Mail Order Mornings – Kirsten Osbourne

Mabel Brida took her normal morning walk to the market to get fresh foods to feed the family she worked for—the Nelsons. Mrs. Nelson was sweet as could be, and she let Mabel make all the decisions about what meals would be served and when. She loved working with Mrs. Nelson and the children were a delight to be around. Mr. Nelson was another story. Mabel glanced over her shoulder, and sure enough, there he was, practically running to catch up with her. She quickened her step, praying she’d be in a public place before he was at her side. It was better when he couldn’t catch her on a lonely street. The man was…well, he was over exuberant in showing his feelings for her. Just before she felt like she was in a safe place, visible to the crowd of early morning shoppers, her arm was caught, and she was pulled into an alley, just out of view of town. “Why were you in such a hurry?” he asked, his breath smelling of his drinking binge the night before. And the night before that. “I just want to make good use of the time you pay me for, Mr.

Nelson. If you’ll let go of my arm, I’ll go and buy some fresh meat for supper tonight. If I wait too long, the meat the butcher sells will be picked over, and I won’t be able to get a choice cut for you.” Mabel prayed her lie would work. She got up early every day and tried to get out of the house before he rose, but he seemed to have caught onto her schedule. “Is that so?” he asked, his eyes narrowing. “Yes, sir, it is, so if you will unhand me, I’ll see to buying the food for your supper tonight.” “I’ll let you go…” he said softly, and she knew there was something more he was going to say. Something that would turn her stomach. “Oh, good.

Thank you.” She looked pointedly at her arm, just wishing he’d do as he said for once with no strings attached. The man needed to remember he was married a little more often than he did. “For a kiss. I’ll let you go for a kiss freely given.” “You’re a married man, and I happen to have a great deal of respect for your wife. I will not kiss you.” Of course, there were a great deal more reasons she wouldn’t kiss him than that, but she didn’t want to offend her boss. Where would she go? She couldn’t count the number of times she’d thwarted his advances, but he’d managed to land one kiss, and it had turned her stomach. “You won’t?” His mouth lowered toward hers, and she did the only thing she knew to do.

Having spent a great deal of time with male cousins growing up, she knew how to defend herself. Her knee went into his groin, and as he doubled over, she ran. She came out of the alley and ran smack into a blond gentleman. “I’m so sorry!” she said, but she hurried around him. There was a safety in crowds that she desperately needed at that moment. “Are you all right, Miss?” She nodded, though tears were starting to trickle down her cheeks. The crowd. She had to get to the crowd of people in the market. When she got to the market and the small crowd of people buying there, she took a deep breath, only to realize the blond man was just behind her. She wanted to scream.

“You can’t do anything to me in a crowded place, sir!” The man smiled, and it was a strangely sympathetic smile. “Are you in a bad situation? I heard some of the conversation between you and Mr. Nelson. Is he your employer?” Mabel nodded, feeling a couple of more tears pop out of her eyes. “He is, and I can’t lose my job!” She said a silent prayer that she wouldn’t lose it over what she’d just done to the man. “No, of course you can’t!” The man shook his head. “I’m Bernard Tandy. Have you heard of my wife, Elizabeth Tandy?” Mabel shook her head. “Should I have?” “She sends women out to be mail order brides. I don’t know if it’s ever occurred to you to move out west and marry a stranger, but it could get you out of your current situation.

I’d be happy to walk you to my house as your protection against Mr. Nelson, and you could perhaps talk to her about going west.” “I…I didn’t realize people really did that.” Mabel’s mind was racing at the possibilities. Was it better to stay with the danger she knew? “All the time. I’d love to help you, but you’re going to have to trust me.” Mabel wasn’t certain she could ever trust a man again, but looking into his soft blue eyes, she began to feel a glimmer of hope. He honestly seemed to only want to help her. “I…yes, I’ll meet your wife.” “Let’s go now.

I want you out of the situation you’re in as quickly as possible.” He pointed off to the south. “We’re about three blocks south of here, and I’ll make sure we walk the most crowded streets along the way.” Just those words made her feel better, and Mabel nodded. “Thank you.” She wasn’t certain why, but she was beginning to trust this man. He made no move to touch her, and he simply spoke of helping her. Together, they walked toward the home he spoke of. He talked a little as they walked. “My wife took over the business from a woman who ran it for a few years before marrying one of the men who had asked for a bride.

Harriett Long was her name, and she now lives in Seattle with her husband and children. I married my wife a couple of years ago. I was hired to be her butler and to investigate the men who were sending for brides.” “You investigate them?” “Yes, I do most of it through the telegraph or by phoning the police where they live, but sometimes I even travel to investigate whoever is looking for a bride. We work very hard not to allow women to go to a bad situation.” “I think it’s good that you protect women that way. Men can seem like they’re good people, and when you get to know them better, you realize they are snakes.” “You are very right.” He stopped in front of a beautiful home. “This is my home I share with Elizabeth.

Come, I’ll introduce you, and hopefully she has a man in mind for you already. She’s very good at what she does.” “If I meet her, I’m not obligated to go, right?” “Of course not. You’ll have the opportunity, though, and I think you need a choice in whether you want to keep enduring the advances of Mr. Nelson, or if you want to get out of his household.” Mr. Tandy gave her a sympathetic look that made her feel like she really did have a choice about her own life for a change. “I’m ready to meet her then.” Mabel took a deep breath, wishing she felt more confident in what she was doing. Mr.

Tandy led her down a hallway to a room on the left. He knocked twice on the open door. “Elizabeth, I found someone in the market who could use your help. Would you mind speaking to her?” The woman in question got to her feet, a baby cradled in one arm. “I would love to speak to her. I’m Elizabeth Tandy.” Mabel tried to speak but nothing came out. She cleared her throat and tried again. “I’m Mabel Brida.” “Have a seat, Miss Brida, and tell me a little bit about yourself.

” Mabel walked to the sofa and turned to look at Mr. Tandy, hoping he would help her explain, but he was gone. She sat down and took a deep breath, trying to gather her wits about her. “I’m a cook for a prominent family in town, and the man of the house has been making advances. I try to avoid him, but anytime I step away from the house, he follows me and tries to corner me in an alley.” Mrs. Tandy didn’t look shocked, but she did look caring, which made all the difference for Mabel. “I see.” She stood up and put the baby into its cradle. “I believe I have just the letter for you.

Would you mind marrying a widower with children?” Mabel shook her head. It hadn’t occurred to her to do so, but she certainly could. “Yes, I could do that.” She’d always liked children. Mrs. Tandy sat down and flipped through the letters on her desk. “Here we go. Mr. Walter Caldwell.” She handed the letter to Mabel, who looked down to read it.

Whomever it may concern: I’m looking for a wife. I lost mine a year ago, and I need someone who is willing to take on the raising of my three daughters, Lillian, Ruby, and Emma. Lillian is eight, and she’s taken to school like a duck to water, but she laments over her too short dresses, and her inability to study at night because she must help with her sisters. I’m afraid a great deal of the cooking has fallen into her lap as well, and she needs someone to help her learn. Ruby is five, and she’s a sweet girl, but she is rambunctious, and she needs to be taken in hand. Emma is nine months old, and her mother died two days after she was born. If not for my mother’s help, I never would have made it through the past year. I want someone who is willing to take over the household chores from Mother, and more than that, to become a good mother to my girls. And I’m looking for someone to warm my bed. I know I shouldn’t be so blunt in a letter, but I want any woman reading this to be completely certain what will be expected of her.

I am looking for a good cook. I have lost a significant amount of weight trying to live of mine and Lillian’s cooking. And my mother is worse in the kitchen than I am! I am the owner of the only hotel in the town of Hollyville, Montana. The town is known for its excessive Christmas celebrations, which wear on me a little more each year. I hope that whoever you are, you will help me to plan the Christmas festivities not only for the hotel, but for the entire town. I am entrusting the matchmaker with the ability to choose a bride and send her to me. I have enclosed a bank draft for her fees and for the cost of the train fare and some spending money along the way. I truly need a wife and don’t just desire one. Please be that wife. Sincerely, Walter Caldwell Mabel read the letter one more time before looking at Elizabeth.

“How quickly could I leave?” The idea of having a wedding night with a stranger was daunting, but at least she’d know he wasn’t married to anyone other than her. “Has he been investigated yet?” Mrs. Tandy smiled. “He has been investigated, and everything he says is true. You could leave as soon as tomorrow.” “I’m afraid to go to the house and get my things to leave. I did something…unladylike to Mr. Nelson when he cornered me today.” “Good for you!” Mrs. Tandy shook her head.

“Bernard will accompany you back to the Nelson’s home, and he will help you pack. If you have any friends who work there, let them know they can come to me. Please. No one should have to live in fear as you have.” “Thank you. I…I can’t ask your husband to stay there with me tonight, though.” Mrs. Tandy’s eyes widen. “No, of course not. He’ll go with you to fetch your things, and you’ll come back here to spend the night.

You cannot spend even one more night in that house, where you feel hunted.” “I can’t ask you to do that!” “Oh, you’re not asking. I’m telling you this is how it works. My husband will protect you until you get on that train to go, but the only way he can do that is if you spend the night here.” Mabel closed her eyes for a moment, breathing a sigh of relief. “That would make me feel much safer if you really don’t mind. I’m afraid of what he’ll do when he sees me again.” “Mr. Nelson will do absolutely nothing. You’ll go back, explain to Mrs.

Nelson you’ve found other arrangements, pack your things, and leave. You will never be out of Bernard’s sight.” “Oh, thank you!” Mabel couldn’t believe she’d met these wonderful people who were willing to help her. She felt safe in their home, and she hadn’t felt safe for a very long time. With their beautiful home, they should act like they were better than others, but they didn’t. Mrs. Tandy called Bernard in, and she explained what she needed from him. He nodded immediately. “As you wish.” Mabel thought it was a little odd that he was so willing to help her, but she couldn’t complain She needed the help badly.

On the short walk to the Nelson’s home, he walked at her side, and when she walked in the front door, Mr. Nelson came out of his study, his face red with anger. “You hurt me, and you’re going to pay for it!” Mabel took a step back and ran into Mr. Tandy, who caught her shoulders. “She’s under my protection now, Nelson,” the blond man said in a low, authoritative voice. Mabel was surprised she wasn’t immediately fearful at his touch. “She’s my servant!” “I’m no longer your servant. I’m leaving town tomorrow. Is Mrs. Nelson somewhere close where I may speak to her?” “She’s at the orphanage volunteering today.

” Mr. Nelson was eyeing Mr. Tandy as if he was trying to decide if he could win in a fight against the other man. “I’ll accompany Miss Brida to her room while she packs her belongings. I suggest you stay away.” Mr. Tandy didn’t sound as if he would accept anything other than complete adherence to his wishes. Mabel hid a smile as she led Mr. Tandy up the stairs to the small bedroom she shared with one of the maids of the household. She quickly packed her things into a small bag.

As she was finishing, her roommate, Josephine, came into the room. “What are you doing?” Mabel looked up from her packing, but only briefly. “I’m going west to be a mail order bride. Mr. Tandy is here as my guard.” Josephine’s eyes widened, and she stepped closer to Mabel. “Has Mr. Nelson been making advances toward you as well?” “Since the day I started working here. I’m afraid.” “I am too.

But I have nowhere to go!” Mr. Tandy heard the exchange. “Pack your things as well, Miss. You have a place in our home until you find another position, or we will find you a man to marry as well. Do not stay here. I implore you!” Josephine looked at the man, seemingly undecided. “He means it. I was a little frightened when he approached me in the market, but I’m glad I went to his home with him. His wife is Elizabeth Tandy, and she is sending me out west tomorrow.” Josephine immediately started packing her clothes as well.

“Your wife won’t mind?” she asked, a bag in one hand and a handful of unmentionables in the other. Mr. Tandy shook his head. “My wife and I are in the business of helping women in your positions. We’ll find you somewhere to go, or you can work for us.” Josephine nodded. “Thank you.” Mabel looked at her friend. “We’re getting out of here. I just pray the two of us can stay close together, whether in proximity or through letters.

” “Me too!”

.

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