Mail Order Moonlight by Kirsten Osbourne

Chapter One

Albert Dailey stood leaning on the fence that separated his property from his father’s. Unlike his father before him, he wanted to raise beef cattle, while his father had raised some, his real desire had only been to train horses. His younger brothers seemed to be following in their pa’s footsteps, but Albert was all about the beef cattle.

His stepmother, Susan, walked toward him, holding the hand of his youngest half-sister. “Hey there,” she called. “You look lost in thought.”

He sighed. “I am.” He took the baby from her, hugging her close. He had moved out of the house with his family and now had a small house on his own land adjoining his father’s, but all of his younger siblings still loved him. “Just thinking that I never have time to go into town and meet any ladies. Kinda thinking it’s time for me to marry and have a couple kids of my own.”

“Just don’t have six like your father and I have,” Susan said with a laugh. “And we had four before we were even married.”

He grinned. “What would you think about me sending a letter to Aunt Elizabeth about a wife?” He knew his aunt, whom he’d only met once, was a matchmaker back in Beckham, Massachusetts, where his stepmother had come from.

“I think that’s a good idea. Maybe she’ll send you one of the demon horde,” she said with a smile. Her younger siblings had been referred to as the demon horde since she was about ten. After her first four children, her mother had let her brothers and sisters run wild, though there’d been a new baby every sixteen months or so.

Albert laughed. “That would be awesome. Imagine the pranks our children would pull!” He and his brother Lewis had been quite the pranksters when they’d been younger—until Susan had married their father and put a stop to all their shenanigans.

Susan groaned. “No demon horde child for you. Seriously, I can’t even imagine what would happen. That baby would be born pulling pranks.”

“I know.” He grinned at her. “No, I won’t request someone from the demon horde, but I think I will write to her. It worked out well for you and Pa.”

“It did. We’ve been happy for the past fourteen years together. I’m sure Elizabeth will find someone just perfect for you to marry. I’ll give you her address when you come home for supper tonight.”

“I was planning on eating at my place…”

“I know how well you cook. We eat a six,” she reminded him, taking the baby back. “Clarissa and I are going to conquer the world today. That means we’re going to play and play and play. Right Clarey?”

Clarissa laughed and patted her mother’s cheek. She was obviously in agreement.

As Albert watched Susan walk away, he started envisioning the kind of woman who would get off the train to marry him. She would be beautiful, just like Susan, but more than that, she’d be smart, able to cook, and she’d have to love children. He felt something was missing in his life, and a wife and children would fill the void perfectly.

He’d write to Aunt Elizabeth now and have the letter ready to go as soon as he found out where to mail it to. He couldn’t wait to meet his wife.

*****

Alice Miller made the walk into town to work at the mercantile. This was her second year working there, and she hated the job. She hated the walk into Beckham every day, but more importantly, she hated the way people looked at her. It’s not like she was still pulling pranks on people. She’d grown up to become a productive member of her community, but at nineteen, Alice had never been kissed. She’d never had a boy slip her a note in class about meeting him in the woods at lunchtime so they could kiss either. It was a lonely life, and she blamed it all on her reputation, which she blamed on herself. She shouldn’t have gone along with all the pranks her older brothers had suggested. Her brothers were all miscreants, and they shouldn’t have been allowed to influence younger children.

At the store, she put her apron on, and she began putting the new stock on the shelves. It was the same thing every day. Arrive at ten, stock the shelves. Go behind the counter at noon, so the proprietor and his wife could eat a nice lunch together. Then she would have her own lunch, straighten the shelves, and make sure everything was where it belonged. At four, she would sweep the entire store and the front stoop. At five, she was off and made the long walk back home. Every single day. No changes. No excitement. Just boredom.

She was still stocking the shelves when she heard a voice behind her. “Alice, can you come to my house after work, so we can talk?”

Alice turned to see her older sister Elizabeth standing there. Elizabeth was the second eldest girl of the Miller clan, (the two oldest were boys)and she’d always been well-behaved. “Why? Are you going to find me a husband, and let me go off to parts unknown to marry a stranger?”

Elizabeth laughed. “Is that what you want me to do?”

“It is! I know it sounds silly, but that’s exactly what I want you to do.”

“Then come see me for supper. I’ll have Bernard ride out to let Ma know that you’re spending the night with me. We’ll talk, laugh, find you a husband, and have a little sister time.”

Alice laughed, flinging her arms around her sister. “I knew you were here to save me from a life of banalness.”

“What are sisters for?”

As soon as work was over, Alice headed toward her sister’s house on Rock Creek Road. It seemed to Alice that her home could better be referred to as a mansion, but Elizabeth called it a house.

Bernard came to the door as soon as she knocked. “Your sister is in her office. You know the way?”

Alice nodded. “I do know the way. Thanks, Bernard.” The man intimidated Alice, but she just kept reminding herself that if he was scary, Elizabeth never would have married him. She walked down the hall and opened the first door on the left. “Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth looked up from the baby she was nursing, a smile on her face. “I’m going to finish feeding her while we talk if you don’t mind.”

“No problem. It’s not like I haven’t seen women nursing before. Now, why am I here?”

“Well, the reason I invited you here is just a little odd. Susan’s stepson Albert needs a wife, and he wrote to me asking me to find him one. It’s a little odd with the family relation, but you’ve not only never met Albert, but he’s not blood related to you. If you marry him, our sister will be your mother-in-law, but she’ll also be there to help you with anything that comes along.”

Alice frowned for a moment, considering the situation. “So even though he’s our nephew—step-nephew—you think it would be all right for me to marry him?” It seemed a little stranger than Elizabeth’s usual matchups.

“I do think it’s fine. I’m sure Susan would love to have one of her sisters there full-time. I understand his property borders Susan and David’s.” Elizabeth picked up a letter and handed it to Alice. “Do you want to read what he has to say?”

Alice took the letter from her sister, flipping it over and over in her hands, before she finally opened it and read the contents.

Dear Aunt Elizabeth,

This letter may come as a surprise to you, but I’m out on my own now, and I’m in need of a wife. Susan tells me what a good matchmaker you are, and I would like to request your services in finding a bride for me. I have my own ranch, which borders Susan and Pa’s. I’m a cattle rancher, and I don’t do much with horse training like Pa does.

There was a girl at church, I was planning to ask to court, but I just found out she’s getting married next week. No one else here appeals to me at all. So, help me find a good wife.

I want someone who can cook because I am terrible at it. She has to not mind the long hours a rancher puts in as he’s starting out. And she must want children because I can’t imagine what life would be like without at least a dozen of them.

If you can find this woman, I will be eternally grateful. I think Susan would be happy to have a friend or a sister from back home. (And I must admit, I like the idea of marrying a member of the demon horde.) Please let me know when to be in Fort Worth to fetch my bride.

With great affection,

Albert Dailey

Alice couldn’t help but grin as she handed the letter back to her sister. “It sounds like he’s looking for me.”

“That’s exactly what I thought! How would you feel about moving to Texas and being Susan’s neighbor?”

“I barely remember Susan. I think I was about five when she left.”

“That sounds about right. She was probably more of a mother to you than a sibling.”

Alice nodded. “You both were. You were the only people who ever disciplined any of us.”

“I know! Well, I think you should write to Albert and marry him. What do you think?”

“Definitely! I’m excited to go to Texas, where it doesn’t get cold like it does here!” Alice had always imagined Texas as some sort of paradise with palm trees and sandy beaches. The idea of moving there was like a dream come true.

Elizabeth handed her a pen, a pot of ink, and a piece of paper. “Write to him. As soon as he wires back that he wants you to be his wife, I’ll put you on a train west. I’m excited to see what will happen with the next generation when a Dailey boy marries one of the demon horde. It’s like a horror story just waiting to be written.”

Alice laughed. “I wasn’t the worst of the demon horde.”

“No, you weren’t. That would have been Charlie. She was the worst out of all of us.” Elizabeth sighed. “It’s hard to send my siblings away, but it’s not hard to understand that they won’t find love and happiness here in Beckham. Not after their shenanigans when they were younger.”

“This is true. Now, hush! I’m writing my future husband.”

Alice had supper with Elizabeth and Bernard that evening, and they talked and laughed together. Alice couldn’t stop thinking about the man she was going west to marry and his stepmother, her eldest sister. She didn’t know Susan well enough to miss her, but from what she’d heard from other siblings, she would love her. And soon, she’d be going west to be near her.

*****

It was about two weeks later that a telegram came into Beckham accepting Alice as a bride for Albert. There was no message from Susan, and Alice couldn’t help but wonder if Susan knew what was happening.

Alice had given her notice at the store as soon as she’d talked to Elizabeth, not wanting to leave her employers hanging, and she hated the job with everything inside her, so she was happy to give it up.

Packing her meager belongings and walking to town one last time to spend the night with Elizabeth before her early train the following morning, Alice felt a little skip in her step. Maybe she wasn’t doing anything the normal way. She was marrying a man sight unseen, and she was going to be moving away from her family, but she didn’t care.

It was time for her to follow in her older siblings’ footsteps and head west to marry a stranger. At least there would be no ready-made family waiting for her as Susan had found when she’d gone west to marry Albert’s uncle. No, she’d be marrying a young man, not too much older than herself, and she would be able to keep house and live as God intended women to live.

At Elizabeth’s she took the same room she’d taken just a couple of weeks before, and took everything upstairs to that room, and then she went down to spend a last day with her sister, brother-in-law, niece, and nephew.

It wasn’t a feeling of gloom and doom that permeated the air that evening. Instead, it was one of celebration. Sure, Elizabeth had a talk with her about making certain not to stay with a man who was mean to her in any way, but mostly, they laughed and joked, and Elizabeth made sure that Alice knew all about what would happen in the bedroom.

“Mother wasn’t up to telling Susan or me, though we’d both figured it out long before watching the animals procreate. I’m not sure why a woman with a ridiculous number of children would be shy about how babies are made. Does she think we will always think of her and Pa?” Elizabeth shuddered as she said the last words, and Alice laughed.

“I’ve seen the animals as well. I don’t have any worries about what’s going to happen on my wedding night. Besides, with it being a mail-order bride situation, I’m sure he won’t expect it on the wedding night.”

“Many men do,” Elizabeth cautioned. “I’m sure you can ask him to wait a week or two if that will make you feel more comfortable, but the truth is, you’ll be living together in very close quarters, and the intimacy will probably be a bit difficult regardless.”

Alice sighed. “Way to burst my bubble. I was certain everything would be absolutely perfect from the moment I arrived!”

Elizabeth shrugged. “If you want to believe it’s perfect, then that’s what you should do. Live life wearing rose-colored glasses, and everything will feel like it’s better than it really is.”

“That’s true.” Alice thought on her sister’s words for a moment. “I guess I don’t have to wake up and face reality as soon as I arrive, do I?”

“Nope. Some people enjoy the scent of cow manure. Be one of those people, and you’ll always find the bright side of things. I think you should plan to live happily ever after, so you don’t risk becoming a malcontent. Sometimes happiness means that you choose to be happy, and you choose to look at life in a different way. You can know the truth, but still choose to look at it as if it’s a golden opportunity. You’ll be able to get to know your sister as an adult. You’re leaving one family and going to another.”

Alice smiled. “I like the way you think, Elizabeth Miller.”

“That’s Elizabeth Tandy to you.” Elizabeth said with a smile. “Just like in a short while, you’ll be Alice Dailey.”

“Alice Dailey. It has a nice ring to it.”