The air was dry and dusty as the train came to a full stop in Sawyer Texas. It was a small station for a small town and there was rarely any need for the train to stop at all. On this day, there was a single passenger bound for Sawyer. She was a young woman of about twenty-one years of age. She had never been on a train before this trip which had brought her halfway across the United States. Texas was nothing like her homeland of Ireland. It was warm and dry here and the green seemed so much duller than the green of home. Maggie MacMillan stood and attempted to straighten her rumpled red hair with a sigh. She was resolved to go through with this no matter how difficult it proved to be. She smoothed the wrinkles from her calico skirt, picked up her carpet bag, and stepped out to meet the man who would soon become her husband.
The train platform provided a decent view of the small town that was about to become her home. There was one main street with a grocer, a livery, a bank, a smith, a church, a jailhouse, saloon, post office, and of course the train station where she now stood. There were people milling about, women in their bonnets and men in their stetson hats. Some of the men carried guns. Some rode horses. She took a look around the platform and found there was only one man waiting. He had to be there for her.
“Pardon miss, are you Margaret MacMillan?” The balding man, with a long thin beard, in his late fifties approached her, taking his hat off as he spoke.
“Yes, call me Maggie, please,” She said. “You must be Frank Hector?”
“I am. Most folks call me Heck. They say it’s cause I’m a heck of trouble,” He grinned, showing his yellow stained teeth. “Is that all the luggage you brought?” He asked, looking down at her carpet bag.
“I have a trunk as well,” Maggie told him.
Heck loaded her trunk onto his buckboard wagon without a word. Then he turned to her. “Let’s talk on the way over to the church.” He took her arm and led her towards the steeple further down the street.
Maggie tried to still her racing heart and keep her nervous stomach from retching. She had known for months that this was the plan. She had prepared herself for it. She had nine letters from Frank Hector and it had already been decided that they would marry as soon as she arrived. He didn’t want to waste any time on courtship. His children needed a mother.
“I’ve invited some folks to the wedding if that’s agreeable to you.” Heck said.
“Oh. Of course.” She said, though she was saddened by the prospect. Here she was marrying a stranger and now was to have strangers attend her wedding. It couldn’t be helped. The ceremony would need witnesses.
“The children are waiting at the church as well. Our neighbor, old Mrs Colson has been minding them. She’s done that a lot the last few months while I work the fields. She’s too frail to keep up with them for long. It’s good that you’ve come. A younger woman will do them good.” Heck said.
Maggie nodded. She knew all this already from the letters. Most of the letters had been fairly repetitive and none of them had been well written. Heck was not a scholarly man, that much had been obvious. She had tried not to be disappointed by that. Maggie highly valued education herself. She loved to read. She especially liked that American author, Mark Twain. Heck had probably never read a novel in his life. At least she could read to the children.
There were six people waiting inside the church when the pair of them arrived. The three children were running around the place like wild animals, in between the pews, up and down the aisles, screaming and chasing one another. All the while the old lady called out feebly, “You must stop that! You must!” She banged her cane against the floor to get their attention but the children ignored her.
“Shut up and sit down!” Heck shouted from the doorway and the room went still. All three children scurried to sit down quietly in the front row of the church.
Heck pulled Maggie forward to the front of the church for introductions. Reverend Olmsted was introduced first. Mrs Colson was easy to identify. Maggie shook both their hands as she was told their names.
“This is Mrs Colson’s son, Harry.” Heck said. Harry was a young man of about thirty years of age. His dark brown hair might have been long enough to hang into his eyes if he had not neatly combed it back. Harry had piercing blue eyes and a strong physique. Like so many men in this town, Harry too wore a gun on his hip. Maggie felt a stab of disappointment that she wasn’t marrying someone more like him but she quickly pushed it aside. “Harry runs the Colson ranch since his father died ten years ago. He’s a good neighbor. I thought he should be here.” Heck explained.
“I’m pleased to meet you,” Harry said and Maggie said the same to him.
“And here are the youngins,” Heck said.
Maggie turned to get a look at the three children, two boys and a girl. “Thomas is eleven, Josephine is eight, and Samuel is six.” Heck explained.
The children looked at Maggie with a mixture of wariness and anger. It was easy to imagine that they probably didn’t want a new mother. The children were clean but their clothes needed mending. Josephine’s hair didn’t look like it had been properly combed in quite some time. They were clearly accustomed to running wild if their father was busy. They watched her expectantly and she realized she needed to say something, anything. “I am looking forward to getting to know all of you.” She finally managed.
“She talks funny,” Samuel commented to his sister beside him.
“Everyone speaks this way where I’m from.” Maggie told them, forcing herself to smile.
“Where are you from?” Samuel asked.
“She’s from Ireland,” Heck said. “They’ll be time for questions later. We don’t need to hold up the Reverend all day. Let’s get on with it.”
The ceremony was over far too quickly. It was hard for Maggie to believe that such an important event in her life could pass by in such a blur. The reverend said words, Heck said words, she said words, and then with a brief kiss it was over. Heck loaded his kids into the back of the wagon and gave Maggie a hand up to sit at the front next to him.
“It’s not so far back to the ranch,” Heck said as the set off away from town. “Only about four miles.”
Her new husband told her about the neighbors as they rode. He told her about the weather and farming and about cattle. She could hardly hear a word of it. After a while the man seemed to realize that she had other things on her mind and he stopped speaking.
They reached her new home in time for Maggie to prepare supper. It was a simple ranch house with a large front porch, and a barn and several outbuildings. Heck didn’t offer to show her around the place. He muttered something about chores and set off for the barn. Maggie was left to find her way around an unfamiliar kitchen as well as manage three children who wanted nothing to do with her. By the time she had managed to get a beef stew on the cookstove and somehow kept the siblings from tearing each others hair out, Heck had returned from the barn.
As they sat down to dinner Maggie found that the kids manners were as terrible as their father’s were. She didn’t say a word about it though. There was no need to make them hate her on her first day. There would be time for correcting table manners later.
“Josie you help Maggie with the dishes. Sam and Tom go get some firewood. Then y’all can get to bed.” Heck said at the end of the meal.
The chores were executed quickly and efficiently and the children all but put themselves to bed. Maggie found that her hands were shaking. The children were gone and she was now alone with her husband on their wedding night. He sat at the kitchen table smoking a pipe. She didn’t love him. She certainly didn’t want him but she had agreed to this and she would do her duty.
“Stop looking so damned frightened!” He said. “You can have your own room if you want it.”
“I...what?” Maggie was confused.
“I said you can have the spare room. I had two wives already. Both of em died in childbirth. I ain’t in no hurry to have another one die the same way. The youngins don’t need to lose another Ma. Besides, I’m too old for the likes of you. Go, sleep in the spare room. I’ll not touch you.” Heck said. He poured himself a shot of whiskey on the table in front of him.
Maggie watched him for a moment in shock. “Good night Heck.” She said as she fled the room.
She locked the door to her bedroom behind her and finally allowed the tears to fall that had been threatening to spill out all day. She let the tears fall as she changed out of her calico dress into a cotton nightgown. She was glad for the long sleeves. The fabric covered the runes that had been long ago tattooed around her arms. There was another line of runes running down her back. If Heck or anyone had seen them there would have been questions, questions she wasn’t ready to answer. Maggie crawled into bed, curled up and cried herself to sleep, relieved at what she would not have to do this night.