Mail Order Meddler, p.1part #10 of Brides of Beckham Series
Mail Order Meddler
Book Ten in the Brides of Beckham
By Kirsten Osbourne
Copyright 2014 Kirsten Osbourne
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Francis knew something needed to change immediately. He was only sixteen, but he understood that his family couldn’t keep living on bread and beef jerky. In town one day, he noticed an advertisement for a mail order bride, and sent off a letter…after signing his older brother’s name. He’d just make sure to tell Andrew that his fiance was coming before she arrived. What could go wrong?
Tracy had lived in an orphanage since she was just a few months old. She only had a month before she turned eighteen and had to find a new place to live, complete with employment or a wedding ring. There were no jobs worth taking for a young woman, so she answered a letter requesting a mail order bride. Andrew sounded perfect. She’d meet him, and he’d be thrilled to see her, and they’d live happily ever after. Right?
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The young woman set the basket on the front step of the orphanage and wiped a tear from her eye. She didn’t want to give up her baby, but with her husband dead, and no family left, there was nothing else she could do. She’d come back for her when she could, and they would be a family.
She knocked on the door and hurried away, watching from behind a tree as a plump matronly woman picked up her little girl and held her to her shoulder, patting her back lovingly. Yes, her baby would be well taken care of here. She hurried off. Tomorrow was her first day as a maid cleaning for a rich woman in Boston. She really had to hurry or she’d be late.
Andrew Harvey stared down into his mother’s coffin. They’d buried his father just four days before, and now his mother was gone too. He looked at his younger siblings. He was only twenty. How could he be expected to take care of them all? He couldn’t send them to an orphanage, though. No, they would stay together. The ranch could sustain them.
His younger siblings, Francis, Arthur, and Matilda were all weeping uncontrollably. He wanted to shake them. What did they have to cry about? He was the one with three mouths to feed and more responsibility than he could handle.
He stood stoically as the men and women of their community shook their hands and offered condolences. “You let me know if you need anything,” an older woman who lived two miles from their ranch said.
Andrew nodded. “Yes, ma’am.” He knew he wouldn’t though. The four siblings would make it on their own. They weren’t charity cases and never had been. Why, Mama would roll over in her grave if she thought they were out begging.
Francis Harvey was in town buying supplies when he spotted the newspaper. He picked it up and flipped through it. They didn’t get to town often, except for church, so they didn’t really know what was going on with the world. In the want ads, he spotted an ad that he couldn’t stop staring at. “Are there too few women around you? Do you need a wife? Send a letter to Elizabeth Miller at 300 Rock Creek Road Beckham, Massachusetts. Mail order brides available. Small matching fee applies.”
Francis read through the advertisement once more, wondering what Andrew would do if he sent off a letter to this woman for him. Things were bad at home, though. They were living off of beef jerky and whatever bread they could buy from the mercantile. Matilda would pick berries, and they’d have those for dessert. They needed someone to cook and clean for them. He couldn’t do it. Mattie needed someone to teach her. So did he and Arthur for that matter.
He went into the mercantile and asked for a pencil and paper, deciding to do it while he had his confidence up. How to word the letter? He sat down on a bench in front of the mercantile and quickly wrote out his family’s situation, explaining what he wanted in a sister-in-law but said wife and signed his brother’s name. Yes, that would do nicely.
He walked it back into the mercantile for the owner, George, to post. It was the only post office in Nowhere, Texas. He knew it was a silly name for a town, but it was the only one they had. Hopefully potential brides wouldn’t be afraid to travel to a place called Nowhere.
Tracy Beckham had been found on the orphanage steps when she was just a few weeks old. There was a note in the basket she was left in that said, “This is Tracy. Please take care of my beautiful baby. I cannot. I will return for her as soon as I can. Signed, Her Loving Mother.”
Because of that note, no one had been willing to adopt Tracy. The orphanage had always waited for her mother to come back for her. Now that Tracy was almost eighteen it was time for her to find her own way in the world. On her way home from school, she stopped at the mercantile to check the bulletin board to see if there were any new advertisements for jobs.
She looked through them. Looked like all the same ones she always saw. Someone needed a farm hand. One family needed a cook, but they had a terrible reputation. There were no other jobs for women. None. There was the advertisement for a mail order bride that was there every week, but she wasn’t that desperate, was she?
She pulled out her slate and jotted down the address. Yes, she was that desperate. She didn’t have much longer before she had to move out of the orphanage. Her time was up.
She left the mercantile and walked the short distance to Rock Creek Road. She needed to see Elizabeth Miller there. She knew some of the volunteers who had helped at the orphanage over the years had ended up being mail order brides, and she’d heard no horror stories. It couldn’t be that bad, could it?
Tracy stopped in front of the huge house with the address she’d jotted down. This couldn’t be right, could it? She checked her slate again before marching up to the door and knocking. She held her breath as she waited, more nervous than she ever remembered being. What if Elizabeth Miller told her she’d make a terrible mail order bride? She didn’t know why she would, because Tracy was good at cleaning, cooking, and minding children. What more did a woman need to be a bride?
She straightened her skirt as she waited for someone to come to the door. A tall man in his twenties answered the door. He had blond hair and sparkling blue eyes and looked to be of Scandinavian descent. “May I help you?” he asked, very politely, but not in the cultured tones Tracy expected of a butler.
“I’m here to see Elizabeth Miller, please.”
The man stepped aside and invited her inside. “This way, please.” He led her to the end of the hall and opened the last door on the left. “Miss Miller? There is someone here to see you.”
Elizabeth looked up with a smile. She was much younger than what Tracy had expected, not much older than she was herself. When she got to her feet and hurried across the room, her welcoming smile removed the last of Tracy’s fears. “I’m Tracy Beckham.”
“Sit down!” Elizabeth looked at her butler. “Bernard, would you mind bringing us tea and some cookies please?”
“Of course not, Miss Miller.”
Tracy took the seat she was offered on the sofa and smiled at the young woman who had returned to her spot at her desk. “I’m here about the advertisement for a mail order bride.”
Elizabeth nodded, looking
“I’ll be eighteen next month. At least that’s what we think.” Tracy knew she was going to have to explain that statement, and she really didn’t want to have to.
“I was left on the doorstep of the orphanage here in town when I was just an infant. They’re not sure how old I was, but I’ll either be eighteen this month or next.” Tracy wasn’t ashamed of being an orphan, but she certainly wasn’t proud of it either. This woman lived in a beautiful house in the best part of Beckham.
“Is that how you got your last name? They named you after the town?”
Tracy nodded. “Mrs. Spivy, the woman who cares for us, picked it out for me. My birth name was Tracy, though. It was written on the note attached to my basket.”
“I see.” Elizabeth frowned for a moment, before turning to her desk. “Let’s see if we can find someone for you to marry. We don’t match up women who are under eighteen, but since you’ll obviously be over eighteen before I could send you out, it doesn’t really matter.”
Tracy waited while the other woman sorted through a stack of letters on her desk, finally pulling one from the pile. “I think this one will suit you best. Read it and let me know what you think.”
Tracy reached out and took the letter, her hand shaking slightly. Was she actually touching a piece of paper her future husband had touched? Tracy spent a great deal of time lost in books and was a hopeless romantic. What she wanted to find more than anything was a man who would love her with everything inside him. Was there any way this man, whose name she hadn’t even read yet, would be that man?
Her eyes drifted down the page, and she read the words he’d written. “Dear Bride, I’m a twenty-one year old man who owns a ranch near Nowhere, Texas. My parents died a little over a year ago and left me with three younger siblings to take care of. I love them all, but I’m having trouble being both mother and father to them. My sixteen year old brother, Francis, is a huge help to me, but he can’t parent the others either. I need someone who doesn’t mind cooking, cleaning, and all the things that come with keeping house. I have two brothers, and they help me on the ranch, but my sister, Matilda, is only seven and she needs to be taken under a woman’s wing. If you like children, and don’t mind moving to a place called Nowhere, TX, I’d love to hear from you. We don’t have a whole lot, but we certainly have enough for one more. I’d like a woman who is in the eighteen to twenty age-range and doesn’t mind working hard. If this describes you, please write me soon. Sincerely, Andrew Harvey.”
Tracy read the words again before setting the letter down. She liked the idea of having children to take care of right off, and then maybe having some of her own. She was used to helping out with the younger children at the orphanage and cooking for large numbers of people. It wouldn’t hurt her one little bit to just keep doing what she’d been doing since she was old enough to help out.
“Andrew seems just right for me. What now?”
Elizabeth smiled, her blue eyes sparkling with joy. Tracy had never met anyone who genuinely loved their job as Elizabeth obviously did. “Well, you need to write him back. Tell him all about yourself. We’ll get a letter back in around one month, and he’ll either say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ If it’s yes, there will be money included along with a train ticket. If no, we’ll find someone else.” Elizabeth winked at Tracy. “It’s never been ‘no.’”
Tracy accepted the pencil and paper Elizabeth offered her and started writing, explaining about herself as well as she could. When she was finished, she folded the letter in half and handed it to Elizabeth. “How will I know when you get a response?”
“I’ll come by the orphanage with it.” Bernard came into the room then with the tea and cookies.
Tracy curled her legs under her and nibbled while she talked to the other girl. “I wonder what Texas is like!”
Elizabeth grinned and took a sip of her tea. “My sister went there as a mail order bride a couple of years back. She would answer that question with one word.”
Tracy raised an eyebrow. “What word?”
Tracy giggled. “I hate winter. Hot sounds pretty good to me!”
“Susan is near Fort Worth. I’m not sure where Nowhere, Texas is, though. I’m guessing…the middle of nowhere?”
“Wherever it is, I’ll finally have a family that I belong with. That’s important to me.”
Elizabeth smiled. “It would be important to an orphan. I was happy to escape from my family for a bit. I have eleven brothers and sisters.”
Tracy’s eyes widened. “That’s a lot of siblings.”
“It is.” Elizabeth’s face turned serious. “How long will you be able to stay in the orphanage?”
Tracy shrugged. “Another two months at most. They give us a little bit of extra time when we need it, but the house is always full.”
“I’ll get this mailed off first thing in the morning then.”
“That sounds good. Thank you for all your help.” Tracy got to her feet and smiled at the older girl. “I’ll see you soon, I hope.”
Elizabeth saw her out and stood at the door watching her go. She turned to Bernard. “See what you can find out about Andrew Harvey in Nowhere, Texas. I think we’re going to send our youngest bride ever there.”
“I’ll see to it.” Bernard stepped away quickly, going to write his own letters.
Francis went into town with only Matilda in tow one afternoon in late April. The two of them had been going to town together every Monday since he’d sent off the letter to Massachusetts. He needed to make sure he read the letter before Andrew saw it.
Francis had tried to bring up the idea of a mail order bride to Andy, suggesting logically that a wife would be the answer to a lot of their problems. Andy had flat out refused to even consider it. “A wife wouldn’t solve my problems. She’d be just one more person looking to me for the answers, and I just don’t feel like I have any.”
Francis tried again. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’ve done a great job with all of us since Ma and Pa died.”
Andy had looked at him in shock. “Have you seen the state of this house? Ma would roll over in her grave if she knew how dirty this place was.” He was ashamed of how dirty he’d let it get, but he didn’t know how to clean. At first he’d told his younger brothers that any idiot could do it, and then he’d tried himself, proving any idiot could not do it.
“You’re doing your best. You need a wife to help.”
“I need a wife like I need to be shot in the head!” Andy had stalked from the room then, not saying another word.
Francis stopped the wagon in front of the mercantile and helped Mattie down. Whether Andy knew he needed a wife or not, they all needed someone to mother them. Especially Mattie. He would send for the bride, and Andy would marry her when he was told about her arrival. He felt too strongly about his responsibilities to do otherwise.
When he walked into the mercantile, the owner called out to him. “Got a letter for Andy, Francis. You want it?”
Francis rushed over and took the letter, hoping it would be the one he’d been waiting for. “Thank you, George.”
George smiled. “No problem.”
Francis rushed out and sat on the bench in front of the store, completely forgetting that Mattie was with him. He tore the letter open and read it. “Dear Andrew, My name is Tracy Beckham and I’m going to be eighteen next month. I live in an orphanage here in Massachusetts, and I’ve learned all the wifely skills there. I love to cook and am quite good at it. I don’t particularly like to clean, but I’m good at that as well. I can sew and have been tending the younger children in the orphanage for years. I feel like I would be able to help you raise your siblings. I have red hair and g
Francis’s face split into a grin as he read the words. He knew for a fact that Andy was partial to red heads, so he felt that it was a sign that this was the girl who would be the perfect sister-in-law for him. He rushed into the store and borrowed a pencil again, pulling the money he needed to send out of his pocket and tucking it into the letter. He ran across the street to the train station and bought a ticket from Beckham, Massachusetts to Nowhere. Tracy would be on a train bound for Nowhere any day.
He rushed back to the mercantile and gave George the sealed letter. George was both the mercantile owner and the postmaster of Nowhere. He was also the mayor. Of course, with a town the size of Nowhere, there just weren’t enough men around to do all the jobs that needed to be done.
Francis rushed back to Mattie and the two of them bought the goods they needed. They were there for the same things every single week. Bread, crackers, and beef jerky. No one in the family had even attempted to cook since Ma had died, so they ate whatever they could find that didn’t need to be prepared.
“Fwansis, can I get a piece of stick candy? Please?”
Francis smiled at his sister. She’d been calling him ‘Fwansis’ since she was tiny and couldn’t say the ‘R’ sound. Now it was just habit, but he liked it coming from her lips. “Only if you promise not to tell the others.” Most of the money he had on him had been sent to Massachusetts. He was glad he’d thought to bring extra that morning. “Just one piece.”
Mattie happily looked through the different kinds of candy and selected a peppermint stick. They bought the other things they needed and started the long drive back to the ranch. They lived a good hour’s drive from town, and he knew it was a waste to make it every week and lose a half-day’s work, but they couldn’t really keep going without bread, and none of them even knew where to begin making it. Tracy will know. She’ll fix everything.