woman, who by the standards of the day, was already close to being considered a spinster. He read the ad again.
213 – 26-year-old woman seeking a husband no older than 40 years of age. Am only interested in developing a serious relationship or marriage proposal with a Christian man. I can take care of the home and have experience in horse husbandry, livestock care, and field work. If interested, please reply to Nellie Abrams, Tinder Corners, and Rockingham County, New Hampshire.
Twenty-six years old? Should he do it? Should he respond? Questions surged through him as well as concerns of what would happen if he offered a marriage proposal only to find that he and this Nellie Abrams were not compatible? As he listened to the boys playing in the yard, he realized he had to do something soon. Not only was he exhausted, but he couldn’t lean on his parents as he used to. He was a grown man with children. They were his responsibility.
With another sigh, he moved into the main room to a small desk pushed into a corner. Pulling open a drawer, he withdrew a sheet of paper and placed it on the desktop. He reached for the pen and inkwell, thought for several moments, and drafted a short letter to Miss Nellie Abrams. As he wrote, he prayed that he wasn’t making a huge mistake.
Her heart was beating with a combination of excitement and dread. With trembling fingers Nellie opened the battered envelope. Earlier this morning she had ridden into town to purchase some flour and sugar from the small general store in Tinder Crossing. While there, she asked Mister Willoughby, the owner, if any mail had come for her or her father. Ever since she placed the ad in the newspaper several weeks ago, she began to lose hope that anyone would reply to it. After all, she had no idea where the ads had been placed, whether they were local or on the other side of the country.
When she had read some of the ads placed by men and women before, she decided to do the same. Sometimes she laughed out loud or snorted in disappointment and dismay at some of the articles. What did it say about men and women who had to resort to placing ads in a paper in order to find a husband or wife? Were they so unacceptable that no one local wished to have anything to do with them?
She didn’t think she was ugly, nor would she say she was beautiful. But she did have nice features, and she was strong and could do a man’s work as well. Perhaps she was a bit more outspoken and stubborn than other women in the area, but for goodness sake, she had a right to speak her mind, didn’t she? Unfortunately, there were plenty of men around who didn’t want anything to do with an opinionated, outspoken woman. Her intelligence was indisputable; her father ensured she stayed up-to-date on politics, literature, and was well read in history. She was also well versed in all aspects of the farm business, from rendering first-aid to the animals to balancing the books.
She had a lot to offer any man, yet she had never been courted. She watched as her former schoolmates found beaus, courted, and married in rapid succession. Most of them even had children by now. Nellie feared she may never be so fortunate. Was it because she preferred to wear men’s clothing on occasion? And why not? It was difficult to shovel snow in a dress or walk behind a plow with heavy skirts dragging in the mud and tangling around her boots.
So, with her father’s approval, if not encouragement, she had written the ad. As the weeks passed, she had resolved that no one would reply. Until this morning, when she had been given the letter by Mister Willoughby. She had ridden all the way home with the letter stuffed into the pocket of her trousers, not sure she wanted to read it all. Regardless of what it said, she knew if she had received an offer of marriage, she would soon have to leave the only home she had ever known. She would have to leave her father behind and the farm she had grown up on.
Finally reaching her yard, she dismounted and carried the bag of sugar and flour inside where set them on the wooden plank kitchen table before heading outside again. She moved toward the grove of maple, hemlock, and birch trees that surrounded the pasture. She leaned against the curling bark of a large birch tree, eyeing a patch of white yarrow and the deep purple of a Jack in the Pulpit before she finally slid a fingernail under the flap and opened the envelope.
Her mouth was dry, and her heart was beating faster and faster as she unfolded the single sheet of paper. She acknowledged the small, neat writing that covered roughly three quarters of the paper. She looked off into the distance, then back to the letter. She knew right then that her life might soon change. She took a deep breath and began to read.
Dear Miss Abrams,
I read your ad with interest. I am a 33 year old widower with five-year-old twin boys. I own a small ranch property west of Austin, Texas. As you might imagine, taking care of my property, home, and children by myself has been challenging, although I have done my best. However, I realized that my children need a mother, and I’m looking for a woman willing to take on the task of mothering my children and keeping house.
I live near a small community called Stony Shore; it’s not far from the banks of the Colorado River. My parents live nearby, but are growing older and are unable to keep up with active, adventuresome, and sometimes obstinate little boys. I stand approximately 6 feet tall, with black hair and dark brown eyes. I am a Christian man and respect and honor women. I can promise that you will be provided shelter, food, and a home. I live near a predominately Mennonite community whose influence has directed much of the course of my life.
In my spare time, what little of it I have, I like to read. I am dedicated to raising my boys to be strong, compassionate men, but I fear without the gentle hand of a woman in their life, my efforts may be somewhat lacking.
It is my deepest hope that we are compatible and each of us benefit from marriage. Due to the scarcity of women in these parts, as well as the time required for a traditional courtship, I have resorted to the mail order bride service to find a suitable wife. That said, I hereby extend to you an offer of marriage. Upon your acceptance, I will transfer funds to a bank in your locality to take care of train and stage fare to Texas.
If interested, please reply to Peter Cosgrove, General Post Office, Stony Shore, Texas
She read through the letter twice more. He sounded nice and well read. unlike several other ads she had read previously. He had his own home and property, but he also had young children. While Nellie wasn’t exactly experienced in child raising, it couldn’t be that hard, could it? Besides, they had several things in common and maybe they would have more.
“What’ve you got there, Nellie?”
She spun around to find her father halfway between the small barn and the house. She walked toward him, lifting the letter in her hand. “I got a reply and a proposal for my ad for the mail order bride service.”
Her father knew all about this mail-order-bride business she was involved in, but he didn’t wholeheartedly approve. He found it an odd way to find a husband, but he also knew she wasn’t having any luck here and wasn’t getting any younger.
He lifted an eyebrow. “And?”
“And, I think I might consider it,” she said. He gazed pointedly at the letter as she read it to him. Afterward, she waited, but he made no comment. “What do you think? He sounds like a nice enough man,” she continued. “He’s a man of faith, which would bode well for our relationship, though I admit I know little about the Mennonites.”
“I don’t either,” he admitted. “I sorely hate to see you go, Nellie, but if this is what you feel you must do, I will accept your decision.” He looked off into the distance, swallowing hard. “This is not to say I’m not worried. It’s a far way to go to find a husband. What if you two decide you can’t… if you don’t believe you can love the man?”
She replied honestly. “I don’t know, Pa; all I can do is try.” She gestured with her hand. “It’s obvious no one around here is going to offer marriage to me.”
“Just remember, I raised you by myself nearly since the day you were born. I’ve given you the best education I could give you, and you’re smart. You work as hard as any son I might’ve had.” He sighed. “I want you to be happy Nellie, but I don’t want you to live your entire life never experiencing love and a family of your own.”
Nellie blinked back warm tears, her throat tight. She knew if she answered Mister Cosgrove’s letter, she would have to leave. She might never see her father again. Texas was a long way from here.
“What should I do, Papa?”
He gave her a small smile, reached for her hand and squeezed it. “You have your whole life ahead of you, Nellie. I say don’t waste it. Becoming a doddering old maid living with your aging father is not what I imagined for you. And don’t you worry about me. I’ll be fine. I’ve a mind to hire a couple more hands around here.” He cleared his throat. “Not saying that I won’t miss you, Nellie, because I will. But most of all, I want to see you married and happy.”
That evening, sitting at the small secretary in the informal parlor of their home, Nellie wrote a reply to Mister Peter Cosgrove, accepting his proposal of marriage. Once the letter was signed and tucked into an envelope, she sealed it shut. She gazed down at the envelope for some time, wondering if she was making the right decision.
She recalled one of her father’s favorite sayings. God helps those who help themselves. But was this what God wanted? Was she making the right decision? When it came right down to it, she had to rely on her faith. Surely she was making the right decision, wasn’t she? Her father was right, and she knew it. There would be no marriage proposals coming from anywhere around here. She would grow older, and become a woman who never knew the love of a man unless something changed. When her father passed, she would truly be alone. She would grow old alone, and she would probably die alone.
A month later after receiving another letter from Peter, a telegram from Concord arrived with news that funds had been transferred into a bank there. Nellie made arrangements, purchased her tickets, and packed a single, small trunk. She stood outside the doors of the newly constructed train station in Manchester just east of the Merrimack River. As she stood on the platform with her father, she found it difficult to hold back her tears.
“Please be brave, Nellie.”
She glanced at her father with a teary smile as he draped an arm around her shoulder and gave her a gentle shake. “I’ll try, Papa.” Her promise proved difficult when she saw the sheen of tears in his own eyes. She quickly looked away and swiped at hers.
He had intended to accompany her to Texas and meet his future son-in-law, but it would soon be foaling season. He would be needed on the farm to help the three mares give birth.
“You’re going to need help on the farm, Papa,” she said. “The horses… you can’t take care of them all by yourself.”
“Don’t you worry about that, Nellie. Even though I’ve lost the best pair of hands I’ve ever had, I’m planning on hiring someone within the next week or two. You focus on yourself.”
Before she could reply, she heard the distant sound of a train horn, and her heart plummeted to the pit of her stomach. It was time. Gradually, she saw the billowing cloud of smoke over the treetops and heard the clunk of iron wheels on the rails, and then the locomotive appeared around the bend. At that moment, she wanted to run as fast as she could back to her home, not caring if she became an old maid, not caring if she never got married. She wanted to stay!
Her father seemed to gauge her distress and tightened his grip around her shoulders. “You’re going to make Peter Cosgrove a wonderful wife, Nellie. You’re going to be a good mother to those children. Have faith in yourself.”
She turned to him, tears running down her cheeks. “But I’m going to miss you, Pa.”
“I’m going to miss you too, daughter.”
With that, she flung her arms around her father’s waist. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders, both of them hugging each other tightly, knowing very well that they might never see each other again. Finally, choking back a sob, Nellie straightened, gave her father the bravest smile she could muster, and wiped the tears from her cheeks.
“I’ll write you a letter as soon as I arrive,” she said.
Her father, unable to speak, simply nodded. They watched as the train pulled to a stop with a squeal of brakes and a hiss of smoke. Nellie knew that the moment she stepped on that train, her life would change forever.
“When Love Rides the Storm” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Nellie Abrams, being a free-spirited and unconventional young woman, is struggling to find a local suitor who does not wish to “tame” her. With no prospects in her small town, she gladly replies to an ad for mail-order brides in the hopes of finding a future for herself, one where her prospective husband can accept her for who she is. When the lucky match is made, she’s intrigued by her man-to-be but she will also realize that her new life comes with unexpected challenges…
Will she eventually be able to remain true to her wild heart if she is to experience love for the first time?
Peter Cosgrove is a lonely widower, trying to be both a mother and a father to his five-year-old twin boys. His task is challenging and time-consuming, making it impossible for him to properly court any woman. When he finally finds the courage to propose to the charming mail-order bride he has been corresponding with, he is delighted by her acceptance. He believes all his troubles will be over soon but they have only just begun. His new wife’s zest for life will create tensions in the family and this is when the rainy season begins…
Will his emerging feelings for her drive away any clouds in their relationship?
Soon a disastrous flood will strike, endangering the town of Stony Shore as well as Peter and Nellie’s ranch and family. Will they be strong enough to weather the storm and realize that their love and trust is all they need to steer through impetuous rivers? Or will fear, doubt, and unkind in-laws drive them apart?
“When Love Rides the Storm” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.