Mail Order Lillian by Cheryl Wright

Chapter One

 

Boise, Idaho – 1880’s

 

Lillian Hanover stared out the window at the snow flurries and shuddered, then turned to study her cousin. “I have to find another job. Horace is both revolting and persistent.” She pulled her shawl further up and around her shoulders. “He cornered me in the storeroom yesterday. It was all I could do not to gag.”

Her cousin Joy’s eyes opened wide in shock. “He… cornered you? That disgusting pig! Did you manage to get away?” Joy appeared quite concerned at her cousin’s predicament.

“I did, but I have no idea how much longer I can put him off.” She brushed the hair back off her face and glanced up again. “Perhaps I should do what you did and become a mail order bride. Either way, I have to get away from here.” Not that Lillian wanted to go that route, but she had few options available to her.

“About that…” Joy’s face suddenly fell, and Lillian wondered what could be wrong.

“Is everything all right?” Lillian asked, hurrying over to where her cousin sat. “You look quite distressed.”

The two women had practically grown up together. Their fathers were brothers, and each family had lived on the same property, meaning they spent much of their time together playing. The pity of it all was their fathers were both killed in the same shocking accident on the property when a large tree fell. Five men died that day.

“I…” Joy took a deep breath, then glanced up at her cousin. “I need to ask a favor,” she said far more quickly than Lillian had ever heard her speak before. “A rather big favor.”

“Ask away.” Now her interest was piqued.

Joy suddenly sat down and clasped her hands tightly in her lap. Her eyes were focused on her hands, rather than the person she was speaking to. Lillian felt quite concerned at this turn of events. “I am beginning to panic, dear cousin. Please tell me what ails you.” Her heart pounded as she waited for her cousin to speak again.

Joy suddenly pulled a letter out of her pocket and handed it over. “I am supposed to leave tomorrow to meet my groom and marry him.” Her head slowly came up until their eyes met. “I… I can’t go. Will you take my place?” She let go of a deep sigh and Lillian could do nothing but stare.

“But…” She shook her head. She couldn’t take her cousin’s place, not when Joy had already accepted the proposal. And why didn’t she want to go now, anyway? Her head suddenly felt as though it was filled with a thousand drummers, and she dropped into the chair next to her cousin. “Wha—why?”

Joy’s eyes dropped to her lap again. “I’ve met someone, and we plan to marry.” She glanced up and continued. “I had already promised to marry Simon Watson by then, but…” Tears filled her eyes. “I’m in love with Timothy Chambers, and he with me. I couldn’t bear to marry someone else.”

Lillian sputtered at her words. “Why would he marry me? I am not the one he’s been corresponding with.”

Joy suddenly stood. “Then don’t tell him. Let him believe you are me.”

Had she not been sitting, Lillian was certain she would have landed in a heap on the floor.

~*~

Despite the short notice, Lillian was packed and ready to leave in time to meet the stagecoach at seven the next morning. Early enough that Horace Periwinkle would not see her waiting for it to arrive. If he happened by, Lillian wasn’t sure what she would do apart from ducking into the stage office for refuge.

She clung tight to the supplied ticket, along with the letters from her potential groom. The name on the ticket was Joy Hanover. She had to pretend to be her cousin. At least until she arrived at her destination. Otherwise she’d waste this Simon Watson’s money. And that was the last thing she wanted to do.

Lillian had no idea what she was letting herself in for. Joy told her he was a rancher, but little more. For all she knew, he could be old enough to be her father, or even her grandfather. Heaven help her. She would devour the letters on her way to meet him and pray to the Good Lord she hadn’t let herself in for anything untoward.

Her wardrobe was scarce, but she’d packed whatever she could fit. Her clothes were not fancy by any means, and depending on the situation she found herself in, may not even be suitable. She assumed she would be living on a ranch outside of the nearest town, but she couldn’t be sure. Joy had divulged precious little, which was a huge concern.

The stagecoach pulled up in a rush, likely because it was running almost fifteen minutes late by the time it arrived. The last thing Lillian needed was to be spotted by Horrible Horace, as she’d come to call him privately. He was just as likely to drag her all the way to the church and force her to marry him before letting her marry someone else. He’d told her as much when he’d cornered her like a scared rabbit in the storeroom.

The thought made her shudder. She couldn’t stand being in the same room as the man, let alone the same house, or heaven forbid, the same bed. “Miss Hanover?” The coach driver touched her shoulder, trying to bring Lillian back to the present. “Are you Miss Joy Hanover?” He stared at her when she didn’t respond. It was then Lillian remembered she had to take on the persona of Joy.

“I, I’m sorry. I was thinking about something else.” She handed over the ticket, and he checked it over, looking her up and down as though he wasn’t convinced she was who she portrayed herself to be. Of course, he was correct, but Lillian couldn’t tell him so. Suddenly he handed her ticket back, then opened the coach door and helped her up. Lillian sat quietly inside the coach as her luggage was loaded, still not certain she’d made the right decision. As she glanced out the window, she noticed Horrible Horace heading to work. She slunk down in her seat, grateful she was in the middle where she wasn’t so visible. No matter, her heart pounded regardless, lest he should notice her.

It wasn’t until he unlocked the door and went inside the store that Lillian began to relax. When the coach took off with a thud, she let out the breath she’d been holding. She was finally on her way to her new life. A life that didn’t include Horace, but included a complete stranger.

She pulled the letters out of her reticule and read every letter her cousin and soon-to-be husband had shared. That last thing she needed was to be taken unawares. If he turned out to be an ogre, according to the letters anyway, she planned to alight the coach before reaching her destination. What she would do then, she had no idea.

~*~

Lillian’s eyes opened wide in astonishment as she read through the letters Joy had given her. Her head was pounding at the gravity of what she’d let herself in for. More fool her for not reading the letters the moment her cousin handed them over.

At least she now knew her groom was not old and decrepit, and she would be living on a ranch, an environment she was very comfortable with. The thought made her think about her dear parents, both of whom were no longer of this earth.. After the accident, they’d been forced to move into town. Their lodgings on the ranch were only for workers, and they’d struggled for some years after leaving. Ma cleaned to support them and had worked herself into an early grave by the time Lillian was twenty. Life had been relatively easy and happy until Pa died. It broke her heart, and that of her mother, to lose him. Truth be known, Ma had died of a broken heart. Lillian thought she might end up the same after Ma’s passing, and if it wasn’t for Joy, she might well have done.

As she read page after page of letters from Joy’s betrothed, she understood why Joy backed out. Not because of Timothy Chambers, if he even existed, but because of these letters. It appeared her cousin had accepted Simon’s hand in marriage very early in their correspondence – before Simon had disclosed his closely guarded secret.

Lillian was tempted to get off at the next stop, but knew she would be stranded with no job and no hope for the future. She really had no choice but to continue to her destination.